Western Animation: Sagwa, the Chinese Siamese Cat

A PBS series set in 19th-century China about, as the title says, a cat named Sagwa. It was based on a children's book called The Chinese Siamese Cat (later renamed for the series) by Amy Tan. Sagwa and her family live in the palace of an unnamed magistrate and serve as his scribes, being able to write with their tails. The show taught children quite a bit about Chinese culture, legends, and even language. Sadly for the fans, it lasted only from September 2001 to October 2002.

This show provides examples of:

  • A Child Shall Lead Them: Sagwa herself, although as a kitten in a human world, she has to prove herself even more than most children would.
  • Adaptation Expansion: The book is 32 pages long and summed up in one episode (or rather a two-part episode). Everything else is new material.
  • Adorkable: Definitely Fu-Fu and the Reader of the Rules, but Dongwa and the Foolish Magistrate also have cute dorky moments.
    • Sir Richard!
  • Animal Athlete Loophole: The Foolish Magistrate tried to enter his cats into a caligraphy contest. The judge admitted there was no rule against cats entering the contest but the rule limiting the number of entrants to one per province forced him to pick one of the cats.
  • Animated Adaptation: Based on the original book by Amy Tan.
  • All Just a Dream: Used as a Deus ex Machina to save the characters in the episode On The Run.
  • Art Initiates Life: In the episode "The Cat and the Wind", Mama tells a story towards the kittens about Ming-Yao, an ancestor who can actually draw things that can come to life. Mama actually had this sort of power when the three asked if it was true.
    • Art Attacker: In that same episode, the evil emperor wanted Ming-Yao to draw ferocious storms so he can destroy his enemies. Ming-Yao, however, didn't really like this at all.
  • Aww, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: The Foolish Magistrate and Tai-Tai.
  • Batman Gambit:
    • The Master of Nothing, a teacher hired for the Magistrate's daughters. All three of them are upset at how they've constantly messed up at each of their courses (learning how to cook, play music, and make pots). The Master teaches them by deliberately doing each lesson wrong, such as trying to play a lute with his feet. This prompts the daughters to show him the correct way to do it, and therefore teach themselves in the process, just as the Master of Nothing planned.
    • When in a moment of impulsiveness the Foolish Magistrate tells the Italian ambassador that he can take one of his cats home with him, the cats try to get the Italian to renege by behaving as terribly as possible. This includes coating themselves in pepper so that he'll think he's allergic, digging their claws in him, and making mess. None of it works, but Tai-Tai eventually convinces him not to take any of them by pointing out a cat who can write Chinese but not Italian would be useless to him.
  • Be Yourself: This is pretty much the main plot for "All Grown Up". This was also part of the story for both "My Fair Kitty" and "Sister Act".
  • Beleaguered Assistant: The Reader of the Rules, and occasionally the Cook. While Reader is a beleaguered assistant to the Foolish Magistrate, the Magistrate's wife has the real power in the household. (See Politically Correct History below.)
  • Blind Without 'Em: Fu-Fu and the Reader of the Rules.
  • Bilingual Bonus: The theme song is mostly sung in Chinese. However, when translated, they basically have the same meaning as the only English phrase in the song. Also, most of the characters' name, although due to the various dialects out there, My Hovercraft Is Full of Eels may result if you're familiar in a dialect that is not Mandarin Chinese.
  • Briefer Than They Think: Despite it's success, the show only ran for just over a year with 40 episodes (and 79 stories). Likely because it was rerun for so many years afterwards.
