My Roommate is a Cat
Author Subaru Mikazuki loses both his parents in an accident, which leaves him completely alone... with the exception of his editor and a childhood friend, both of which Subaru finds annoying. Not being much of a people person, Subaru nevertheless decides to adopt a cat he meets at the family grave after she provides a burst of inspiration for his next book.
She eventually receives the name Haru, and for her part, she doesn't quite know what to make of this strange being who took her home with him. He seemed like a nice guy, but he's terrible at looking after himself, all the way down to getting enough to eat, or even enough sleep. Clearly he needs looking after, and since Haru was taught not to leave a debt unpaid, she decides to continue living with this strange human and look after him. She owed that to her little brothers, after all, not to mention the cats who helped her looking after herself and her little brothers.
Dead parents is a bit of a trope in anime, mostly used as an excuse for teenagers to have a whole house all to themselves to do with as they please. While that isn't My Roommate is a Cat's fault, the overuse tend to make one a bit blasé towards what should be a tragedy.
And it is a tragedy for Subaru. The show doesn't shy away from the fact that if not for the people in his life that he finds to be annoying bores, he probably wouldn't survive in the long run. The guy has a career, and a pretty income-rich one at that, but outside of his interest and talents in literature, he barely have any other skills to speak of, not helped by his extreme aversion to dealing with people. That extended to his parents to some degree. The two of them were loving parents who tried getting Subaru involved in their activities, of which he'd have none of.
Which, in their passing, turned out to be one of his bigger sources of regret. In his self-imposed solitude, Subaru even went so far as to mostly ignore his parents when they tried bringing him along. And this wasn't just some parents taking their kids along on what they wanted to do either; his mother in particular chose their destiations very much after Subaru's interests and wants while wanting to give him a pleasant surprise, and Subaru finally realizing this after they're gone marks one of the more heartbreaking moments in this show.
And then along comes Haru, streetwise and cool. Darkish grey fur with a white patch going from her face and all the way around her belly in addition to white-socked feet makes her an almost criminally adorable addition to the cast. We do not learn much about her circumstances aside from the fact that her story starts out with her and four younger siblings being abandoned in a box, as cats are wont to be in anime. And even before Subaru's sad lament over missed opportunities regarding his parents, My Roommate is a Cat will absolutely destroy your heart as Haru finds one of her little brothers dead, killed by crows, her voice wondering why he isn't opening his eyes. It's even worse if you have survived cats yourselves, and again, this show does in no way romanticise what it's like for strays, as Kuro and Tora are more than happy to explain. (Kuro in particular, since he has a pretty nasty scar where one of his eyes used to be.)
We do have strays in Norway too, but it sounds like this is a much bigger problem -- for human beings and cats alike -- in Japan.
I've already seen a few shows that decided to give their feline cast a voice; the concept isn't even that unique, anime or otherwise. My early exposure to the wonders of Garfield aside, one of the earlier anime I watched that really nailed cat behavior was Sketchbook ~Full Color's~, and My Roommate is a Cat has a fairly similar way of portraying the feline residents of their respective homesteads. When Haru was a stray, the thoughts that mostly occupied her head was on full survival mode, but once she moved in with Subaru, a more playful side emerged, even if she didn't give up her caretaking side. As sad as the show can get at times, those are mostly relatively short moments in a show otherwise centered around comedy. In addition to a humorous attempt at explaining the way cats just flip out and jump and/or attack nothing at all, Haru has some wonderful expressions at times; whether she's slobbering over food, having panic attacks about strangers intruding on her personal property or just looking all self-satisfied and smug. I was a bit worried that this show would turn out like Chi's Sweet Home, which was a show I never really fell for, but thankfully it turned out a bit closer to the aforementioned Sketchbook, at least in regard to the animals. And barring Sketchbook's more offkilter humor.
The two shows' approach to kitty pragmatism also differs somewhat: Haru is a responible young lady. Sure, she got her priorities for herself in order, which is mostly centered around getting enough food and finding nice napping spots, but while the Sketchbook cats were mostly concerned with themselves, Haru was a big sister first and foremost, and when her little siblings were gone in either heartbreaking or heartwarming ways, Subaru became the new target for her sisterly affections.
With Haru in the house, Subaru finds his home more busy than ever. Kawase Atsushi, his beleaguered editor, is a bit of a cat nut who now has an excuse to come over more often... to Subaru's chagrin. If it's not him dropping by to scare the crap out of Haru, you can trust Hiroto Yasaka to drop by and raid his fridge for fish sausages while leaving behind the dinner his mother made for Subaru. Then there's the neighborhood lady and her dog, Taro, a big fluffy sweetheart on his own. Haru first meets him at the hospital, where he's a calming voice of reason between all the other terrified pets, and while not being involved in any big scenes after that, he'll still pop in every once in a while to remind us all why it's perfectly acceptable to love and enjoy this show even if you're more of a dog person. (We've had both in our family, so if you asked me whether I'm a cat or a dog person, I would probably not be able to answer that.)
