Dec. 25 – Samurai Pizza Cats – “The Cheese Who Stole Christmas”

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Original air date December 25, 1990 (Japan)

Welcome, Christmas Day! Hopefully you’re not hungover from too much Christmas partying last night, and if you are, hopefully it was worth it. By now, Santa should have deposited presents under the tree, if you were good this year, and hopefully he remembered the batteries. It’s been fun, but this post means we are done for the year. Christmas often lingers though into the new year, but once the holiday comes and goes it loses some its luster. Lets not dwell on the holiday coming to an end though, as we still have one more holiday special to enjoy! Maybe. Hopefully…

Samurai Pizza Cats sure sounds similar to another show, doesn’t it? That’s obviously by design as starting in the late 80s the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles took the world by storm and made lots of people lots of money. The ridiculously named property originated in comics, but once it made the move to television it had to be altered to make it more kid-friendly and toy-friendly. As part of that adaptation, the Turtles were given a favorite food, and since they live in New York, pizza was the chosen entrée. And boy did they like pizza, it was basically all they ate on the show. Given how silly the show was, it’s not at all surprising to find it was ripe for parody, and that’s partly how we got the Samurai Pizza Cats.

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The heroes of the show (left to right): Guido, Polly, and Speedy.

I say partly, because that’s not the show’s original name. Samurai Pizza Cats is a Japanese production originally titled as Kyatto Ninden Teyandee (which directly translates to Cat Ninja Legend Teyandee). When Saban got ahold of it is when it became known by its new English name. Allegedly, when Saban licensed it for global distribution they received either poor or no translations for the scripts so they basically just made up their own lore for the show. The show takes place in a version of Tokyo in which anthropomorphized animals dwell and some (all?) are partly cybernetic, including our heroes. They work in a pizza restaurant by day, but when duty calls they become heroes. The villain of the show is the local prime minister who is corrupt. The palace guard for the emperor is aware of the corruption, but he can’t prove it, so he relies on the heroic cats to stop the evil deeds.

The English script and dub, being wholly original, might cause anime fans to turn up their noses, but for my money it’s actually pretty well done. The show is just full of parody, pop culture gags, and lots of fourth-wall breaking. I didn’t watch this show as a kid (I don’t think it came to the US until 1996), so I’m not super familiar with it, but I was entertained by the script of this episode. Even if I didn’t tell you it was redone when brought over from Japan you would likely figure that out rather easily just by watching it. It’s very American, but it doesn’t try to hide the more anime moments and pretty much runs with it.

Our main characters are a trio of Samurai warriors who look like cute versions of the Ronin Warriors with a dash of Mega Man. They have a real cybernetic look to them and I assumed this was how they went into battle, but they actually add more armor and such when they prepare to fight (accompanied by traditional transformation animation that looks way better than the other animation in the episode). The three cats are Polly Esther, Guido Anchovy, and Speedy Cerviche. They’re joined by Francine who assists them from their headquarters and probably provides some tech support as well. Big Al Dente is the Chief of the Palace Guard and the one conspiring against the villain. He summons the cats when they’re needed. Big Cheese is our villain and is the Prime Minister of Little Tokyo looking to overthrow the emperor of Japan, who is named Frank. He’s supposed to be a fox, but Saban decided he looked enough like a rat to go with that instead. He’s assisted by the Ninja Crows and their leader Jerry Atric (hardy har-har) who he makes use of for his various schemes. And in this particular episode, ruining Christmas is the theme of the day.

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No messing around with this one, it’s Christmas morning right at the start!

The episode begins with a wild intro featuring narration that gives a general overview of the show. The narration is done by Michael Airington who is obviously doing a Paul Lynde impression during the opening song.. It’s a very jovial and announcer-like voice that works for the show. Legend has it that Airington was drunk on the job when he recorded the intro which may have even enhanced his performance. When the episode begins, the actual narrator is far more understated (and voiced by Terrence Scammell). The Pizza Cats are all receiving their Christmas presents as it’s Christmas morning. Guido (Terrence Scammell) seems unimpressed with a comb he receives and Polly (Sonja Ball) quickly jumps in to remind him it’s the thought that counts when it comes to Christmas presents. Speedy (Rick Jones) finds this hilarious and begins mocking her for her pure-hearted point of view. Polly tries appealing to the other female of the group, Francine (Pauline Little), who surprises her by going along with the other two as they shout at her Christmas is about the presents!

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They deserved this.

