25 September 2006
I recently had the experience of watching Cat Soup; a half hour original video animation created by JCStaff. What's it about? I honestly couldn't really tell you. At first glance, it seems to be about two cats wandering around doing stuff for the hell of it. While there is something of narrative in this anime, it is so loose and vague that this OVA is better explained as a series of short, abstract ideas that are tied together to create the IMPRESSION of a story.
Cat Soup can really be best described as what might happen if Hayao Miyazaki and Don Hertzefeldt collaborated. It's truly beautiful one moment, thoroughly disturbing the next, with all of it tied together with an odd sense of humour and equally unusual ideas. Really, this anime feels like the sort of visual experiment you see at independent film festivals and as such falls deeply into the art house genre category. Whether or not it succeeds at its purpose is entirely subjective, but in reality ninety percent of the regular anime audience will spend the entire time watching this wondering what sort of mushrooms were REALLY on that pizza they just ate.
In short, this anime is downright WEIRD. It's mildly shocking in parts, not so much for the content but in the way it completely blindsides you, fooling you into thinking this is a cute, delightful Totoro-style animation until next thing you know, there are severed limbs flying everywhere, a bird being doused with oil and set on fire, or a pig being repeatedly hit on the head with a baseball bat. Perhaps more disturbing is the matter-of-fact acceptance of these events that the main character portrays. Combined with the voiceless soundtrack and eclectic visual style, Cat Soup becomes a rather hard anime to watch.
That being said, there's something oddly compelling about this anime. The heavily stylised characters make the animation look cheap at first glance, but the extremely dynamic shots and lavish background animation makes Cat Soup visually interesting. That's important, as visuals are pretty much what this anime is entirely about. High-brow elitist anime fans will probably quite enjoy this aspect, but people who tend to watch anime more to be entertained than to stretch their minds are unlikely to be unable to get past the initial strangeness and will be left floundering for the entire half hour.
The soundtrack and sound effects are sparse but appropriate, always serving to heighten the unsettling surrealism of the entire piece. The credits music in particular feels rather like it might give you nightmares, and even some days after watching this OVA I can still hear it looping in my head from time to time. It takes this already peculiar anime and brings it to a new level of eeriness.
Taking all of this into account, I can only come to this conclusion - Cat Soup might be a GOOD anime, but it is not an ENJOYABLE anime. It's technically brilliant, challenging, and it really has left a mark. I'm unlikely to ever forget it. However, it was hard to watch, harder to enjoy, and however compelling it may have been, I found myself relieved when it was over.
Overall Score: 285,667/1,000,000. Add about 500,000 to that if you're a film critic or animation student looking to analyse a filmic text. In fact, anybody who is into avant-garde animation will love Cat Soup. Everyone else is probably best advised to steer clear.