Title: Doukyonin wa Hiza, Tokidoki, Atama no Ue / My Roommate is a Cat
Length: 12 x 24 minute episodes
Genre: Slice-of-life, comedy
Year of release: 2019
There’s no real shortage of anime about protagonists with anxiety slowly opening up. Doukyonin wa Hiza, Tokidoki, Atama no Ue (henceforth, Cat Roommate) is another anime in that long list, answering social malnourishment with the healing qualities of gentle music and colourful climaxes to remind us that it can be better without sacrifice or pain. Cat Roommate is not just a fantastic example because the vehicle for this change is in an extremely relatable and repeatable way (owning a pet, as opposed to, say, the Manic Pixie Girl trope), but it also makes every tip-toe forward rewarding. There is a grand amount of catharsis found in every development that Subaru (and his cat, Haru) make as they journey towards a much happier and fulfilling lifestyle, and every stepping-stone along the way is an achievement.
Cat Roommate is mostly based around little stories that Subaru and Haru deal with as they struggle and learn to live with each other. Subaru is a writer, even if it hard to believe. At present day, Subaru in his day-to-day life has taken all the little connections he’s made for granted, and across the series, this new cat in his life forces him to reevaluate all those connections. Indeed, there is a lot of regret, but he makes powerful strides forward as a person from start to finish. His inner monologue really sells it; at the beginning, his understanding of himself was minuscule, but towards the end, he begins to understand who he is. Maybe he’s a bit insufferable at first – in no small part to the slight over-exaggeration of his social anxiety, as well as passive aggressive tantrums – but towards the end, learns to appreciate the world. Subaru’s journey from start-to-finish is extremely heartwarming.
But the review would be incomplete without mentioning the other protagonist – Haru! Indeed, the cat takes a large amount of the narrated focus; about half to a third of each episode is spent in Haru’s head, retreading the prior content in new and exciting ways. This opens up a lot of avenues that develops the show’s themes of communication difficulties. Put simply, what Subaru sees and what Haru sees are vastly different, but the ways they interpret each other can give a good comic kick or, owing to Haru’s difficult backstory, an incredible burst of emotion. The unreliability in the narrative is like a beckoning finger, asking the audience to consider what’s really going on inside its characters minds – this is an extremely elegant way to build empathy, and without a doubt the series’ greatest strength.
Throughout the series, Subaru and Haru’s daily life causes a lot of new connections to be made for the pair. Subaru becomes much closer to his editor, his childhood friend, the customer assistant of the petshop and many other people, and also gains a deeper understanding of his deceased parents’ attempts to get him to grow as a person. Haru, too, meets other characters and forms new bonds, such as local animals – my favourite being the o so wholesome dog next door! While these characters aren’t the focus, their ability to bring the show into some colourful and comical avenues was very appreciated.
Cat Roommate is structured as extremely heartwarming episodics that focus on character progression. But that works a little against its favour, as the series becomes a little predictable. While no bad thing, the few times the show did attempt to surprise were mediocre affairs. A few times the show leaned on melodrama a little too hard, particularly in the extended sequences detailing Haru’s backstory, but also the finale, and one segment that suggested something supernatural. Well, I can suspend my disbelief enough for talking cats, even amongst the relative plot-points of a cat with Japanese inner-monologue that can’t understand Japanese, but there was definitely one instance that took things a little too far – and I’m not just talking about Subaru’s inconsistent credentials as an author.
Moreover, Cat Roommate is a mediocre production. Its music is fitting but unmemorable, and its animation modest but non-standout – but the real problem is that storyboarding. The framing becomes extremely awkward around enclosed spaces, such as in many shots in Subaru’s house. Beyond that, the symbolic visuals of its first episode aren’t carried forward, which is a shame.
Ultimately though, Subaru’s journey to a more expressive and empathetic person is a touching story. There are many anime that cover similar types of opening-up stories, but Cat Roommate’s smart narrative devices let it shine in that crowded genre.