The Masterful Cat is Depressed Again Today – Episode 1

By: Vrai Kaiser July 7, 20230 Comments
a huge cat in an apron laying on his owner's chest

What’s it about? Years ago, office worker Fukuzawa Saku brought a little black kitten home in a snowstorm. Now that kitten’s grown up; in fact, he’s gotten so big that he’s the one taking care of her.

If you ever want to put the truism “more sakuga equals more better” to rest, you need never look farther than a GoHands production. Plagiarism accusations aside, the studio’s animators clearly work hard. It’s just that they’ve got a bad case of the ol’ Too Much gene. Masterful Cat, for example, is a slice-of-life manga where the main appeal (from the volume or so that I read) is a fantasy that essentially conforms to the structure of a Yakov Smirnoff joke: “in capitalist hellscape, cat takes care of you!” In response to that prompt, here is how GoHands decided they should open the anime.

GoHands logo above a city street

Picture it: Tokyo, early morning, 202X. The camera swings through from above, taking in a city that’s clearly CGI but rendered with the kind of detail that screams “for your Assassin’s Creed level design consideration.” The scene shifts to an apartments, where a POV camera, complete with headbob, prepares a bento before walking down a hallway and waking a sleeping woman. She stumbles into the living room, and each time she passes the open window the lighting in the room temporarily darkens. Returning to the city, this same light technology glints off the mirrored edge of a skyscraper. People on streets (badadee da dee). When the angles aren’t dutch, they are shot from the ground as if each passerby might be Citizen Kane. Train interiors, only one of which contains our protagonist. Blue filters smear over the screen as we watch a man we won’t meet until nearly the end of the episode commuting across the bridge to the office. As it approaches the bridge, the camera spins 350 degrees around a seagull. We will never see that seagull again. Once Saku and, indeed, the entire city of Tokyo has arrived at work, the show’s title appears. The time is three minutes and fifty seconds.

It’s an overlong, masturbatory opening that feels completely at odds with the material. Masterful Cat’s jokes clearly lean into the juxtaposition of absurd imagery and a deadpan tone, which is captured in the two or three jokes in this episode that do work: Yukichi laying on Saku’s chest when she won’t get up for work or falling asleep with his head stuffed into a cat basket he’s too big for, or sparingly narrating as professional deep-voiced guy Yasumoto Hiroki. It’s a simple premise of “what if a cat did cat things, but big?” It honestly feels better suited to the deliberately stiff, limited movement of something like Skull-faced Bookseller Honda-san. Instead, the overly fussy and detailed animation alternates between being literally nauseating for those of us prone to motion sickness and too pleased with itself to sell any sense of comedic timing. What on earth does rotoscoping the cooking show Yukichi is watching add to the proceedings?

Photo negative image of Saku holding a dumpling and beer

Speaking of, the other thing Masterful Cat ought to be good at is food porn, since that’s part and parcel of the comfy domestic life fantasy. It manages a few good cooking shots, including some very satisfying egg bubbling in a frying pan, but the finished dishes just don’t look appealing. If I’m going to hear the protagonist wax on about how amazing a dish is, I expect a little more lavishness on the actual eating: the interior of a dumpling after it’s been bitten into, say, not just a shot of some very burned-looking food and then ostentatious steam coming out of Saku’s mouth after she chows down.

In some ways, this is a fascinating watch, an example in negative that there is no uniform way to make an anime Look Good™. It isn’t just visual aesthetic but boarding, movement, and matching technique to the emotion of the work that make a good anime. Undead Murder Farce (already this season’s standout) also features a lot of fancy little flourishes to liven up a long stretch of two characters trading dialogue, but its director matches its cutaways to the theatrical themes and the style of its historical era while using them sparingly. Masterful Cat has all restraint of a student film.

If you’re able to overcome the sickening visuals for the allure of cat-based visuals, it’s worth noting that the skits dip both into compulsive heteronormativity (Saku frets over a coworker’s comments that if someone gets a pet it means they’ll never get married; straights, are you okay?) and diet culture (the episode ends with an assuredly wacky sketch where Yukichi chases Saku around the house to weigh her and prove she should eat less; you could not detect body fat on this woman with a microscope). Mark “ruining the opportunity for a perfectly serviceable cat-based iyashikei” down as yet another reason this season is shaping up cursed.

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