  • Brutal Honesty: The episode retelling The Emperor's New Clothes. Sagwa is told to make a painting of the Magistrate's "new outfit" when she sees nothing. Despite worrying that she'll be kicked out for being deemed foolish, she chooses to draw what she sees: that is, him in his underwear. Her honesty pays off, though, since the Magistrate deduces that Sagwa can't be foolish as she's one of his smartest cats, and therefore that these clothes must be a sham.
    • This also happened in "Stinky Tofu", where Sagwa didn't want to hurt Yeh-Yeh's feelings that his breath was stinky after eating the tofu. However, after she told her honest truth towards her grandfather, he understands and states he won't tell any stories after he eats tofu.
  • Carnivore Confusion: One episode throws a Lampshade on it when Sagwa is called out for being friends with mice. Then, there's an episode where we see that her aunt and uncle have adopted a puppy who has learned how to meow!
    • All the cats catch and eat fish, including Sagwa's family. Yet Sagwa and her grandfather are apparently "relations" of catfish!
  • Catch Phrase: "I've been inspired!" The Foolish Magistrate frequently says this, usually in an adult child frame of mind to the annoyance of all around him.
  • Everything's Cuter with Kittens
  • Everybody Laughs Ending: "Sagwa, Fu-Fu and the Whistling Pigeon" and "Tough Guy Dongwa".
  • Fat Idiot: Played straight with The Foolish Magistrate. Averted with Cook (who, granted, is not nearly as large as the Magistrate).
    • The sleeve dogs could count, too.
  • Gender Flip: In the book, Sagwa had two brothers, but one of them was changed to a female kitten for the series.
    • Cook was female in the book, male in the series.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: One of the things that make the Magistrate and Tai Tai decide Cook probably has a girlfriend is 'strange noises coming from his room.'
  • Gossip Evolution: This happened in "Spreading Rumors".
  • Gratuitous Chinese, putting it several years ahead of Ni Hao, Kai-Lan in that the language used was Mandarin. It was in the theme song, "Hao peng you, Hao peng you. Sa Gua shi wo de hao peng you, Sagwa you're my best friend," and also used regularly within episodes. The characters wrote calligraphy, so viewers got to both hear it spoken and see it written.
  • Green Aesop: "The Birds, the Bees, and the Silkworms", where Tai-Tai banishes some of the creatures which she considers pests, only to find out later they were important after her banquet was ruined. Fortunately she set things right by undoing the banishment.
  • Happily Married: Mama and Baba Cat.
  • Henpecked Husband: The Foolish Magistrate.
  • I Was Quite a Looker: Tai-Tai. Meanwhile, Mama Miao and her sister, Chi-Chi, have still got it!
  • Indy Escape: Sagwa, Fu-Fu, and Shei-Hu escaped from a boulder in "Treasure Hunters".
  • Interspecies Adoption: One episode featured a dog adopted by a couple of cats.
  • Interspecies Friendship: The Miao kittens are friends with mice, birds, and a bat.
  • Interspecies Romance: One episode told a legend about how the catfish came to be a cat married a fish. Sounds obvious but no less nonsensical.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Why Dongwa and the alley cats are the darkhorses. Tai-Tai also falls into this trope.
  • Never Learned to Read: The villagers.
  • Nightmare Sequence: Baba had one after he scolded Dongwa for not writing his scrolls.
  • No Ending: The episode "Up, Up, and Away" ends with Fu-Fu carrying Dongwa over a sunset, with no explanation what happened afterwards. Though we assume they made it out okay.
    • "Fur Cut" has both an actual and in-universe examples: In-universe is about the story how Sagwa got the patches on her fur and abruptly ends with her and the dragon planning to stop the forest fire. She ended after she told the truth. The actual episode ends with just Sagwa retelling what exactly happened earlier.
  • No Fourth Wall: The "What About You?" segments on the PBS airings of the show.
    • This also happened a few times whenever the characters are retelling a story.
  • No Name Given: The Reader of the Rules remains just that in both versions.
    • The Foolish Magistrate and Cook are only known by their titles, as well.
