Published in


Makoto Shinkai Retrospective: She and Her Cat

Often incorrectly identified as “the next Hayao Miyazaki”, Japanese filmmaker Makoto Shinkai certainly found international success and acclaim following the release of his 2016 film Your Name, which he then followed up with the slightly less widely rapturously received (but still extremely successful) Weathering With You in 2019. April 2023 brings his newest production, Suzume, to western theatres. Fellow AniTAY author and editor (who currently resides in Japan and so has been lucky enough to see it already) recently reviewed Suzume .

Whereas Miyazaki’s works for Studio Ghibli are usually (mostly) widely accessible, often following action/adventure/fantasy templates, Shinkai’s works tend to be more introspective, usually with a singular focus on a central, idealised relationship between a couple usually separated by something — whether it be space, time, sometimes both, or perhaps some other impediment. Think “heartbroken teens pining anxiously for a couple of hours”, and that’s a reasonably reductive yet accurate description for much of Shinkai’s oeuvre.

Shinkai’s 1999 debut animation She and Her Cat (sub-titled Their Standing Points) was produced in his spare time while working for video games company Falcom — a 5-minute-long short OVA (Original Video Animation) about a girl and her cat (or perhaps more accurately a cat and his human) that received various awards. Shinkai made almost the whole thing himself with his own hand drawings, and 3d CG using Adobe After Effects. With the setting modelled after a friend’s apartment, said friend also provided the (minimal) voice work for the human “Kanojo” (girl). Shinkai himself provided the voice of the cat (named Chobi).

She and Her Cat was released subtitled in English as an extra on the DVD for Shinkai’s second short Voices of a Distant Star by ADV Films back in 2003. That was its only North American release, however in the UK Anime Limited included it as an extra on their 2016 combined Voices of a Distant Star/The Place Promised in Our Early Days blu-ray/DVD release. This version is still in print. I have a copy of ADV’s 2003 UK PAL DVD release, and I’d never watched She and Her Cat until now, previously having only watched Voices of a Distant Star.

What is there to say about such a slight piece of work? For one, it’s in monochrome, presented in a CRT TV-friendly 4:3 aspect ratio, and seems to look deliberately fuzzy. (Or perhaps ADV’s early 00’s compression algorithms were awful). It takes the form of a very cartoonishly-drawn cat’s musings about his relationship with his female owner, whom he loves dearly. She found him in a cardboard box and adopted him. He particularly values her kindness. We don’t see that much of the girl herself, mostly parts of her body, or a side-glance at her face without revealing her features. Actual hand-drawn animation of either the cat or the girl are kept to an absolute minimum, though 3D is used well to convey background movement, like doors swaying on their hinges.

Despite its monochromatic appearance, it’s an emotionally warm piece, where the cat humorously fends off the amorous advances of a younger female cat because he loves “an adult girl”. He is comforted by his human’s scent, and worries for her when she cries. There’s little plot to speak of, but it’s split into four discrete sections, each one covering a season in a single year. As a showpiece for an amateur animator — sure, it’s quite impressive and evocative, but I hardly think it’s particularly memorable or even that interesting. Perhaps cat lovers may get more out of it than me.

So why dedicate an entire article to such a short, ephemeral entry in Shinkai’s career? To be honest, I originally wasn’t going to bother. Then I discovered the manga spinoff, the novel, and the prequel anime series. Yeah, you heard that right. There’s an entire prequel anime series in addition to two books, all inspired by a 5-minute short animation. How does that work?

First off is 2013’s novel adaptation She and Her Cat, written by Naruki Nagasawa and “inspired by” Makoto Shinkai. At first glance it starts as an expanded version of the OVA, with the titular “she” (now named Miyu) finding the abandoned white cat Chobi in a box. The novel elaborates on the OVA’s barely-hinted source of Miyu’s emotional distress — she has a weird on-off relationship with her ex-college best friend Tamaki’s male friend Nobu that when it implodes ends up with her not only losing her sort-of-boyfriend but also destroying her closest friendship.

The novel is brief, can be easily digested in less than a couple of hours, and is split into four short linked novelettes, each about a different female human character and the cat they care for. Narration alternates between human and cat perspectives, often to humorous or emotional effect. Time progresses between each story, and the various cats and humans appear across narratives, interacting with one another in a pleasingly organic way. It’s a delightful read, though really its links to the original OVA are fairly tenuous, a Shinkai work in name only.

Next is the prequel anime TV series She and Her Cat — Everything Flows, and it’s available to stream subtitled in English on Crunchyroll (plus on Region A Blu-ray — with a dub — from Discotek) — all four seven-minute episodes. Combined, they’re only a little over the length of one standard anime episode, yet they’re worth experiencing even just once. Although Shinkai is credited as the original author, it doesn’t appear that he was closely involved with the production of this 2016 show from Liden Films, directed by Kazuya Sakamoto (Kaginado), and written by Naruki Nagasawa, author of the 2013 novel.

