Review for Cat Planet Cuties: Complete Series
It took just one minute of watching Manga Entertainment’s release of Cat Planet Cuties on DVD to convince me to import the series. I’m sorry Manga, your heart is in the right place, and like most UK distros you get it right 99% of the time, simply because it works out more economical to source a disc’s master from overseas rather than create it yourself. Companies like Funimation and Sentai, Madman Entertainment and Siren Visual do this anime stuff on a regular basis, have got the science of authoring anime discs to suit anime fans sorted, and have the production lines and workflow in place to do it regularly. Manga Entertainment on the other hand authors maybe five or ten titles a year, and that isn’t a scale that warrants major investment on their part. They will outsource the authoring chores to a company whose bread and butter isn’t anime and the results are invariably inferior.
The problem is that Manga still hold onto that outdated idea that UK DVDs have to be in PAL format, so when Australian companies choose simply to port the US NTSC release instead of authoring their own, Manga wind up having to create PAL masters here. That’s what happened with Cat Planet Cuties, and they made a right pig’s ear out of it. I love you Manga, I really do, but that Cat Planet Cuties release made my eyes bleed. Forget the video glitch. Forget the fact that the image was de-saturated of reds, rendering the series not as the creators intended. Forget the needless doubling up of episodes to include the commentaries, instead of simply putting a third audio track on the necessary episodes, significantly increasing compression as a result. Forget the absence of Japanese audio on the extras, and the basics such as chaptering. The Manga release flipped my subtitle Nazi switch. The opening scene of the first episode has a conversation, television dialogue and on screen text to simultaneously translate. That requires up to five lines of subtitles on screen at any one time. Manga authored discs can only manage two. I had no idea what was going on in that opening scene, as they tried and failed to rush through all of the subtitles, and wound up missing out half of the important ones, and it was a situation repeated constantly through their release, particularly when the Assistroids showed up and wound up with their ‘dialogue’ mostly left un-translated.
Like I said, the decision to import took only a minute, and with prices relatively equivalent for the US and Australian releases, I wound up opting for this US Blu-ray DVD combo release, even though at this time I am unable to watch the Region A locked Blu-ray component. This review is of the Region 1 DVD portion of the set, identical in content, if not specification to the Blu-ray discs. Don’t be surprised if there’s a bit of cut and paste coming up. The discs may be infinitely better authored, by the show’s still the same.
Ever since the age of science and astronomy began, and mankind truly began to fathom the nature of the universe, our eyes have turned outwards to contemplate, imagine, and speculate about whether life exists outside our own small, fragile world. For over a hundred years, speculative fiction has been created wondering at what such life might be like, whether it is intelligent, friendly, what it would have in common with us, what might be different, and given our own martial propensities as human beings, what if it weren’t friendly? It took the mere mention of the possibility of canals on Mars and H.G. Wells penned War of the Worlds. That speculation exploded with the advent of cinema and television, and it seems all manner of alien contact has been role-played all ready, from the enchanting ET, the religious allegory of Starman, the popcorn blockbuster of Independence Day, the comic Mars Attacks, and all manner of other fantasies. But what if mankind’s first contact with alien life was with a cute, sexy, big-breasted cat-girl?
That’s what happens in the near future of Cat Planet Cuties. Unassuming high school student Kio Kakazu is attending a memorial for the anniversary of his grandfather’s death, when in among the mourners enjoying the feast is Eris, a girl with cat ears and a furry tail. It turns out that her ship had arrived on Earth, and she forgot to pack provisions, and Kio’s pet cat Aura had told her that he was the hospitable sort. The shock (and a beer) puts him in a faint, but that’s nothing compared to what he wakes up to! Eris is here to discreetly observe Earth, learn its customs and mores, and determine if it is ready for formal contact with the Catian people, and she wants Kio’s help. Kio’s world is going to change unrecognisably, although not just because of Eris. There are factions on Earth that have mixed feelings about first contact, and not all of them view Eris with amity, and some of these factions hit close to home for Kio. It turns out nothing is as it seemed in his life. His childhood friend Manami Kinjo isn’t just his friendly busy-body next-door neighbour. His schoolteacher Maki Itokazu, is more than just a school-teacher, his uncle Yuichi is more than just a kindly uncle, and the cute, shy girl from school that he shares an interest in movies with, Aoi Futaba, is actually a government trained assassin with super powers.
