Studio Colorido have been one of the few anime studios to really make a mark internationally in the past few years. A Whisker Away, their second collaboration with Toho Animation after 2018’s Crunchyroll-exclusive film Penguin Highway, is good enough, even if its love story of naïve obsession is a little more than worrisome. The film is directed by Junichi Sato and stars Mirai Sasaki and Natsuke Hanae as the two main characters.
The film follows Miyo, a bright but headstrong girl who turns into a cat whenever she wants to be close to Hinode, a young boy who doesn’t share her same level of confidence or infatuation. She can still get close to Hinode, and watch him work on pottery with his grandfather, by putting on a cat mask that hides her true identity. Thinking that the cat is nothing more than a friendly stray when he finds it outside, Hinode takes her in as his pet and names it after his beloved dead pet Taro, a gesture that makes Miyo want to continue being his friend.
In human form, Miyo has a big personality. She’s called her friends “M.U.G.E.” – “Miss Ultra Gaga and Enigmatic” – by her friends, and is not afraid to speak her mind although she is constantly clumsy about it. This, combined with the unrequited love makes her a classic anime stock character known as the “Yandere,” a cheerful girl romantically obsessed to dangerous levels with someone who is not as extroverted or outgoing. Even so, the writers of this film were still able to play around with the trope and give her more of a complex story as a way of making this stock character seem more human. This is something the film does well – it doesn’t have any truly “good” or “bad” characters; everyone has their own goals and is fleshed out well enough to make them seem human despite being animated. Miyo’s characterization is sincere and creates an important message in the story – as open as you may be, smothering your crush is simply a bad idea, something that she comes to realize as she gains a more genuine relationship with Hinode. From being with Miyo, Hinode realizes that it is okay for him, too, to speak his mind, something that proves helpful in the latter half of the film.
The only real “villain” of this story is a magical cat known as the Mask Seller, who would see Internet fame on Reddit for being a “chonker” (just look it up…) if he was real. He is the seller the aforementioned cat masks. He gives Miyo the ability to transform in the opening scene, but he does it so that he can harvest the souls of cats and humans alike. He does this because he is on his last life and wants a second chance. When Miyo chooses to make some foolish decisions, the Mask Seller does not dissuade her from it. The Mask Seller’s tale is interesting because though he seems like a villain for taking advantage of Miyo’s gullible nature, he turns out to be much more ambiguous.
Aside from the great characterization, this film is beautifully animated. It emulates anime giants of the past, particularly Studio Ghibli, in the way it tells a visual story as much as a scripted one, yet in its slightly modernized style makes it truly as unique as its narrative. In all of its equal whimsy and romance, A Whisker Away has plenty of lessons, or depending on the audience, reminders, that it wants to tell. And as it works through Miyo’s immaturity, the progressively clever script looks at Miyo’s actions from the perspectives of others, as people realize that her extroversion is its own mask for her inner pain. With this film being as funny, enjoyable, and impactful as it is, it’s one of the best ways to continue watching anime in quarantine, or even to gain a new love for this medium of expression.