It sounds like it might be boring, which is why I didn’t watch My Roommate/ Doukyonin starting in January. I waited until the last few days of March and then binged it. The show was surprisingly entertaining, with numerous moments that made me laugh out loud, and so much kitty cat cuteness I wanted to hug my computer screen! (“Doukyonin wa Hazi, Tokidoki, Atama no Ue” is the official title, meaning, “My Roommate is on My Knees, Sometimes on My Head.”)
I like cats and dogs equally, but as far as experience in keeping them goes, I’m so far a cat person. Like the main human character, Subaru, I like to be alone in my house/apartment and write. My cat is one of the few living things I interact with regularly every day. (I don’t get lonely because my large family lives scattered throughout the same city as me.) I can’t even express how much I love and need my cat. So it should be obvious that I enjoyed Doukyonin. How should I consider it as a critic? That’s what I hope to find out writing this review.
Story and Structure: 7/10 Good
A young man who suffered recent loss of loved ones takes in a stray cat. He must now care for the cat (Haru) properly, and learn important lessons as he lives with her. This concept initially felt unsteady. Even as a slice-of-life, would such a weak idea keep the anime diverting for 12 episodes? In fact, yes. The plot manages to stay entertaining, mainly because events are told from the cat’s POV as well as that of the human. Haru happens to be the cutest anime pet I’ve encountered to date. It helps that she has so many expressions, and we can hear her talk.
This being a slice-of-life, it’s never going to rank super high for me in the story department. However, it earns a 7/10 for being original with storytelling style, creative with its themes, and professional with the series structure. For once, I have no complaints about the way the series was structured. Key events for character development or histories appear in episodes 1, 3, 6, and 9, and episode 12 is a good finale. The passing of time within the anime varies, but the pacing by itself is consistent. There’s no shortage of funny scenes or heartwarming scenes, which is what’s important in slice-of-life.
Here are a few complaints not necessarily about the story, but about the way the world of Doukyonin was constructed. There’s only a little bit of content in this anime about real cat behavior or the important parts of cat care. A few examples are outlined below.
Episode 1 shows Haru bringing food to Subaru in an attempt to make him eat. Subaru reads in a book that cats who bring food to humans are “offering tribute to their boss.” Obviously that was wrong in the case of Haru, a fictional cat, but it’s also wrong in the real world. If your pet cat, especially a female, brings you food, she is treating you like an especially dumb kitten or elderly cat who cannot feed itself. It’s still a semi-altruistic social behavior, but it’s not as cute as you might think.
In episode 3, for no real reason, Haru’s crazy bouts of pent-up indoor-cat energy are “explained” by cats being able to see ghosts. Why couldn’t the anime do something more interesting, like present actual theories on why cats go nuts, and let us see Haru’s behavior caused by those? (One interesting but not widely accepted theory is that they are capable of imagining prey; they pounce on, chase, or play with that conjured image. The accepted theory is that cats have bouts of sudden high-energy behavior because they need exercise or sensory stimulation that hasn’t been provided.)
Nana Oukami (who works at the local petshop) is supposed to offer advice about collars to Subaru. The only really relevant thing she says is that certain buckles and decorations may not be advisable because of the possibility of accidental strangulation. She neglects to discuss the most important point, which is whether or not a cat needs a collar. If a cat is outdoors a lot, a collar is advised, especially one that has the cat’s name and the owner’s address.
A cat also needs a flea collar (or else a more expensive flea protection treatment) if she is outdoors at all. Indoor cats and/or cats that have no interaction with other cats can do without collars and flea collars. At that point, it’s better not to give the animals any kind of decoration collar because frankly, they don’t like the way it feels. It’s a nuisance.
My Roommate is a Cat isn’t very accurate about animals in general. In episode 6, crows are painted as the aggressive enemies of stray cats. While it’s possible that they might go after a small kitten, it’s extremely unlikely that crows would regularly go after cats in pairs or groups. They stay away from adult cats altogether, since the feral ones are quite capable of killing them. The “crows” in episode 6, for some reason, use the calls for crows but also for American hawks. WTF?
(This is a tiny, nitpicking complaint, by the way. I mean, why expect realism in an anime that’s just cute and fun? It’s probably the wildlife scientist in me.)
Art and Animation: 6/10 Fine
This was a tough call to make and since I’m not an artist, I’m not sure if I’m right as far the quality of art being “fine” versus “good.” All I can tell you is my opinion.
