Doukyonin wa Hiza, Tokidoki, Atama no Ue. My Roommate is a Cat Review

This is review number four hundred and fifty. This anime is part of the Winter 2019 lineup, and it’s called My Roommate is a Cat. It’s a twelve episode anime about Grave of the Fireflies, but it’s about cats. No, wait. It’s a lot more straightforward than that. Let’s read on.

Story

Dude took a cat home and made it his pet.
What?!
That’s the actual plot. What do you want from me?

Taking the Pants Off

I just came off watching a super complicated anime that has stories within a stories, and it demands your attention in order for you to truly enjoy it. To follow it up with a slow paced anime like this one took a bit of an adjustment. This show is about a dude taking care of a cat. That’s it. There’s nothing special about it, but I was surprised to finish five episodes in one go. It’s honestly really good, smart in its execution, but it is painfully mundane. I love thick exposition in my anime, because they’re fun to review. This anime is just…simple. It’s about a guy and a cat. I think I already said that. Crap, what else can I put on here? Eh, you know what, looks can be deceiving. I know that much. I watched the first episode a week ago, and I had to convince myself to pick up the rest of the show. Once I did though, I found myself completely entranced in the experience. Some shows doesn’t need grand premises and earth shattering gimmicks. Good shows knows how to execute its elements, and this show is a good example of that. I dare you to make a story about a cat and her owner. I bet you’ll find it hard to expand upon that simple premise. Something magical happened here though, because there is beauty in the mundane.

She and Her Cat

Did you guys know that Makoto Shinkai’s first ever directorial work is a five minute short about a cat and her owner? Now he is regarded as the next Hayao Miyazaki. It’s crazy where life can take us. I bring up that five minute show, because the plot is pretty similar to this anime. Shinkai’s work follows the story of heartbreak in the point of view of the cat. That gimmick is employed in this anime as well. In the first episode, we are introduced to the guy, Subaru Mikazuki, picking up a stray and learning to live with a pet. With the remaining time, the same story is told through the cat’s perspective. We are given a chance to get into each character’s head space and slowly understand them. Subaru is an introvert dealing with personal issues, and he learns to open up because of his new pet. The cat, named Haru in later episodes, has her own deal though. She has her own issues, and the innocence of her world view adds a certain charm to the show.

I will admit though, I was playing Pokemon Go for majority of the episodes. I even caught the green Godzilla pokemon while I was watching this anime. I always wanted that green bastard, so I was elated when I finally have one. I remember my Pokemon Go play more though, because there isn’t really much going on in the anime. It’s mundane and severely slow paced. Its dialogue heavy and you can’t really expect much story about a guy entertaining guests, or learning how to feed a cat properly. It’s cute, I guess, but I’ve been doing this for over a decade now. Do you really think cute will do it for me? Nah. Cute is fine. I can take cute out for a walk and sleep fine the next day. Cute doesn’t leave an impression on me though. I’d take it out for another walk, sure, but I won’t look forward to it all day. There is one element of the show that makes it ten times more interesting though. Between learning how to feed a cat and trying to become more sociable, there is also death. Yeah, death.

Grief

Subaru lives in his house alone, but it didn’t used to be like that. Before, he lived with his parents but they are no longer here. The anime mostly follows a person, who recently lost a loved one, try to pick things up and move forward. Anyone that ever lost someone close to them will know though that this is never an easy task. The numbing depression that makes you want to stay in bed is hard to fight off. Subaru living in the house full of memories is also a tough thing, since his parent’s life is still alive in that house. I used to have a friend that kept the unwashed coffee mug his dad last drank from after his heart attack. She would also dip low and mention how it was her fault that the guy died because she was sleeping in the next room and she could’ve done something about it. What exactly do you say to that? I’m serious. We were eating wings and laughing, and then she blurted that out. Grief is a hard topic to cover, and this cute slice of life anime tells this narrative with ease.

