The Kisugi sisters (Rui, Hitomi, and Ai) will tell you that the fact that the name of their café, Cat's Eye, is the same as the name used by a female band of art thieves is just a coincidence. The Kisugi sisters are rather bald-faced liars, but one has to give them credit for the carelessness and phenomenally bad judgment that would instantly direct any sentient being, much less a savvy cop, to exactly where the blame belongs. Fortunately for the sisters Toshio Utsumi, the detective in charge of defeating Cat's Eye (the art thieves) is not only NOT savvy, he seems only semi-sentient most of the time. He's proud of the arrangements he's made to safeguard the treasures he's assigned to protect, and happy to tell the sisters running Cat's Eye (the café) all about them. And those ladies are so interested they want to ask him even more! They'll even straighten his tie for him (and include a bugging device on it for no extra charge!) They DO play the guy for a fool- though the middle sister, Hitomi, begins to develop some actual feelings toward him- and while they (almost) always get their targets, they sometimes throw the worse felons they encounter into Toshio's lap, so he won't get replaced too fast. (After all, they NEED a man like him...)
My first acquaintance with this show (I THINK) is from the sendup of it in Girls Bravo. Now, being parodied by the likes of Girls Bravo is kind of a disgrace that this show really doesn't deserve- not quite- for despite Cat's Eye's many inanities and plot flaws, which will be described in lurid detail here, the show nevertheless has its charms, and on balance they make the show far superior to the likes of Girls Bravo, in any case.
So I'll rant about those inanities a bit. The synopsis has already mentioned the outrageously poor judgment the ladies exhibit in naming their art-theft operation after their café (or is it the other way around?). In that famous history of comic books, All In Color For A Dime, one author mentions a WWII heroine of whom "Her opponents made it pretty easy for her and listed themselves in the Washington phone directory under names like Mr. Axis." Let's just say that resonated with me here. And there's the thing with the cards. Cat's Eye always announces their next target in advance using cards, apparently so Toshio can blab/brag to them about the exact arrangements being made to protect the target from this announced threat. The cards must be laminated like crazy- they stick in walls, and the ladies use them like ninja stars in combat. (I thought they must be metal, but they DO burn.) And yet for some reason, nobody thinks to check the cards for fingerprints, even though we see the sisters handling them with bare hands. Apparently even Asatani doesn't think of that.
Who's Asatani? She's Mitsuko Asatani, a policewoman introduced a few episodes in. She walks into the station ALREADY realizing that Toshio is the likely source of the art thieves' info, AND she also rather quickly realizes the fundamental mathematical identity involved (Cat's Eye the café=Cat's Eye the art thieves), but with some misdirection the ladies are able to throw her off the scent at first; her suspicions will flare up from time to time, though. REAL old timers may be reminded of TV characters like Dr. Bellows in I Dream Of Jeannie, who just knew something funny was going on with a certain character, but could never quite prove it. But the show isn't consistent about Asatani- in one episode, she'll be filled with suspicion toward, usually, Hitomi, then a few episodes later she's helping Toshio buy jewelry for that same suspicious sister. This lack of consistency and follow-through is another problem; the story often starts to travel in an interesting direction (quite literally, at one point), but then quickly loses its nerve, and the story thread just stalls. I would have liked Cat's Eye quite a bit better if events had unfolded in a consistent, ordered, and logical way, though in fairness the Hitomi/Toshio "romance" kind of does. (More on this later.)
Another big problem is the show's seeming need to rationalize/justify the sisters' thefts. The ladies talk about it as their "important work" that "even God would approve of." So here's their excuse: they're doing the thefts to find clues to their father's whereabouts. Does this sound to you like something God's down with? I was a little puzzled about how this worked, and also about the scope of things toward which it was applied. Their father, a man named Heinz, was a painter, and the majority of the things they steal are his paintings. But they also steal jewels, though reference is sometimes made to those being part of Heinz's "collection", so apparently we're not just talking things Heinz created himself, but things he possessed in general. A few times the show doesn't bother to make a connection between the items being stolen and Dad at all. Perhaps the sisters, despite their moral indignation at being considered common thieves ("We don't steal for money!"), nevertheless simply indulge their likes from time to time. In any case, how does this bring Dad back? The only person who actually looks for clues in their Dad's paintings is, ironically, Toshio, who in a few episodes of mental clarity follows a particular lead from one of them. The ladies themselves certainly don't actually do anything with the art they've stolen; they've just got it all stashed in a warehouse of some kind (which we'll actually visit, later.)
