SSS Warrior Cats
Back in the day, it seemed like everyone and their dog had their own adaptation of the Warrior Cats book series. The first book in the series, ‘Into the Wild’ was published in 2003, and it quickly worked its way into the hearts of thousands of kids across the world- including yours truly! I have a ton of fond memories of reading about the adventures of loyal Fireheart, quick witted Graystripe, and meek Ravenpaw. I wasn't alone in this either, and to this day the warrior cats fandom still has an impressive presence on the internet.
For the uninitiated, the basic plot of the first book is pretty simple. In a forest bordering on human civilization, there are 4 clans of feral cats that look to the spirits of their dead in ‘Starclan’ for guidance. One of the clans, Thunderclan, is going through tough times after a long winter with a declining population. Thunderclan’s leader, Bluestar, receives a prophecy from Starclan through Thunderclan’s medicine cat- “Fire alone will save our clan.” Elsewhere, on the Thunderclan border, a kitten named Rusty has always looked out into the woods behind his human owners' house with a sense of wonder… and unease. Upon venturing into the woods, he meets Bluestar and is given the opportunity of a lifetime- to join the ranks of Thunderclan. Will Rusty be able to earn his keep as ‘Firepaw’, a Thunderclan apprentice? What will come of the border skirmishes with the other clans? Will Thunderclan survive the coming hardships? These questions and more are answered in the first book, but the series’s concept is flexible and fun enough that many popular sequels to the original series have been penned.
To this day (1/6/2020), the books’ fandom is still going strong and is one of the most prolific producers of fan animation on YouTube to this day. While many kids in the early youtube era attempted to adapt the books (I can think of three off the top of my head), few made any great progress, and many have been deleted. (Rest in peace, AlliKatNya’s Warriors of the Forest.) Considering that most fans of the books were kids however, these adaptations weren’t known for their high quality animation or fantastic illustration.
Except for one.
SSS Warrior Cats was, at least in the circles I frequented, hailed as a pinnacle of fan animation. Made by a small but passionate team, the series currently has 3 episodes, split into several parts. This results in a total run time of about 68.5 minutes, including credits and intros, created between 2009 and 2013. An impressive amount of work, and a lot of animation for a fan created show! Still, while I remember SSS Warrior Cats being the best thing since sliced bread, I was also 12 when the first episode came out, and so I definitely needed a refresher to catch up and see if the hype was truly what I remembered.
And you know what?
It really is that good.
Even from the opening shots of the prologue, it’s clear that the writers have a sense of subtlety. It’s an impactful action sequence that drops both major character and setting names for us to ponder (what’s Riverclan and Thunderclan? Who is this aggressive stripey fellow?), while still providing flashy action scenes to hold your attention even if you’re confused. While we don’t know who everyone is yet or why the battle is happening, we get context clues that this is some sort of territorial battle- we enjoy both the action and the hints of story and are left wanting to know more, which the rest of the show provides.
Despite good dynamic animation however, the story isn’t afraid to take a moment to breathe either. Quieter scenes are used to help tie things together, and it’s cut well so nothing drags on for too long or leaves awkward pauses. The writers don’t feel the need to spell everything out either. We know Rusty is named that because it’s written on his collar and bowl. Spottedleaf doesn’t need to explain where she got her prophecy- we saw the shooting star that caused it. So on and so forth. Additionally, There are several moments where a character’s facial expression is really all you need to determine what they’re thinking. In my opinion, this gives the story a good rhythm between moments of tension and lightheartedness, action and stillness, that makes it genuinely fun to watch.
That being said, there are a couple flaws in the show that can wear on the viewer- all to do with the audio. The sound mixing is...middling, to say the best. I found myself constantly cranking my volume up to understand what was being said, and back down again when an angry cat screech blew out my ear drums. This is improved upon in later parts, however. The voice acting isn’t the best either. It’s not bad, don’t get me wrong! Everyone’s mic is serviceable and no one was so bad enough that it brought me out of the story… but no one good enough to bring me IN either. The music is probably what brought me out the most though. Using copyrighted songs from other shows isn’t uncommon in webtoons, but few shows use tunes quite as well known as the ones in SSS Warrior cats. It’s a bit difficult to engage with what’s being shown on screen when your mind is thinking of what was happening in the scene this same song was played with in Naruto. Or DNAngel. Or any of the other well known anime these distinctive songs were taken from. There’s another consequence to this too- those listening to Episode 2, Part 3 will note that it doesn’t have any audio at all. The owners of one of the songs used requested a copyright takedown on one of the songs, resulting in the whole video having its audio muted. Thankfully, the episode is still watchable due to subtitling, but many webtoons would not be so lucky.
What the audio fails at though, the animation more than makes up for. The characters designs are sometimes a little simple and they can look off model in certain shots but the motion is consistent enough that you don’t really notice. Furthermore, when the fight scenes start, they are REALLY good. The easy to draw designs mean that the animators don’t have to pull punches when drawing them from difficult angles, allowing them to pull off excellent extreme foreshortening and dynamic camera movements. The fight between Firepaw and Longtail is best at this in my opinion, featuring the cats flipping end over end, trading blows, and only rarely recycling a shot. The action has proper weight too- none of the characters feel like they’re just floating in space, and blows hit with as much impact as you’d expect them to. The fights aren’t just for flash either- they do a good job of progressing the story as well. I’ll use the fight between Longtail and Firepaw as an example again for this. The fight starts when Longtail mocks Rusty for his desire to join Thunderclan- how could a house cat ever measure up to a REAL warrior? Rusty takes the challenge, and the resulting scuffle is more than just a fight- it’s an argument, a conversation between the two of them about his worthiness. Rusty’s victory, both in losing his collar to Longtail, but ripping Longtail’s ear in turn proves his victory in the argument- that he does have the cleverness and fortitude required for the clan. Furthermore, losing his collar is suitably symbolic of him leaving his old life- and name- behind.