Backgrounds and aesthetics were very simple but very enjoyable, full of natural colors like green, brown, and grey, with occasional creativity in lighting. (I did get sick of the exact same shot of Subaru’s house at the beginning of most episodes, though.) The stylized versus realistic look of the cats was adorable, even if the animation isn’t always satisfactory. (There are a few moments scattered through the series where it looks like the cats move like puppets.) Character designs for the humans were acceptable but not very orginal or detailed.
I felt like the animators should have made up their minds to either animate the movement of the cats’ mouths as they talk to each other, or else just not move the mouths much at all, which is more realistic for cats. In episodes like 6, however, the cats just open and close their mouths randomly and slowly as they talk. That works just fine in high production value Ghibli films, but sorry, this anime isn’t one.
There were colorful and creative backgrounds for shots of Haru (like the ones in this post), and there were many short scenes with rainbow-like lighting and bubbles (or sometimes yellow or orange lighting). I liked these at first, but they started to feel redundant after a while. In general, the art and animation is rather cheap, but that’s fine considering it’s not a high-budget anime and it’s done by a much smaller studio (Zero-G) than the big name animes of the season. I was especially impressed by the art during the last two episodes. There were some well done scenes in the rain and nice anime aesthetic shots.
Sound: 8/10 Excellent
I loved the music in Doukyonin. I want to buy the OST but so far I can’t find it. The music was charming most of the time and emotional when called for. The ending song was fun and cute, though not as great as the opening song, which was upbeat, catchy, and sung in a style I loved. The voice acting wasn’t always great because the script wasn’t always great, but it was good enough. I thought the performance of Haru’s VA, Haruka Yamazaki, was just right.
The only voice I recognized on my own was Kawase’s seiyuu, Hiro Shimono, who has played many roles both serious and funny, but who I will always mainly recognize as Connie Springer from Shingeki no Kyojin. Well, him and Sayaka Ohara, who played Subaru’s mom in all the flashbacks. Nana Oukami’s seiyuu sounded slightly familiar, so I looked her up. It turns out she (Chika Anzai) was the voice of Chaika in Hitsugi no Chaika (Coffin Princess), and Reina in Hibike! Euphonium. I loved the music and the cute voices in this anime.
Characters: 7/10 Good
Though you have to pay close attention to pick up on some of the subtlety, the development of main characters Haru and Subaru was well done. Using flashbacks of his past, interactions with his editor and friends, and informative monologues, the anime shows us the personality of Subaru Mikazuki little by little. He has social anxiety, and can be rather selfish. I have both those issues too. Although I’m not a popular novelist, lol, I love to write stories like Subaru.
Haru is somewhat typical for someone’s portrayal of what a cat might be like, but she also has some unique points, such as her strong mothering instinct and her frequent feelings of confusion about human topics like family. The character development of Haru is mostly done through her reactions to events, but sometimes there are flashbacks and interactions, too. I think it was intentional that they didn’t give her an overly cutesy personality– some would consider her arrogant and stubborn– because they wanted to show that cats are not naturally social animals. That makes it even more touching when Haru has affectionate moments.
The other characters have interesting enough concepts. Nana, the girl who works at the bookstore, was cute, and so her was her brother. Kawase, the editor, is hilarious. Hiroto is rather annoying, but still a decent character for the role of childhood friend. The dog next door, Taro, was one of my favorites, and seemed very much like what a golden retriever would be like.
Enjoyment: 8/10 Excellent
I had a terrific time watching My Roommate is a Cat. The series did a great job with the beginning and ending especially. The only show I had more fun with (from Winter 2019) was That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime. I loved Doukyonin because, as I said in the opening paragraphs, it bears a resemblence to my life. Subaru is a lot like me. I’m a writer and something of a shut-in. I can’t stand extended interactions with other people, and I don’t care good care of myself. I took in a cat that someone left with me 4 years ago, and he has helped (and continues to help) my depression.
People talk about who is best girl or best boy all the time, but few talk about the awesome pets and animals in a given anime season. I think Haru is hands-down best animal of Winter 2019!
Overall Score: 7.2/10 Good
Last time I wrote a review for a slice-of-life anime (a review of Tonari no Kyuketsuki-san published on myanimelist.net), my inner critic forced me to give it a 6.6 score, despite my enjoyment ranking at 8. So I’m pleased that Doukyonin ended up with a good score in the 7s category. If you like cats and slice-of-life, this anime is definitely one you should see!