The writer behind ZsaZsa Zaturnnah collaborates on a kiddie show of an alien cat who studies a barangay in preparation to invade Earth

WHILE in the middle of lockdown last year, director Avid Liongoren and his production team were deciding on a main character for an online cartoon series on Filipino values. The options were: a young boy who time travels, a robot, and mythical creatures who had to learn what it was like to be Filipino. In the end, they decided on a cat from outer space who lands in the fictional Barangay Hiraya in the Philippines.

The cat is the star of Heneral Tuna, a new short animated series from the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and produced by Rocketsheep Studio. The show was developed to showcase Filipino values in a modern and engaging way for a new generation of Filipinos. The animated series of seven episodes will be shown on the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) Channel and Kumu.

The NCCA, together with the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), conducted a two-year study looking into the different values upheld across the country. The research aimed to answer the questions “What is important for Filipinos?” or “What do Filipinos value at present?”

“For us at the NCCA, the values study we conducted and the National Values Program that we are currently developing are grounded on the intent of fostering common good,” explained Marichu Telano, NCCA Deputy Executive Director, during an online press conference on Oct. 8.

“The values study was a platform to listen to people’s input on what they value most. The program, on the other hand, is a process of revisiting, rediscovering, and recapturing those values, which we hope will push for effective and responsive leaders or simply just be productive and concerned members of the society,” she said.

The research identified 20 common shared values. These are the themes presented in the animated series, including family, faith, resilience, care for environment, honesty, love for country, valuing culture and arts, and good governance.

Mr. Liongoren said that the cat character was drawn from a YouTube video of a cat who thinks about how miserable he was with humans.

“Dog characters tend to be perpetually happy… Mas masalita ang pusa sa aso (Cats communicate more than dogs). Not that they talk but, in our minds, that’s how they are,” Mr. Liongoren said of cats’ tendency to seem like they are conducting internal monologues.

The cartoon series follows the story of Heneral Tuna, hero of planet Mingming, who was tasked to take over planet Earth. The devious alien cat accidentally crash lands in the Philippines and decides to use the opportunity as a reconnaissance mission to observe the locals in preparation for his planned invasion. In the end, he learns about Filipino values and culture in his adventures in Barangay Hiraya.

Heneral Tuna a just ticked all the boxes of someone who is entertaining and silly to watch. [It] is fun and ridiculous. At the same time, can teach you something important,” Mr. Liongoren said.

The mini-series is created by Rocketsheep Studio, the company behind the animated films Hayop Ka! (2020) and Saving Sally (2016). Working alongside Mr. Liongoren are comic book artist and illustrator Rob Cham, and scriptwriters Charlene Sawit-Esguerra, Kevin Raymundo, and Carlo Vergara (ZsaZsa Zaturnnah). Manny Angeles, co-producer and writer of Hayop Ka!, is the voice to the titular character.

For scriptwriter Carlo Vergara, the length of the stories was a challenge.

“I guess the main challenge for me was the time for these animations because they’re supposed to be super short. When I started to write the events in the dialogue, I’m a very visual thinker. I imagine what will happen and write it,” Mr. Vergara said.

He added that the character is written with a point of view of a child trying to explore the world, but at the same time, the show is enjoyable for adults too.

Mr. Vergara said that the series includes hints of hugot and comedy. “I cannot avoid incorporating comedy in my stories even if the stories are serious.”

Heneral Tuna premieres on Oct. 15, 7 p.m., at the FDCP Channel and Kumu.   Michelle Anne P. Soliman