Throughout the anime, Subaru does his best to overcome his grief. He is slowly learning to trust people again, he is trying to open up and he is trying to move on. He would dip low though just like any normal person. We’ll see a glimpse of his grief pop out, and it’s heavy. My hands were covered with salted egg dust from the chicken wings and I couldn’t move to console my friend. Dipping low can be tough, and this anime tells it with such dignity and restraint. You will feel for Subaru, and you want the best for him too. You often can’t help but smile, because you know he is on the road to recovery. It’ll be a long road ahead, but he’s on the right direction for sure.

Of course, the anime’s main appeal is how the cat and Subaru belongs together. As much as he is trying to overcome grief, Haru is trying to address her own loss as well. I swear to gawd, I had flashbacks of Grave of the Fireflies as we see Haru discover a dead body. It was heavy, and I seriously had to stop because I don’t want to experience Grave of the Fireflies ever again. That show dipped way too low for my own liking. It does get me wondering though. Why didn’t the anime just embody the loneliness of grief? Sometimes, the narrative is too good but then it never really goes all the way. Grave of the Fireflies let that girl die and we witnessed her slowly lose her life. This cute anime had the same chance. It’ll flash images of an accident, but it never really dives deep. If this anime just allow the story to be sad then I bet I’ll enjoy it even more. I mean, it’s there. Death is there waving at us, but the show never give more than a sudden glance. It hits me though. This isn’t a drama anime. It’s slice of life.

Painfully Mundane

An effective slice of life anime has an element of time. You can feel the clock tick because of how slow the show is. I once had a huge tangent in my previous reviews about slice of life/comedy shows and true slice of life anime. K-on is not slice of life. Also, f*ck KyoAni. Slice of life is painfully slow and it is scattered. It doesn’t highlight one specific thing except the everyday lives of the characters. This anime is pure slice of life. Death is part of life. It’ll dip low, but then you won’t really be depressed forever. Ten minutes tops, and then you finish eating your wings. That’s life. It doesn’t dwell on one thing, because life is not just about one thing. There is grief, but there is also happiness. There is comfort, there is companionship, there is second chances and there is time. The truth is, life goes on. Subaru might remember the tragic loss of his parents, but it’s not as important as being in the company of his childhood friend. It’s not a priority like taking care of a pet. He also had to work, so there is no time to be sad forever. Sure, the grief can be heavy and unbearable but that’s part of life. It doesn’t end there though.

This anime gives us a glimpse of Subaru’s life. The people he interact with, the things he do on an everyday basis, the emotions he feel and the fact that his life just goes on is all featured. It’s honestly such an empowering thing to watch an anime like this. It’s mature enough to talk about death and wave his way, but it is also features light comedy and strong character work. It makes you feel hopeful about your own life, because if Subaru can handle his loss then we can do it as well. He takes it one day at time. He enjoys the small moments and he is open minded about change. This is really the biggest lesson Subaru can teach us. In order to move forward, we have to embrace change. Now let’s talk about the cat.

Character Introspection

I have to reiterate that this show is painfully mundane. Not a lot of exciting things happen. Majority of the episodes is just dry dialogue on top on unexciting events. This anime shines though, because of its strong character work. Subaru is an introvert that suddenly lost his parents. Even if he knows how to ask for help, I doubt he can do it. He overthinks a lot of time and he dips low. Despite his shortcomings, he still tries to do his best. He might stumble and fall, but he is strong enough to pick himself back up. This is largely because he has a support system. From people that genuine care to a support animal by his side, you can’t help but smile at Subaru. He lost something huge in his life, but you can tell he gained a lot too.

Haru is an adorable character as well. She has a simple point of view, mainly about food, but she also slowly learns that Subaru cares about her. Throughout the show, we would see glimpse of her hardship and we understand why she acts like so. You can’t help but feel for her too. She went through a lot, and she’s now in good hands thanks to Subaru. If you’ve ever taken care of a cat, then I’m sure you’ll love Haru. She acts arrogant, like a true feline master, but she also has moments of vulnerability that’ll remind you of your own cat. Honestly, I felt a bit homesick because I missed my fur balls back home thanks to Haru.