Lucille (Susan Glover) then enters to remark on what a lovely day it is. Lucille appears to be a sheep, though she has ram horns despite being female. She apparently owns a nearby tea house and Guido and Speedy are quite interested in her. They’re borderline lewd towards her, actually. Polly thinks she has an ally when Lucille enters, but she soon asks for her presents and adds she assumes she has lots and lots of them. This causes the narrator to chime in that yes, Christmas is all about presents, as the other cats look shocked by her response. Speedy and Guido go into their routine as they make each other laugh with each passing comment ending with Speedy pondering if Lucille wants them to take her out to lunch. She is not amused, and actually starts to cry. This causes the other cats to run in terror. I have no idea why, until Lucille basically explodes. Apparently, she has a lot of hardware under that kimono.

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Well, this guy hardly seems threatening.

The setting then pivots to the pagoda of The Big Cheese. It’s all decked out for the holidays as we see the villain awaking rather late on Christmas morning. Big Cheese (Dean Hagopian) arises from his bed excited to see what Santa has brought him. He’s wearing a nightgown and cap and the voice performance, combined with the clothing, gives him an obvious effeminate slant. I feel like a lot of villains were given such a characteristic during this era. He races to his giant stocking and hopes it contains a dance partner as pretty as he is handsome to take to the New Year’s Ball. We see an image of what he’s wishing for and it makes me wonder if in the original translation he was wishing to be the dancer. Instead, he finds a seemingly hungover Jerry Atric (Mark Camacho) who is quite receptive to the idea of being Big Cheese’s date to the ball. He then remarks that’s the last time he indulges in Timothy Leery bird seed, a noted proponent of psychedelic drugs so apparently Jerry here was up doing acid. Big Cheese then starts shaking the old bird demanding to know where his Christmas presents are. He tosses Jerry and he smashes into the screen prompting him to ask that someone please move the camera.

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Is there still time to change what I want for Christmas because I want this clock!

We then get a look at two other characters opening presents, Emperor Fred (Scammell) and Lady Vi (Liza MacRae). Fred appears to be a panda while Vi, his daughter, is a rabbit. She opens her gift and is ecstatic to find it’s exactly what she wanted:  a “Me” clock. It’s basically a cuckoo clock with her face on it. At the top of the hour, a little caricature of her pops out to shout, “Don’t tick me off!” Fred, who is apparently of limited intelligence, seems happy with his gift; a teddy bear that resembles him. Big Cheese is irritated to see the two enjoying their gifts when he received nothing. He heads to the balcony and looks down and sees all of the “extras” enjoying their presents too. He also notes that the producer’s family has a huge stack of presents as well. I love this fourth wall stuff!

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Poor Jerry has to give up his present to try and keep this brat in check.

He then directs his ire back at Jerry Atric. He’s happy to see he’s not enjoying a present, which leads to Jerry trying to downplay the whole present thing as he conceals a gift behind his back. Big Cheese sees it and immediately starts to get angry, but Jerry says it’s for Big Cheese from him and hands it over. This sates his boss, but only momentarily, as he opens the box to find ninja blades or something indicating it was obviously a gift for Jerry and immediately gets upset. He swipes at Jerry, but then goes into a tale about how his Christmases as a kid were just as bad as this one. We see a brief flashback where an excited young Seymour (that’s his real name) is opening a gift from Santa. His dad excitedly says it’s a real boy’s toy, which is a bizarre thing to say. He opens the box and sees a toy wagon hooked up to a toy bull. He proclaims “What’s this bull?!” and tosses it aside. Back in the present, Seymour starts shouting to the heavens about getting even with Santa. Jerry just watches and we hear some of his thoughts as he takes this all in. It seems he knows this is just going to lead to some crazy scheme he’ll have to partake in.

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For someone who has to work on Christmas, Speedy sure looks happy.

We then head back to see what the Pizza Cats are up to. Francine is taking orders and this show is quite adept at coming up with some gross toppings just like the Turtles did (sausage with mint jelly, in this case). Polly is ticked off that Speedy is apparently missing in action (I’m guessing he’s the delivery boy) and is taking it out on Guido. Meanwhile, some attendees at a Christmas market are enjoying some shopping. When a kid asks his mom why dad isn’t with them she says he’s at home waiting for the trickle down theory to take effect. As an econ major, this amuses me. Speedy is also passing through rather casually on his delivery route. He’s making up a song as he does so and seems to run out of words. Soon they spot a figure flying over the market – it’s Santa! He’s oddly in a one-reindeer open sleigh and looks a bit off. That’s because it’s obviously Seymour in disguise with Jerry acting as his lone elf helper. He passes out gifts to everyone which they happily receive.

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That dude is clearly not a rat, and also clearly not Santa.

