To her classmates, Miyo “Muge” Sasaki is a loud and forthright girl, eternally cheerful and never afraid to speak her mind. But underneath all that, Miyo is struggling. Her mother walked out on her years ago, leaving Miyo to live with her father and his new partner. The boy she likes won’t even give her the time of day. Her only strand of hope is a magical mask that lets Miyo turn into a cat. In her feline guise, Miyo is finally able to get close to her crush – but what happens when the line between feline and human becomes increasingly blurred?
Let’s face it, by this point anime coming-of-age movies are ten a penny. But as A Whisker Away demonstrates, they can still be entertaining. What this movie has going for it is immediately obvious – cats, and lots of them.
Miyo’s answer to her teenage woes is do something many of us have probably aspired to do on occasion – transform into a cat. As the adorable white stray “Taro”, she can leave her human issues behind, and be petted and adored by the boy she likes. It seems like a pretty sweet deal, except for two things. First off, Miyo might be able to run away from her problems for a little while, but they’re all still there when she reverts to human form. Secondly, the creepy fat cat who sold her the mask in the first place wants a return on his investment – and he can only get that if she gives up her human form forever.
As you might imagine, what results is an adventure packed with all manner of cats, and it’s the sheer presence of onscreen felines that makes this movie so much fun to watch. There are cats who were once human, cats who want to become human, and the ever-present threat of the upcoming day when such transformations become irreversible. In short, if you enjoy animated films with cats, then A Whisker Away will certainly deliver on that front.
However, it wouldn’t be a complete review without critiquing some of the other story elements. As mentioned above, when stripped back to its bare bones, this is a typical coming-of-age story. That in itself isn’t an issue, and is pretty standard for a lot of anime films. The problem comes with the love story between Miyo and her crush, the studious Hinode. Miyo has fixated on Hinode as the one good thing in her life, and seems disproportionately obsessed with him. Since Hinode has his own family issues to deal with, the pressure of being the object of Miyo’s affections is a bit much – and to be honest, I can’t blame him for wanting her to tone it down a little. With this in mind, it’s really quite hard to cheer on their relationship.
Overall, A Whisker Away’s visuals are fresh and clean overall. The human characters are pretty standard, but it’s the cats who are really the strong point. As Taro, Miyo is an adorable white cat, with soft lines and an almost luminous glow. The various other cats of the film are also attractive and well drawn, whether in pure feline form, or in their later more humanoid appearance. Both the music and voice acting fit the film well. At the time of writing, there’s no English dub available, but one may be provided later.
Despite some weaknesses in the relationship between the two main characters, A Whisker Away is a fun movie overall. The addition of cats to a standard coming-of-age story is exactly what the film needed to ensure that feline-loving viewers will have a good time watching it.