If you’re a 90s kid like me, your after-school viewing was sorted out for you by Kids’ WB: Animaniacs followed by Batman: The Animated Series. And if you got home early enough, maybe you could squeeze in Samurai Pizza Cats.
The weird little cartoon from Saban was a mix of rapid-fire cultural references, silly action scenes, and jokes that sailed blissfully over our kid and teen heads. It still holds up years later, even more so now that we know the bizarre truth behind its production.
See, the thing is, that line in the opening theme about them not having a script?
That was 100% true.
In 1990, Tatsunoko released Kyatto Ninden Teyandee, a kid-targeted series about a trio of android cats protecting the fictional city of Edoropolis. The town was populated by robotic animals, and the show was populated by a mix of traditional Japanese references and modern hat-tips.
It wasn’t super popular in Japan. It wasn’t not liked, but it also wasn’t the new Pokémon or anything. So when Saban came along wanting to license it for global distribution, Tatsunoko wasn’t particularly prepared.
A quick peek behind the curtain of anime localization for y’all. When a company buys the rights to a show, they get a packet of Stuff: the show itself, the different audio tracks, the scripts, and a “show bible” so they know what’s up. All these things together help make sure the localization is as accurate as possible.
Nowadays, this is pretty much taken for granted. But in the 1990s, when shows were mostly licensed based on how quickly they’d pay for themselves in merchandising, there was no point in doing it for unpopular shows.
You know, unpopular shows like this one.
Accounts of what exactly happened vary. Some say the materials were unsatisfactory or poorly translated. Others say the translation and script straight-up did not exist. Either way, Saban received 50-something episodes of anime in which they had no idea what was going on. Plot, character names, nothing.
So… they made it all up.
The basic concept of the show still came through: a trio of heroes helped protect the city on the behalf of an incompetent ruling class. But the resulting series was rife with contemporary references, wordplay, and plenty of self-parody. And the icing on the cake? A new theme song, recorded by series writer Michael Airlington, who got drunk and did his best Paul Lynde impression. You’ll see him in the credits as “Singing Sensation: Googie Gomez.”
First released in Canada in 1993 and the US in 1996, Samurai Pizza Cats became an instant cult hit among fans of all ages. The creators of Kyatto Ninden Teyandee even admitted that the Western release was better than the original show.
Even in the modern anime industry, as companies are going back and reissuing uncut subtitled editions of dubbed shows, the preference remains. Discotek licensed both Kyatto Ninden Teyandee and Samurai Pizza Cats for DVD release. And, well, you can probably guess which one has attracted the most attention.
So next time you’re getting your nostalgia fix on VRV and you hear good ol’ “Googie Gomez” begging someone to find the script, remember: he wasn’t kidding.