Though it aired for just a year, Kunitoshi Okajima's Kyatto-Ninden Teyandee (AKA Legendary Ninja Cats, 1990-91) made enough of a splash in Japan to eventually swim across the pond. Retooled as Samurai Pizza Cats for North American audiences, the original series was re-dubbed by Saban Entertainment after the translated scripts were found of be of lesser quality. Kyatto's already-high screwball factor was cranked up even further, characters were renamed, plenty of pop culture and political references were added, and nearly a dozen episodes were banned for objectionable content. So, to summarize: if you watched Samurai Pizza Cats as a kid during the early 1990s, part of your childhood is kind of a lie.
This doesn't make one version objectively more enjoyable than the other, of course, but the fact that the original has been unavailable on Region 1 DVD is both slightly baffling and completely understandable. Until last month, of course, as Discotek Media now offers the original 54 episode collection of Kyatto-Ninden Teyandee in its original, uncut Japanese form (and, as luck would have it, a complete boxed set of Samurai Pizza Cats will be available in late July). Whether you knew about the original, grew up with the Americanized version or are entirely new to anime, those with a soft spot for goofy, lighthearted adventure (and cats) should find Kyatto-Ninden Teyandee a welcome surprise. The series ran for a total of 54 episodes, including two clip shows and a post-finale "victory lap" celebration. Unlike most cartoons around these parts, we even get some closure because Kyatto ends on its own terms. Imagine that!
What both versions have in common is the basic premise: our heroes are three cute li'l kitties who work in a pizza parlor...and whenever trouble is brewing, they get a "special order" for delivery and blast off to save the day. Their episodic adventures stay above water despite falling into familiar anime territory on several occasions (even by 1990 standards). ADHD editing? Check. Goofy but likable hero with inflated self-esteem? Double check. Swords, shurikens and special moves? Check. Occasional mecha brawls? Check. Over-the-top episode names, such as "The Town is Full of Sushi! Panic!"? You better believe it. But for every recycled cliche and predictable plot resolution along the way, Kyatto-Ninden Teyandee still feels fresh and enjoyable more often than not. The sharp writing and colorful animation brings the town of Edoropolis to life, while an endless assortment of Animaloids (robotic animal creatures, which include our three heroes) are on hand to ensure that the mostly formulaic plots still shift gears on occasion.
Though the stakes are never raised very high---this is a show aimed at younger audiences, after all---there's a gradual building of momentum during the bulk of this 54-episode run, while the two-part series finale actually...well, feels like a series finale. Every episode isn't necessarily a slam dunk...but aside from two throwaway clip shows, there's a high level of consistency here. Discotek's compact eight-disc set offers a moderate level of support for this mostly forgotten gem, pairing a passable A/V presentation with only the bare minimum of expected bonus features. Either way, anime fans should eat this one up.
Complete List of Kyatto-Ninden Teyandee Episode Names (via Wikipedia)
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, Kyatto-Ninden Teyandee looks about as you'd expect for a low-budget import that's old enough to drink. There's a certain charm to the slightly faded colors and softer level of image detail...but other problems aren't as forgivable, including moderate interlacing issues and no shortage of compression artifacts. In motion, the series is "busy" enough to draw your eyes away from many imperfections. Bottom line: it's roughly on par with other cartoons from the era (Japanese or domestic), and it's kind of amazing that Kyatto-Ninden Teyandee even got a Region 1 release at all.
DISCLAIMER: These compressed screen captures are strictly decorative and do not represent DVD's native 480p resolution.
The audio tells a similar story; it's a little rough around the edges, but more than acceptable under the circumstances. This Dolby Digital 2.0 mix preserves the original Japanese audio, while removable English subtitles are provided for dialogue translation only. The overall sound quality is a bit muffled and lacks punch, though channel separation is evident and the music and effects don't regularly fight for attention. It's more "serviceable" than anything else, while any minor flaws aren't at all distracting to those familiar with shows from the era. At the risk of repeating myself, this is pretty much what you'd expect.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Seen above, these static menu designs are basic and get the job done just fine. Each 24-minute episode has been divided into five chapters and no obvious layer changes were detected during playback. This eight-disc set is housed in a hinged keepcase with four overlapping hub rows; amazingly enough, it takes up less space than two standard keepcases. Unfortunately, no episode listing is printed on the packaging and the case itself is somewhat thin and brittle. Mine actually arrived with a few chips and cracks.
It's not clearly advertised on the packaging, but the eighth and final disc includes the requisite Clean Opening and Closing Credits (2:00), as well as a vintage TV Promo (:30) advertising the series' February 1st, 1990 debut. Not the most comprehensive list of extras, but it's nice to at least have something.
Kyatto-Ninden Teyandee serves up plenty of good, clean fun and has aged more gracefully than most cartoons from its era (including many of the ones it subtly lampoons). The "anything goes" atmosphere and imaginative characters make it a safe bet for fun-loving anime fans of all ages...and though it's a bit repetitive and slightly overstays its welcome at 54 episodes, this series hits the mark more often than it misses. Discotek Media serves up a no-frills release with a passable A/V presentation and minimal extras, but it's refreshing to get a low priced, all-inclusive collection right out of the gate. This eight-disc set is firmly Recommended for genre fans or those who happened to catch Samurai Pizza Cats stateside.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.