Last week during the Lean Into Artcast co-host Rob Stenzinger mentioned a Usagi Yojimbo action figure from the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toyline dressed in a space suit. I had heard about the Space Usagi spinoff series and while I know the figure I’ve always believed it to be connected to that set of miniseries…once I heard about it anyway. The regular feudal Japan version, Miyamoto Usagi (or Usagi Miyamoto if you prefer the English method) had appeared on that and the second series (I don’t know about the current one) as well as in the original comics, which explains his presence here. The Space Usagi toy was just to pepper the line as toylines tend to do late in their life.
I went looking for info on it to show him and found something I wasn’t expecting, a 3+ minute pilot for a Space Usagi cartoon, based on the science fiction take of Stan Sakai’s wandering ronin. It was produced by Fred Wolf Films, the same group behind the first TMNT cartoon. Tonight we take a look at it and try to figure out why it didn’t make it to a full series.
So what’s the main reason this failed? The official site (at least I think it is, there is a lot of personal commentary here as well and not from Sakai) claims it was the failure of a similar show, Bucky O’Hare And The Toad Wars. The toys didn’t do well so Playmates opted not to fund this project, and they couldn’t find anyone else either, possibly blaming the space adventures of a rabbit and his crew rather than whatever was wrong with the show. Don’t ask me, I enjoyed it. This leads me to ask why they didn’t simply go to the original series and set it in a feudal Japan world, like it was during the Turtles crossovers? It would have been less confusing to the audience, that’s for sure.
Jim Cummings was a great choice for Rhogen, a descendant of not-space Usagi’s “friend” Gennosuke. However, he didn’t work for me as Usagi, perhaps because I’m more used to the voice actors who played his feudal counterpart in the first two cartoons, Townsend Coleman in the original and Jason Griffith in the first remake. Cummings sounds too confident and battle-hardened, which may be closer to Space Usagi than the more gentle, yet battle-ready Miyamoto Usagi.
I probably would have given this series a good shot, or one based on Usagi Yojimbo. Apparently there was a proposed Space Usagi story for the second series but for whatever reason it was shelved. I hope we do get some form or Usagi in animated form eventually, hopefully by someone who knows how to do it right.