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Friday, July 27, 2018

Nekojiru Gekijou - Jirujiru Original: Cats May Have Nine Lives, but They Give Zero ****s...

Back in September of 2012, I watched & reviewed the short 2001 OVA Cat Soup, which was known for its surrealistic visuals & it's bleak worldview. The former was due to the OVA being the first time Masaaki Yuasa would be allowed to go all out, by director Tatsuo Sato, while the latter was due to the fact that the OVA was based on the works of the late Chiyomi Hashiguchi, better known by her pen name, Nekojiru/Cat Soup; in fact, the OVA's Japanese name was Nekojiru-sou/Cat Soup Grass. In that review, though, I had mentioned that the OVA was not the first adaptation of Nekojiru's work. Instead, the tales of her two cat siblings Nyako & Nyatta were first brought to animation back in mid-1999, as part of TV Asahi's Bakushou Mondai Boss Chara Ou/Bakusho Mondai's King Boss Character program. Said anime was Nekojiru Gekijou/Cat Soup Theater - Jirujiru Original, a series of shorts that ran for 27 episodes that were adapted from stories that were compiled in the books Nekojiru Senbei, Dango, & Donburi; Nekojiru always named her collections after snacks & the like. Of course, nearly six years ago, I said that "since that show was fansubbed years ago I might review that at a later date"... Promises like that are why I made this a year of "Unfinished Business".


Nekojiru Gekijou has no overarching story by any means, to no surprise. It's simply a collection of stories that range somewhere between one or two minutes each, though a couple go slightly longer, and every single one of them features a pretty cynical view of everything. Nekojiru became known for her bleak, blunt, & very cruel outlook when it came to her manga, and she admitted that her ideas often came from her dreams. Unfortunately, it's possible that this very extreme cynicism led her to eventually commit suicide on May 10, 1998, and that could potentially affect how you react to the stuff that happens in this anime series. I bring this up, because Nekojiru Gekijou can be dark... Really, shockingly dark, and possibly even vile at times, but all in an amusing way, nonetheless.

For example, one episode is about a ludicrously tall slide that's been built into a massive hill that Nyako & Nyatta want to try out. A human bully cuts in front of them to ride the slide, only to die a bloody & gory death after he goes insanely fast down the slide, gets launched into the air at the bottom, & splats himself onto a neighbor's wood fence. The Mayor refuses to acknowledge the danger of the slide, asking for a second person to try it out, and when he tries to get Nyako to ride it, she instead throws the Mayor down the slide instead, where the episode fades to black & we assume that the Mayor is now dead. In another, the cats befriend a mole, who invites them to his underground home. The mole's mother gives the cats snacks, but since it's mole food (i.e. earthworms & the like), the cats hate it. In response, the cats decide to kill the mole's mother... Yeah, that's pretty crazy stuff. Finally, the last episode of the series sees the cats take a joy ride with a dump truck, outright (but unknowingly) killing anyone who gets in their path; a perfect way to ends things off, honestly.


Now, for those who have seen the Cat Soup OVA, you might be wondering why I'm bringing this up, because that OVA also had a dark demeanor to it at times. That is true, & I even re-watched the OVA just to properly compare, but a large part of the OVA is the surrealistic style it follows, which also matches the psychedelic-influenced imagery sometimes seen in Nekojiru's works, and that can sometimes dullen the shock & impact of the more rough & bizarre imagery; in short, Masaaki Yuasa's visual style almost makes the violence make sense, in a weird way. In Nekojiru Gekijou, though, there's next to none of that. Aside from the fact that humans & anthropomorphized animals co-exist, this is a "normal" world, so seeing things like Nyako & Nyatta's father kill their pig friend & cook him into tonkatsu, which the cats have no problems with & said pig's little brother then also eats, simply because the cats shared their pudding with him, comes off as horrific & disturbing, instead of simply bizarre & nonsensical, which it likely would have in the OVA. There is some extremely dark humor all throughout this TV series, and the way that Nyako & Nyatta react to it all with nothing more than dull surprise is a perfect match for the tonal shifts that can happen when going from one episode to the next.

