Anime Review: A Whisker Away (2020)

TL;DR – Miyo is sick of life but gets a new perspective when she is allowed to use a magical mask that changes her into a cat. Her new freedom has the bonus of getting close to Kento (a boy she is attracted to) while in cat form. However, her reliance on the magical mask comes at a cost. Will she reveal the truth to Kento before it is too late?

Review (warning: spoilers)

There are cat people, and there are dog people. Or in my situation where you have three kids who think cats and dogs are equally cute, you end up with both as pets. It is common knowledge that felines and canines are as different in personality as you can get. Generally, most dogs love to interact and play with their owner while most cats are happy to go off and do their own thing, coming back home for meal times and a bit of a stroke.

The independent nature of cats has often left me wondering what goes through their minds. When our cat has spent the day exploring outside and returns to rest, he doesn’t mind a scratch behind the ears and a rub along his back (much to our dog’s jealousy) before curling up on a spot and falling asleep.

For Kento Hinode, he is definitely a cat person. When a stray white cat, which he calls Taro and reminds him of sunshine, comes visiting him with ongoing frequency, he lavishes the cuddly thing with affection. In fact, his struggles in school and home life result in him turning to his feline friend for solace.

Little does he know that the cat is actually a human girl named Miyo Sasaki, who uses a magical kitsune (cat) mask to transform into a cat. Miyo also happens to have a major crush on Kento.

You see Miyo is going through her own struggles. Her mother has left her, her father has remarried, and her stepmother is overbearing (actually, her stepmother is fine but Miyo wants nothing to do with her). She hates the world, or rather she hates the human world and wants it to end. In the midst of her despair, she encounters a mysterious mask seller who appears like a giant cat at a festival and offers her to try on a mask. Thus, a whole new world opens to her.

Miyo transforms into a bubbly, flirtatious, and somewhat loopy girl when in human form because she now has access to a world that allows her to escape human life when it becomes unbearable and spends time in the arms of Kento being cuddled as a cat. Unfortunately, as a human, her over zealous behaviour towards Kento does nothing to endear herself to him. She enjoys yelling “Hinode Sunshine Attack!” and rushing up to Kento from behind and bumping him with her butt. This behaviour is too much for Kento. In fact, at school, Miyo’s flirtations are met with cold indifference from him who ignores her advances. But Miyo doesn’t care. When she is Taro the cat, she gets Kento’s undivided attention all to herself.

Of course, there is a price to be paid for such a magical gift (or is it a curse?) The mask seller reveals that he sells cat masks to humans who want to be cats in exchange for their human faces, and he sells human masks to cats who want to be humans. What’s in it for him? We find out later on.

After a series of hurtful events (some of Miyo’s own doing), she is driven to give up her human face thinking she is better off as a cat. But when she sees her family and friends trying to search for her, she realises she has made a mistake. To make matters worse, the mask seller who now is in possession of her human mask tells her that she’ll eventually become a cat in mind as well as body. And to top it all off, the mask seller has given her human mask to Kinako (an emerald eyed cat who is the pet of Miyo’s stepmother). Kinako has been wanting to turn into a human because she loves Miyo’s stepmother, and what better way to show her love than in the form of her (previously belligerent) stepdaughter?

Body swapping movies usually happens between two humans, but this was a first for me to see a body swap between a human and an animal. When Miyo (the cat) confronts Kinako (the human in Miyo’s form) and asks for her human mask back, Kinako reveals that by accepting Miyo’s human mask, she gets to live longer (because humans live longer than cats). Kinako has given up half of Miyo’s human life to the giant cat mask seller (thus revealing his true intentions with wheeling in dealing in the human/cat mask trade and what he gets out of it is longer life).

The remainder of the film is a race against time as Miyo tries to stop the transformation into completely becoming a cat by finding the mask seller and getting her human mask back.

Visually the animation is exquisite. Especially the background settings depicting Japanese suburban life. The story is layered enough to be intriguing, and the mix of the magical and real should have viewers of all ages keen to see it through to the final frame.

If there were any shortfalls for me, it was in Miyo’s character. Her hatred of her human life and her single minded obsession with Kento as the solution to all of her life’s issues is both outlandish and unhealthy. Miyo’s stepmother is a kind, gentle woman yet Miyo treats her with contempt. She hates her mother for abandoning her and she hates her father for trying to make her part of a family with another woman. Miyo thinks she can’t be loved, yet she is blind to all those close to her who do love her.

The fact that Kento ends up being the one to save her (admittedly, with Kinako’s help because Kinako realises she made a mistake becoming a human and wants to return to being a cat) is all a bit too apt.

Regardless, the final third of the film is a fantastic ride into a wonderland involving a Cat Island where giant cats dwell. The overall message of the film is revealed here when Miyo walks into a bar filled with cats that were once humans and learning they all chose to be cats to escape their human problems but regretting their decision. The message is clear: yes, life is hard but never give up and remember always… always… give a “Hinode Sunrise Attack!” (hint: watch the post credits scene).

8 out of 10

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