I finally concluded that their activities were only remotely ethically justifiable, at best, IF their Dad's treasures had originally all been stolen from him (which might be so, but I was never sure); and their stated goal would only be achievable if their intention was to signal Dad, through media stories about thefts of his "collection", that his daughters were out there, uh, stealing it. (It seems to me that simply suing to recover some of the pieces would not only have kept the ladies within the law, but would also have been a more specific signal to Dad, who as it is might just suspect a criminal fan of his, rather than larcenous daughters, being behind it, but that's just me.)
In any case the sisters don't consider themselves real criminals. Here's another bit of synchronicity for me: I've also been watching the first season of the show Better Call Saul, and the character Mike Ehrmantraut in that show has a bit of wisdom the sisters might profit from: if you deliberately commit a criminal act, you're a criminal, WHATEVER you think about yourself. The sisters seem to be rather oblivious to this truism, but the activities of the sisters in Cat's Eye constantly involve them with characters THEY consider REAL criminals, and as I said before they're willing to direct Toshio at them, AFTER they've given them a sound Cat's Eye thrashing, of course. This is actually the "meat" of the show, and while we're working within a restriction to parties that might be somehow connected to art, over the course of the show it'll include insurance scammers, a megalomaniac or two, terrorists, some politicians (actual and would-be), burglary rings, a gangster Lothario, a murderous bodyguard, numerous rival art thieves, vengeful museum owners, and, inevitably, Nazis wanting to resurrect the Third Reich. But the show's nearly invariable formula always dominates over these attempts to create variety, and certainly over any attempts to create backstory or build a plot arc: the ladies determine their target for theft, overcome some competitors or overwhelm the police's defenses, steal the relevant item, and yet again embarrass Toshio with their clean getaway. How Toshio manages to keep his job after these endless failures is a good question that I can't answer. But the techniques for overcoming the obstacles placed in their way are sometimes ingenious- at one point, they use a genuinely clever strategy to get into a facility with multiple alarmed locations.
Bringing up Toshio gives a good opportunity to segue to some more descriptions of our cast. Toshio we've already met; he's equal parts handsome, dedicated, inept, and clueless. He's somewhat sexist, but at times it's tempered with a self-deprecating attitude ("I'm not very popular with women") that's at least a little endearing.
As for the Kisugi sisters, we can start with the oldest, Rui. She's somehow both the most refined and the most sensual of the three; she seems to have a thing going with Mr. Nagaishi, a distinguished-looking gentleman who mainly provides the sisters with intel, but occasionally participates in their capers. Rui also seems to delight in sexually teasing Toshio, sometimes in the course of giving him romantic pointers for his relationship with Hitomi. She does most of the planning for Cat's heists, and some of the research. The youngest of the Kisugi sisters is Ai. She's the bratty kid sister type, and maybe the least fond of Toshio, though she does often feel sorry for him. She's the person who puts together their gadgets, from their electronic bugs, to their hang gliding equipment, to their heavy machinery, like stuff for boring through solid rock, AND the world's most powerful vacuum cleaner. Since she's the youngest, the two older sisters often relegate her to support roles (which she's NOT happy about), and maybe enforce this with the outfit they've assigned her- while all the sisters wear leotards as their working outfits, the two older sisters wear dark-colored ones appropriate to night operations, while Ai's is bright orange. Ai also apparently has a pilot's license. (Another by-the-way: while the sisters claim they never steal for money, their high-tech (for 1985) gadgetry- even if Ai DOES put much of it together in the back rooms of the café- AND that Porsche they drive would be pretty hard to afford just selling cappuccino.)