That’s really the amazing thing about this show. The characters are real. The grief is real too. In fact, the mundanity feels absolutely real too. You can’t write something this honest unless you’ve experience it yourself, and I love strong writing like this. The last time a mangaka left this huge impact on me is when I watched Natsume’s Book of Friends. Yuki Midorikawa seems to create such a real form of loneliness that you’re convinced she experienced herself. That’s the level this story is on. Minatsuki, the author, crafted such an impactful narrative that it can rival Yuki Midorikawa and that’s insane considering the story is about taking care of a cat. I’m convinced the shy novelist aspect of Subaru is a self-insert too.

I usually don’t talk about characters in my review, but I would like to talk about my favorite one here. I’m talking about the childhood friend, Hiroto Yasaka. We are first introduced to him checking Subaru’s fridge and that’s honestly all you need to know about him. He is that caring friend that checks in on his pal, makes sure he is eating right, and genuinely wants the best for him. This was never explicitly told though. All of his character I told through subtext, and it’s such powerful subtext. Sometimes you just know everything he does is for his friend, and it kinda makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside.

Memories

Another aspect I love about this show is how they introduce Subaru’s parents. Mainly his mom though, because I think she had more impact on his life. The character is dead, but her flashbacks are always so warm and gentle. This makes sense, since Subaru is the one remembering her. You also get a good idea of why Subaru acts like how he does though because of her and her sudden loss. I had a moment of sheer will breaking sadness though, because the show would often remind us of how she lived. Her well-kept garden, her photo albums and the impact she left with others is told wonderfully in the anime. I had a tear when it was the neighbor’s dog talking about her. “There used to be a very kind lady here” he utters, and I just lost it. I cried. I think back to my friend and the loss she experienced. Her dad loves cooking and he would always prepare a plate of food stuff whenever we stop by to get plastered. On that day, we had wings and we all know he didn’t prepare them.

I know I didn’t talk much about the animals in the show, but it’s mainly because I want people to check this anime out. The animals is also a big element of the anime, and I encourage you to experience them yourself.

Suzuki, Akao and Zero-G

I think this anime a big example of the original source being absolutely good that little can be changed about it. Series composer, Deko Akao, did a good job adapting the soul of the manga. I always believe that a good adaptation captures the positives and the negatives of the original source. The manga is severely slow paced but packed with a lot of emotions. Deko’s series composition captured that. Given the long list of shows she series composed, it’s no wonder the beauty of the manga came through. This is my first time experiencing a Zero-G anime, and it was a so-so experience. The animation is evident that a small studio handled this. In most slice of life shows, the animation would’ve been the biggest thing to inject some juice into the dry pace. It felt like Kaoru Suzuki can only do so much. I’m honestly glad she didn’t do the empty panels of the manga, but the visuals are truly the biggest drawback for the show. It reminds me of a poor quality Studio Deen show, and I mostly only watch Studio Deen for the vapid BL they would promise. There’s none here. Kaoru’s storyboarding and pacing is pretty unimpressive though, and I’m just glad the manga itself is strong enough to thrive. She has a long list of episodic directing credit though going back to the early 2000s, so it must be a trip to actually work on a full anime. I’d love to see what she can do with a more energetic title.

Sight and Sound

Character design is decent. Asu Futatsuya’s manga design is a lot softer in tone. She uses light colors so the design is a lot gentler. It also screams Shoujo, which is something the anime doesn’t exude. I love her body proportions and she dresses her characters smartly. Subaru’s design is really wonderful in the manga. My first impression is “gawd, he is handsome”, and it’s a shame Asu’s design is washed out in the anime. Subaru comes off more as a sniveling idiot upon first impression, and the anime uses default colors for the characters so they don’t pop out in any manner. They look really rough in the anime, and I can’t believe how a different shade of brown can change a character so much. Subaru’s vulnerable design in the manga gets horribly mangled in the adaptation. There is a certain gentleness to Asu’s work that I truly believed would’ve helped the show. I guess in terms of animation, Usagi Drop’s visual is the vision Asu was going for.