    • Tai-Tai too. "Tai-Tai" (太太) means "wife" (as a common noun) or "Madam" (as a term of address).
  • Nonindicative Name: Sagwa is not actually a Siamese cat, as the story explains. She was originally a white kitten but fell into an inkpot, and since that kind of ink isn't easy to remove, she ended up with the markings of a Siamese cat. note 
  • Only Sane Man: Usually Sagwa for the animal kingdom and Cook for the humans, though the Sanity Ball gets tossed around.
  • Politically Correct History: Mostly regarding the treatment of and acceptable behaviour of women. The female characters in the series, particularly the Magistrate's wife, Tai-Tai, have much more freedom and influence than they would have had in real 19th century China.
    • Tai-Tai would NEVER think of talking to her husband like that, no matter how immature he was. Chinese women were forbidden to speak until spoken to.
    • The Magistrate doesn't seem bothered by the fact that he only has three daughters, when in real life, he would have probably kept trying for a son, since daughters could not inherit.
    • Tai-Tai and her three daughters have normal, functioning feet, and walk and run about frequently. Upper-class Chinese women and lower-class girls arranged to marry into a higher-class family were subjected to foot binding.
  • Rain, Rain, Go Away: "Sheegwa and the Blizzard".
  • Rebellious Princess: Ba-Do for self-assertion, Luk-Do for her own amusement. Neither sister has a huge case of this trope, however.
  • The Resenter: Sagwa becomes this for a while in "Princess Sheegwa."
  • Rich Bitch: Tai-Tai. Thankfully, it hasn't rubbed off on her daughters.
  • Sand In My Eyes: Fu-Fu goes through this twice in the episodes "Sagwa's Lucky Bat" and "Panda-monium".
  • Screw the Rules, I Make Them!: The Foolish Magistrate is above his own laws, as he demonstrates in the first episode.
  • Sick Episode: "Sick Day", which Sheegwa has a cold of the sniffles, and her siblings have to watch her.
  • Slice of Life: Slice of 19th-century Chinese life, through a kitten's eyes.
  • Sequel Episode: The episode "The Return of the Rat" towards an earlier episode "The New Year's Clean-Up".
  • Trademark Favorite Food: The Foolish Magistrate loves noodles.
    • Sagwa likes mooncakes
  • Treasure Map:
    • "Treasure Hunters", where the Magistrate founded a old map of his ansecor's poems.
    • "All Grown Up", where Baba left one that leads to where he hid his old collar.
  • Tsundere: Tai-Tai is a rare (socially) mature Tsun Tsun, almost Stepford Smiler variety. Hun-Hun, a female alley cat, is a Dere Dere. Given their positions - pampered wife of luxury versus cat of the streets - one would assume it would be the other way around.
  • Vague Age: Everybody except for the youngest generation.
  • Viewers Like You: The "thank you" for the "viewers like you" message was presented in both English and Chinese. "Thank you. Xie xie."
  • Wedding Day: The majority of "Wedding Day Mess", where Tai-Tai's niece is getting married.
  • Well, Excuse Me, Princess!: The sons of a visiting magistrate gave Huang-Do (a daughter of the Foolish Magistrate and Tai-Tai) this treatment, and Huang-Do's sisters in turn did the same.
  • Who Names Their Kid "Dude"?: Sagwa, Dongwa, and Sheegwa question their parents' name choices in one episode. Their names mean "melon head" or "silly", "winter melon", and "watermelon", respectively, in Chinese. Then their grandmother tells them why they were given those names (they refer to an incident that got their parents together), and the kittens accept them.
  • Whole Episode Flashback: Had a few of these:
    • "How Sagwa Got Her Colors", which explained how Sagwa got her facial markings. In the original book, it was told by a descendant of the Miao family. In the show, it was told by Mama Miao as Sheegwa wanted to hear it.
    • "Sagwa's Lucky Bat", which is how both Sagwa and Fu-Fu first met.
    • "Sick Day", which is a story Mama told Sheegwa what she did when she was sick herself.
    • "The Name Game", which Nai-Nai explains how both Mama and Baba met, as well as the origins of the kittens' names.

Alternative Title(s):

Sagwa The Chinese Siamese Cat