I am a firm believer that art is better felt than explained. As such, I prefer sharing my opinions about anime based more on experience and thoroughly researched content behind my impressions, rather than describe every little element that goes into how it was made. But for a modern anime as simple as She and Her Cat, no amount of experience or research can ever be conveyed for why this is such a beautiful short. And no, it doesn’t get a pass just because Makoto Shinkai directed it.
So rather than explain to you what makes it beautiful from an observational standpoint, I will relay to you my experiences as I see them through such a simple series. And in case you thought my interview with Muco was entertaining (first of all, why?), sadly I couldn’t get Daru to help me out this time. Don’t get me wrong, cats are cool. But sometimes communicating with them is kind of strange.
In case you need some context, She and Her Cat (Kanojo to Kanojo no Neko) -everything flows- serves as a prequel animated short to one of Shinkai’s earliest works of the same name, as we follow the life of Her through her cat’s perspective, Daru. The story itself is a modern piece, meaning everything about it prefers light textures and simple storytelling techniques, rather than try to explain everything to you; and as such, I think it does stand on its own better that way.
There are a few shorthand elements to it so that the short relates more to our current decade, so if you’re going to fault the series as a whole for continuity issues, you’re missing the point. Our heroine Miyu acts as the audience’s surrogate, allowing us to project our feelings onto Her, in hopes that Daru’s world communicates with ours.
Thus begins my interpretation of this anime short.
Growing up, I never had any pets. Sure, I may have had a goldfish from one of those carnival games you win at festivals a couple times, but I never had a devoted companion like a dog or cat before. Instead, I had siblings. Two, to be precise. And yes, I’m the middle child.
But contrary to the full house paradigm, growing up was a frustratingly lonely experience. My brother and I are separated by 3 years, my sister and I separated by 5. And even though all 3 of us lived under one roof, none of us really had anything in common, interest-wise. I, for one, would be the only member of my family who would find enjoyment out of anime, and even then, that was an endeavor that I wouldn’t enjoy until I was already an adult.
I don’t think that Miyu and I could relate to each other on a superficial level, in that her living situation and mine couldn’t be further apart. That being said, I don’t think it’s impossible for me to understand what she’s going through as a struggling young adult. On the contrary, it’s that experience that resonates with me the most.
To me, Miyu is a hard-working girl who just finished college, and has since entered the struggle to be an adult. As she ages, Daru notices a decline in her mood, which for better or worse, has always been with her since she was a child. Contrary to the typical anime tropes, the focus of Miyu’s story isn’t about the joyful experiences she has with her friends, but the shortcomings she has with her family, namely that of her mother who had gone through a divorce. Putting this aspect of her life in the foreground of the plot becomes crucial to the tone that the anime is going for.
Where we often see that friends, romances, and yes, even family members make amends with protagonists in other anime, She and Her Cat doesn’t try to sugarcoat the reality that reconciliation comes very easily, not even in the 30-minute run time of the entire short. In only a few minutes, we can easily establish Miyu’s dysfunctional relationship with her mother. At this point I think a lot of people kind of assume that Miyu hates her mother, giving her disrespectful remarks to the point of outright cursing her. But from Miyu’s point of view, I don’t think that’s entirely the case.
Looking back at some of the things I have reflected on on this very blog, I’ve expressed before my very rocky relationship with family on multiple occasions, sometimes not in the otaku context. There’s a common stigma that runs in Asian American households that we aren’t supposed to talk about our shortcomings. Our points of weakness. It’s a trait that is often mixed with the model minority myth, but really it’s just an excuse to let the gatekeepers of our already small community give an impression that we got our shit together, when at many times, that’s not true.
A few years ago, I wrote a reflection piece in regards to my father, a brief piece that lots of personal friends and family have read with mixed reactions. Maybe one or two people told me that the piece sounded angry, concerning, and overall hopeful, but the only things that others really took away from it was that I hate my father. And to those who took that message away from the piece, you really can’t see the forest for the trees.
I don’t regret writing those words so many years ago, dissonant in tone as it is. My father did read it once, and sadly chose to defend himself thinking that he was victimized, rather than try to empathize with a son who feels constrained just by his very presence. I wish I could say that my feelings toward him have healed since then, but anyone who has ever been in a toxic relationship especially with family knows that reconciliation doesn’t exactly come very easily.
You may think that someone like Miyu is rather selfish and feels nothing for her mother. But in truth, she ultimately wants what’s best for her mother, and unfortunately there is no easy solution for how to resolve that relationship when it has already been severed. At the very end, Miyu’s relationship with her mother feels resolved if only in a very, brief, moment in time, but in terms of the flow of the series, I think that would be the most proper way to look at it. And honestly, I think that couldn’t be explained better than through the eyes of the character whose entire lifespan is shown from beginning to end.
Daru doesn’t quite understand the complexities of human relationships. He’s quite content being a house cat in that way. But even in the 30 minutes that we see of his entire life, it’s very clear that he brings balance to Miyu’s life when she’s struggling to make ends meet, given the circumstances that she was dealt. Daru can tell when Miyu feels down, and only think of what he can do to cheer her up. Sure, that satisfaction isn’t instant like many of us might expect, but the bond that Daru and Miyu share is enough to keep her going.
Some people accuse narratives like this one for being too romantic in always having some kind of bittersweet ending, but I disagree. What I get out of -everything flows- is that all these little moments we have in life are exactly that: flowing. Perhaps you think that’s an excuse to say that things will eventually get better, but even in this short, I think it’s quite clear that even happy endings come and go, and in those times, you do have to recognize those shortcomings and despair as well as those simply happy moments you share with your loved ones.
I have maintained The True Lystria on and off for close to 5 years now. My direction has changed since its first inception, but my purpose has stayed largely the same. I’m not here to chronicle a sugar-coated part of my life, nor the rants of a despairing terrible part of my life either. What you get out of these posts –whether I’m writing in character, or getting real with you all– have all been very honest facets of my life that aren’t always easy to sort through, but to me, have been grounded in truth.
I can’t say that the situation with my family has gotten any “better” per se, but if it does make you feel better, those moments of tension and joy do ebb and flow. Sometimes I am in control of how I feel about those moments, sometimes I am not. I wouldn’t say that my life is particularly easy, nor would I say that it is incredibly tough either. That being said, my favorite moments in life don’t come from monumental achievements, or from times when I feel most good about myself. Like Daru’s worldview, the things that I love most about my life are those small moments of joy that come and go.
So if you’re looking for a short anime about a cat that puts your chaotic life into perspective, watch She and Her Cat -everything flows-!
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