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Western Animation / Sagwa, the Chinese Siamese Cat

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Amy Tan with Sagwa, Dongwa, and Sheegwa

A short-lived (but fondly-remembered) PBS series set in 19th century China about, as the title says, a cat named Sagwa. It is 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. While not practicing their calligraphy (or in the case of Fu-Fu the bat, cleaning the cave), they enjoy exploring, playing games, and hanging out in the palace's attic (which they nickname "the clubhouse").

The show gained a pretty good sized demographic during it's original run, and teaches children quite a bit about Chinese culture, legends, and even language. The fact that it aired on PBS made it especially popular in households without cable. Sadly for the fans, it lasted only from September 2001 to February 2003. This hasn't stopped the show from being a Cult Classic, especially among the Furry Fandom. Now has a recap page in the works.


Produced by CinéGroupe and, of course, the ones that gave everyone that is Sesame Street.

This show provides examples of:

  • Aborted Arc: One could say this about any one-off character who has potential to be a reacurring character. A good example would be Fam, who is introduced early on in the series in "Sagwa's Good Deed" as a part of Sagwa's circle of friends, only to disapear afterwards and being Demoted to Extra, not getting another cameo until late in the show's run.
    • Jun fared slightly better. She's introduced late in the series and set up to be a new reoccurring character, but due to it ending after one season, she only gets two appearances.
  • The Ace: Sagwa is considered by far the best of her siblings when it comes to calligraphy, and frequently receives praise for her natural skill at it.
    • In the episode where the Magistrate enters Sagwa into a calligraphers' contest, the reigning champion has won the prize for sixty-three consecutive years before finally retiring. One must wonder why anyone bothered with the contest given this lifetime winning streak.
  • 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.
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  • Adorkable: Definitely Fu-Fu and the Reader of the Rules, but Dongwa and the Foolish Magistrate also have cute dorky moments.
  • Adults Are Useless: Averted big time with Mama and Baba Miao, who help their children a lot, while also letting them figure things out for themselves.
    • Sir Richard!
    • Baba Miao as a young adult is this as well.
  • Animal Athlete Loophole: In the Lost Episode "The Competition", 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 Actors: During "What About You?".
  • 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.
    • Actually, the main conflict had been resolved by the end. The fact that a character exclusive to the dream appears afterwards puts it into Or Was It a Dream?.
  • 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 has this sort of power as revealed at the end of the episode.
    • 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.
  • Balloon Belly: Fu-Fu gets this in "Luck Be a Bat" after eating too many dumplings.
  • Batman Gambit:
    • In another Lost Episode, 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 a 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.
    • In the episode where Dongwa pretends to be hurt, Sagwa comes up with one to prove to Mama that he's faking. It works.
  • Be Yourself: A pretty common theme in the series, being present in "All Grown Up", "My Fair Kitty", "Cool Fufu" and "Sister Act".
  • Bleached Underpants: Kamiko Taka, who voiced Ling in "Dongwa's Best Friend", has a IMDB page mostly comprised of adult videos.
  • Blush Sticker: Sheegwa has these most of the time.
  • 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.
    • In the show's funding credits from the original PBS airings, Thanking the Viewer is done both in English and Chinese — after the initial "Thank You", a set of Chinese characters are then displayed followed by a voice over saying "Xie xie", which translates to "Thank you" in Chinese.
  • Bottle Episode: "The Tortoise and The Cat" is very much this, with mixed results, as it makes Sagwa come across as a little too naive and ignorant.
  • Briefer Than They Think: Despite its 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: In 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 said tofu, of course.
  • Cant Get Away With Nothing: Invoked in "Sagwa's Good Deed". Sagwa does something beautiful for Fam and his family and is punished for it just because she was late for dinner. (Admittedly, Mama Miao did forgive Sagwa once she found out why she was late, but she still overreacted to something relatively minor and continued to point out the importance of keeping a promise, as if Sagwa had done something much worse than miss a meal.) Also implied to have been Mama Miao's reaction to Sagwa's honest mistake in "How Sagwa Got Her Colors".
  • 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!
  • Cool Shades: Fu-fu wears these during the episode "Cool Fufu", as part of his "gangster" look after joining the rebel winged flyers.
  • Cute Kitten: Sagwa, Dongwa, and especially Sheegwa
