Thursday, March 22, 2012

Samurai Pizza Cats

Step off my nostalgia! It is mighty

What you have to learn to accept is that there are some works you can't look at objectively, works for which you will forever surrender your critical considerations because there is no alternative. When nostalgia or good vibes, these just swamp your higher brain functions. It might lead to the worst ways of fandom, but sometimes it's harmless.

Samurai Pizza Cats is one such example, of the chronological nostalgic type. I haven't equally embraced everything from my childhood that I've re-explored, but with Samurai Pizza Cats I get the very strong sense that I'm not entirely thinking with my Adult Brain when I enjoy watching it. I can point to reasons why the series is good,  but it doesn't change the fact that watching or remembering it turns me into a raging nostalgia monster.

Okay, for those who don't know, Samurai Pizza Cats was a Saban Entertainment dub of Cat Ninja Legend Teyandee, a series about a historical-Japan-styled futuristic town populated by animal-robot…things. The three heroes run a pizza parlour while moonlighting as sentai-style heroes, battling the rat/fox Prime Minister and his group of crow allies, with a different giant robot (usually) every episode. For variously-given reasons (having a bad script translation, receiving no script translation, there being too many untranslatable jokes, etc.) this children's anime was dubbed into a comedy containing fourth-wall breaking, characters speaking as if they were employed actors, references to adult pop culture, bad puns, weird interpretations of onscreen visuals, and an overall junior MST3K feel to it.

While I became an anime nerd long ago, in this case I don't give a damn about the original version of Samurai Pizza Cats. One could easily say that since this series comes from the Woody Allen school of dubbing there's an exception to be made, but I have seen anime fans getting riled up about privileging the dub edit, so I'm just making my place clear. It's not surprising somebody would feel this way, when people have angrily catalogued the censorship in the Pokemon dub. One can't place a standard on which altered anime are "worthy" of being complained about, but we all don't have to care.

As an even more specific example, while it's now obvious now that the character Big Cheese was supposed to be a fox, not a rat as the dub says (he has a face that looks like stylized foxes in Japaense art, not to mention that tail), part of my brain refuses to process this. It's easy to take his dub-species as a "truth".

There was nothing really new about the series' style of humour by 1990, but the dub does it well. You can't trust what I say, but honestly, the dub holds together. There are a few moments when the dialogue obviously doesn't match the facial expressions or the onscreen content, but it mostly flows. However accurate they might be, the writers also have a good handle on the new personalities they created, keeping them consistent and distinct.

Strangely enough, for all its rewriting the dub seems to be less censored than other anime from that time period. It'd be hard not to have a dub that looks like this be said to take place in Japan, but you know somebody would have tried. Pizza Cats doesn't, but calls their place Little Tokyo and say they are in a "Japanese cartoon". The heroes are also clearly launched from a giant revolver without any alterations, and the main villain is still a campy gay cross-dresser. Oh, and Japanese text appears from time to time, and jokes are made about it.

I also like the character designs: while the dub doesn't make it that clear, apparently they're supposed to be…robots? The robotic animals have super-deformed proportions and bright colours, and are, well, pretty damn adorable and also kind of cool-looking in all their details and fancy armour (except that pretty female mammals have humanlike jawlines and tiny noses, which are weird; so is Lucille, the sheep girl with horns).

When I was a kid, my favourite characters were the bad guys: the "rat" Big Cheese and his various crow helpers: Jerry Atric, Bad Bird, the Rude Noise (they're some kind of birds anyway) and the horde of disposable Ninja Crows. There's no real deep reason for it, except maybe that I love all those animals much more than cats. And I still like them better than the heroes, though it all blends together into some kind of nostalgic fog.

As I mentioned above, Big Cheese loves to cross-dress, and in the dub is played as campily gay. He doesn't do it so often that he could easily be dubbed as a female character, but that he wasn't is still surprising considering the time period. And yes, he's supposed to be a fox, but I don't really care that much, as I said above. Though now it answers my old question of why he had such a thick tail….

(I can't help but wonder if being a fan of Master Splinter predisposed me to accept canine features as part of Rattus anatomy. And that, while the rodent vs. cat thing is an obvious reason to change his species, I wonder if  another part of the inspiration was the canid look of Master Splinter, given that the dub takes other jabs and TMNT, even in the theme song.)

Bad Bird (which I keep wanting to type as "Brad Bird") is extra-notable because the end of the cartoon throws in a change-of-heart for the character, motivated by previously discovering honest work can work out, and rediscovering an old sweetheart. It happens fast, and his girlfriend, Carla, doesn't really have a personality, but this was probably the first thing I shipped, and I know I had a drawing of Bad Bird and Carla on the wall of my childhood bedroom. I'd be really reluctant to call this any sign of Japan's "superior" storytelling, but man…it is so…cute. And having even a crude attempt at character development probably makes him the best character in the show, and the best out of all the villains I loved as a kid.

Yet I'm not going to harp about that, because as I said above, a love for Samurai Pizza Cats has more to do with a generalized nostalgia than any specific interest or attachment to a specific character. I have my preferences, but it all blurs together into a general feeling of nice good happy time. Bad Bird is a character from the past, and while he's the character I like the most, I can't approach him as I would a present-day character I love, or even one that I've rediscovered. He's not to be talked about that much, but just admired as a beloved figure from childhood.

Naturally, this was all prompted by the announcement of a DVD release, for which I trotted back to the show to see if it still held up. Having 52 episodes and being put out by a small company probably means I'd have to pay through the nose for this release, and I'm actually not sure if I would want to go that far. But I'm not sure that I don't, either.

It wasn't prompted by the news of a Speedy Cerviche action figure release, because, well, I never liked Speedy. For all the pratfalls he takes, he's still supposed to be the Brash Young Hero that I usually never like, and re-watching the series, there's still something off-putting about him. People claim the article says they'll be making other characters, too, but at about $50 a pop, I probably wouldn't pay that much for a Bad Bird of similar quality. Maybe.

Anyway, my gut tells me this series has some recommendable quality for older nerds who've never seen it. While a lesser edited dub would try to follow the original story but make the same typical mistakes, by setting Samurai Pizza Cats up front as a comedy, and a relatively well-done one at that, it becomes something far different, and far more interesting.

1 comment:

  1. Samurai Pizza Cats Series DVD box set are backed up by a Rescue Team, four other cats with their own restaurant who spring into action to help them out whenever they hear the rescue bell. The weapons of the Rescue Team can combine to form super weapons! And they will need them when evil undoubtedly shows up in every episode. Usually in the form of a gigantic monster-like robot used by the Big Cheese who has his mind set on controlling Little Tokyo from the show of Samurai Pizza Cats Series DVD box set.