Speedy sees the patrons greedily grabbing gifts and even gets knocked to the ground in the commotion. Maybe this is the start of him coming around on the whole giving is better than receiving thing? The people find the gifts are all masks, and soon they appear to be in a panic. Speedy takes note and wonders why Santa would do this. At the busy restaurant, a kid comes running in telling people Santa gave them creepy masks that won’t come off. Apparently they’re all stuck on, which is why the others seemed to be in such a panic. Guido and Polly take note as they run outside to try and help the crying mass of children. They can’t get the things off, while “Santa” flies overhead laughing all the way. He reveals that he put superglue in the masks and it’s at this point I realize his helper is not Jerry, but another character named Bad Bird (Michael O’Reilly). While Seymour enjoys his mayhem, Big Al (A.J. Henderson) is watching from the palace through a telescope and is sizing-up the imposter Claus. He recognizes Bad Bird and decides to put in a call to the Pizza Cats!

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So the headquarters for the good guys is just a giant gun. Something tells me that would have been a challenge to bring to toy stores in America.

We then get to see the transformation animation of the Pizza Cats. The three heroes jump into what the narrator refers to as laundry chutes, but they look kind of like pizza ovens to me. This takes them down a tunnel where their armor is put on. Meanwhile, the restaurant itself transforms as well with what is basically a giant revolver rising from the roof. The cats are loaded into it like bullets and then fired out into the sky as a trio of fireballs. The Paul Lynde voice and theme song return for this segment too and it’s quite a hoot. He cackles after delivering his lines as if he’s really amused by them which certainly makes the rumor about him being drunk at recording seem plausible. Francine chimes in with a little rhyme of her own essentially assuring her customers that everything is okay. She’s the one that engages the firing mechanism via a normal-sized revolver of her own.

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Bonus points for the festive heroic attire.

The fireballs fade away to reveal the heroic felines beneath them. They’re dressed in Santa suits and Speedy isn’t too pleased by this. Polly explains they’re dressed this way to restore Santa’s reputation. If the people see Santa-like beings saving Christmas, they’ll feel good about Santa once again. Meanwhile, Big Cheese is spreading more of his sinister gifts around Little Tokyo. This time though, the Pizza Cats drop in to prevent anyone from actually opening them. They first knock Big Cheese from the sky, who takes a terrible tumble along with Bad Bird. They then point out to the crowd of onlookers that this Santa is a fake, and they buy it. They start shouting fake as the Pizza Cats tell them of the nefarious gifts that await them.

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Even the villains in this show are kind of cute, in their own way.

Bad Bird ditches his disguise and goes after the Pizza Cats. He hits them with a bomb that knocks away their Santa costumes. The onlookers are then disappointed to see the Pizza Cats as this confirms they’re not denizens of the North Pole. Speedy shouts out what’s going on, while Big Cheese attempts to escape. When Polly points this out Speedy declares he won’t get away, “Not when I can pull out great props from no where!” And he does, as he produces a sort-of grappling hook that he tosses at Big Cheese to hook on his sleigh. As he pulls the villain towards him, the crowd runs at the sleigh and basically pummels the Hell out of Big Cheese.

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Robot #1. You can see why Speedy didn’t take it very seriously.

Bad Bird winces at the sight of Seymour getting mangled by jilted Christmas shoppers. He then summons another helper, this time it’s Hardy Boy, a robotic humanoid with a party hat. Speedy laughs when he sees the thing and mocks Bad Bird’s order to “Say your prayers.” He then pulls out his blade and jumps at the enemy only for it to blast him with a Christmas cracker that wraps him all up. Polly and Guido rush in to help as the robot fires some rockets their way. He then bends over as his party hat turns into a drill and is apparently ready to skewer the pair. Speedy then gets up and uses his sword to slash open the back of the robot. A big beam of light emerges and the robot falls away to reveal…

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Robot #2 is sort of creepy. I’m not sure why she has a bird beak, but whatever.

Another robot! This one looks like a female super model of sorts, only instead of a nose and mouth she has a small beak. The announcer seems to like her. Speedy is a bit intimidated and remarks that he hopes she’s not teed off. Apparently she is though, as she’s armed with a golf bag. She tees up a ball, and with a mighty swing she sends an explosive flying at the heroes. It rips through Guido’s umbrella and explodes on a nearby pagoda. Polly and Guido are a bit shaken, and then the robot starts launching more golf balls their way eventually sending them into the bushes. She then turns her attention to Speedy, and after some puns about making a point, she tosses a bunch of needles at him. Apparently golf isn’t her only gimmick as she’ll soon take note of Polly and Guido planning an attack. She then produces a giant pea pod, yes you read that right, which also contains giant explosive peas. I have no idea what her gimmick is at this point, but whatever.

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All right, we’ve had our fun and now it’s time to put an end to all of this.