Funimation present all 12 episodes of Cat Planet Cuties plus an extra OVA episode never streamed on Crunchyroll, all spread across two discs with extras.
1. The Cat Who Fell To Earth
2. I Dropped By
3. We’ve Come To Stay
4. We’ve Come To Kidnap You
5. We’ve Come To Rescue You
6. I’ve Practiced
7. We’ve Come To Swim
8. We Had A Duel
9. The Grand First Assistroid?
10. We Came After You
11. I Came Looking For You
12. I Came to Find You
13. Come Drop By
Cat Planet Cuties gets a 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer on the two DVD discs in this collection, presented in NTSC format and coded for progressive playback on compatible players (highly recommended for extra smooth animation) The image is clear, relatively sharp throughout, and the animation is detailed. The world design is agreeable, while the future tech of the Catians comes across well. The character designs are generic but appealing, although on occasion they do drift off model. The selling point of this anime is fan service, and Cat Planet Cuties is not a show to suddenly hide its wares behind sunbeams and sudden fog. This is good old fashioned naughtiness in the way that anime fans have been raised to expect on those old 90’s OVAs.
The real proof of the pudding is when you compare it to the Manga release, and the added clarity of the native NTSC format, the visibly lower compression, and the accurate colour reproduction makes all the difference. You’re almost watching it as the creators intended. For that, you’ll need a Region A Blu-ray player.
The images in this review are taken from the DVD component of the release, and aren’t representative of the Blu-ray discs.
Cat Planet Cuties gets DD 2.0 Japanese stereo and DD 5.1 English surround for its audio options. I watched the show through in Japanese, and was very happy with the cast performances. It’s ideal for a comedy show, with nice, predictable voices for the clichéd characters, if some unpredictable casting. Kana Hanazawa was cast as the quiet, introverted and shy assassin, somewhat downbeat for an actress better known for the perky ‘Tutturu!’ roles. This being an NTSC release, you have no worries when it comes to PAL speedup or pitch-correction. Everything sounds as intended. I didn’t try the English dub this time, although from what I remember of the Manga release, Funimation have provided a nice, spirited dub that is well-suited for the comedy action, and just like the Japanese audio, they don’t stray from the norms of the genre.
Cat Planet Cuties comes with translated English subtitles and a proper, player selectable signs only track. At least with the Funimation discs, you have the option of turning it all off. Best of all, unlike the Manga release, everything is properly subtitled. Funimation are able to show more than one caption on screen at a time, which means that background dialogue and the main speakers are subtitled, text translations are provided, and it’s all well timed, placed, and easy to read. And none of the Assistroids get their dialogue squelched. Just what this show needs and just what I needed for that matter.
Funimation present their release in a Blu-ray sized Amaray, wrapped in an o-card that repeats the sleeve art and blurb. The sleeve is reversible though. The inside of the case holds two hinged panels. One panel has the two Blu-ray discs either side, the other has the DVDs.
As mentioned, this is the review of the DVD component of the release, and DVD 1 autoplays a trailer for Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt before loading up its simple, static menu screens.
Disc 1 has an audio commentary to accompany episode 1, with Scott Sager hosting Monica Rial (Aoi Futaba) and Tia Ballard (Eris). It’s a fairly informal chat, with in-house gossip taking up the first ten minutes before they start issuing forth spoilers for the series in their discussion.
Disc 2’s autoplays with a trailer for Sekirei, and its commentary comes with episode 9, and features ADR director Christopher Bevins, with Aaron Dismuke (Kio), and Brittney Karbowski (Manami), and this one truly is a pointless Funimation gigglefest, with nothing of value to be gleaned here.
