It has four seasons, a theatrical movie and a number of spin-off cartoons, yet chances are, you’ve never even heard of it. Its dramatic themes briefly got it banned in its home country of China, with scenes depicting numerous bloody wounds, on-screen deaths and even torture. 虹猫蓝兔, which translates to Rainbow Cat & Blue Rabbit, is an animated franchise that was originally created by Hunan Great Dreams Cartoon Media Co. Ltd. as a whimsical comedy. In 2006, they decided to take those purely comedic characters and plug them into an action-drama. It was quite the shift in tone, but in doing so, they created something truly fascinating.
Rainbow Cat & Blue Rabbit’s first season, Legend Of The Seven Swords, is regarded by most as the best season of the show. It was about a young cat named Hongmao who had to unite the heirs of six other legendary swordsmen in order to defeat a great evil. Lantu, the titular ‘blue rabbit’, was the first he united with and the two set off on their journey together. With 108 episodes running fifteen minutes long, it had ample time to introduce its characters and tell a great story, which I feel it did very well even if it did start to meander a bit towards the end.
What shocked me most about the season was its heavier dramatic themes, most notably regarding Sally, the heir of the Ziyun sword. Early on in the season, an impostor defeats her and takes her place. For a number of episodes, Sally is forced to consume pills which makes her unable to talk and she is subjected to random beatings and mind-control attempts. At one point, she even attempts to kill herself as she spirals into a deep depression. Her story was tragic and invoked a level of emotion from me that no western cartoon has ever managed to invoke. It also produced one of the more memorable scenes from the season, one that caused no shortage of controversy in China. Lantu, in order to find a way to heal Sally, sought out a flower that would only blossom when somebody sacrificed their own blood. Suffice it to say, she did just that.
Seasons two and three followed in direct continuity, and while I greatly enjoyed seeing the characters continue their adventures together, it was clear that all of the controversies during the first season had taken a toll on the show. It never quite captured the same level of intensity that the first season had. Still, both seasons did capture the spirit of the show well enough and a number of sacrifices were made by the characters. Self-sacrifice is generally the biggest theme that the franchise has, with characters often giving up their lives in order to protect or save others.
With three seasons under their belt, a theatrical movie went into development, Rainbow Cat & Blue Rabbit: Phoenix Rising, which premiered in 2010. Despite having three seasons worth of world building, five of the seven swordsmen were relegated to background roles and the movie pushed a new main character, a raccoon named Foxy, to be the lead alongside Hongmao and Lantu. While the movie was enjoyable enough and can be watched with English subtitles on their official YouKu channel, their decision to essentially write off the other characters really rubbed me the wrong way. Also, despite having a bigger budget and being on the big-screen, the movie was sorely lacking in action scenes.
The show’s fourth season, however, had them make a bad situation worse. It continued after the movie but threw away everything completely. The five swordsmen who barely got any screentime in the movie were turned into babies and were completely irrelevant for the entire season. Hongmao lost his fighting abilities and Lantu lost her memory. The season was a debacle through and through, and even ended without its story ever getting resolved as it was unceremoniously cancelled. A new season is actually in development, some six years later, but it appears to be a prequel of sorts.
While its bitter end is certainly a blemish, I fervently believe that Rainbow Cat & Blue Rabbit is one of the more interesting animated franchises to ever come out of China. Its lack of an English dub is problematic, as the translations online are often difficult to find, but every episode of the show can be watched in Chinese on their official YouTube channel. Perhaps one day we’ll be lucky enough for translation software to reach the point where language barriers no longer keep shows like this from finding the fanbases that they deserve.