SPOILERS: for She and Her Cat -everything flows-
2016 saw its share of multifaceted adult women or female coming-of-age tales (Snow White with the Red Hair and Space Patrol Luluco certainly come to mind), but the vast majority either prominently featured romance or were written with a (thirsty) male audience in mind (see: New Game, Keijo!!!!!!!!). That’s not to take anything from those stories (some of which I adored), but only to say that there’s a dearth of anime written for women that are also about the relationships between women.
Which is exactly what makes She and Her Cat -everything flows- such a lovely and loving breath of fresh air. A four-episode short which aired this time last year, it quietly earned the honor of being 2016’s Show That Turned Me Into a Puddle of Tears. It’s the story of a young woman (Miyu) struggling to make a place for herself in the working world outside of college, as told through the eyes of the cat (Daru) who’s been with her since childhood. Graceful, charming, wrenching, and hopeful, She and Her Cat is an understated, emotional gem. 10/10, would let wreck me again.
It’s also a refreshing take on the traditional female coming-of-age tale, which so often focuses on heterosexual romance and the importance of a man to help the woman achieve happiness or fulfillment. While there are men on the periphery of Miyu’s story, they’re only connected to her indirectly, through their relationships with other women. The only prominent “he” in Miyu’s life is her cat. She also never expresses a desire to date or a sense of loss about being single. Instead, her story and struggles are related to her career and—more importantly—to her relationships with two women.
Our feline narrator, Daru, touches on the beauty and sadness at the heart of She and Her Cat when he notes that “I live in my own time, and she lives in her own time. So these moments when my time and hers intersect are more precious to me than anything.” While this is especially poignant given the differing life spans of a cat and their person, it also speaks to the nature of all relationships, and to Miyu’s central conflict: Her shared time with the women who matter most to her is shrinking, and it’s hurting her more than she realizes.
The story begins with Miyu’s best friend, Tomoka, moving out of their shared apartment and into a new place with her fiancé. The two keep in touch, but the emptiness of the apartment weighs on Miyu both practically and emotionally. Through flashbacks, we also learn that Miyu and her mother have a close but currently strained relationship, not because they don’t get along but because Miyu feels like she needs to be independent and responsible. So despite her financial woes and difficulty finding a job, she insists everything is fine, and becomes more and more isolated as a result.
As the seasons pass and Miyu continues to push the women who care about her away, she sinks into an achingly real depression that her cat, for all his steady love, is helpless to prevent. The causes for this are myriad, but it mainly boils down to the fact that she’s barely getting by while it seems like everyone around her is finding good jobs, getting married, and settling into the stability of adulthood. So why isn’t she?
As a child, Miyu’s mother warned her that “You need to work hard or you’ll be left behind.” In an encouraging text message, Tomoka tells her “Do your best!” But Miyu did work hard, and she is doing her best. Was she left behind even so? Is her best not good enough? Will it ever be?
To make matters worse, Miyu refuses to ask for help or vent her concerns to others because she doesn’t want to bother anyone, especially her mom. The reason she moved out after high school was because she felt like she was keeping her mom from finding happiness—from developing an identity outside of motherhood. Miyu both desperately wants and doesn’t want to be with her mom. She has no idea how to reach out, not without feeling like she’s weak or selfish.
Fortunately, She and Her Cat understands that life is a series of crests and valleys, and it’s kind enough not to leave us in the valley. Miyu’s mom receives a call from Miyu but no response on the other end, which worries her enough that she goes to Miyu’s apartment. Miyu is not only (physically) fine; she says she didn’t call her mom at all. They decide that Daru must have knocked the phone off the hook and somehow hit the right buttons (a tiny miracle), but the audience doesn’t see what happened either, so it’s debatable whether the cat really did intervene or if Miyu called but couldn’t find the courage to speak.
Whatever the case, it puts Miyu and her mother in the same room, their times finally intersecting again. They talk. They reminisce. They bicker lightly. They laugh about Daru. It’s a normal conversation, nothing dramatic or groundbreaking, but it doesn’t need to be. Miyu sees that someone cares about her, enough to come running to her in the middle of the night, and it helps her realize she doesn’t have to be alone. She doesn’t ask directly for help, but she does agree to come home more often. Slowly, Miyu takes a tentative step towards finding the balance between independence and isolation.
“They’re both all right now,” Daru thinks happily, sleepily from her arms. And, as the seasons pass and we see Miyu chatting candidly with Tomoka, connected to the people around her again, we know he’s right.
Miyu’s tale is a familiar one made powerful through its attention to subtle detail and its bucking of typical female coming-of-age story lines. It removes the common male romantic interest in favor of highlighting the importance of the many other love stories in our lives, whether that’s a parent or a friend or a cat. Better still, the resolution to Miyu’s story comes not from someone else sweeping in and solving her problems for her, but through simple emotional support between a young woman and her mom. She and Her Cat -everything flows- is an honest, moving tale of adulthood, an unsung classic that still resonates a year after its release.
Even if it did turn me into a puddle of tears along the way.
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