Social anxiety is a mental health issue that I feel some people minimize because of the lack of any visible symptoms that others can understand. However, anime like Natsume’s Book of Friends and A Silent Voice have done a great job portraying social anxiety in a relatable way. The 2019 anime series My Roommate Is A Cat can now be added to that list.
My Roommate Is A Cat is told from two perspectives: the human Subaru and the tuxedo cat Haru. Subaru is an introverted, socially anxious mystery writer traumatized by the unexpected deaths of his parents. Meanwhile, Haru is a neglected cat who grew up on the streets with her siblings.
After Subaru meets Haru while visiting his parents’ graves, he decides to adopt her when she becomes a muse for his writing. As the series progresses, both author and cat grow closer and become a positive influence in each other’s lives. In Subaru’s case, he learns to cope with his grief and social anxiety and develop warm friendships.
Throughout the series, My Roommate is a Cat depicts Subaru’s social anxiety and his efforts to manage it in a realistic manner. When the viewer first meets Subaru, he’s abrasive when forced to interact with others, in person or otherwise. He is so firmly against leaving the house and interacting with others that he wonders whether his editor Kawase is deliberately trying to annoy him by arranging a meeting in a crowded restaurant. Since Subaru told Kawase he hates going out, he assumes that Kawase would know he doesn’t like meeting in public places.
As the series progresses, we learn that Subaru has always been an introvert. We see this in flashbacks, such as scenes of him happily reading alone as a child, and in his adult life, such as when an unexpected house visit in episode 7 leaves him with a social hangover: the exhaustion an introvert feels after using up their mental and emotional energy to interact with others for a long period of time.
While social anxiety and introversion don’t always go hand-in-hand, Subaru’s social anxiety and introversion felt authentic to my own experiences as a socially anxious introvert. Furthermore, the depiction of his social anxiety resulting from grief provides an emotionally tangible explanation for his anxiety and behavior without dehumanizing him.
In episode 3, we learn that Subaru’s parents died in an accident while on the way to Tokushima. Subaru’s parents were avid travelers, but Subaru preferred to not join them so he had more time to read alone. Rather than pressure him into coming or shaming him for his introversion, his parents would take pictures of their trips as souvenirs for Subaru and put them in a photo album, hoping that Subaru would visit those places someday.
When Haru accidentally messes up the altar for Subaru’s parents, Subaru discovers the photo album. Upon realizing its purpose, Subaru cries tears of grief and regret. Although he wishes he would’ve spent more time with his parents, the vulnerable way he says “It’s too late” implies that he feels it’s impossible to have close connections—not just with them, but with anyone. It’s only when Haru licks away his tears that he starts to realize otherwise.
Although Haru the cat has her own life to live, she manages to do so while playing a pivotal role in Subaru’s life. Initially, Haru just serves as Subaru’s muse, but she gradually becomes an emotional support animal. This shift starts to occur as early as the first episode, when she repeatedly tries to remind Subaru to eat and then tries to feed him her cat food after he passes out.
In addition to reminding Subaru to take care of himself, Haru also helps Subaru learn how to care for and be considerate of others. Subaru buys Haru food, takes her to the veterinarian, and names her with the help or advice of other people. By having interactions with people such as the pet store owner Nana and his book editor Kawase, Subaru learns to reconnect with others while also bonding with Haru.
With Haru’s help, he learns to take better care of himself, manage the stress of interacting with others, and deal with the loss of his parents. A major turning point for Subaru as a character is when he decides to do a book signing in episode 7 after surviving a surprise visit from his childhood friend Hiroto and his younger siblings. In turn, the book signing in episode 9 shows him becoming more open to having company and traveling.
Episode 10 has him appreciate people eating at his house despite some awkwardness. Episode 11 then sees him traveling alone to Tokushima to make peace with his parents’ deaths. By the end of the series, Subaru has come to appreciate the warmth Haru and his new friends have brought into his life.
As a result of Haru’s presence, Subaru gradually learns to cope with his social anxiety without changing his personality or needs as an introvert. This is especially meaningful given the belief that introverts are people who must become more extroverted in order to interact with others well. Instead of people forcing him to socialize, Subaru’s character arc revolves around him choosing to socialize in order to learn to take care of Haru, while also coming to terms with his parents’ deaths in vulnerable, quiet moments alone.
For those with social anxiety, Subaru’s story can be a guide to help others and show them they aren’t alone. Subaru shows that while social anxiety can’t be cured, it can be managed by taking small, gradual steps to learn to interact with others and form positive relationships.
For example, having Subaru’s editor Kawase visit more often to play with Haru probably gave Subaru the spine to deal with the surprise visit in episode 7. Subaru also shows that an emotional support animal such as a cat can help you deal with overwhelming human interactions such as grief and social hangovers.
All in all, My Roommate Is A Cat features an emotionally powerful and relatable depiction of social anxiety. While Subaru might be unlikable at first, his grief makes him sympathetic and his attempts to deal with his social anxiety are worth rooting for. Subaru shows that while social anxiety can make you isolate yourself, the right support network can open the doors for fulfilling relationships and a happier life.
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