And if Subaru comes across as a bit abrasive at first, that has more to do with him being really socially awkward at his best of days. It's definitely a part of himself he's carried with him since his childhood days, where he'd deal with his stunted ability to communicate with people by escaping into the worlds created by books, and to which his own creative outlet eventually allowed him to do the same for others.
Like most drama-infused healing shows, Subaru and Haru's activities are very day to day. Sure, there is a sort of progression to how things are handled, especially since Subaru needs to learn how to look after a cat and everything that comes with that. Since that requires dealing with other people, that brings an extra challenge for Subaru, who isn't even at a beginner level in that particular skill. Thankfully, there is a pet store nearby run by a very nice lady, Nana Okami, who will most certainly become a mainstay in the series as she becomes the primary go-to source for information about animals and their caretaking needs, and an impromptou visit to her home with Haru in tow then led to another little heartfelt meeting with a nice addition of peace of mind.
In addition to that, My Roommate is a Cat does an amazing job at portraying general kitty behavior. I compared this to Sketchbook earlier, but My Roommate is a Cat isn't strictly speaking a comedy in the same way, and Haru and the other animals act more like normal animals do instead of people with cat minds. Haru's dialogue, which tends to occupy anywhere between 30 to 60% of the show's runtime, a lot of it repeating earlier story elements so that Haru can throw in her two kitty cents. The show also thankfully doesn't humanize the animals as much as trying to put their thoughts to words as they are. It's still a human impression of animal talk, granted, but while a bunch of cats having a chat about the most efficient way to mooch food off humans is how Sketchbook went about it, My Roommate is a Cat seems more like a very in-the-moment stream of consciousness, which feels more accurate in regard to animals who generally tend to be more picky with what they choose to remember in the long run.
Artwise, the show is a bit like Recovery of an MMO Junkie, except with less pastels. Most of the characters in it are established adults, and they definitely look the part too, a certain someone's social handicaps notwithstanding -- and why should teenagers be the only ones having fun with that anyway? The animation seems to waver between good to kinda barely adequate at odd moments. Again, it's harder to tell what with this being a quiet show, but the more hectic moments seems pretty well animated, so it's probably nothing to worry about. The music doesn't really have any standout moments, unlike some other shows I've watched (like the aforementioned Sketchbook), but they suit the show well enough otherwise.
It helps that the show also keeps a restrained tone to everything. Subaru might be suffering from social anxiety, but he's not completely cartoonish about it. Rather, his neuroses seems more like a natural way someone would act if they were suffering from said anxiety. And Haru herself, while quite verbose for a cat, nevertheless keeps her mind on the here and now, and doensn't quite understand why her newest family member sometimes need to be away for extended periods of time. Adorably enough, kids are also acting like kids -- which is to say they differ wildly, but have that "kid" feel about them, all the way down to how they act around Haru.
The show can feel kind of jumpy the way it goes from the present into flashbacks and then back again, and immediately into a different flashback centered around a different characters. I've lambasted shows before for using bit-sized flashback sequences to explain character motivation, but strangely enough, it works here. That might have to do with the fact that the show establishes each character interaction or presentation first, and then uses said flashback bits to embellish on that. With no clear goal in mind other than "have Subaru open up to people around him", it leaves the show a bit more leeway. He's not aiming to be a great novelist; he already is one, at least on a somewhat local level. And he's not magically fixed by the end of this season either -- I mentioned once that I appreciated Laid-Back Camp for giving its main introvert some breathing room instead of crowding her into submission -- but much like Rin in Laid-Back Camp, Subaru is allowed to slowly come out of his shell on his own, with maybe some mild forcing from his friends and colleagues. Near the end of the show, Subaru can now have guests over without freaking out, even if said guests are children, but that doesn't mean he can just talk with them normally without overthinking things. We don't see it, but I imagine Hiroto might have taken his sister aside and given her some hints on how to best approach him. The only downside I can think of is that it probably rides the coincidence train a little bit too hard, but that's a relatively minor nitpick. Also, the show does unfortunately lean a bit too hard on the "separation crisis" during the final episode, albeit again lessened by the fact that said runaway is a cat.
Whether you want to spend your time with My Roommate is a Cat of course depends on how much you like cats in addition to portrayals of people who suffer panic attacks. As I mentioned earlier, some scenes can and probably will hit a lot harder if you're not the most personable of people, or if you have -- or have had -- at least one cat in your life. There is a certain delightfulness to the antics of the characters in this show, including the animals, and that's why you should give My Roommate is a Cat a go.
Mostly funny, but serious when it needs to. Here, every day is Caturday. — Stig Høgset
Recommended Audience: The show does tackle some mildly heavy issues, like deaths in the family, or among young kittens. Outside of that, the show has no violence aside from some allusioned-to among stray cats, or cats and crows. There is also literally no fanservice of the sexual kind.
Version(s) Viewed: Digital stream, Japanese with English subs.
Review Status: Full (12/12)
My Roommate is a Cat © 2012 Zero-G.
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