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Urikupen Kyujotai: The cartoon that introduced me to animation



Come and join the good king Leo and his great patrol...

To say that I love cartoons is a bit of an understatement: I freaking adore the things and I can't really imagine going a single week of my life without watching, re-watching, or finding something from my childhood. And that's the whole beauty of it: no matter how well you think you knew your channels back in the day, there's always something that you missed for strange reasons (whether it was because of the scheduling, you not liking the subject matter, or your parents not being amused by what was being shown on the screen is up to you, but I don't think that anyone could ever negate the magic of doing such an archeological job after being told about something (or you finding out about it). That's the mentality that made me sit in front of the computer for weeks looking for a cartoon found in an old magazine and whose name was translated in the most backwards way possible (which sadly was a very common practice at the time, making it impossible to find anything using conventional methods) and that ended up being the -incredibly enjoyable- Jungeldyret Hugo. Or that made me reunite with Dog City after long years of not seeing it. Those are just two examples of a long list of findings that I made over the years and based on vague clues... but to think that everything started with something as bland and unknown as Urikupen Kyujotai might even be comical, seeing as this show is the king of obscurity and that the whole world seems to have missed it.


This intro means a lot to me and it still gets me excited after all these years. I really did like the cartoon when I first saw it, but not even back then could I have imagined what kind of ever-lasting effect it was going to have on me.


Urikupen Kyujotai was a small cartoon that ran from late 1974 to early 1975. The show was made as a part of a strange contest show in Japan and would run for over 150 episodes, which sounds exciting at first, but that's only until you realize that each installment was only a five-minute segment, part of a longer story that would progress just a little bit each time. The idea was that the kids in the audience would send a postcard or letter at the beginning of the week betting which of the main protagonists (an ensemble which consisted on several anthropomorphic animals) would be the first one to complete that week's assignment (which was basically a race, although sometimes there were secondary objectives to complete as well as just getting to the designated area first). By Friday, if they happened to be lucky enough to have their submission picked by the host AND have guessed correctly, they wiould then win a cheap toy or something along those lines, courtesy of whoever was sponsoring the show that particular race. It was a pretty harmless cartoon made for a very definitive purpose, but the idea doesn't seem to have caught on very well, because the whole thing was ended pretty quickly and the show would then disappear onto the shelves of history for years to come.

Or maybe not. Because in 1991 Saban entertainment decided that they absolutely wanted to own the show and got the rights for its distribution outside Japan. But they didn't simply buy it, oh no, they did a complete overhaul to it: all the references to a sponsored contest and/or game show were removed (more on that later). They also composed a new intro and outro theme for it and hired a bunch of voice actors to provide the voices for all the main characters on the show... and, of course, the five minutes segments were edited to form 26 half-hour cartoons. It was literally a new show and thus, it was granted a second life... but that would also prove to be rather short because of a technicality.

According to a single comment that I found online (which covered the show better than all the major sites that I have visited to date) the show was deemed illegal in the US because you apparently couldn't have a contest show combined with a TV show there. It didn't really matter that all traces of said game show/contest were edited out, as it was somehow considered the same thing anyways. After a bit of struggle, the show was taken off the air, never to be heard of again in those parts. But did that stop it? Of course not!



Saban might have done a lot of changes and improvements to this show, but it still looks and feels low-budget. I wouldn't have it any other way.

The show might have been a lost cause in the United States, but that didn't prevent it from existing in places like Argentina (and yes, that's where my personal story with it begins). I don't exactly know how it managed to land in those parts (I guess that Saban made it extremely cheap in order to get even a little bit of their money back) but it was one of the first shows ever to be featured in the newly-created kids network: The BIG Channel.

The BIG Channel was one of the first -some people affirm that it was indeed the first- cartoon networks to ever grace these parts. At first it was filled with either British cartoons such as Legends of Treasure Island or Japanese animation like Samurai Pizza Cats, which would eventually become one of the channel's most recognizable products during its "classic" era. But Urikupen Kyujotai (locally known as "Cuentos de la Selva", probably the most generic name ever to be given to a cartoon) was one of the first ones I ever saw due to it being on at the same time I normally got home from school and also immediately before I went to bed. That alone made me grow extremely fond of the show, simply because I got to know the characters better than pretty much any other animated team of the time.

