Reviewby Theron Martin, Jan 30th 2008
Sub.DVD - Season 1 Collection
By day the three Kisugi sisters – wise older sister Rui, athletic Hitomi, and high school technical genius Ai – operate their café Cat's Eye. By night, however, they team up to create the notorious cat burglar Cat's Eye, who specializes in stealing objets d'art, always leaves a calling card, and regularly succeeds despite always announcing her intended theft to police before it happens. Their thefts are not without purpose, as they seek clues in the artworks about the disappearance of their father Michael Heintz, himself a prominent artist. Complicating matters is Hitomi's longtime boyfriend Toshi, a police inspector frequently made a fool of by Cat's Eye who has dedicated his professional life to tracking her down and catching her. Fortunately he's too much of an imbecile to ever realize that his love Hitomi should be his prime suspect, though his coworker Mitsuki Asatani seems to have her suspicions.
Based on a manga by Tsukasa Hojo (likely much better-known to American fans as the creator of City Hunter), Cat's Eye originally aired on Japanese TV beginning in 1983, racking up 73 episodes over two seasons before coming to an end midway through 1985. Though it aired on TV in several other countries over the years and is widely-considered a classic by Japanese fans, its lack of an English dub has long limited its penetration into the American market, leaving the title little-known by any except ardent fans of old-school anime. In 2007 ImaginAsian Entertainment acquired the series for broadcast on their cable TV network, airing the first season in subtitled form beginning in June and releasing the series on subtitled-only DVDs beginning in July. At the time of this writing all 36 episodes of the first season are available spread over eight DVDs in a 5/5/5/5/4/4/4/4 release pattern, with a release of the second season promised if sales of the first season are good enough to warrant it. At this time, however, no official announcement has been made on that.
Cat's Eye could reasonably be described as a cross between Lupin III and the original '70s Charlie's Angels TV series; in fact, given that its manga began serialization in 1981, it would be too much of a coincidence for both of those series to have not had a decided influence on this one. Despite its lack of sophistication, it is a mature, sexy series aimed at least partly at adults, one which can occasionally be serious but more often turns silly. The series frequently depends on improbable circumstances and massive contrivances to make its schemes work; in one episode, for instance, “Cat's Eye” and Toshi fall into an abandoned well when he tackles her during a chase, and Hitomi only avoids her identity being discovered because Toshi conveniently goes temporarily blind from the fall. It also relies on Toshi being relentlessly stupid and unintuitive in not making the connection between his girlfriend and Cat's Eye, especially given that she helps operate a café of the exact same name and Toshi gets to see Cat's Eye from behind on multiple occasions. To the series' credit, though, the sisters do often comment on his lack of wit and the sometimes-buffoonish behavior of the other inspectors. They also have enough individual personality to avoid being purely stereotypical or one-dimensional, especially the moody and temperamental Hitomi, who receives the lion's share of the screen time.
Most of the episodes are stand-alone tales only thinly connected by a vague plot thread about the sisters needing the artworks to look for clues about their lost father. The status of their father never gets resolved by the end of the first season, and for most of the series just lies in the background as a convenient way to give the girls more honorable motives that just stealing for profit. The typical episode involves the planning and execution of some kind of heist mixed with action, making a fool of Toshi in some way, and a smattering of Hitomi and Toshi's relationship hijinks, although some episodes, such as one where Toshi recovers a medallion dropped by Cat's Eye and seeks to return it to her, do get a bit more involved. The episodes of the first season mix their exact format up enough that the series offers a good variety and never feels entirely formulaic. (This is a problem often attributed to the second season, however.) Most episodes also prove surprisingly entertaining.
Production values are typical of other TV series of its era. Its animation actually looks good in some shots but the shortcuts taken are too painfully obvious in others, especially in any scene intended to show some kind of depth. The exact body proportions of the sisters vary a bit over the course of the series, with Ai in particular looking much broader in some scenes than others, but in general the character designs portray the sisters as solidly-built young women who look satisfyingly sexy in a swimsuit or leotard. Hitomi is by far the prettiest of the lot, and the bespectacled Inspector Asatani also could turn a few heads, but the other sisters have their appeal, too. The series is not shy about giving the sisters a wide array of clothing changes, and indeed at times seems to be using its female characters as fashion plates. Those used to the sharper and more refined drawing and coloring of recent digitally-crafted series may find the grittier look of this one to be drab by comparison, but by the standards of its time it actually looks pretty good. While the first season does include some fan service and even a little bit of nudity, such content accounts for only a handful of brief scenes out of 36 episodes and one James Bond-like outline in the opener. The series focuses more on being generally sexy than outright fanboy-pandering.
The Japanese script requires its seiyuu to overact at times to account for its characters' exaggerated reactions, but overall the voice work suits the series well. The involved, heavily-synthesized soundtrack likewise can get excessively dramatic at times, but generally also does a capable job of backing the visual content and would probably appeal to fans of early '80s music. Its opening theme “Cat's Eye” by Anri was one of the first anime songs to be a J-pop hit, and it retains popularity to this day due to its remix's inclusion in a recent edition of Dance Dance Revolution. Closing theme “Dancing with the Sunshine,” which is sung primarily in English, offers another partly-choreographed dance number.
The pricing of the series is very economical: $12.99 for the first DVD with storage case, $9.99 for the rest, with an $82.99 complete set also available. You get what you pay for here, however, as these are cut-rate productions. The first seven volumes lack even trailers, much less any other Extras, though volume 8 does include a clean opener and art and design galleries. The original Japanese credits are retained with a translation separately on the DVD, but that feels like more of a cost-cutting measure than respect for original artistic integrity. Each of the DVDs beyond the first gets shipped in only a paper sleeve, with the expectation that the DVDs will be stored in the case which comes with the first DVD. They also lack any sound or visual quality upgrades, which should result in those with higher-definition TVs noticing distinct picture quality issues. The subtitles contain regular grammatical errors and occasional naming errors; references to a prominent historical Italian family in one episode should be “Medici” and not “Mesichi” (itself a bad interpretation of what the characters are saying), for instance.
Those who have become enamored of anime through recent bright, sharp-looking digital animation may not find a relic like this one to be much to their tastes, but fans of older anime and more open-minded individuals looking for a light, generally entertaining diversion that requires no long-term time commitment may want to check this one out. It certainly shows its age, but also shows that entertainment value endures.
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : C+
Art : B-
Music : B
+ Retains its entertainment value despite age, economical pricing.
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