Anime series often feature characters with social anxiety, sometimes to the extent that they are shut-ins who rarely leave their own homes, but these characters are generally female such as Alice in Heaven’s Memo Pad or Sagiri in Eromanga Sensei. My Roommate is a Cat shows us a male equivalent in the main character, Suburu Mikazuki. The problem started while his parents were still alive, with his refusal to even join them on their holidays, and now that he has lost them he lives alone and fears contact with other people. He had an active imagination since childhood and has become a successful writer, and his only regular visitors are his long-term friend Hiroto and his editor Atsushi. When he takes in a stray cat his life begins to change, forcing him to come into contact with other people, including pet store assistant Nana Okami.
This is on the fringes of the slice-of-life genre, with more going on than many of the typical examples. The character development is strong and there are also moments of drama, but it’s all very mild. The series has one key innovation that marks it out from any other series I have seen: each episode is divided in half, with the first half told from the perspective of Suburu and the second have retelling the same events from the perspective of his cat Haru. This works brilliantly, because seemingly random feline behaviour in the first half often gets explained in the second when we are allowed into the mind of a cat. Later in the series there are variations, with episodes working in reverse, or alternating more, and the division of each episode is rarely 50/50. Wisely the writer and animators did not allow the format to become a straitjacket, but used it to their advantage depending on the story of the week.
The characterisation is very strong. We get flashbacks to Suburu’s past to explain why he is the way he is, and the portrayal of his social anxiety is very truthful. Although it is typically played for laughs a lot, it still honours the subject matter and remains honest to his condition. The brilliance of the series is the way cat ownership gradually brings him out of his shell. Partly this is because he is forced to face the outside world to keep Haru alive and well: a pet shop, a vet, etc, but more importantly people want to be involved in his life because of his cute cat, and soon he has neighbours wanting to strike up a conversation and his friends’ family and his friends’ family’s friends turning up at his door. Slowly and steadily he builds a social network from nothing, and moves from resistance to all human contact to appreciating the benefits of friendship. He also learns how much his work is appreciated and how he has touched people’s lives without realising it. It’s all enormously heart-warming.
As the characterisation developed I found my own perspective on the series shifting. To start with I didn’t find Suburu a particularly interesting character and found myself waiting eagerly for the fun bit of each episode where the cat gets to narrate the day’s events. It is a testament to the skill of the writers that by the second half of the series the cat’s perspective was often just an entertaining diversion, while Suburu’s half of each episode was the one that really made me care.
The series is comprised of twelve episodes, which aired last year and gained a level of popularity that few people were probably expecting. Despite that, it does feel like a one-off and I would be very surprised if a second series is forthcoming. Frustratingly that means that the series does represent the very beginnings of a potential romance for Subaru, which we will likely never see develop on screen.
The opening and ending titles both feature memorable songs. I’ll leave you with one of those, the gentle ending song. And in the end I think “gentle” is a perfect word to describe this lovely series. RP