But such a short-lived cartoon couldn't be used for long and it actually got taken off the air only a few months after its initial airing. I remember that annoyed me way more than it probably should, in no small part due to how attached to it I was at the time. But one thing that should be noted, though, is that it didn't get transferred to the "weekend" schedule, like most shows did when the novelty of their concepts wore off. This one was completely taken off the grid. That did get my attention when I find out about it later, but those 26 episodes were shown to death by that point, so it was actually understandable.


Look at this commercial from that time. It barely features the show at all -and, somehow, it also managed to give away big spoilers for the episode at hand-, but that was all I needed, just a glimpse of what what's coming next was enough to make me glue my eyes to the clock waiting for that magical time of the day when this show was on.

 
Also featured in the video: an old commercial for the Lays (back when they were called "Frenchitas"), a clip from an upcoming episode of Silverhawks and some magazine advertising a VHS of Dragon Ball.

So... the show died off quickly in Japan, was killed in the USA and only lasted a couple of months in Argentina. Was that all for it, then? That must have been the case, right? NO! As unbelievable as it sounds, this little Frankenstein monster of animation also made it to Germany as late as the year 2000, where it lasted another couple of months before being canned again... and it was also released on VHS in Sweden and other countries in packs of four or more episodes. These are important for us, because the only way to watch the toon now is thru those VHS tapes (which can be found on YT). So, are you in the mood for Swedish/German/Russian/Danish action? There you go, then (this one even features an amazing end-credits song for you to enjoy).



It might have taken an entire week, but Rhonda won the race. Gotta love  that smug expression on her face.

Now, here comes the golden question: Why was this thing so addicting, right to the point of being worth a search that took me -and I swear that this is true- four years to complete? Well, who knows? I guess that nostalgia had a ton to do it with it -and I hardly doubt that I would like this cartoon even remotely as much without that factor- but its overall silliness also sold it pretty well, even after all these years.

Just think about it: these guys are some sort of Civil Defense squad which goes out in the forest to help those in need... but they do it by competing with each other (sometimes even playing dirty!) and also while avoiding the relentless attacks of the main villains, such as Wolf Bain and Jo Jo Crow. It still amuses me to this day... how stupidly evil do you need to be in order to pick on Civil Defense workers? And that's not even it! The funniest part is that King Leo's only effort to prevent this from happening is sending his aide, Petula Pidgeon, to keep track of their progress and providing the occasional help for them. Silly as it sounds, though, there wasn't anything like seeing the King's "strategic map" marking the progress of each animal on the team... it was a strangely effective way to keep you entertained and hooked to the race because you could clearly see how your favorite animal was doing in comparison to everyone else. And the show also played dirty by having a twist in the end of some episodes that would make the animal who actually made it first to the goal NOT be the winner (which I bet was taken extremely well by those Japanese kids who guessed the winner right but got robbed by this).
 


Come on, Donny Deer... you are not even trying, mate! Also, I think you are cheating.

Is there anything else that I would like to say before ending this article? Yeah, there's something else: I have been told that some episodes of this show have been taken down by YouTube due to third-party claims, and I have actually confirmed that one of them is effectively gone. May I ask why? I would understand if the episodes were the English version and if the show was actually very well-known, but this thing is anything BUT. It blows my mind to think that someone is actually picking on this thing for all its worth. Just let it be, mate... I bet that many of the people involved in the original version -as well as the Saban version- are not even around anymore. I mean, come on.

Sorry about that little rant at the end, I just needed to get it off my chest.

But yeah, I will always remember this show as being the one that showed me like anything else just how good and engaging animation could be. And if I have any VHS tape/DVD/cassette/or space on my HDD that it is taken by a cartoon or animated movie, it is exclusively because of it. Here's hoping that it finally found a permanent home on the internet.



And off they go, to a new adventure.


Thank you for reading. Good night!
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jkatz Posted on Jan 02, 2017 at 07:30 PM

Great article! I love reading about obscure animes and films...they usually end up in the most interesting places.

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