After being abandoned by her owners one rainy night, “Chibi-Neko” the kitten is saved from an untimely end when a student named Tokio picks her up and takes her home. Despite the fact that his mother is allergic to cats, Tokio’s parents decide to let him keep Chibi, in the hope that caring for her will help alleviate his depression over failing to get into college. For her part, Chibi comes to adore her new owner, and in her naïveté, she hopes that she will one day turn into a human so that they can always be together. Even so, the world has many lessons for a young kitten to learn, and it seems for sure that she will one day realise that no cat can become human.
As a cat lover, there are some things which it is almost compulsory to watch, and as a film where the main character is a kitten, The Star of Cottonland must surely be one of them. Produced way back in 1984, the film presents feline life with what was then a rather unique twist; all the cats in the film are portrayed as humanoids with ears and tails- the early form of what was to become the familiar catgirl (and boy). To the humans in the film, their feline companions just look like regular cats, but the viewer sees them as they perceive themselves- as just a slightly different sort of person.
With our furry friends thus transformed, The Star of Cottonland starts off less as a movie and more like a documentary into the mindset of the cat. Ever wondered why your feline companion acts like she does- well, puzzle over it no more, because with this film, you can understand her that much better. It’s largely amusing and entertaining fare, only soured by one element- Tokio’s mother. Less allergic to cats than she is completely “nekophobic”, this is a woman to whom the sight of one kitten can induce trembling, screaming and fainting fits- a somewhat implausibly extreme reaction that goes beyond even the classical image of an entire generation of women screaming and climbing on chairs at the sight of a small rodent.
Even so, this one blot cannot really dampen the enjoyment of seeing the world through a cat’s eyes, but it does have to be admitted that the film loses a little in its second half. Yes, it is still a fun family film, but when push comes to shove, the focus starts to wander a bit. One minute, Chibi is trying to become human so that Tokio will like her instead of the girl he has a crush on, then she immediately switches to trying to get him together with said girl before leaving the household completely to go on a journey of her own with wildcat Raphael. This journey is supposed to be a search for the mythical Cottonland of the title (a sort of feline paradise), but when Raphael doesn’t show up, it becomes more of a random tour through town with the aid of various wildcats, which ultimately turns into Chibi and another cat trying to get to Persia. In the midst of all this, the film also has a tendency to digress into somewhat bizarre dream sequences, which only heighten the sense of not really knowing where the film is going.
Character-wise, this is truly Chibi-Neko’s story, with other characters generally tending to come and go, although some focus is placed on Tokio. A young man who has reached rock bottom after failing to get into college, he tries to study but lacks even the motivation to go to prep school, but who will be his salvation- Chibi-Neko or the braided girl he has a crush on? Other interesting personalities include Raphael the elegant wild cat, and “Neko Maniac”, a man obsessed with capturing Raphael so that he can hug him and generally give him a life of ridiculously over-the-top luxury.
Since it was made over twenty years ago, The Star of Cottonland is understandably not the most visually impressive of series, but nor does it look as bad as you might expect- with a movie budget behind it, the animation is generally clean, and Chibi-Neko’s character design is nice even if everyone else’s is somewhat pedestrian. The music is not particularly memorable, but suits the tone of the movie well.
Despite its tendency to wander off on any and every tangent in its latter half, overall The Star of Cottonland is an enjoyable family film that will capture the hearts of adults and children alike. Whether you plan to use it to convert younger relatives to the ways of anime, or just fancy some easy viewing to entertain yourself, this is one movie that deserves to be checked out.