Your old-school Saturday morning cartoon lineup will soon be meeting a new kid on the block. JiuJitZoo, a children’s animated series-in-progress created by John Giacomi, with art and character design by Luigi Lucarelli, has recently picked up steam on social media — in part thanks to its partnership with charities for children such as HeroKids.
The show centers on a cautious octopus named Nori, who’s found himself stranded on dry land — where he must learn to navigate his new surroundings by learning the art of jiu-jitsu. Along the way, he encounters a vibrant cast of characters, some of whom will become fast friends, and some, of course, who will become Nori’s antagonists.
“This will be an action adventure with real BJJ technique, real stakes — including a big looming ‘white walker’ threat — and characters that will tug at your heartstrings,” creator John Giacomi tells the Jiu-Jitsu Times. “The intended audience range is ages 6-12, but we feel that the story and cast will be appealing to all ages. Members of the jiu-jitsu community in particular are going to really like the authentic techniques and Easter eggs we have planned.”
The inspiration for the show was deeply personal to Giacomi, who — like many adults who pick up the gentle art — believes that jiu-jitsu offers myriad benefits to children. “Growing up, I was very insecure, anxious, overweight… all the normal ick,” confesses Giacomi. “And like many people, I carried that into adulthood. It affected just about every part of my life.
“I was introduced to jiu-jitsu about fifteen to sixteen years ago through a chance encounter, and it has had a profound impact on my life. I’m not, nor will I ever be, a great athlete. I’m a regular dude of average athletic ability. But what I’ve gotten out of BJJ is courage to push through fear by facing it — every single day — and being embraced by a collaborative community that doesn’t care about where I come from, how much money I have, how cool I am, etcetera. On the mats, the only thing that matter are heart and effort. And hygiene!” he adds cheekily.
“I feel if I had been exposed to this awesome environment at an earlier age, I would’ve saved myself a lot of heartache. One of the missions of this show is to provide a gateway for younger people to understand more about the art of jiu-jitsu.”
That idealistic mindset remains a through-line for the way Giacomi’s chosen to handle the production of JiuJitZoo. He’s partnered with two charities — HeroKids and Buddies Over Bullies — and is currently donating a dollar to each cause for every new Instagram follower the show gains, up to as much as $20,000.
“In this business, as in my previous business, I believe that giving back is extremely important,” says Giacomi. “My previous business was recognized last year for donating $100,000 to Make a Wish of Alaska and Washington. When we started to develop JiuJitZoo, I knew that something we were going to want to do was to put our money where our mouth was. One of the purposes of the show is to expose a younger audience to jiu-jitsu. It’s awesome that there are like-minded people out there that run charities, and to do exactly the same.
“HeroKids is a charity designed to bring BJJ training to at-risk youth in Costa Rica, and Buddies Over Bullies — run by Tom DeBlass — is an anti-bullying charity that also aims to empower kids by training them in the merits of our sport. These charities have been extremely generous with sharing our story, and we are huge supporters of these causes. It’s our aim to continue to support causes like this, as our own journey continues.”
Though Giacomi benefits from some modest professional experience in filmmaking — he has, for example, produced commercials for a heating and AC company — creating a full-blown animated feature from scratch was a new and daunting endeavor for him. However, he wasn’t about to let that get in the way of his vision.
“One of the things that I’ve learned through BJJ is that you should never let what you can’t do get in the way of what you can do,” says Giacomi. “I am fortunate to have had some good success at building a business. And I believe all businesses fundamentally come down to people. We’ve been able to put some good people together for this project, and I’m confident that we’re going to produce something awesome.”
True to his word, Giacomi and his team have been hard at work on their passion project for the past six months. “I probably don’t have to tell you, but putting together an animated series concept from nothing is a lot of work,” shares Giacomi. “There was a lot of writing, lawyers, buying of domains, and finding the right people to work with. It’s been a challenge, but it’s been a lot of fun too.”
The team has already finished writing up an outline for the first season. Giacomi’s confident that the cast of characters, along with the concept, will give the show plenty of material for multiple seasons. However, first thing’s first. Right now, he and his team are focused on immediate next steps: getting a teaser produced — and then, hopefully, a pilot episode.
“We are looking forward to sharing this with you guys!” says Giacomi, who’s eager to get that first sneak peak off the ground, and out into the wider world.
To stay up to date with the latest news on the JiuJitZoo project — including teaser and episode release date announcements — check out the website, follow the official Instagram account, or sneak a peek at the show’s new YouTube channel.