The year was 1992. People were doing questionable Wayne and Garth impressions. Ross Perot kept popping in and out of the presidential race. And far away in Japan, a man by the improbable name of Fernandez Verde combined English language instruction with awkward aerobic movements to create the early morning TV show Eikaiwa taisō Zuiikin' English, which roughly translates to English Conversation Gymnastics Exercises Voluntary Muscles English. The 24-episode series aired at 5 a.m. on Fuji Television alongside other low-budget alternative programming.
The premise of Zuiikin' English was simple. Native Japanese speakers could learn conversational English more easily if they associated language with movement, a theory backed up by cognitive research. Verde also believed that different cultures should target unique sets of muscles for maximum learning — the lower back and leg muscles, in the case of the Japanese. (This appears to be Verde's own idea, though we wonder what muscles Americans would be assigned.)
Each themed episode began with a brief introduction by Verde, followed by a subtitled skit introducing English phrases and a "commonly used" English sentence, like "How dare you say such a thing to me?" or "It's your fault that this happened." The sentence was then chanted repeatedly by a trio called the Zuiikin Gals, who performed unique movements to go along with each word.
But wait, it's funnier than it sounds.
Eventually the lessons branched out into pop culture ... and even Spanish.
Alas, Zuiikin' English was broadcast too early to capture an audience. Or rather, a regular audience. Fuji Television soon cancelled the program, but began showing reruns in 2005. In its second run, the show became an international sensation. Its bizarre lessons still confound and amuse us today.