This Week in Anime
Cat Got Your Tongue?

by Michelle Liu & Nicholas Dupree,

Studio Colorido caught fan's attention with its impressive Puzzle & Dragons mobile game ads and continued to impress with full-length animated features like Penguin Highway. Now the studio has switched out adorable birds for the internet's favorite animal and brought powerhouse scriptwriter Mari Okada to pen the new film A Whisker Away, now streaming on Netflix. How does it all shake out?

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network.
Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.

@Lossthief @Liuwdere @A_Tasty_Sub @vestenet

Nick, I don't know how tuned in you are to the seiyuu scene, but lately I've been following voice actor Natsuki Hanae's gaming YouTube channel and watching him get more and more Online. Well, it was only a matter of time before he went full someBODY

This has absolutely nothing to do with Junichi Sato and Mari Okada's new cat movie but the thought popped in my head and wouldn't leave so I'm sharing my brain poison.
Thankfully A Whisker Away is the perfect cure for brain poison. I do have a number of thoughts about this movie, but first and foremost I'm just so glad to have it for the endless amount of cute Cat pictures it's given me.

Plus some not-so-cute cats, which can either be a good thing or a bad thing depending on who you are and how many children you want to freak out.
Seriously, there's plenty to dig into with this movie regarding ideas of self worth, identity, and insecurities, but for a sizable portion of the runtime the paramount emotion in my brain was just
At least until they start drunkenly recalling where they went wrong in life. Still pretty cute though!
That's the power of cats. They can make anything adorable, even crippling depression! But really, I've been looking forward to this thing since it was announced. I'm a proud Mari Okada stan, and while I'm still waiting for somebody to license Her Blue Sky, getting to see her latest film production nearly as soon as it came out in Japan is a pretty soothing salve.
To be fair the Japanese release was pushed back due to COVID-19 rather than the other way around, but yes, it is pretty sweet to easily get my paws on the new Mari Okada thing before folks spoil it to hell and back. Now I get to be the one spoiling it for everyone!
Probably fair to say we'll get into spoilers here. So if you've not seen this movie yet, you might as well go now so we don't spoil all the cute cat animation for you.
That's all I ask from a movie about a girl who turns into a cat to canoodle with her crush: cute cats, kitty kisses, and lots of butt-sniffing.
Please keep your fetishes in the Gleipnir column where they belong. This is a very pure and eco-friendly movie.

Look, you gotta do what you gotta do when you don't have opposable thumbs. Now why anyone would give those up is beyond me.
But yeah, the main conceit of this movie is right there in the (Japanese) title: Wanting To Cry, I Pretend to Be a Cat. The "I" meaning Miyu, and we learn real quick why she wants to cry.

That is a whammy of an opening line.
It's a hell of a lot of information in just a few words! Immediately we know Miyu's parents are divorced/separated, the split wasn't pretty, and she gets the choice between a stepmom she barely knows and an emotionally manipulative mother. No wonder the kid feels alone in a world of strange, scary creatures.
It's rough, but that's something I expect from anything where Okada's the lead writer. She just has a knack for immediately getting you in the head of her characters.
Fast forward a bit from this scene, and Miyo a.k.a. Muge has transformed herself into her school's resident weird girl, acting every bit the spunky kid with no sense of boundaries but hesitant to actually interact with other people as fellow human beings.
And then she attacks her crush. With her butt.

She contains multitudes, okay? Also props to the translation team trying so hard to localize her nickname. This is some yoga-level stretching.
I adore Miyo as a character? In most stories she'd be the quirky girl to Hinode's sad boy protagonist, just vulnerable enough that the main guy can be her emotional support. But here she's the subject rather than the object; her weirdness facade is the point while Hinode's sadboi struggles are secondary. Plus Hinode's kind of a nihilistic jerk the way most middle schoolers are.

Like no offense to the multiple stories about blandly nice boys and their quirky, troubled girlfriends I've watched in the last month but I much prefer when the nice boy is bad at being nice and the girl is more concerning than quirky.
She's really good! Most romance stories would shy away from this kind of characterization, since usually "quirky" anime girls are weird in ways that are marketable and attractive, but Miyu can get like, genuinely annoying at times. Which tracks because when you're a kid in love with someone, you'll do just about anything to get them to look at you. Negative attention is still attention, right?
The way she gets up in Hinode's personal space is absolutely inappropriate, but everybody around her is like "haha, there goes the weird girl again" instead of being all that worried for either her or Hinode. It does neither of them favors to be shoved into the sadboy/quirky girl dynamic, but she's lost in her fantasies (as an escape from her less-than-optimal home life) and he's just bad at saying how he feels.
Also it just dawned on me that the scarecrow motif, on top of showing how little Miyu cares about 99.9% of her peers, is a way of denoting who she's willing to be sincere with outside of the "Muge" defense persona, which is why it doesn't include her one (1) friend. This movie's got layers man.
Well it's hard to treat everybody like a person when you're 13 and angry at the world! So many names and faces to remember, it's way easier to latch onto one or two people and go overboard with affection for them.
I mean I can't blame Miyu. Quite a few of the people in her life kinda suck, like the rando neighborhood lady who is definitely worried about how she's dealing with her new mom and DEFINITELY not being a huge busybody baiting for gossip.
The neighbors see a stepmom and expect the family to act a certain way, so Miyu's doing her darnedest to at least pretend her new family is "normal." She's sick of people judging her for things out of her control, so she puts on her "Muge" persona to try to convince them it's not her family that's weird but Miyu herself. She can only take so much of the pretending, though.
While also doing her best to keep her new mom at arm's length. Kaoru herself is perfectly kind and obviously wants to get to know Miyu better, but Miyu's too busy enjoying the rewards of being loved (as a cat) to deal with the mortifying ordeal of being known.
It's frustrating enough to be a rebellious teen with the parents that raised you, doubly so when you feel like you live with a practical stranger.
Dad doesn't help. He gets like a paragraph of screen time but you can immediately tell that, well-meaning or not, he's not the kind of parent Miyu can get close to about any of this.

