Production Studio: Tokyo Movie Shinsha
Was this provided by the publisher? Yes
More Info: Anime News Network
There’s a reason as to why the ’80s are often referred to as the “Golden Age” for anime. It was an age of sci-fi and super robots, where budgets were high, and hits were cranked out at a breathtaking pace. Classic titles like Dirty Pair, Macross, and Ranma 1/2 made their début, and the OVA peeked its head out for the very first time. Films like Nausicaa and Akira redefined what an anime film should be, while titles like Patlabor tried to reshape perspectives on the giant robots of previous eras.
It was during this period that Cat’s Eye paved a career for Tsukasa Hojo. At its core, Cat’s Eye was a mix of the realistic and the absurd, that presented a whimsical take on the average crime drama. It was suspenseful, but just silly enough to be endearing. It was a title that attracted countless adoring readers across 18 collected volumes, and paved the way for Hojo’s more popular work, City Hunter. The show proved popular enough to garner an anime adaptation, though, which hit Japanese airwaves in 1983.
The series revolves around Hitomi, Rui, and Ai: a trio of sisters that run the Cat’s Eye Cafe. At first glance, they’re a typical picture of ’80s life. Ai is the spunky technical wunderkind, Rui is the flirty yet sensible matriarch, and Hitomi is the streetwise middle sister. Their smiling faces welcome all that enter their café, though Hitomi particularly beams over her long-time boyfriend Detective Utsumi Toshio (Toshi, henceforth).
When night falls, though, the façade falls away with the sun. Beneath their squeak-clean exterior, the three sisters take on the role of Cat’s Eye: a mysterious and infamous cat burglar known throughout the city. Nobody actually knows the thief’s identity, nor have they ever seen her face. All that is known is that the thief announces her target before she strikes, and she always seems to be two steps ahead of the law, for some reason.
Gee. I wonder why.
Anyway, Detective Toshio is the officer charged with capturing Cat’s Eye, by any means necessary. To him, Cat’s Eye is a nemesis, a menace that exists to make a mockery of the police force, and to pull him away from time with Hitomi. No matter what he does, he can’t seem to get ahead in his pursuit. For Hitomi, thievery is becoming a dangerous game, as every heist grows more intense, and each night could be the one where Toshi discovers her secret!
Basically, the show plays out like a cross between Lupin III and City Hunter. The whole thievery aspect, from the flash calling card warnings, to the inventive ways that the group outwits Johnny Law feel like they’re ripped straight from Monkey Punch’s opus. The pacing, the scenarios, even the sense of humor feel familiar to a fault. The series even has its own Zenigata figure in Toshi, who, despite his tireless efforts to stop Cat’s Eye, is always one step behind his target.
These segments are paced well, and the robberies themselves are always inventive. The stakes are always high, and the obstacles range from heavily armed vaults, to an army of hungry armored Dobermans, and there’s always the feeling that something could go wrong at any moment. At the same time, though, there’s this playful element that just feeds off of the energy of the moment and creates genuine excitement, whether Cat’s Eye is stealing a priceless painting, or making their brilliant getaway through the streets of Tokyo.
What really sets Cat’s Eye apart, though, is its focus on the human element. Each episode offers a glimpse into the lives of the main cast, from the Cat’s Eye sisters, to Toshi and his comrades at the police department. It’s through these scenes that motivations and insights begin to bubble to the surface, along with inconvenient truths and moments of weakness. For example, viewers are shown a relationship strained to its limits in Hitomi and Toshi, and a good officer driven to become a pill-popping husk in the police chief. And, while these segments are delivered with a humorous wink and nod, they do wonders for building the cast out as actual, living people. This carries over to the character designs which, while grounded in reality, find subtle ways to really breathe life into each character. Whether it’s Asatani’s bookish glasses and perennial smirk, or Hitomi’s flowing locks and warm smile, there seems to be something about everyone in the ensemble that brings out his or her personality.
The city of Tokyo is presented as an attractive, colorful metropolis, where splashes of color burst through the seas of grey. Buzzing red and green street signs line the corners, and storefronts are presented as a mosaic of reds, blues, and greys. Trees dot the streets, and flashy signs blink ceaselessly toward streets. The entire city simply feels like it’s alive, and waiting to be explored.
If there were one real complaint about the Cat’s Eye’s visuals, it would be that the presentation can be inconsistent. Characters will sometimes change in proportion between cuts or, in the case of Rui, her makeup will magically disappear and reappear in the middle of a conversation. Mouths don’t always “flap” when a character speaks, and there are a number of cuts in which the animation is jerky and uneven.
Thankfully, the music proves to be consistently great through the season. The background music is a mix of bouncy string pieces, funky guitar riffs, and haunting piano melodies that prove to be both memorable and effective, as they set the stage for each caper. The show’s opening, “Mysterious Girl”, is a synth-heavy ear worm that feels like a celebration of ’80s pop songs worldwide. The ending theme, “Dancing With The Sunshine,” is both goofy and amazing, as it mixes a vocal track that could easily be ripped from a workout tape with a funky bass line.
To put it simply: Cat’s Eye is an absolute gem. Despite its occasional shortcomings in animation, the series is simply a joy to watch. The characters are brilliant, the plot is wonderfully handled, and the action is just plain exciting. While the show’s age may give some fans pause, they rest assured that Cat’s Eye will deliver a truly satisfying experience, from the first episode, to the final credits.