I do think Haru is cute in both versions. Some of the animals could’ve been designed more cleverly in the anime though. The look is flat and one dimensional which is a big oversight for the furry babies.

Animation is also unimpressive. Given the dry and slow pace of the anime, employing different camera angles and using close ups would’ve done wonders to liven up the mundanity of the scenes. Sometimes, scenes aren’t allowed to breathe. We don’t feel the emptiness of the rooms, we don’t feel the comforting aspect of most slice of life shows, and there is just little care given to the animation. I am not a big fan. Sure, it was decent but it could’ve been better. The story deserved better. Kaoru lacked the insight to give the audience a chance to soak up the moments. A lot of heartwarming moments are glossed over, because I think the director just didn’t know how to make them special. Minatsuki’s honest narrative is impactful but the visuals couldn’t properly convey them.

The voice acting is decent. I’m leaning more to good than decent, but I’m also not impressed by it. The voice acting saved the visuals though. A lot of the monologues helped us give insight into the characters. This is especially true for Haru. When the anime shows her point of view, I always look forward to what she has to say and Haruka Yamazaki did a good job of bringing the character to life. It does become grating when the episodes about the cat is too long though. I know this is a nitpick, but I think Haru’s voice acting could’ve been done better. Haruka often overacted for my taste, and some more emotion could’ve been injected to really make an impact. The same goes for Kensho Ono’s Subaru. It was good, but it could’ve been done better. I was never enthralled by the narration. I was impressed by the story itself. I flashback to Honey and Clover and how soulful the narration was there, and I was hoping for a glimpse of that in this anime. Subaru’s lines often had a lot of weight that can strip you down and Kensho could’ve done more to deliver that. Again, it’s a nitpick but the technical aspects of the show didn’t really shine for me.

The anime’s OP is “Unknown World” by Schrodinger’s Cat adding Kotringo. It’s a song about overcoming hardships, and I think that’s a wonderful theme for the anime. I also love the vocaloid-like tune it has to it. The OP sequence features a more impressive visual than the anime, and it mostly covers the everyday stuff of Subaru and Haru. There is one scene about Subaru’s writing, but I don’t think it was ever mentioned by the story exactly what kind of novel he wrote. The anime’s ED is “Kimi no Tonari Watashi no Basho” by Yoshino Nanjo. If the OP is about Subaru’s struggle then the ED song is about Haru’s point of view. It’s a cute song, and it’s catchy. It’s about how she’ll never leave his side, and it’s adorable. The ED sequence is also nice, because it featured the visual Asu had in the manga. So in a sense, the truest form of the adaptation is in the ED sequence.

Overall Score

7/10 “The narrative is impactful and the elements of the show sung harmoniously, but the lackluster visuals and production value is noticeable enough to hamper the experience.”

I’d give it a 7.5 to be accurate. There is a lot to like in this anime, but the overall experience is really an uneventful one. It’s a shame since the story had bits of Grave of the Fireflies, She and Her Cat and Natsume’s Book of Friend and yet we ended up with this mundanely average final product. For all the positives though, I’d say give it a go. I recommend it.

10 thoughts on “Doukyonin wa Hiza, Tokidoki, Atama no Ue. My Roommate is a Cat Review

  1. This is one of the best reviews I’ve read for this anime. I loved it. The focus on the characters and the sincerity of their grief and loneliness is what won me over completely. It sneak attacked me quite a few times with regard to getting emotional and I always appreciate when an anime can do that to me. Especially when it’s SO unexpected.

  2. It’s been a while since I’ve seen you post reviews on here. I enjoyed this post. I heard some good things about that anime. Interesting points about She and Her Cat since I’ve seen that short film.

  3. Pingback: Alphabetical List – The Pantless Anime Blogger

These are my thoughts. Feel free to add yours.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s