While many scenes in SSS Warrior Cats are cut directly from the cloth of the books, the animators do take a few creative liberties. In the show, the cats seem to have a few special, borderline supernatural abilities, implied to be granted to them by Starclan. Whitestorm can move so fast that he’s nigh invisible until he finally strikes. Longtail’s tail is powerful enough that it can be used to grab and pummel opponents. This is a definite departure from the “Into the Wild” book, where the cats don’t have any powers outside what you’d expect to find in a regular street cat. That being said, I think this is a change that works really well. Every medium is different, and 2D animation is a big leap from the written word- some things have to be adjusted in the change. One issue a lot of people have with the books is that many characters tend to act the exact same, with few defining personality traits or abilities outside of their basic rank. Giving otherwise nondescript characters unique powers gives some much needed differentiation in my opinion, and makes them a lot more fun to watch. And this IS a medium meant for watching, not reading- looking at plain cat fight after plain cat fight would get boring! The powers aren’t too extreme or plot breaking- they mesh with the established continuity of the book while making it easier to watch in an animated format.
An example of the still illustrations occasionally seen in the show.
Kawanabe Kyosai's Tiger, painted in the mid 1800s. Note the similarities in coloring and line art quality to the show's illustrations.
A cover from Ginga Legend Weed, an example of a manga that the show's illustrations may have taken inspiration from.
To step away from the action packed moments for a moment though, I also want to discuss the stiller parts of SSS- namely the static illustrations and backgrounds. The illustrations are often reserved for the intro and for informational monologues, giving glimpses into how the clans view themselves. When I saw them, something clicked- they do look similar to the art style of the show, but they make clear what sort of art style the creators were trying to evoke. The scratchy line work mixed with more heavily daubed black strokes and soft, airbrush like colors are evocative of both old Japanese artwork and manga from the 80s and 90s. These illustrations are really stylish and well done, and pulled me deeper into the setting of the story. The backgrounds are really nice for the same reason. The painterly style of the backgrounds are beautiful and very impressive for such a small production. Most artists I know loathe backgrounds, and that frequently carries over into animation. SSS Warrior Cats doesn’t have that flaw though, and the backgrounds really increase one's sense that this is a gorgeous and ethereal, if wild and occasionally eerie setting. The characters look like they fit in their environment too- it’s not uncommon for characters to be tinted with similar colors to the background too, depending on the mood and time of day. It’s a small detail that really gives the show an extra bit of polish.
Overall, SSS Warrior Cats is a show that really does the Warriors book series justice, and even makes justifiable edits to canon to better fit the medium that the story has been translated to. With 4 years of work put into over an hour of video as well, it has a lot of content to enjoy as well. That being said, it is unlikely that we’ll see the story completed. The last animated part was released in 2013, and the last sign of activity from the team was in 2016. According to SSS Warrior Cat’s TV Tropes page, the 4th episode was meant to start in 2015, but there is currently no sign of it. While there hasn’t been any notice of cancellation, those who are fans of webtoons are familiar with this type of radio silence. People get other interests, have other responsibilities, and can grow apart. The SSS Warrior Cats team has changed hands several times throughout the show’s existence, and the current group of animators are all busy with school and work. There is still hope of course, but it’s not worth pressuring the team over. We still have nearly 3 fantastic episodes that would do Erin Hunter proud, and stand as a testament to the creativity and skill of the Warriors fandom.
Audience: Warriors is a book series aimed at kids, so it makes sense that an animated adaptation has the same rating. That being said, this show does have a lot of violence, and while there’s no outright gore, there is some blood and characters do die. As a result, I wouldn’t recommend it for very young children.
Inclusion: B+. First things first, these characters are cats, and they aren’t meant as an analogy for any human culture. As a result, representation of different types of humans is non- applicable. They’re cats. That being said, there is room for different genders and abilities. The female characters are excellent- the Bechdel Test is passed early on with a conversation between Spottedleaf and Bluestar. Overall, the female characters have their own motivations and desires, and interact in different ways with different characters. They’re well done! I can’t give as good a score for disabled characters, though. The Warriors books DO have disabled characters (Brightheart, Cinderpelt, and Jayfeather come to mind), but none of them show up in SSS so they don’t count. That being said, this is one of the few shows that actually bothers accommodating for their real life viewers. Each episode and part has subtitles, present in the video itself as opposed to relying on YouTube’s unreliable auto-generation, ensuring that deaf and hard of hearing viewers can enjoy the videos as well. This definitely proves a saving grace, as the parts that are muted due to copyright takedowns are still watcheable thanks to the subtitles. Overall, this grants SSS Warrior Cats an overall inclusion score of B+.
Best Quality: Fight Scenes. Honestly, it was either this or backgrounds- they were both good. But considering how well choreographed and animated the fight scenes are and how integral they are to the show, I have to list them as the best quality.
Favorite Character: Spottedleaf. She’s pretty and has a cute design, yes, but she’s the character whose personality struck me as the most interesting as well. She’s a medicine cat, meant to be one of the clan’s most knowledgeable members, but is still young and untested. That being said, she has a firm grasp on her morals and is quick to stand by them. She doesn’t stay put on the sidelines either- Spottedleaf is quick to jump directly into the fray to defend what she believes is right, even if it’s not someone she expects to win against. She stands up to Tigerclaw to make sure Ravenpaw isn’t overworked even though he’s twice her size, and put herself between Rusty and Longtail when she believed the fight was going too far. Even then though, she’s professional and doesn’t let petty squabbles, patching Longtail’s ear without complaint even after he disregarded her advice and shoved her out of the way. She just seems to have more levels to her than other characters.