The Winter 2019 Anime Preview Guide
My Roommate is a Cat
How would you rate episode 1 of
My Roommate is a Cat ?
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How was the first episode?
I never considered myself a cat person until my wife brought her two cats into my life, and now I'm a bona fide feline fiend. As far as I'm concerned, there can be never be enough cute cat anime in the world, so My Roommate is a Cat is a perfect addition to the kitty canon. Is the concept of a brooding, anti-social loner learning to love the world through feline affection a cheap ploy at manipulating the emotions of cat lovers everywhere? Absolutely. Did I completely fall for it? You'd better believe it.
Subaru Mikazuki is the kind of self-consciously misanthropic protagonist that's really easy to dunk on, but that's sort of the point of this show, I think. We're supposed to find this guy insufferable so we can appreciate his character growth in the long run. That being said, the first half of this episode is the weakest, where we spend most of the time watching Subaru brush off everyone in his life while he pursues the inspiration for his next book. I'm not sure how seriously we're supposed to take Subaru as a writer, but I have to think that the show's creators knew that Subaru is more of a dork than anything; this is the kind of guy who thinks a mystery novel about a murderous cat is going to be his next bestseller and works so hard on it that he literally passes out from exhaustion. Trust me, I would read the hell out of that Killer Cat book, but even I couldn't deny that the idea sounds stupid.
The episode jumped up in quality for me once we got to see the events of the episode from the kitty's perspective, if only because I'm a sucker for when animals get internal monologues that reflect their baffled perspective on human life. Given the unhealthy amount of time I've spent anthropomorphizing my own pets' thoughts, I totally related to the cat's desperate attempts to just pay back her debt to this weird man and make him eat. I even got a little misty-eyed when the episode flashed back to her futile attempts to care for her own family, which proves that My Roommate is a Cat can get the waterworks going along with the gags.
Every season benefits from having some fluffy, lighthearted stories to break up the heavier action and drama series, and it looks like My Roommate is a Cat will be one of those shows for me this winter. I'm very much looking forward to seeing all of the cat-related shenanigans that Subaru and his new friend get up to, though if this turns out anything like She and Her Cat, I might not be able to handle it.
If I ever get a pet, it will unquestionably be a cat. Despite that, I have not commonly cared for cat-centric anime series because they tend to be too over-the-top cutesy about the subject. This one is different. While the cat is indeed cute, the artistry plays up the more natural cuteness of its behavior rather than any enhanced anime version of it. As a result, it comes off as a more balanced and natural portrayal – barring the part where we can actually hear the cat's thoughts, anyway.
Frankly, I don't think you have to be a cat lover to appreciate this one. The first two-thirds or so of the episode are told from the perspective of the human owner, a people-averse writer of mystery novels who's practically a misanthrope. The cat seems to be trying to communicate with him in its own way, but the writer is slow to pick up the cat's intentions. In the last third, we get parts of the story again from the cat's point of view and learn that the cat is trying hard to convey its intentions to the human, in particular showing gratitude for him inadvertently feeding the cat at his parents' gravesite. The way the cat shows concern for his human based on experiences with his own litter is at times touching, as is the suggestion that having the cat around is just what the human actually needs. There are a lot of psychological studies that show the mental and physical health benefits that can result from pet ownership, but in this case those benefits may be more direct than usual.
The first episode is also quite funny at times, especially once it switches to Cat Mode and we get to see what those expressions he was flashing earlier actually meant, and the scene with the tuna can is priceless. The technical merits are also better than might be expected for a simpler series like this, and the artistic portrayal of the cat hits just the right notes. The closing song is also a cut above expectations.
Both the opener and the next episode preview suggest that the writer's world is gradually going to expand as more characters beyond his editor get added into the mix, which helps explain how this series is going to fill up 22 minute episodes each week. (Frankly, I'm shocked that this isn't a short.) Overall, major parts of the story resonated with me enough that I have to give it a thumbs-up.
In my experience, living with a cat is a bit like having a tiny, eccentric roommate, so the title of this series feels spot-on. My Roommate is a Cat takes a little while to get going, but it displays a good grasp of the genre basics once it gets all the pieces in place. It's playing with a lot of elements that have worked well for similar titles in the past: a main character with a creative profession, a pair of seemingly mismatched housemates, and a little genuine kindness presented through a comedic lens. It's all stuff genre fans have likely seen before, but it's still pretty effective.
The show's biggest issue in the early going is that Subaru isn't a very dynamic protagonist. The show seems to be going for an antisocial artist vibe with him, but his quirks are a little too subdued to really carry a scene. He reminds me a bit of Handa from Barakamon, but without the same level of “everyone sucks but me” fire behind his dialogue. I get the impression that his parents' deaths are meant to be a significant part of his character arc, and yet it feels like he's more or less at peace with the situation already, so the potential for emotional drama seems limited. On the upside, his occasional flashes of cat-themed inspiration are entertaining, and there's little to actively dislike about the guy. Given some more time to develop, Subaru seems capable of leading the human side of the show.