Speedy has apparently had enough. He’s pretty ticked off that Santa’s reputation has been besmirched by these clowns and declares it’s time for the ultimate weapon. Yes, we’ve reached that point in the anime where the hero finally just uses the thing that always works. Speedy takes his sword and gets enveloped in an aura. The announcer even points fun at the whole ultimate weapon thing remarking the special FX guy was wondering when he’d be called upon. The sword basically splits into two better looking swords. With a cry of “Pizza power!” Speedy slices the air which sends energy slashes at the robot woman. She quotes Tweety Bird with a cry about seeing a “puddy tat” before she explodes. Bad Bird gets tossed as a result and he bemoans why they always lose to that sword. Seymour goes soaring by to answer it’s so stunt men have jobs. Speedy then reminds the kids who are watching to always eat their pizza as the trio pose triumphantly.

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Could that be the real Santa Claus? I’m still alarmed by the whole one reindeer thing.

We’re then taken back to town where all of the people are still suffering with their masks. A sight appears in the sky, could this be the real Santa Claus? He has what looks like a rocket sleigh and still just one reindeer, but the people are ready to believe anything. He drops some sparkly stuff on the crowd and soon the masks come off. Everyone is happy and also excited to find out that Santa is real! We then see that he is not, though, as it’s actually Big Al in disguise with Francine along to help. They’re just dropping some kind of glue solvent to get those masks off and Francine even makes a remark about Santa not being real, which is really odd to hear in a children’s show. Disturbing, even! The announcer even runs with it as he wraps things up by saying even if there isn’t really a Santa Claus, at least there are those willing to play the part. Thankfully, this isn’t the note we end on as we then pan to the sky and find the REAL Santa! He’s smiling and laughing and basically mocks the announcer before flying off passing by the moon in the process as he’s contractually obligated to do. And he too has just one reindeer. Clearly, this Santa is fraudulent as well.

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Ho ho! Now there’s the real Santa! And I thought this episode was going to blow the whole thing.

And that’s how this festive episode concludes. The machinations of this show are pretty straight-forward. The bad guy devises a scheme, the heroes arrive to face-off with he and his minions, they get beaten back, but then emerge victorious when the leader unleashes his ultimate power. It’s very similar to Power Rangers or Ronin Warriors in that regard. However, what elevates this program really is the script and performance of the voice actors. Now I’m guessing there is an offbeat quality to the original show, but I also get the sense that when the non-Japanese writers got ahold of this thing they felt it was pretty ridiculous, and it shows in their approach. Maybe that is offensive to fans of the original incarnation of the program, but it’s hard to deny a team of samurai cyborg felines that work at a pizza restaurant isn’t ridiculous on its own. The script was genuinely funny, and while there are certainly numerous bad puns, the show has this self-aware approach that actually makes those puns land in an ironic fashion. It’s silly and it’s fun. The only change I might have made was to not go with the title Samurai Pizza Cats. Because the 90s was full of sincere TMNT knock-offs, the parodic nature of this program doesn’t come through in that title. It probably should, given the silly-sounding title, but as I said the 90s was full of crap cartoons that make this one plausibly sincere. I know I and some of my friends dismissed it for that reason as a result.

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Gah! One reindeer! Are we sure he’s the real deal?!

For a 90s anime, this show is pretty consistent in terms of visual quality. I love the character designs as they strike a nice balance between cute and sleek. There is a nice melding of traditional Japanese settings with this cybernetic twist. The choice to dub Big Cheese as a rat is rather odd though as he clearly looks like a fox to me, but I guess that doesn’t really matter much in the grand scheme. The animation itself is somewhat limited as the characters are so complex it would be hard to have them in motion all of the time. As a result, there is a lot of standing around with just mouth flaps moving and extremely fast and exaggerated motions when the characters actually need to do something. This is par for the course with anime so it’s nothing to be surprised by. I enjoyed looking at this one, and I might even watch some more.

As for a Christmas episode, I was expecting there to be some lesson imparted on our heroes. They held a very cynical view of the holiday, all except Polly, and their selfishness was never really punished. I guess they didn’t get any superior presents and they did get blown up, but Polly suffered too. Speedy did witness the greed of the townsfolk and obviously didn’t enjoy it. They also had to defend the good name of Santa and weren’t looking for a reward beyond that so I guess that’s good. Not everything needs a moral, and I suppose the offbeat nature of the program means this one in particular doesn’t need to say a whole lot.

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There may not be a ton of traditional Christmas cheer in this one, but they did sneak in this nice, festive, image just before the end.

If you wish to take in a viewing of Samurai Pizza Cats the easiest way to do so is via Amazon Prime Video. It’s free for anyone who has a Prime membership so no additional purchase is necessary. It’s also not exactly a well-protected IP so if you don’t have Prime you can probably find it without issue for free elsewhere. The show was also released on DVD, if physical media is still your thing.

And that’s a wrap for this year’s edition of The Christmas Spot! I hope you enjoyed soaking in the holiday via Christmas specials, good and bad. I enjoy doing it and I plan to return to it again in 2020! For now though, enjoy the day and get all of the Christmas cheer you can tolerate for tomorrow it ends. Thanks for reading, and Merry Christmas!


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