The Powerpuff Girls is on everyone’s mind once again thanks to the upcoming CW reboot. The network that turned the wholesome world of Archie Comics into one of cults, serial killers, and not-so-secret sex bunkers is taking a crack at everyone’s favorite super-powered kindergarteners. The live-action Powerpuff promises to show us the girls as disillusioned young adults, dealing from the trauma of having their childhoods dedicated to being superheroes. The lunacy of this reboot got me thinking of the first time the trio got a major reimagining. This relatively little-known part of Powerpuff Girls history was an anime called Powerpuff Girls Z.
Developed by Cartoon Network, Aniplex and Toei Animation, Powerpuff Girls Z spanned 52 episodes between 2006 and 2007. It also got two volumes of manga and a video game for the Nintendo DS. As with the 2016 reboot and the upcoming CW reboot, series creator Craig McCracken was not involved in Powerpuff Girls Z.
The most immediately obvious difference between PPGZ and the original: the art style. The original Powerpuff Girls had a style influenced by the animations of United Productions of America (UPA). The cartoon made use of flat characters, thick outlines, and simple shapes.
Powerpuff Girls Z, on the other hand, was inspired by the styles of anime prevalent at the time. Character designs came from Miho Shimogasa, who designed characters for Cutie Honey Flash and directed several episodes of Sailor Moon. With this shift, the most iconic part of the original show’s character designs vanished. In the original series, the girls stood out from the rest of the characters with their huge eyes and fingerless hands. In the anime, they looked like any other human character. And the reason for that: in a way, they were like any other human character.
The Origin Story
You know how the original goes. The girls were born when Professor Utonium mixed sugar, spice, and everything nice with an accidental dose of Chemical X. PPGZ completely redid the girls’ backstory. The girls weren’t sisters, nor Professor Utonium’s children. (He actually had his own son named Ken.) Before getting their superpowers, the girls were just normal 13-year-old classmates, all with their own families.
One day, Professor and Ken were studying Chemical X when their robot dog Peach accidentally knocked a pastry into the vat, stabilizing the chemical and converting it from Chemical X to Chemical Z. Ken decided that Chemical Z would solve the freak weather anomalies terrorizing their world. He fired Chemical Z into the sky with a laser, fixing the weather problem, but causing black-and-white rays of light to rain down on the city.
White rays of light hit Peach, along with 13-year-old girls Momoko Akatsutsumi, Miyako Gōtokuji, and Kaoru Matsubara. Peach got the ability to speak and activated the girls’ transformation into the Powerpuff Girls. The black rays hit the creatures and people who would become the girls’ rogues’ gallery, like Mojo Jojo.
Instead of being superpowered 24/7 like in the original, Z‘s girls were normal humans for most of the time; they only transformed when the city needed help, similar to the heroes from Sailor Moon and Power Rangers. Momoko, Miyako, and Kaoru become Hyper Blossom, Rolling Bubbles, and Powered Buttercup, respectively. (Though the English dub removed their Japanese names completely.)
The girls’ personalities weren’t exactly the same as in the original. But they fit pretty well, especially when accounting for the age difference. Bubbles was the most popular girl in school and wanted a career in fashion. Buttercup’s tomboyishness was dialed up, and her number one passion was sports. Blossom saw the biggest departure, replacing her booksmart persona with a love of superheroes and sweets. But she still worked well as leader of the team, so I’m not mad at that change.
One might think that switching to anime and aging up the girls, Powerpuff Girls Z would’ve seen a big upgrade to the action. But that’s not the case; in fact, the fights in Z just didn’t compare to the ones in the original. In Z, the battles tended very floaty, lacking interesting choreography or notable direction. The fights catered more to lighthearted comedy than to action.
The action in the original, however, was really something to behold. It was much more violent than I think most people remember. Blood, black eyes, and knocked-out teeth were a common sight. In this scene from “Bubblevicious,” directed by Samurai Jack and Primal creator Genndy Tartokovsky, Bubbles killed a monster by impaling it through the mouth with a horn she ripped off of its own body.
It makes perfect sense that the girls were originally supposed to be named the Whoopass Girls.
How Does PPGZ Compare?
The amount of effort the crew put into the fights is frankly underappreciated. The impacts feel heavy and painful. Color and shading are used incredibly alongside the show’s signature drum-and-bass soundtrack to create the perfect mood. What really made Powerpuff Girls unique was the juxtaposition between cute little girls and the most intense action sequences on American TV at the time. And that’s something PPGZ couldn’t capture.
Still, overall, Powerpuff Girls Z was a pretty decent reimagining. It kept the spirit of the original show as a lighthearted comedy about young girls who are superheroes. The problems that the girls dealt with in their personal lives were simply upgraded from kindergartener levels to middle school levels. And now we’ll see them as young adults on The CW’s Powerpuff.
So how will the new series stack up to the show’s other incarnations? Will it be a runaway success like Riverdale or will it fall into obscurity like PPGZ? It’s too early to tell. But thankfully, there’s a truth with all reboots. If it doesn’t work out, we can always go back to the original.