What’s it about? Bee just got fired from the local cat cafe, and she’s really gonna miss those cats. When she wishes for a pet of her own, a cat (or maybe a dog?) falls out of the sky onto her head. Feeding her new “PuppyCat” may prove a challenge when she can’t hold down a job—but fear not! PuppyCat is a planet-hopping temp worker and can sign Bee on to work with him! The two set off to fulfill the odd jobs of the universe, but there may be more to Bee’s squishy new friend than meets the eye…
The line between “anime” and “not anime” blurs a little more every year. The combination of co-productions made partly in Japan and anime-inspired series made outside of Japan have sometimes forced the AniFem staff to set aside debates about intersectional feminism and ask the Really Tough Questions, like: “How much of the production needs to be ‘Japanese animation’ to make a series eligible for review?”
And hey, y’know what? We have no idea where the line is. But the Bee and PuppyCat remake is a co-production with OLM, primarily directed and storyboarded by a variety of anime industry professionals (most notably Shimura Joji and Miura Yoh), and has its thematic roots deep in ‘90s magical girl and sci-fi series, particularly Sailor Moon. It’s at least as “anime” as Crunchyroll Originals, and we’ve reviewed those, and most of them aren’t half as good as this offbeat gem.
So, yes: Bee and PuppyCat is anime. And that means I can get paid to gush about it.
But before Bee and PuppyCat became anime, it was a 2013 two-part short on Frederator’s Cartoon Hangover YouTube channel. The pilot gained attention thanks to its oddball humor, sci-fi surrealism, and disaster of a female protagonist. The 10-minute short was also clearly and joyfully inspired by the magical girl genre, featuring costume transformations, a mysterious animal companion, special attacks and weapons, and even space-fantasy backstories replete with silhouetted figures and floral borders.
Something of a cross between Sailor Moon and Adventure Time with a splash of TV-14 cheekiness, Bee and PuppyCat asked: “What would a magical girl series look like if the ‘girl’ was a tired, directionless young woman who needed to pay her bills?” It found its answer in a deliciously strange premise built around temp work, alien otherworlds, and a grumpy talking (sort of) cat (sort of).
The pilot was basically custom-made for grown-up millennial girl-adjacent nerds like myself at a time when relatively little geek media was targeted at adult women, so perhaps it’s no wonder it garnered a cult following who helped fund a full-length series via Kickstarter. Fans were drip-fed “Season 1” from 2014-2016, given a teaser for “Season 2”… and then the show languished in Production Hell for years, until at last finding a home as an anime reboot on Netflix.
So, how does The Little Series That Could hold up in its latest incarnation? Pretty darn great, actually! (And Dee breathes an audible sigh of relief.)
Episode 1 is basically an expanded, reanimated version of the pilot, providing additional details about Bee’s life and dropping hints for future plot points and character beats. I’m glad I watched it twice (once in English, once in Japanese), because as a mega-fan of the original pilot I couldn’t help but feel a smidge underwhelmed by the new version’s handling—or outright cutting—of some of my favorite bits.
I liked it significantly better upon second watch, when I could stop comparing it and instead enjoy it for what it is—especially the new scenes, such as the delightful opener in the Cat Café and the surprising “Bee-bysitting” flashback closer. In addition to exciting foreshadowing, the new material provides a sense of shared history that’s lacking from the original, giving the characters’ relationships immediate weight.
Put simply, if you liked the original, you may not be enamored with this premiere, but between the new material, the easter eggs, the gorgeous backgrounds, and chibi-style anime aesthetic, you’ll almost certainly enjoy it well enough to stick with it. (Also, I’m writing this review after watching more than the first episode, so I can assure you it finds its groove as it goes.)
And if you’re new to the PuppyVerse—come in, welcome! Have a seat! Watch out for Charles, he’s chaotic and hard to please.
Bee and PuppyCat is, at heart, a story about young adulthood and the push-and-pull between comfort, ambition, desire, and responsibility. It explores these themes primarily through its cast. Bee is a friendly mess who flees from personal conflict but doesn’t hesitate to risk herself to help a friend (whether that’s putting out a kitchen fire, going hungry to feed her new pet, or rushing teeth-first at a double-mouthed monster). PuppyCat is kind of an asshole, but he’s also a Space Outlaw on the run from the law, betrayed by his sweetheart and trapped in a tiny cute body that can only speak in sing-song tones—so, you know, dude’s got a lot going on.
The premiere’s main cast is rounded out with siblings Cass and Deckard, one of whom has given up her dream for a practical career and the other who’s thinking about doing the same. Their story is a quiet B-plot in this first episode, but it serves as a nice counterbalance to Bee and PuppyCat’s planet-hopping adventure, grounding the series in more mundane emotions and conflicts as well as laying the foundation for future storylines.
There’s nothing overtly Feminist™ about this premiere, but the characters are racially diverse and there’s a refreshing, subtle rejection of expected gender roles throughout: Cass is a former wrestler and current coder who hides her feelings behind anger; Deckard is an empathetic but insecure guy who likes to take care of others through cooking; Bee is simultaneously kind and oblivious, a caretaker who isn’t particularly good at taking care, and who can move seamlessly (albeit clumsily) between babysitting and alien-slaying when the moment calls for it.
The series could stand to do a better job with its hiring practices, mind you, especially to play its characters of color (Deckard’s Kent Osborne is, uh, very white). A quick peek at the cast list does suggest a more diverse cast going forward, although whether it’s enough to make up for early casting missteps is a discussion I’ll leave to those more qualified to lead it.
And speaking of casts, the English voice acting in Bee and PuppyCat is… odd. Intentionally so, I think, given the dreamlike nature of the series, but there’s a tendency for characters to either speak in muted monotones or fluctuating shouts, leading to a rollercoaster for the ears that can feel off-puttingly artificial at times. I got used to it and even started to find it charming, but if you’re having troubles, the more naturalistic Japanese performances might work better for you. (The show also has dubs in Spanish, French, and Mandarin; I just didn’t have time to try them out.)
I love Bee and PuppyCat to pieces, but I’m also aware it’s a patchwork of genres that revels in weirdness and is in no hurry to unravel its secrets or explain its overarching story. It’s about as niche as an Ikuhara anime but without the overt queerness (yet, anyway), so I’m well aware it won’t click for everyone. That said, if you’re fond of surreal, magical girl, mystery-laden sci-fi series that hit you with an absurd joke one minute and then douse you in beautiful melancholy the next, you are absolutely in the right place.
As PuppyCat’s lullaby and babysitting memory can attest, there’s a lot of history in this world and a lot we don’t know about all the characters. I’m beyond excited to (finally!) see where the series goes and dearly hope others will join me, because I think this has the potential to be something really special.
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