Everything Flows follows Miyu as she grows up in a single parent household (her father is implied to have died earlier), moves away at college-age to share an apartment with her childhood friend Tamaki, then ends up living alone and depressed with only her black cat Daru for company when Tamaki leaves to get married. This is a different cat to Chobi from the OVA, and the story covers Daru’s entire life from when he was a kitten, to his very emotional (but understated) end.

Although it features a more standard story and structure than the OVA, it’s once again narrated by a cat who doesn’t have a full understanding of everything that happens around him. Miyu’s personality is far more developed, possibly even more so than in the novel — from slightly bratty girl to struggling adult, an impressive volume of character work is crammed into these few episodes. The mutual love between cat and human is delightfully expanded upon, as they rely on one another for emotional and physical comfort and closeness. The mellow soundtrack is beautiful, and although the full colour animation and backgrounds pale in comparison to the gorgeous presentation of Shinkai’s later cinematic work, it’s an attractive show. I defy anyone (even non-cat-owners like me) not to fight back tears at the end. Make sure you wait until after the final credits for a beautiful coda that ties the series’ events directly into the original OVA, and the novel.

So then we come to the manga. It reads more like a direct sequel to Everything Flows rather than anything to do with the OVA, as it follows up several subplots like Miyu’s friendship with former college roommate Tamaki and Miyu’s mother’s pending second marriage. It was the first commercial manga drawn by Tsubasa Yamaguchi — the mangaka who then went on to draw the fantastic Blue Period manga, itself adapted to anime form in 2021. I’d read online that the She and Her Cat manga was based on the 2013 novel, but I think this is inaccurate, and we’ll come on to why later.

The TV show followed Miyu through school and college, and then a period of depressed unemployment following the end of her studies and the departure of her roommate. The manga follows directly on from Everything Flows’ epilogue, with Miyu now caring for the white cat Chobi in her tiny apartment, while also working long hours in an administrative job, using caffeine shots to pull all-nighters that her body is no longer capable of surviving and remaining functional. Her confused and distressed emotional state is observed with calm but caring detachment from Chobi who never judges her, but doesn’t understand why she keeps smiling even when unhappy.

It’s a lovely single-volume manga, and a very quick read. Following the OVA’s structure, it’s split into four season-themed vignettes (followed by a sweet little bonus epilogue). The manga offers explanations for Miyu’s mental state only barely hinted at in the OVA, though it similarly remains a very slight story. It’s more interested in evoking emotions, in depicting the calming and loving effects that cats can have on humans struggling day to day through their stressful lives.

In the 2013 novel, there’s no mention of Miyu’s mother’s remarriage, and in fact it may be that in that continuity her father never died (her mother mentions that “Dad misses you”. The man-related damage to Miyu and Tamaki’s friendship never occurs in the manga, and they remain friends. Mangaka Yamaguchi does slip in an illustration of the novel character Reina (owner of female white cat Mimi who appears in the OVA), on the manga’s very final page, but she plays no part in the manga’s story. The narratives of TV show, novel, and manga do not really line up at all, even though novel and TV show share an author.

Overall, I’m glad that I watched She and Her Cat — not because I was particularly taken with the original OVA — but because the associated short TV series, manga and novel are all worthwhile. The novel is an especially interesting look at feline psychology, that although whimsical, maintains a certain ring of truth to it. The cats are essentially self-interested and territorial creatures, yet capable of love and affection towards their often inscrutable human companions. I’d recommend seeking each iteration out — they’re all easily available, though their links to Shinkai himself are perhaps tenuous at best.

Thanks for reading, and next time I’ll be back to look at Shinkai’s next short Voices of a Distant Star — at a whole twenty-five minutes duration, it’s five times the length of his first!

She and Her Cat
Directed, Produced and written by: Makoto Shinkai
Music by: Tenmon
Licensed by: ADV (formerly), Anime Limited
Released: 1999
Runtime: 5 minutes
Language: Japanese audio with English Subtitles

She and Her Cat (novel)
Written by
: Naruki Nagakawa
Released: 2013 (Japan), 2022 (UK)
Translated by: Ginny Tapley Takemori
Published by: Kanzen Corp (Japan), Penguin Random House/Doubleday (UK)
ISBN: 978–0–8575–2822–3

She and Her Cat: Everything Flows
Directed by: Kazuya Sakamoto
Written by: Naruki Nagakawa
Studio: Linden Films Kyoto Studio
Released: March 4th-25th 2016
Streaming: Crunchyroll
Blu-ray: Discotek Region A
Language: Japanese with English Subtitles (dub is blu-ray only)

She and Her Cat (manga)
Written and drawn by: Tsubasa Yamaguchi
Released: 2016
Volumes: 1
Published by: Kodansha (Japan), Vertical (US)
ISBN: 978–1–945054–40–2

You’re reading , a reader-run blog whose writers love everything anime related. To join in on the fun, check out our , visit our official , follow us on , or give us a like on our page.



A Community Blog dedicated to East Asian Culture

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store

Physician. Obsessed with anime, manga, comic-books. Husband and father. Christian. Fascinated by tensions between modern culture and traditional faith. Bit odd.