The Other Side of Animation 189: A Whisker Away Review

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It’s easy to get hyped for a film or product that is being made by talented individuals, only to then be disappointed by it. When you see the names of those people, the studio, or writer that you have been a fan of for a long time, it’s easy to be head over heels for its arrival. I fall into this trap from time to time, and it’s time to deal with the newest film to fall into that trap. It’s a new Netflix-bought animated film from Japan, A Whisker Away

Directed by Junichi Sato and Tomotaka Shibayama, written by Mari Okada, and animated by Studio Colorido, A Whisker Away was meant to come out in June, but due to the virus still killing theaters, along with the capitalist system we live in, Netflix came in and bought the worldwide rights to the film. So far, even though it hasn’t been that long on Netflix, the film has gotten mixed, but mostly positive reviews. So, what do I think about it? Well, let’s get started!

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Our story follows the antics of a young girl named Miyo Sasaki, voiced by Mirai Shida. She’s a young girl who is in love with this boy named Kento Hinode, voiced by Natsuki Hanae. Unfortunately, she is failing in her advances towards him. Not only that, but she’s also dealing with a broken home life of divorced parents. Her mom wanted nothing to do with her until recently, her dad is dating someone, and she thinks they are both being selfish. After running away from a festival one night, she meets a big chunky cat-like being named The Mask Seller, voiced by Koichi Yamadera. He offers her an escape from her life with a cat mask. Miyo then takes advantage of this deal, and uses it to turn into a cat and go see Kento. However, the more she uses the mask, the more she loses her humanity to The Mask Seller. Can she find joy in life and avoid the creepy grasp of The Mask Seller? Well, that would mean she would have to admit that she has stalker issues. 

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Yeah, I know I dropped that last sentence like a hot potato, but that is the major problem with the film; Miyo stalks Kento for a lot of the film. She fails to make herself an interesting character, because she’s annoying and, again, stalks Kento. Stalking is never okay, and if you are going to make a story that revolves around a character stalking another character, then you had better be creative and clever about it, or you show that stalking is not okay. Everyone has kind of said this already, but if you swapped the leads around with Kento being the one stalking Miyo, the internet would have railed against this anime for weeks. It’s a hypocritical standard that we are saying male stalkers are not okay, but female stalkers are okay. It’s the same issue I had with Summer Wars, and while Summer Wars is a way better movie, it still doesn’t excuse the fact that Miyo is a stalking, angsty, assault-heavy kid that does do things like “I have a voice recorder, let me record your voice!”

That may have sounded harsh, so what about the world-building and the famous cat tree? Well, that also falls flat as you have to get through the first half, to, well, get to the second half. It’s way easier as a film during the second half because the pacing is better than the first half. A lot of the first half is school time shenanigans, and from time to time, the lead turns into a cat. Sadly, a lot of it is also her being fairly creepy. It’s hard to get through the first part because of her, and the film tries to make her more likable by making some other bully characters even bigger jerks, but that’s a touch lazy in my opinion. Just because you made characters that are worse, doesn’t excuse Miyo from her actions. The second half has better pacing, better sequences, and commentary. I kind of wish the entire film took place in this magic cat tree village. 

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It’s a stone-cold bummer that I’m being so critical of this film, because I do love a lot about it. It’s themes of tackling depression is very creative. The film was mismarketed as a whimsical fantasy film with coming-of-age elements and mourning for loved ones who passed, but when you put into context with The Mask Seller and what Miyo putting on the mask represents, the film takes a darker turn, and it gets more in your face about it, once you reach the village sequences. It’s creative, but the whole experience is sadly not like that. 

I also liked the animation. It’s fluid, the designs are solid, some fun creative touches remind me of A Silent Voice, and The Mask Seller is probably the best character in the film. He’s delightfully evil, he knows what he’s doing, and his animation is the most creative. When you get to animate what is essentially a blob, and not have to worry about a skeletal structure, it can lead to a lot of fun. The visuals in the second half are also quite nice with the cat tree being something out of Princess Mononoke at some points. The voice cast is good, but due to the virus, the Japanese dub with English subtitles is the only available version as of writing this review. So far, there hasn’t been a date released for the English dub, but I’m sure with a lot of Netflix anime dubs, it’s going to be pretty good. The ending song as well by Yorushika is quite good. 

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Normally, I’m not expecting to be disappointed by the foreign animation scene, since I think their output is usually better than what the US side of things does, but it’s good to remember that a disappointing film can come from anywhere and from anyone. You could have the most talented team on your side and still put out a film that could be middling or worse. It also doesn’t help that there are plenty of films on Netflix that do what A Whisker Away does, but better. If you have yet to see this film, then I would recommend checking it out, or waiting to see it when it gets an English dub if you are not a subtitles-only person. Even then, there are films currently on Netflix that handle depression better like Okko’s Inn and A Silent Voice. Still, I can’t wait to see Mari Okada’s future work. Now then, we are getting to review number 190. I want to do a few editorials first before I get to this special film, but I won’t hint at what we will be tackling. You will just have to play the waiting game. 

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Rating: Rent it (it’s on Netflix for free, but still)