  • 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.
    • Originally, Fu-Fu's catchphrase was "Jai-jen, my friend!", but this was phased out after the episode "Fu-fu's Full Moon Flight".
  • Continuity Nod: Oogway the tortoise from "The Tortoise And The Cat" makes a cameo in "The Favorite".
  • "Could Have Avoided This!" Plot: In one episode, Sagwa inherits a ceremonial collar passed down to the eldest daughter of each generation, one that is worn and smells off due to age. For this, she is mocked by the alley cats and later by the sleeve dogs, who steal the collar just to spite her when she tries to rid herself of it. Coming to realize its value, she takes it back and promises to always wear it, to which Mama reveals that as an heirloom it's only meant to be worn when the occasion calls for it. As it turns out, if Sagwa had sat still for just a few moments more when Mama tried to explain to her earlier, she could've spared herself a lot of grief.
    • In another episode, Sagwa bails on Dongwa to avoid his bossiness, and doesn't notice when she loses her collar. Naturally, she is mistaken for a stray by a young girl living on a house boat, and is taken in and very nearly taken away from her village. Lucky for Sagwa that a fellow kitten from the pier tipped off the others to what happened to Sagwa or else the young girl's family would never have realized this mistake.
    • In another instance, Sheegwa runs off against Sagwa and Dongwa's advice and runs right into the Magistrate and Tai-Tai while they're hosting some guests, which winds up leading to the highly unlikely scenario of her being mistaken for a princess due to a supposed birthmark.
    • Another episode has Sheegwa getting into an argument with Sagwa over the latter's bossiness when she tries to lecture Sheegwa on the right way to spin her toy top, and threatens to run away. The next day, Sheegwa goes missing during a huge snowstorm and Sagwa, remembering how mad she made Sheegwa, fears the worst and goes out into the storm to find her. As it turns out, Sheegwa was safe in the house taking a nap in her bed, which everyone failed to check right off the bat. Sagwa is also visibly and justifiably miffed that Sheegwa's words forced her to go out into a storm for nothing, but she chooses to brush it off.
  • Covered in Mud: Happens to one of the magistrate's daughters after slipping in it. Also happens later in the same episode to the three daughters and the visiting magistrate's sons during a mudfight.
    • Tai-Tai goes through this in "Tung The Singing Cricket" and "Lord of the Fleas".
  • Series Continuity Error: In "Sagwa's Lucky Bat" they act like the clubhouse is being discovered for the first time, despite appearing in two (and being mentioned in one previous) episodes.
  • Darker and Edgier: "On The Run", one of the final episodes of the series, goes straight into this, having not one but two truly dangerous antagonists who go after arguably the two most loveable characters of the series. Despite being played dead serious, it's written off as a dream in the end,, likely due to Executive Meddling, since much of it would scare the younger children watching.
  • Everything's Cuter with Kittens
  • Everybody Laughs Ending: Quite common.
  • 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.
    • The Cook was female in the book, male in the series.
  • Good Parents: Mama and Baba Miao. While they have a tendency to be strict at times and even occasionally overly critical, for the most part they are wise, caring, loving and understanding.
  • 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" is pretty Anvilicious in giving this out. Tai-Tai somehow 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.
  • Grossout Episode: "Stinky Tofu" involves Sagwa becoming extremely disgusted by the eponymous food.
  • Happily Married: Mama and Baba Cat.
  • Hell Is That Noise: Tung's singing. And the instrument Sir Richard plays at the end of "Treasure Hunters".
  • Henpecked Husband: The Foolish Magistrate.
  • I Was Quite a Looker: Tai-Tai, who is shown in flashback as a young girl and being pretty for her age. Meanwhile, Mama Miao and her sister, Chi-Chi, have still got it!
  • Indy Escape: Sagwa, Fu-Fu, and Shei-Hu (one of Sagwa's mice friends) 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 when she's not being a Jerkass.
  • The Makeover: Sagwa got this, as shown in the first episode, as a result of falling face-first into a pot of ink. She is shown again with her original look in "Sagwa's Lucky Bat".
  • Multi-Character Title: "Sagwa, Fu-fu and the Whistling Pigeon".
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Dongwa after insulting Haiyo.
    • Inverted in the episode where Tai-Tai decides to keep Fu-Fu as her "lucky bat". She has a seemingly has Heel Realization that animals should be allowed to live free (something she'd already learned earlier on) and the moment she sees Fu-Fu again she recaptures him. At the reminder of one of her daughters, she refrains from keeping him; however, now the viewer isn't really able to trust her.
  • Never Learned to Read: The villagers, hence the reader of rules.
  • 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.
