The Cat Returns (Neko no Ongaeshi)

The Cat Returns (Neko no Ongaeshi) 2002

After 1995’s Whisper of the Heart I imagine at least a few folks were saying ‘I wish we could read one of Shizuku’s stories about Baron’ and luckily, that’s the premise of The Cat Returns.

It’s a loose sequel to Whisper of the Heart (as the carry-over characters are limited to the Baron and Muta) and it follows more of an adventure/isekai storyline – and those aren’t negative differences for me. The movie is also a little shorter than most Ghibli films but Aoi Hiiragi is still involved with the writing so the Baron is his usual charming self.

As ever, the animation is great. Both the real world and the Cat Kingdom that main character Haru finds herself dragged into are bright and memorable but for me, despite Haru being a good lead, I was mostly thrilled to see Baron get to take (mostly) centre stage. There’s daring rescues, thrilling chases and even a bit of swordplay, and also comedic moments here and there too – not just slapstick, but also things like the neat little pun in the form of the CIA-like tuxedo cats.

And in a way, the film is worth it to see Muta in action too 🙂

During the years of Ghibli powering along and releasing back to back blockbusters, it seemed like maybe there wasn’t much time for the leaders of the studio to support new directors as much as they’d perhaps like… although, I haven’t read deeply on the subject but I’m very curious nevertheless.

Because obviously Miyazaki, Takahata and Suzuki have at times given the reins to other staff members and results have mostly been great, I reckon – especially with the most obvious choice in Yoshifumi Kondō (who directed Whisper of the Heart.) Here, in The Cat Returns, Hiroyuki Morita was given director’s chair. Over the years, he’d been involved in a lot of impressive titles before being given the spotlight, like Akira, Lupin III, Memories, My Neighbors the Yamadas and GITS2 among others.

In the end, I don’t know if The Cat Returns ended up being overall as enchanting for me as Whisper of the Heart but obviously they’re different films by design, and The Cat Returns is still worth watching at least once.

3 Stars

Violet Evergarden (Vaioretto Evāgāden)

Violet Evergarden (Vaioretto Evāgāden) 2018

Hopefully the awful news from Japan about Kyoto Animation isn’t the only reason you’ve heard of this series (or any of their other works for that matter) but it’s hard to talk about Violet Evergarden without the spectre of tragedy looming over – especially as much of the show itself already deals with loss and grief.

And I’m not really able to avoid it myself of course – I could have reviewed Violet Evergarden months ago but I put the review aside and have come back to it only now, not long after the attack… so I can’t help feeling like my timing has ended up being quite poor. Still, I don’t want to avoid talking about the series now because there’s a tiny chance someone who hasn’t already heard of Violet Evergarden might hear about it from this review and want to check it out.

So here we go – what kind of show is Violet Evergarden?

In brief, it’s an episodic drama interspersed with action and war flashbacks. More than that, and its core, I think it’s a love story, though one that is more married to Violet’s struggle to understand and reinvent herself, rather than a love story where two characters fence or fumble with their feelings.

In fact, Violet is a lot more robotic (at first) than you might expect from a typical leading lady but there’s a reason for that of course. And while seeing her learn how to be human again is kind of the main draw, she is at times needlessly submissive, as her ghost-writing job lands her in the role of maidservant a few times.

And yet, due to her sense of duty and (generally) accommodating temperament, the series seems to romanticise that submissiveness. Maybe it’s just me? Maybe it’s the vaguely WWII-era setting that has her merely fitting the role women were forced into for much of the time.

Placing those aspects aside, I still enjoyed Violet’s trials and the colourful range of characters and places she encounters and wow, the art is so beautiful throughout; it’s clear Kyoto wanted to have the settings be just as romantic as the storylines. I’ll watch the show again just for some of that scenery (and costuming) – which I’ve not really been able to capture here but I’ve given it a shot!

Having Violet work as an Auto-Memory Doll (essentially an ‘on demand’ letter writer) was an interesting sub-plot, not something I’d seen dozens of times by any stretch, and it allowed for an equal amount of comedic and sweet moments throughout the series.

At times, Violet’s personal search for her lost love wasn’t actually as compelling to me as the problems of some of the other characters she helps, but if you feel like you need a bit of action and violence to go with the drama and personal discovery aspects, then Violet Evergraden will deliver there too.

4 Stars

Jyu-Oh-Sei (Jū Ō Sei)

I felt like I noticed where the storyline to Jyu-Oh-Sei/Planet of the Beast King had been compressed for the purpose of adaptation, which is a real shame because it missed out on being ‘great’ instead of ‘good’ for me, due to that.

Jyu-Oh-Sei (Jū Ō Sei) 2006

Now, I know I’ve said this before (so it’s doubtless getting a little boring!) but if this had been expanded, maybe to a 20-something-episode series, I think it would have been pretty compelling.

Despite this, I didn’t give up on the show because there’s definitely still enjoyable things – there’s a futuristic/primitive new world with an interesting society (one that has been forced into its current shape due to the harsh realities of the planet), there’s a range of nice action sequences too.

Jyu-Oh-Sei features characters with both noble and unclear motives to keep you guessing, along with enough twists and meaningful character development that you’ll probably end up caring about at least some of the heroes.

(Actually, in both design and charactarisation, this reminded me a touch of Guin Saga at times, though this series is from Bones and Guin was completed by Statelight.)

However, in regards to the main character Thor… too many of the most vital and plot/life-changing decisions he makes are just thrust upon him with no or little lead-up or even foreshadowing.

Due to this, such events and actions come across as quite clumsy onscreen – I’m sure the long-running manga didn’t have that problem since it benefited from the luxury of time. One of the early decisions really gave Thor a psychotic edge which I don’t believe was the intention – it was meant to be something he struggled with.

And without spoiling some of the big reveals at the end, I see where you might argue why his actions actually made clear sense… but during the opening stages of a series, show the character struggle so we can empathise, rather than glossing over the tough moments.

Just a final note, the series has a shoujo target audience and maybe that feeds into things like character designs but I don’t think Jyu-Oh-Sei precludes any one audience at all (except the quite young of course).

It’s very much a mix of sci-fi, action and drama, so if that’s what you like then maybe try Jyu-Oh-Sei.

3 Stars