My Roommate is a Cat
Episode 9

by Rose Bridges,

How would you rate episode 9 of
My Roommate is a Cat ?

I love how My Roommate is a Cat has committed itself to telling two different sides of the same story. Every episode, we see the same events from Subaru and Haru's perspectives, giving angles we didn't see the first time. With episode 9 though, it truly feels like two episodes smashed into one. That's because this episode is about Subaru leaving the house, so the two protagonists are separated for most of its runtime.

Cat owners like to fantasize about what our felines get up to when we're not home. Some cats are good at making their own fun and might even prefer to have lots of time on their own, even when their humans are home. Others get needy and desperate without people. My cat Louie was the latter; he hounded people for attention when we were home, and he would get nervous when he saw signs of trip-planning appear, like suitcases. If my mom (his favorite person) stayed the night somewhere else, Louie would even snub her for several hours after she came home. Haru seems to be cut from the second breed of cat. As independent as she can be, having survived on the streets for so long, it's clear that she relies on Subaru's attention more now that she lives with him.

The first part of this episode focuses on Haru's frantic realization that Subaru is going to be away for a while. At first she doesn't understand why her owner is acting so weird as Subaru prepares to go off to his book-signing, pulling on a suit and acting cranky from lack of sleep. He's also very nervous, as we see when Subaru arrives at the signing itself. But first, we watch Haru desperately trying to find something to do in a weirdly empty house. At first, she just wants to sleep; she ignores Taro's requests from next door to play. (Sidenote: I love how this scene illustrates the difference in temperament between dogs and cats. Most dogs are always ready to play and have fun and meet new creatures. Cats vary more in mood, and most of the time find themselves too tired for that sort of thing. But I hope for Taro's sake that he and Haru get to play together soon.) Over time, as the hours stretch on longer and longer, she gets lonely, as she watches Taro next door happily greeting his returning humans. Haru starts frantically destroying things, including that old cat favorite—tissue paper—until Subaru comes home. It's perhaps a flattering portrait of what cats do when we're not around, but I don't doubt it's accurate for some cats. I mean there has to be some reason for why their boredom so often results in destruction, right?

Meanwhile, Subaru finds himself adjusting shakily to the stresses of a book signing. (I love the transition from Haru's "why in the world?" to Subaru's as he sits at the signing table.) At first, his social anxiety gets the better of him, and he's not able to do much more than messily scribble his name for the people whose books he's signing. Eventually, he gets the hang of it and gains some courage, inspired by the people who love his book so much—especially one young boy, who gives a speech about how much the book means to him. But before that, Subaru seems to have a serious anxiety attack under the table. The whole thing made me appreciate all the more how My Roommate is a Cat deals with Subaru's anxiety. It would be easy for the show to dismiss it as a joke, and it's not above getting humor out of Subaru's aversion to other people. But more often, it takes his struggles seriously. As someone who also suffers from social anxiety, this episode rings true to me in terms of how I can help keep it at bay. The more Subaru hears from other people about how much they love his work and the more he tries to reach out for those connections, the more he's able to overcome his fears—at least for the time being.

Yet it doesn't completely go away, and one thing that especially felt close-to-home for me is the way that Subaru mentally beats himself up for how he treated people when his anxiety was at its worst. I know that feeling of panicking over forgetting to say thank you to someone when your anxious brain was getting the best of you. Social anxiety likes to make you feel nervous just for having anxiety in the first place—or even nervous that you're not anxious enough about some stressful situation. It's a very weird headspace to be in, and I appreciate how well My Roommate is a Cat accurately depicts the disorder, while giving people hope and strategies to keep it at bay.

I predicted that Okami would eventually show up for the signing, but I love the way that the series handles her arrival. It would have been easy drama for her to storm off in a huff over finding out that Subaru lied-by-omission about being the author of his book. But My Roommate is a Cat plays the scene both more kindly and more realistically; while Subaru feels anxious and regretful about not telling her, she also has her own bout of nerves about the fact that she had basically explained Subaru's book to him, in a way that must have seemed condescending. Of course, they're both off-base about how the other felt that day, but it's a helpful reminder that anxiety is relative. No one is scrutinizing your every move like your anxious brain tells you. Everyone is stuck inside their own heads.

And that includes Haru, Subaru's trusty feline companion. When he finally comes home, the house is so trashed that he seriously thinks a burglar got in. Experienced cat owners know better, that that's par for the course if you let a cat (or even worse, cats) stay home alone for too long; they're crafty and curious creatures who will make their own "fun." But as a newbie to pet ownership, Subaru doesn't realize what he's seeing until he spends some time with Haru. In that moment, he's also dismissing how anxious Haru felt with her owner away all day. Even with cats who are more aloof and less attached, an owner out of the house can be a stressful disruption to their routine. I love how the two-part approach to these episodes allows us to see the way that Subaru and Haru can both fail to pick up on each other's mental states—but they can also be surprisingly in sync at times. For instance, Haru seems to finally acknowledge that Haru is her name rather than a word for food.

When I got into My Roommate is a Cat, I expected a cute anime about the trials and tribulations of learning to raise a pet. I expected some gags about writing and funny attempts at exploring the "feline perspective" with Haru's segments. What I didn't expect was a show that could be so thoughtful about social anxiety. The last anime that portrayed it in a way that felt this realistic to me was Yuri on Ice, way back in 2016. While my anxiety is a little closer to Yuuri's than Subaru's in terms of what triggers it, there's still a lot that I find cathartic in watching Subaru work to overcome his own mind. Situating this struggle in the comforting and familiar world of learning to raise a cat just makes it all the sweeter.

Rating: A

My Roommate is a Cat is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Rose is a Ph.D. student in musicology, who recently released a book about the music of Cowboy Bebop. You can also follow her on Twitter.

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