a.k.a. Neko no Ongaeshi
Haru can’t seem to do anything right, which is a shame because she’s always late for school and can never seem to impress the boy in her class whom she has a crush on. Her mundane existence turns upside-down forever when she saves a cat from death by oncoming vehicle. What she was unprepared for was the extent to which her kind gesture would be repaid.
summary by Kain
Highs: Entertaining; beautiful animation
Lows: Too short
The Cat Returns may be a side story to Whisper of the Heart, but it follows more in Spirited Away‘s footsteps as it takes Haru and the audience to a place faraway and fantastic. With an entertaining and creative look at the world of cats, this movie’s only fault is that there’s not more of it.
The amount of thought and creativity that went into envisioning the world of cats is apparent from the beginning. Obviously many of the designers are cat owners, and there seems to be an undercurrent of tongue-in-cheek humor in the personification of the cats throughout the film. The secret life of cats is imaginatively portrayed, especially the King’s court and his bodyguards in their suits of black and white fur. With the attention and detail paid to the setting and character design, it’s no surprise that the animation is topnotch and successfully immerses the viewer into a new world.
Unfortunately, it’s an immersion that is far too short. With a relatively brief running time, there’s only enough time to tell a simple story. The inclusion of the familiar characters of The Baron and Moon ends up merely teasing the discerning viewers who recognize them from their previous outing. With very little explanation of who those characters are and how they fit into the world, I found myself wanting more story or a sub-plot that gives those characters more depth and background.
But even with the short length, The Cat Returns never once fails to entertain as it tells the lighthearted tale of a girl learning that no good deed goes unpunished. This film is yet another worthy addition to Studio Ghibli’s growing list of masterpieces.
Highs: Enchanting fantasy setting; beautiful backdrops; soothing music; likeable characters abound
Lows: Too light to have any deep meaning; overly simplistic character design
I am a huge fan of Whisper of the Heart, a Studio Ghibli movie that has a small but fiercely loyal following. I have been waiting for this not-quite-a-sequel-but-more-of-a-side-story for quite some time now… and I must say that this anime has quite possibly exceeded my lofty expectations.
Miyazaki Hayao’s role here is far less prominent than in Whisper of the Heart, but worry not; director Morita Hiroyuki does an admirable job of making the characters immensely appealing while shifting from scene to scene without a hint of lag. The pacing is so smooth that the roughly 74 minutes fly by like a single television episode. In fact, this may be Studio Ghibli’s best movie to date in terms of scene transitions.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and in this case beauty can be heard as well as seen. The music is soft and whispery but maintains a strong resonance that encapsulates all the right moments in this anime. The backgrounds are painted in lush pastels that match the fantasy-style story perfectly. The character design is a good bit on the bland side, but the scenery more than makes up for it.
The Cat Returns fails to deliver as a profound tale of growing up, unlike its predecessor, Whisper of the Heart. However, that in no way diminishes its ability to entertain like few anime can. This anime is a very worthy sequel to a great movie. Prepare yourself for a grand adventure.
Highs: Ghibli-worthy characters; pleasant drawings and music
Lows: Less entertaining in the second half
Whether Miyazaki was sitting in the director’s chair or not, every Studio Ghibli release has come out with sky-high anticipation from the anime community. Having little in common with its alleged predecessor Whisper of the Heart, aside from two characters of symbolic importance, may sound like a bad thing. However, I am quite happy Morita Hiroyuki, whose only prior directorial experience was Tenchi Forever!, decided to take this movie in a completely new direction. It is much harder to disappoint when you get your own pair of shoes to fill.
The way this movie begins will surely grab the attention of viewers of all ages. You can either be intrigued by the absurd turn of events, relate to Haru and her teenage problems or simply wonder at the nice animation and funny characters. It is in these characters that the Ghibli magic shines the most. The detailed artwork and enchanting yet reserved music are not on par with their animation studio, but the characters have that little Ghibli something that makes them interesting with only a minimum of development.
Events bogged down past the halfway point, unfortunately, when it came time for Haru to make her escape. The intriguing suspense gives the green light to the storyline, which cannot compare due to its overly simplistic approach. It is only then that you see this movie was clearly aimed at a younger audience. It is also then that you see the makers were trying to make up for time. The story that started very slowly was kicked into high gear slightly too fast. This anime could have been completely saved had the obstacles in the Baron and Haru’s way been either more difficult to overcome or simply more original and interesting.
Still, The Cat Returns is a lot of fun and is certainly worth a watch. Had it found a way to stay absorbing from beginning to end, it would be way up there with other of the studio’s classics. The fact that it is worthy of such comparison is an honor only great anime deserve.
The Cat Returns can be downloaded legally in the United States HERE.