"C'mon, talk to her about boys. You're both girls so that means you'll immediately be comfortable and understand each other right? Anyway time to watch some sports."
He's literally barely in the picture! Kaoru and Miyu have enough of a complicated relationship without him shoving his clueless, uninformed ass in the conversation.
So yeah, with all that on her plate it's no wonder Miyu would swap it out for a food bowl, regardless of how shady the mask-selling cat man who made it is.
Aw, he's just here to make sure Miyu enjoys her remaining [checks calendar] seven or eight years as a cat, nothing sketchy going on here.

Really she just swaps out her Muge mask for a Taro one. Neither one is true to who she is, but in her mind at least the Taro one is easy to maintain.
To be fair, it's a pretty tempting offer to want to be a cat. After all, a cat's the only cat that knows where it's at. "It" being easily obtained unconditional love and affection.
I mean if not for the whole "sacrificing your remaining years and connection to humanity" thing I'd say it's a pretty good deal.
Like sure, she's pretending to be a stray cat that Hinode believes is the reincarnation of his beloved childhood dog, and also views as an escape from the crushing pressure of his family's expectations. But also she gets belly rubs!
On paper being a cat sounds really great! Until she starts losing the ability to understand people talk and has to sit back while she watches the family cat start to take her place.

Truly the grass is greener on the other side: Miyu wants an escape from the pressures of human life, while Kinako wants the opportunity to stay with her owner for longer than her cat lifespan allows.
It's a real asshole move on Kinako's part, but being a jerk for the sake of the one other creature you care about is the epitome of cat behavior.

Sure taking Miyu's place is a lot more terrifying than my cat taking my seat when I get up from the computer, but still.
But as much as Kinako loves Kaoru, she can't just tell her the reason she disappeared is because she's now posing as her stepdaughter. Or maybe she could. But that would be weird.
I'm sure it would come up eventually when Kaoru stumbled across her step-daughter's stash of catboy hentai but yeah, weird thing to bring up.
Either way Kinako figures it would be more valuable to the both of them if she spends her final years as the cat Kaoru knows and loves rather than causing irreparable harm to the family. She transforms believing Kaoru needs her support in any form, but doesn't realize until later that she's loved in return.
It's an important lesson that the cat is mature enough to figure out after a couple days. Meanwhile our doofus teenagers need a few more life-threatening mystical chase sequences to figure out their whole deal. Though props to Hinode for rolling with the whole transforming cat-people thing so quickly.
To an extent!
It's a lot, ok. He's got all the teen angst you'd expect from a 13-year old, then he's gotta deal with his burgeoning feelings for Miyu that stem from his own self-loathing, and now he finds out his almost girlfriend he rejected out of embarrassment is also the cat he's been cuddling AND he's got to air-walk into a Ghibli movie? The boy's gotta be tired.
Obviously the solution is to turn the boy into a catboy. That way even if he falls he'll land gracefully on his feet! That's how it works right?
Didn't seem to work too well for this guy.
Talk about uncomfy suicide metaphors.
There are worse allegorical afterlives, I suppose.
True. At least Miyu gets a bunch of friends to catpile Cat Satan.
Sadly Hinode borks his own cat-formation and only gets the paws. Guess he didn't spend enough time on furaffinity to qualify for the full monty.
It's about then that he realizes that Miyu was there all along as his manic pixie dream cat. Though she was primarily doing it for herself, the support was real, and he figures he'll at least return the favor even if feelings are hard.
And the conclusion is actually super sweet. It's less about either of them having an epiphany about their feelings, and more both opening themselves up to being loved as themselves - both by each other and the other people in their life.

It's SO ADORABLE. I actually yelled out loud when they agree to be honest with themselves and their families, they're such sweet kids. They're more alike than they initially think, and once they get their personas out of the way they can finally start to connect.
To be blunt and at least a little reductionist, there's been a trend the last few years of original movies that really really want to be your name. Shove two straight teenagers together into a magical realism plot, salt and pepper with insert songs to taste, and try to suck up some of that box office yen. A Whisker Away so easily could have been that, but the depth of characterization it grants to its romantic leads makes it really stand apart. Also it's incredibly well animated. Colorido delivers so much great cuts that help make the characters feel alive.
It's an exceptional little movie that happened to get released at the worst of times, but I hope being on Netflix will give it the exposure it absolutely deserves. I really feel lucky to be able to see it so soon.
My only real complaint is that, for something from the writer of Aquarion Evol and O Maidens, there's almost NO dirty jokes. Like come on, you're telling me they couldn't fit in one joke about pussy? Ridiculous.
Hey, you gotta make sacrifices if you wanna land with the your name. family audience. I do wish they'd managed to sneak in a cat butthole though. That's all I ask.
Show us the goods, Colorido.

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