And then there's Hitomi. She's the one most adept at acrobatics, and tends to be given "point" in their raids. While I've said the show usually has little long-term plot continuity, we DO see some in Hitomi's growing attachment to Toshio, but it's SO weird. For purposes of explanation, let's divide her life into "Day" (=café) Hitomi and "Night" (=art thief) Hitomi. "Night" Hitomi is actually "turned on" by Toshio's literal chasing of her during his attempts to arrest the thieves, though of course if he actually CAUGHT her- or even got a good LOOK at her (remember, he KNOWS her)- everything would be all over. In fact, the ladies spend a good amount of time rendering Toshio unconscious, sometimes with anesthetic gas, sometimes with blows to the head. (Once or twice Hitomi punches him in the gut, which I believe is more likely to lead to loss of lunch than loss of consciousness.) You can tell when she's starting to get serious with Toshio, though, because she starts quietly apologizing for hitting him- after he's been made unconscious, of course. You see, "Day" Hitomi actually starts dating Toshio (maybe as a sublimation of her "Night" feelings, though we're told they've known each other since high school), and it would be particularly bad if Toshio found out his girlfriend was also one of the master criminals he's pursuing.
Ai says "A woman's feelings are complicated, huh?", and "Day" Hitomi's certainly are. Early on she gets angry with Toshio for his preoccupation with Cat's (the art thieves), even though her own "Night" self's activities are largely responsible for that situation in the first place. On the basis of what we actually see, she keeps her relationship with Toshio very prim-and-proper; we rarely see her kiss him, though we DO see her shut down quite a few of his attempts to kiss HER; but she does have a VERY interesting Freudian slip in a conversation with Ai, during a brief stint when he rooms with the sisters. If there ARE "magic moments" in Cat's Eye, I'd say they're mostly found in this strange, improbable relationship between thief and detective. In particular, there's one absolutely gorgeously scripted scene where Toshio is talking with Hitomi about a sailor whose girlfriend callously betrayed him and played him for a fool, but Hitomi objects; it must have hurt her to betray him, Hitomi says, and surely her feelings for the sailor couldn't have been all a lie. And Hitomi's sisters, in an adjoining room, realize she's not really talking about the sailor's girlfriend at all; she's really talking about her own relationship with Toshio. But while Hitomi has her moments of closeness (and revelation) toward Toshio, and the other two (even Ai) sometimes show at least "maternal" feelings toward him, their "important work" trumps all, and to see the poor guy, idiot or not, get pummeled, tricked, and humiliated every episode does get a bit hard for the viewer, and yet Toshio shows quite a bit of loyalty to Hitomi. I really wonder what she's done to earn it.
More briefly: I really didn't like either the openers or closers in either of the show's two seasons; the show's closers, both seasons, are basically exercise videos. (This is the mid-1980's; weren't the Jane Fonda workout tapes big then?) The animation seems a bit creaky by modern standards, of course. I didn't mention the Chief; there IS one, Toshio's boss, who mainly just calls Toshio an idiot (can't argue with that.) The Chief is, at one point, driven by Cat's-related stress to some interesting hallucinations. (The show does have some pretty good gags, to be honest, but that's spread over 73 episodes.) I've read the Wiki article on Cat's Eye, and really wish they'd done the more satisfying manga ending.
Oh, and as for that ambiguity about my "first acquaintance" with the show, after viewing it all, I would swear that I've seen this in a dubbed version- there's a scene on a ship in Episode 58 that seemed awfully familiar- but maybe my brains are scrambled. Perhaps I was hit over the head one time too many by art thieves. I DO hope they were at least attractive ones.
OK, I admit it: after Cobra, the thought of doing an anti-Cobra, a show of comparable vintage with the sex roles kind of reversed, had nice appeal on grounds of symmetry. Coming up with a star rating for this show was difficult; negatives are all there to see- a ridiculous setup, a repetitive story structure that allows little long-term plot progression, and treatment of the male lead that only a dominatrix would love. Positives? The ladies themselves are genuinely attractive (and more realistically proportioned than seems common now), and their personalities are well developed; there's lots of action, including plenty of gadgets and close calls penetrating security setups. (Remember the Mission: Impossible TV show? Much like that.) And maybe most of all, the oceans of guilt, and flashes of passion, that lurk just below the surface of the Hitomi/Toshio relationship, and very occasionally pop into view, are fascinating. — Allen Moody
Recommended Audience: There's some nudity (not graphic), mostly from Hitomi- a few shower scenes, and in the opening titles. The ladies' working outfits are skintight, and there's just a bit of sexual innuendo, particularly from Rui. Bullets, and blood, are in some abundance.
Version(s) Viewed: Digital stream on Crunchyroll, Japanese with English subs.
Review Status: Full (73/73)
Cat's Eye © 1983 Tokyo Movie Shinsha
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