Pictured: (l-r) Owen (Carlos Knight) Amanda (Gracie Dzienny),Mike (Ryan Potter) and Grandfather (George Takei) in SUPAH NINJAS on Nickelodeon.
Mike Fukanaga is your average teen with a twist: He comes from a long line of ninjas. Such is the story revealed in “Supah Ninjas,” a Nickelodeon television show that revolves around Mike, his family and his friends.
Apart from the interesting storyline, one of the great things about “Supah Ninjas” is that it combines humor, action sequences and cliffhangers. Creators and executive producers Leo Chu and Eric Garcia were inspired to create a program that combined comedy and drama. They also hoped that it would be something that the whole family could enjoy together.
“We really wanted to make a cool show. Funny and dramatic, that’s exactly what we’re going for,” said Garcia of the high energy and action-packed storyline. He also explained why they threw a love story into the middle of all the high kicks and punches. “It’s another way that we can create involvement and entertainment. It’s a really fun show that everyone can watch together.”
Thrilling combination of action and laughter aside, “Supah Ninjas” brings a hodgepodge of Asian American influences and pop culture to the small screen. The creators reel in elements of Japanese culture and anime as well as American classics like comic books and science fiction.
“When I encountered anime, particularly things like ‘Akira,’ those things were so amazingly different and told such great stories and created these great worlds that I had never seen before,” said Garcia. “Leo and I have worked on so many things, and so many [of them] have had a Japanese component. It keeps coming back to us. Maybe it’s something we’re attracted to.”
But one thing is certain: the theme of family is central to the show. “Supah Ninjas” is unique in that it is one of the few shows that focus on an Asian American family. In fact, the last program to do so was ABC’s Family All-American Girl featuring comedian Margaret Cho in 1995.
“We think of the ninjas as part of the character’s heritage. We want them to be proud of their heritage and where they come from,” said Chu. “There something’s unique in all of us. We might not all be ninjas, but there’s something unique and wonderful about every human being that they can bring to the world.”
When casting for the roles, both Chu and Garcia believed that a diverse Asian cast would lend authenticity to the show and develop the theme of family history. Ryan Potter, who is half Japanese and plays Mike Fukunaga, sees the bond both on set and onscreen.
“We’re a huge family. It’s not just the cast and the writers—it’s the cast, the crew, the writers, the security guards, the janitors—everyone is a family on that set. We all know each other very well,” remarked Potter.
This deep love for the show extends beyond the cast to the Hollywood community in general—Chu and Garcia were recently nominated for the 2012 Writer’s Guild Award for writing the pilot episode, and won. But Chu admits that this it wasn’t an easy road to pave.
“I don’t know if the arts is necessarily is encouraged as much in Asian American families as a main pursuit and as a career,” he said. “A lot of time, it seems to be a backup thing or an extracurricular you need for college as opposed to something that you dedicate your life to or a passion you would focus on full time.”
But Chu and Garcia are living examples of the fact that it can be done. For those interested in pursuing careers in entertainment, they recommend pursuing available opportunities, putting in the time and practice and finding a supportive community of like-minded people.
“Be confident and believe in yourself,” stressed Chu. “Until you find that community and supportive environment, you have to be that for yourself. It may not be your parent—they may not even agree what you’re doing—but you have to know in your heart that that’s what you want to pursue.”