Then we have the currently unnamed cat, which is easily the more compelling member of this main duo. The script strikes a good balance with the cat, making it an endearing little fuzzball without feeling inauthentic. Its observations and commentary on Subaru's behavior are particularly amusing, and the flashbacks give us just enough information to fill in the cat's backstory. Replaying key events from earlier in the episode from the cat's perspective is an effective approach for this premiere, though it risks getting too repetitive if it's used throughout the season.
In general, My Roommate is as Cat is more competent than revolutionary, safely implementing tried-and-true elements to create an enjoyable slice of life story. It'll definitely be more appealing to cat people, but the basic bond between human and animal is heartwarming enough to entertain viewers outside of that core demographic. As long as you don't go in expecting it to rewrite the rules of the genre, this series looks like it should be a solid time-killer to fill the gaps between the season's heavy hitters.
Winter is apparently the season for sweet feel-good stories of cuteness. Last year we got How to Keep a Mummy and School Babysitters, and now we have My Roommate is a Cat, the tale of a hapless and misanthropic young mystery novelist and the cat he brings home on a whim. Subaru clearly knows next to nothing about animals, never mind cats, and he's singularly unprepared for what cohabitating with one will be like…but then, he doesn't really see the appeal in dealing with people either, so I can't say that he'd do much better with a human roommate.
That does make him a fairly unappealing protagonist, even if some of his issues, like disliking noisy, crowded places, spoilers, and leaving the house feel very relatable. He's simply barricaded himself behind his dislike of people and his own discomfort to the point where his imagination is the only thing that truly comforts him, whether he's writing his own books or reading someone else's. He's also stuck on ideas, so when a stray cat pounces on the offering he's leaving at his parents' grave, he really only brings the cat home because it inspires a plot. That he doesn't even get cat food until his friend Hiroto brings some says a lot about how unprepared he is.
Mind you, he's not all that good at taking care of himself either, much to his new editor Kawase's dismay. (It seems highly likely that his previous editor's departure due to gastritis was Subaru-induced.) That's where Kitty really comes in – Subaru is deep in the throes of writing when he notices the cat leaving cat food outside his door. Cat owners will have figured out that Kitty's trying to feed him (and isn't dry cat food so much nicer than the mouse one of my cats left on my pillow once?), but Subaru can't fathom what's going on. It's not just that he doesn't get what the cat is trying to do; he can't quite bring himself to understand anyone trying to take care of him, or why he would need or want someone to. As it turns out, that's also a struggle for the cat, whose perspective the episode shifts to in the last quarter. Rather than feeling gimmicky, it instead shows us where the former stray is coming from – the only surviving kitten of a litter of strays, feeling beholden to Subaru, and suddenly realizing that Subaru may be the least self-sufficient human (from a cat perspective) ever.
Both of them need each other, even if they haven't fully realized it yet, and that's likely to be a very sweet thing to watch in all the show's pastel-colored charm. I'm not sure it will be able to sustain itself, but if a pet's ever made a difference in your life, this is worth checking out.
My initial reaction to a show like My Roommate is a Cat is to wonder how this possibly could fill a twenty minute episode. “Man possesses cat” isn't exactly the most novel hook, and you'd think even a story about the goofy foibles of cat ownership would be better suited to short anime form. Ultimately, this episode did indeed feel somewhat overlong, but it still made a strong enough case for the validity of an entirely cat-ownership-centered anime.
We're first introduced to Subaru Mikazuki, a famous mystery novelist who lives alone and likes it that way. Though he generally finds other people to just be a distraction, he ends up temporarily adopting a stray cat after it provides a spark of inspiration for his new novel. And so the rest of the episode details their early time together, first from Subaru's perspective, and then from the cat's.
The Subaru side of this story frankly didn't interest me that much. Though we're theoretically moving towards character growth focused on how lived experiences with others will inspire your own imagination, this episode mostly just saw Subaru pouting about how everyone kept distracting him from his work. Scenes with both Subaru's friend Hiroto and his editor felt largely superfluous, only reinforcing Subaru's known grumbliness, while what comedy beats existed felt too insubstantial to be genuinely funny. Additionally, the show's visual style is purely functional, with simple backgrounds and very limited animation offering little aesthetic appeal.
Things fortunately improved once we got into the cat's head. If there's one thing this show does well, it's cat psychology - watching Subaru's new roommate fret over his inability to feed himself was adorable, and watching the cat jump from wild panic to “I meant to do that” arrogance felt very true to the cat experience. Subaru's new friend has a charming and very catlike personality, and the two develop an oddly compelling chemistry over the course of this episode.
In the end, My Roommate is a Cat is too lukewarm in its comedy and limited in its aesthetics to really grab me, but still offers a fairly reasonable premiere. If you're a big fan of all things cat, maybe give this one a try.
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