Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Jul 31st 2012
Cat Planet Cuties
Blu-Ray + DVD - Complete Series [Limited Edition]
Something's going on on planet Earth. A mysterious craft is spotted. Mysterious messages saying “I'm coming to drop in on you” have been popping up. What could be happening? Kio Kakazu finds out when he spots a girl with genuine cat ears and tail at a local festival: Aliens. Yes, aliens. The Catian people have sent an emissary to Earth to check out life on the planet and report back whether official contact should be initiated. Eris, the very friendly emissary, decides at that festival that the local food alone is reason enough to get diplomacy underway. So it is, through some contrivances too contrived to be recounted, that Eris sets up the Catian embassy in Kio's house. This does not sit well with Manami and Aoi, the two girls in Kio's life, who would rather that Kio wasn't living with a buxom, uninhibited cat girl from outer space.
There are two ways to look at Cat Planet Cuties. You could look at it as rejuvenating a venerable genre with invigorating doses of humor and imagination. Or you could look at it as befouling a lot of lively inventions and undeniable fun with rotting clichés. It's a glass half empty/half full kind of thing. Needless to say, I'm a glass half empty kind of guy.
Which is a shame in a way, as there is so much to like about the show. It gets off to a roaring start with a two-part introduction in which everyone is hiding something and secret organizations keep coming out of the woodwork, colliding in a comically serendipitous climax that would be right at home in something like Snatch. That is, if you discount the evil dog people, skintight powersuits, and army of miniature robots armed with antimatter hammers. It's huge fun: fast, tightly plotted, and just the right amount of pure crazy. And to a greater or lesser extent, the series keeps that up right to the end. A trip to the beach culminates in a full-scale battle against a gang of dog-robots armed with tire-catapults and appliances-turned-weapons. Eris is welcomed to Earth by a cat-ear-worshipping cult that kidnaps her to appease its pint-sized multi-millionaire pope. The finale finds Kio and his accumulated gang of girls battling dogbots in their house and trekking to Siberia to build a rocket and fight NATO tanks before culminating in a space battle worthy of Gundam.
As a comedy it's fairly inspired. Comic mayhem is its mainstay, with battles often involving clothing-erasing munitions (a potent weapon in Siberia) or adorable robots embroiled in incongruously cool action set-pieces. It's fond of odd parodies (the Beatles' Abbey Road, or even weirder, the BBC's Red Dwarf) and off-the-wall comic inventions, including but not limited to strange alien technologies and a terrorist organization that targets Eris because she's wrecked their sci-fi dreams of alien contact. (A cat-girl alien? Blasphemy!) And as an action series it also works surprisingly well, combining an encyclopedic knowledge of firearms and military hardware with outrageous fan-service and loopy alien weaponry for action that is often both funny and cool. No matter how well orchestrated, the series' action sequences are never far from a good giggle, and no matter how silly, they're always crisply executed and fluidly animated. You have to admire a romantic comedy that not only knows the proper way to use a Beretta 93R but can also get a gunfight between a military maid and two buck-naked high-school girls to unfold with the precision of a Swiss watch.
It's just that you can't help wishing that maybe the gunfight didn't have to have so much buck-nakedness. Trashier series might benefit from that, but Cat Planet Cuties doesn't need to fortify itself with cute girls in various states of undress. It is canny and sometimes heartfelt entertainment bursting with cheeky imagination; boobs don't add anything constructive to that, and sometimes they detract. You get the distinct impression that original author Okina Kamino thought (or was told) that you need three romantic interests and frequent nudity to sell a comedy about first contact. There's something sad about that. The show shouldn't have to throw nipples at us every episode, just as it shouldn't have to wrap its action-comedy around a harem romance.
It's a testament to Kamino's verve that he almost makes it work anyway. His girls are all laudably strong, the treatment of sex refreshingly frank, and the tweaks on events like Manami and Aoi's inevitable move to Kio's place frequently clever. But he can't win them all, and he doesn't. There's nothing artful about the way the series contrives to have Kio walk in on naked girls; the scenes are just thrown in because, hey, that's what harem heroes do. Similarly the final episode is a crude excuse for universal nudity, and no good reason is ever given for why the cast is 80-90% female.
The series' most lethal failure, however, is Kio. It isn't so much that he's a pathetic lump of meat; it's more that the series tries so hard to make him a perfect mate that he's dull as hell. He's sweet and accommodating and thoughtful, brave when called for and yet about as aggressive as a castrated hamster. He's a deadly bore. It is very hard indeed to believe that vibrant girls like Manami, Aoi and Eris would fall for such a colorless nonentity. And that is poison in the series' veins. The series' most poignant scenes are those in which Aoi and Manami (who is supporting Aoi's love despite her own feelings) work out how they feel about Kio and each other and Eris. But the moment that you remember that the person Aoi is torturing herself over (“does a killer like me deserve to find love?”) or that Manami is getting all watery-eyed about is Kio, the scenes flop dead on their bellies, leaving only the sense that the show is betraying the girls' strength by making romance the center of their existence.
There's no betrayal going on in Funimation's dub. At least no betrayal that wasn't already written into the show. It's a nice, level-headed adaptation that won't cause any aneurisms and won't knock anyone for a loop. The cat and dog sayings horned into the aliens' dialogue (“while the cats are away the dogs play” and so forth) are kind of irksome after a while, but other than that it's easy sailing. For those bothered by Japanese Kio's soft tone, English Kio is voiced by a man instead of a woman. Overall it's much like Tomoki Kikuya's score: a pleasant complement to the visuals that does what it should without standing out much or stepping on too many toes.
For extras Funimation includes two episode-long commentary tracks (episode 1 with Scott Sager, Monica Rial, and Tia Ballard; episode nine with Christopher Bevins, Aaron Dismuke, and Brittney Karbowski), clean versions of the opening and all the various endings, and a series of very short omake that help make sense of the sometimes nonsensical previews.
If you're a fan of the harem romance, and maybe even if you aren't, you're unlikely to find a more enjoyable example of the genre than this. Even the series' production values are excellent, with plenty of bold primary colors and luscious female designs to keep you distracted on the rare occasions when the animation takes a shortcut. If they're your thing, there're also plenty of bouncing busts and detailed frontal nudity to distract as well. It's a smart little comedy, as colorful and fun-loving as its alien protagonists. Even glass half empty folks can't deny that. What we can do is lament the obvious waste of talent. More so than any failed romance or harem annoyance, it's the way that good characters and clever writing are squandered trying to elevate a genre best left to expire that really chaps the hide. May Kamino's next work be worthy of his skills. Or at least have a guy worthy of his girls.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B-
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : B
+ Romantic comedy with a strong female cast and a vast and frequently very funny comic imagination; looks pretty great and moves at a nice clip; smarter than it might appear.
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