Seriously, Nyako & Nyatta don't mess around when it comes to food.

Now, to be fair, not every episode of Nekojiru Gekijou is shockingly dark; in fact, I'd say that it's 50/50, if not slightly more in favor of simply dark humor. For example, in one episode, the cats come across a bum who's on the ground, asking them to get him some sake with the last bit of money he has; the audience finds out he's on the verge of death, but the cats don't know this. They return with the sake, only for Nyako to accidentally trip on a rock, resulting in the sake bottle smashing on the ground. The cats are honestly sorry for their mistake, but since all the man has left is 50 yen, they make an offering to a nearby shrine, asking that the man be given some sake; he's obviously not going to get his sake before dying, but the cats did try to be helpful & were kind to him. There are plenty of episodes like this, or simply episodes where the cats' uncouth & naive behavior results in them accidentally causing some sort of harm to another character, if not possibly killing said character; pigs are definitely the expendable animal, if you get my drift.

Remember folks, don't befriend tanuki that your father is hunting.

Unlike the later OVA, which was made as a passion project to honor the life of Nekojiru, the TV series was definitely made on the cheap, but that's not to say that Kent House, which I can't find any information on, made a bad looking show. The animation here is meant to be simplistic, and it works very well here; if anything, it makes the show's darkest moments all the more shocking. The only really notable member of the staff would be Hiroshi Fukutomi, who has directed serious fare like the Battle Angel OVA or Galactic Petrol Lensman, but he's also directed ridiculous fare, like Those Who Hunt Elves II & Flint the Time Detective. Oddly enough, this anime kind of mixes the two wildly different types of anime that Fukutomi had directed, and the result is great; again, you can go from silly dark humor to wildly violent bleakness on a dime, and it works. There are even some uses of digital backgrounds to give certain shots a psychedelic style, which works just fine.

In terms of the voice cast, the main star is Sakura Uehara, a stage actress who's only other anime role was Kyoko in Ping Pong Club. She leads the cast, effectively, as the voice of Nyako, delivering an excellent dry sense of simultaneous sarcasm & disdain for people, while still sounding somewhat believable as a young girl who truly doesn't know better. The only other voice actor of note would be Misa Watanabe (Madonna in B't X, Vivi in One Piece), who plays the cats' mother with a never-ending feeling of "I'm tired & done with everything..." that matches the cynical tone of the series perfectly. Amusingly enough, Naomi Nagasawa (Izuna in Ushio & Tora TV) & Kenichi Ono (Sänger Zonvolt in Super Robot Wars OG) are credited as the voices of Nyatta & the cats' father, respectively, even though neither really says anything. Nyatta just meows (&, for one episode, says nothing but "baka/stupid"), while the father simply gives the same deep mumble; easiest... paychecks... ever.


The Cat Soup OVA will likely go down as a notable cult classic, and some might even consider it required viewing for those who are fans of Masaaki Yuasa's work, since it's the place where he was first allowed to go wild. The Nekojiru Gekijou - Jirujiru Original TV series that predates it, in comparison, will likely wind up being completely forgotten with time, even Tatsuo Sato seemed to not know of this show's existence when interviewed about the OVA by Central Park Media in 2003, but it's definitely well worth at least one watch. Yes, the OVA was a love letter to Nekojiru & the manga she made, but being an mostly-original work meant that it wouldn't quite exactly be the same kind of story that Nekojiru herself usually told; yes, they relied on the manga for a couple of scenes, but otherwise did their own thing. The TV series, in that regard, is the most pure anime take on the original stories, and it truly shows just how dark of a person Mrs. Hashiguchi could get during her life. Sometimes it's silly humor that has a dark tinge to it, but other times it's shockingly violent & gruesome, with the humor being the extremity of it all. It's not going to go down as a cult-classic, like the OVA is, but I honestly still wouldn't mind seeing both the TV series & OVA get licensed & released together, especially since they'd total to just over an hour, and the chances of the OVA being released on its own here in North America ever again are super slim.

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