    • "Ba-Do and the Lantern Festival" ends with Ba-Do and Sagwa separated from their family but enjoying the last of the lantern festival... and then the episode just abruptly stops without any explanation as to how Ba-Do got back home. As a result, we're left to assume the Magistrate and Tai-Tai realized one of their daughters was missing and were able to find her.
  • 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).
    • Most of the alleycats aside from Fam, Wing Wing, Jet-Jet, Hun-Hun, Lik-Lik.
    • Also Nai-Nai and Yeh-Yeh are this. Mama and Baba Miao's names are revealed in "The Name Game", however.
  • 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. Dongwa, of all characters, actually catches it in one episode!
  • Opinion-Changing Dream: In one episode, Dongwa and Baba have a falling out due to Dongwa wanting to practice kung fu more than his scrolls, and even making Sagwa do the work at one point. Baba scolds Dongwa for the deception, but has to come to terms with his own contribution to the conflict when he has a nightmare about his own younger days, where he wanted to play outside but his grandfather insisted on him doing his scrolls. This prompts him to apologize to Dongwa and be less hard on him.
  • Opposites Attract: Tai-Tai and her husband the Magistrate have their share of differences, with the Magistrate being more comical than she is. Unlike the Magistrate, she did not enjoy listening to the cricket Tung and ultimately decided to get rid of him, though she changed her mind when she realized how important he was to him. Fortunately, Tung made his way back.
  • Parental Bonus: One of the things that make the Magistrate and Tai-Tai decide Cook probably has a girlfriend is "strange noises coming from his room".
  • 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 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" and "Too Close For Comfort".
  • Rich Bitch: Tai-Tai. Thankfully, it hasn't rubbed off on her daughters.
  • Ring Around the Collar: Brutally invoked with Sagwa; an episode showing her without her collar puts her heavily into Uncanny Valley. Averted with Dongwa earlier in an episode showing him without his collar though.
  • 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.
  • Series Continuity Error:
    • Sagwa mentions she just discovered the attic in "Sagwa's Lucky Bat", despite it already appearing in previous episodes.
    • It's worth noting that a similar mistake occured in Dragon Tales, another show from Seaseme Workshop. It's likely that the episodes weren't aired in the order they were written, leading to continuity errors.
  • Short Runner: At one forty-episode season, it was well under the 65-episode minimum.
  • 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".
    • "Up, Up and Away" marks the return of the character of Sir Richard.
  • Spoiled Sweet: Generally inverted or played straight with the three daughters, who seem to often be indulged and rarely parented. This is particularly interesting since the kittens are, in contrast, constantly disciplined and forced to follow rules.
  • Stereotype Gay: Lik-Lik is implied to be this.
  • Theme Tune Cameo: The theme song is actually sung in the first episode (just without the word "Sagwa").
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: One might assume this about Sagwa and Sheegwa (with Sheegwa being the more girlish looking because of her pink collar), but refreshingly, they're neither tomboys or girly girls.
  • Tomboy with a Girly Streak: Sagwa, Sheegwa, and possibly the three daughters.
  • Trademark Favorite Food:
    • The Foolish Magistrate loves noodles.
    • Sagwa likes mooncakes.
  • Treasure Map: Used twice, first in "Treasure Hunters", where the Magistrate founded a old map of his ancestor's poems, and then in "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.
    • The pilot mentions that the Magistrate and Tai-Tai have been married for thirty years, which would mean they must be at least in their upper forties.
  • Viewers Like You: The "thank you" for the "viewers like you" message was presented in both English and Chinese. "Thank you. Xie xie." Unfortunately for old fans, these aren't included on the DVD and are hard to find online.
  • Wedding Day: The episode "Wedding Day Mess", where Tai-Tai's niece is getting married.
  • Where the Hell is the Foolish Magistrate's Village?: The show never gives clues as to where the Foolish Magistrate's village is. The Other Wiki guesses it's in the modern-day Fujian provinces of China and Taiwan respectively, as hinted by the scenery.
  • White Void Room: In "What About You?"
    • Dongwa imagines Sheegwa in this at the beginning of the story in "Sick Day" (she tells him to think up something more clever).
  • 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: The show has 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; however, 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.
    • "The Name Game", which Nai-Nai explains how both Mama and Baba met, as well as the origins of the kittens' names.
  • You Didn't Ask: In one episode Sagwa goes on a boat ride with a couple of friendly fish-catching birds, only to realize she hasn't written up the rules for a boat race being held in town, and that the boat won't be returning to port for hours. Sagwa gets this response when she asks why they didn't let her know this.


Example of: