on 27 September 2015
With a title like 'Cat Planet Cuties', it's pretty obvious to tell who this series is aimed at: teenage boys and grown men, who're obsessed with girls, sci-fis, cosplay and cat ears - not to mention the DVD cover art practically screams of fan-service. With that in mind, I actually decided to put off buying this anime for a time. It wasn't that I didn't want it, I just had a really good idea of what the plot would be, and there seemed little point in buying something that was predictable. But the old saying goes: you should never judge a book (or DVD) by its cover. And I kept wondering what I was missing out on. So eventually I let my curiosity get the better of me and bought the DVD on Amazon. What were my thoughts on it? Lets start with the story.
The story focuses on Kio, a high school boy who's life is flipped upside when he meets Eris, an alien cat-girl. Along with her fellow ambassadors, Eris hopes to establish diplomatic relations on Earth, so humans and Catians might co-exist. Everyone is thrilled by the idea of forming a union with aliens, except a handful of people who find their arrival troubling. Some even want them dead. So now, with the help of his friends Aoi and Manami - who know a thing or two about guns - Kio protects the Catian ambassadors, while teaching them about Earth's culture. Along the way, Eris gets more lovey-dovey with Kio and wants to have him as her mate - much to the dismay of Aoi and Manami, who also have secret feelings for him.
If there's one thing that surprised me about 'Cat Planet Cuties', it's the way the story was told. The episodes do focus a lot on harem and sci-fi elements - like I expected - but they also touch on various other genres, too. Sometimes the mood would shift from a harem, to a comedy, to a sci-fi, to a romance, to a mecha, and so on. In fact, the first two episodes feel more like of a spy-thriller than anything else; there's kidnappings, death threats, guns, and lots and lots of explosions. This darker tone was somewhat off-putting at first. But once the premise was setup and all the characters had been introduced, the episodes got lighter, and were a good blend of action, humour and drama.
If there is one criticism I'd have to give the series' plot though, it's that it leaves a lot of questions unanswered. Kio lives with his uncle Yuichi, but it's never explained why; Aoi has powers and comes from another world, but we're never given precise details; Eris and other characters enrol at Kio's school, but nothing seems to come of it. I understand the series is short - being just 13 episodes - but the problem isn't with the pacing. It's just there are too many things included in the plot that aren't expanded upon. Unless a second season is being planned, I think holding back information about the characters was a mistake - it leaves a lot of fans confused.
Speaking of the characters, when I first bought this series, I thought only the Catians would interest me. But there were actually several other characters that caught my attention, too - some I'd never even considered before.
Like a typical harem, 'Cat Planet Cuties' features numerous girls, with varying personalities, all buying for the affections of one guy. Eris is the kind-hearted cat-girl, who has a sexy body and a strong desire to mate; Aoi is the hired assassin, who wants to love, but feels she isn't worthy of it; Manami is the resilient tomboy, who tries to hide her feelings for Kio, but can't help being jealous of other girls, etc. Plus, there are several more characters who add their own unique flare to the series. Antonia is the rich girl, who worships cats and leads a religious order dedicated to them. Kio's teacher, miss Itokazu has a problem with Catians being Earth's first contact, because they don't look 'alien enough'. And we even meet Janes, a member of the Catians' enemy race the Dogisians. Get it? Because they're part-cat, she's part-dog, and cats and dogs supposedly hate each other?
With so many different characters, the series was taken in directions I never expected it to be taken. I never thought, for instance, that one of the plots would involve a 12-year-old girl kidnapping Eris, because she thinks she's a God. However, my expectations were raised once I watched the first episode; I learnt that all the girls in Kio's life had dark secrets, and were either working for the CIA or another top-secret organisation. After that, any predictions I made about 'Cat Planet Cuties' beforehand were out the window. I knew with characters like Aoi and Manami, my vision of the anime just wasn't going to happen.
However, I'm actually glad my assumptions were wrong. If the series had turned out the way I thought it would, then it would've been quite weak. But being the way it is, the episodes allow the characters to show off their charm and personal development. I especially liked the b-plot where Manami tries pushing Aoi into a relationship with Kio, even though she's in love with him, too - it reminded me a lot of Yue and Nodoka from the 'Negima!' franchise.
The only downside to having a lot of characters in 'Cat Planet Cuties', is finding the right amount of focus for them all. However, this relates back to what I said about certain aspects of the series not being expanded upon. Some secondary characters are featured far less prominently than others. In fact, most of the time, they only seem to be included when the story has real need of them. The biggest example of this is Ichika. She literally appears out of nowhere in episode 7 to give the main cast power cards, then hardly contributes anything else to the series. She's even given the chance to be part of the climax, but she turns it down for unspecified reasons. Also, other characters hardly feature in the episodes they appear in. Even the Catians don't feel as involved with the story as much they could be. If a character's contribution to the main plot isn't maintained they can easily be written off. It's not enough to just suddenly reveal something about them, like Ichika being a Catian (episode 12).
If there's anything better than the characters themselves, it's their voice actors. Since the English Dub is done by Funimation Entertainment, it features many of the studio's regulars, including my three favourites; Luci Christian, Monica Rial and Cherami Leigh (Antonia, Aoi and Chayaka, respectively). Any time you have one of these three stars in an anime, you're guaranteed it'll be good. Having all of them together gives it the potential to be a masterpiece.
Another thing worth mentioning about the series is its humour. Because this is mostly fan-service, a lot of the humour does focus on making sexually inappropriate jokes. In fact, the OVA's plot seems to be just an excuse to show all the female characters naked. However, a good anime doesn't rely solely on this kind of humour, and sometimes there are other ways the episodes make fans laugh. One example is they actually take advantage of the fact 'Cat Planet Cuties' isn't the greatest sci-fi ever made. Not only do they reference other series that could be better (e.g. 'Red Dwarf', 'Star Trek' and 'Captain Future'), but they also point out some of their own b-movie cliches (e.g. strings attached to a spaceship, and the fact that something from space wouldn't look like a "sexy" high school girl in cosplay). In other words, 'Cat Planet Cuties' mocks its own genre to be funny. Normally, doing this sort of thing would be a bad idea - pointing out your flaws doesn't make them go away. But the series doesn't try to be overly serious, so it's easy to let small things slide. Also, there are moments when they break the 4th wall, like Ichika reading a script in the OVA, and the narrator mentioning Aoi and Manami's voice actors (Monica Rial and Brittney Karbiwski) in episode 8. So as you can see, the series is varied with its humour.
Before I finish, there's a couple more things I want to acknowledge about the series. The first is the way it makes references. What's funny is that sometimes they can't use brand names like HMV, Amazon or Twister, because of copyrights. So instead, they rename them 'HNV', 'Amazoness', and 'Tracker', respectively. Also, Janes has a pet dog, and his name and laugh are obviously nods to another mutt seen in 'Wackey Races'. They really don't try to hide what they're referencing.
The second thing I wanted to mention is the small issue I have with the Catians' character design. I understand that they're aliens and all, but why do they have both human and cat ears? Normally, when a human-like character has animal ears they're where the human ears should be, or the latter ones are hidden beneath the characters' hair. However, with the Catians, not only are both ears visible, but it's proven they do use the human ones - Eris and Chayaka have headphones in them at one point. So why do Catains need two pairs of ears? Do they need to hear better? Are their cat ears for something other than hearing? I guess we may never know.
I'll just say this in conclusion. There have been cases where animes have failed to meet my expectations. 'Infinite Stratos' (Season 1) was a series I had high hopes for, but it ended up being just another harem. 'Cat Planet Cuties', didn't have this problem. The series not only met my expectations, it went above and beyond them; kind of like how 'Sword Art Online' became my favourite anime of all time, after I initially thought it'd just be something minor. I think my problem was that I set my expectations for 'Cat Planet Cuties' too low. Every time I saw the DVD in HMV, I couldn't help thinking it was about a boy who visits an alien planet and just interacts with many different cat-girls. This wasn't the case. And it turned out I'd been missing an entirely different series altogether. This is a good example of why you shouldn't judge a DVD by its cover. True, the cover and title does tell a lot about 'Cat Planet Cuties', but it doesn't tell you everything. Even if you're confident you know what the anime's plot will be, it's still best to check it out for yourself. You'll never know if it'll be good or bad until you've seen it. It could be a lot better than what you expected.
I would recommend 'Cat Planet Cuties' to fans of Funimation Entertainment, since this is one of their projects and the voice acting helps to give it the studio's unique charm. However, this is more for the older fans, since it does contain a lot mature content. If you're easily offended by nudity or sex jokes, then you may want to give this series a miss. However, if you like sci-fis, spy-thrillers and romantic comedies with shocking or outrageous scenes, then this is definitely an anime for you. 'Cat Planet Cuties' is the fantasy of every teenage boy and grown man come to life. And more.