Reviewby Carlo Santos,
Magical Meow Meow Taruto
DVD 1: A Magic Cat
Years ago, the feline rulers of a dying kingdom sent away their baby daughter in hopes that she would survive and someday return. Cut to the present day, where a young catgirl named Taruto has just moved into a new town. There she meets resident catgirls Charlotte and Chitose, who see Taruto's untamed magic in action and wonder if she's the legendary princess. Ever curious and playful, Taruto gets into all sorts of adventures, whether it be chasing a mysterious burglar out of the house, helping out a neighbor who's lost many of his pet cats, or guarding the ownership of a vacant lot that everyone's fighting over. However, sinister forces are at work, trying to get their hands on Taruto because of her magic. Will doting owner Iori be able to keep her out of trouble?
I like to think I have a pretty high tolerance for cute. I can watch all of Bottle Fairy straight through without flinching, catch an episode of Azumanga Daioh right after, and maybe finish up with some Mini Moni the TV for good measure. It takes a lot more than super-deformed character designs, wacky antics, and bright colors to faze me.
And then, there are catgirls.
Taruto is that kind of a show, playing on the basic theme of big-eyed girls who look cute in cat ears and cosplay outfits. Their main purpose is to run around and be silly, but just to add some contrived weight to the series, there's that whole back story about the Cat Kingdom too. In fact, there's a whole gaggle of catpeople populating this series, living in town as if it were the most natural thing, yet it's never explained. And then there are the three weirdos in the red cat masks, who are hunting down Taruto as well, except they stop showing up after Episode 1. Is this making any sense yet? Didn't think so. The part of the story centered on Taruto and her escapades works on its own, being harmless children's comedy that you could even show on American TV. However, the overlying plot—apparently introduced because you just can't have anime without a big fat back story—only serves to confuse things rather than unify them.
Now here's where the cuteness goes awry: the relationship between Taruto and her master Iori is way creepier than it ought to be. For starters, Iori is just too weird to be likeable. (About seven minutes in, he starts going on about German potato mashers and yams.) Also, he has no qualms about the fact that Taruto has a habit of burying her head in his lap. To younger viewers, this looks quite innocuous, but anyone over the age of 12 can tell that the animators are snickering behind their backs while everyone else groans in horror. The strangeness doesn't stop there. The neighbor in Episode 2 is fixated on the dead cats he used to own, and then has a dream sequence where the flowers in his garden bloom and open up to reveal his former pets. There has got to be a nicer, sweeter way to reflect on your lost pets than violating the rules of biology and cultivating zombie cats in your dreams. This would be quite a charming all-ages show if the cuteness weren't so forced that it comes out as grotesque.
Nothing says cute like big eyes, and in this case, they're big even by anime standards. The huge, vertical eyes and primary-colored hair suggest a sense of character design that's several years old, although Studio Madhouse does what it can to brush up the visuals to modern standards. The lines and colors are consistently sharp on screen, even if the outfits and characters are less than sophisticated (hint to Iori: that jewel and bow on your shirt? No). Being relatively low on action so far, most of the animation is concentrated on bringing out natural, everyday movements: little things like turning the head and walking down the street look fairly believable, even if it doesn't push towards super-smooth realistic animation. The only gaffe is in the CGI, where Taruto's bubble magic looks like a special-effects student project. The bubbles slide across the screen rather than floating, although a similar effect involving flower petals works much more effectively.
The music in the show is a waste of time; most of it is the usual synthesized blather that gets recycled between every comedy anime out there. Taruto's big magic-flinging battle scene in Episode 1 is backed up by midtempo lounge music, and things don't get much better beyond that. There's one piano track that's more pleasant and heartfelt, but it's not enough to save a flimsy, emotion-deprived soundtrack. The theme songs are more of the same—forgettable high-pitched warbling about cute things like birds and sky.
Although the dub could have fallen into the trap of being a relentless squealfest, Bandai's production results in a solid performance that gets the girls to sound like real girls. Rather than turning their voices up high, Taruto and her friends speak in a natural tone, and the ease of delivery brings out the dialogue at a natural rhythm too. The translation is equally adept; maybe it's because of the simple lines, but the dub script is a near-perfect re-arrangement of the original subtitles.
Along with previews and a textless opening, the DVD includes a couple of music clips where the Japanese voice actresses for the three main catgirls, dressed as their actual characters, sing full-length versions of the theme songs. Compared to the cuteness-gone-horribly-wrong in the show, these music videos are quite pleasant. However, the main content is sparse: the DVD is only three episodes long, and clocking in at under 70 minutes, that's not something you really want to pay full retail price for.
Taruto is a show that aims for one very specific audience: people who like catgirls. Even then, viewers may have trouble making sense of the cat kingdom back story, or believing that catpeople are regular residents all over town, or that a young human male can bond with a catgirl at such a disturbing level. The polished visuals make it more palatable than the usual goofy throwaway anime, but it can't fix the recurring drifts from sweet and silly into just plain weird. Go ahead and test your cuteness tolerance on this, but consider yourself warned.
Overall (dub) : C-
Overall (sub) : C-
Story : C-
Animation : B
Art : C
Music : D
+ Competent animation and sharp linework make this easy on the eyes.
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