Cute baby bunnies, frolicking in a field. Identical twin monkeys, playing hide and seek. A sweet baby panda, serving soup to his sickly mother.
This is how the 1986 mainland cartoon for kids, Inspector Black Cat (黑猫警长), always starts.
But then… well, let’s just say it’s Tarantino time.
Plenty of cartoons are violent, but in Inspector Black Cat, the blood flies across the screen. A newly-wed groom lies flayed and dismembered on the floor, his skull sucked completely clean. A rat’s ear is blown off and blood sprays. Hundreds of innocent fleeing insects are brutally stabbed, sliced, and burned to death.
It’s hard to reconcile saccharine cute mixed in with such unexpected violence, exploding across the screen. It’s like an unironic Itchy and Scratchy or Meet the Feebles, but from China and for kids! I asked around, but no-one seemed the least perturbed.
“I don’t remember it much,” laughed Jane, “but I can still sing the theme song.”
“I don’t think it was violent at all,” said Jason. “In fact, I remember it would make me happy. I was maybe five, six, seven. Something like that.”
Oh yes, happy!
In fact, the violence is incredibly happy. Every episode celebrates earnest village cartoon animals, engaging in manual labor for the sake of the economy. Cruel beasts sneak in to steal the fruit of their labor. And Inspector Black Cat shows up for revenge. He’s got a hoverbike, a walkie talkie, and a big gun.
Where the hell did this come from?
At the time, the most popular show in mainland China was Tom & Jerry. (A recent poll shows it remains the most popular cartoon among children born in the 1990s.) And just as Sanmao was a Chinese attempt to replace Donald Duck, Inspector Black Cat was created to displace this American influence. It was firmly Chinese, taking its name from Deng Xiaoping’s economic policy of “It doesn’t matter if the cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice, it’s a good cat.”
The entire show is bloated with pro-China anti-American policy. The series’ ultimate malefactor is a thieving and drunk rat, wearing big white gloves, britches, and a massive button on his waist. Basically, he’s Micky Mouse. He’s lazy, corrupt, and greedy. Like America.
A later episode shows an eagle kidnapping the cartoon children of China, including a baby panda. We hear their bones breaking under his beak. It’s positively horrific. Just in case an eagle was too subtle, Inspector Black Cat shaves him down — he’s now a bald eagle! — and the children mock him. “You’re bald!” they laugh, attacking him with bats, and cheers of “Beat! Beat! Beat!”
The most grueling episode was clearly written and directed by a fan of Sam Peckinpah. Hundreds are mowed down by bullets, swords, and fire. But there’s also romance on the battlefield, and two praying mantises woo each other in an unbelievably long, dialogue-free sequence, while a mariachi band seranades in the background. The couple marry, and head to bed, while parents shield the eyes of their children, and whisper, “You wouldn’t understand.” Even the moon covers his eyes, and bashfully retreats off-screen. It’s a beautiful episode that turns into one of incredible violence… I’ll include it below.
My favorite character, though, is
Micky Mouse’s the rat’s famously farting African relative, Uncle Cat-Eating Mouse. His noxious parp is deadly… but so is his murderous bite. (Mao, a great fan of fart jokes, would probably have liked him as well.)
After the violence, though, when order is restored and the ground is littered in blood and corpses, everyone usually cheers. “See you again,” Inspector Black Cat will laugh to the dancing locals. And he will.
The whole first series is great. Check out the battlefield / praying mantis episode, below.