There are other extras on this disc, close encounters of the promo kind.
Extra Bonus Features 1-12 offers alternative next episode previews lasting 3 minutes in total. The End is an inconsequential coda that last 14 seconds. The Ichika Special lasts 4 minutes, and is another alternative set of next episode previews.
This time you get the English and the Japanese audio for these.
You get the textless opening, and six of the textless closings. I have to add that Omoide ga Jama wo Suru by Tomatsu Haruka (voice of Manami) is one of my favourite anime theme songs.
You get the US trailer for the show and further trailers for Strike Witches: Season 2, Yamada’s First Time, and Heaven’s Lost Property: Forte.
Well, that confirms it. I love Cat Planet Cuties, and that Crunchyroll viewing last year wasn’t through a haze of fevered delirium after all. Actually I hate the name Cat Planet Cuties more than ever, as it’s crass, obvious and lacks any kind of wit. Why not just call the show, “Big Boobs ANIME!!!”? While you may question the accuracy of the translation, ‘We’ve Come To Play’ would have been a much more appropriate title that works on more than one level. All of that is history, with Funimation’s rebranding now a permanent scar. Just imagine that every time that I type Cat Planet Cuties, I’m gritting my teeth in chagrin, and desperately reminding myself just why I love this show.
Bizarrely enough, I do love this show, even though it is a somewhat stereotypical harem comedy with sci-fi leanings, the sort of show that I have been running a mile from for the last few years, just out of its sheer ubiquity. This one got under my skin and stuck, even though it conforms strongly to the stereotypes, with a gaggle of relentlessly cute girls of varying breast sizes all falling for a hapless teen male protagonist, who remains densely unaware of said female interest through the show, and most likely would be ill-equipped to act on that interest should the veil ever be lifted.
The thing is that recent harem comedies have been reinventing themselves to get some distance from that ubiquity, and there’s been a degree of self-awareness, a post-modern irony that results in the shows winking knowingly at the audience, a kind of ‘yes, we know, clichéd isn’t it?’ Cat Planet Cuties plays it deliciously straight, and with its visual aesthetic saucier than most, it has a lot more in common with the shows that started the genre in the first place, shows like Tenchi Muyo and Love Hina, and that makes it a lot more fun to watch.
The show has a lot of fun with its genre, it’s fast paced, it’s funny, and it isn’t shy about being naughty when it needs to be. The characters are likeable, and the fan-service works to support the show, rather than become the whole point. It’s replete with little touches that anime fans will appreciate, in-jokes, references, and cameos, while most episodes start with a preview that parodies another television show. There are entertaining send-ups of Star Trek, Starsky and Hutch, Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie, and even Red Dwarf in there, and it’s hard not to be tickled when something you recognise registers.
Of course you have to be aware that the sheer number of coincidences in the show shatters whatever vestiges of plausibility that remain. You just have to go with the flow. Kio gets a visit from the world’s first alien visitor, and at no point do the world’s media services set up 24-hour camp outside his house begging for interviews. His next door neighbour and childhood friend just happens to be a CIA trainee. The cute shy girl at school just happens to be a government agent. His teacher happens to be a UFO nut and influential first contact fanatic. Then halfway through the show Ichika shows up as something of a Mary Sue, at times deus-ex-machina-ing the plot along with no back-story or character development until the final OVA episode. It’s all just an average day in the world of Cat Planet Cuties. Where there are cats there are dogs, in this case the Dogisian people, sneaky antagonists of the show who in an underhanded way have already made first contact with Earth, and want to keep the benefits of that secret first contact all to themselves. Enter doggie girl Janes and her robotic assistroid Muttley (who shares a laugh with his animated namesake) The subtitles call him Matrey, no doubt to avoid lawsuits.
What makes Cat Planet Cuties so enjoyable is that despite the blatant fan service, the silliness of its premise, and the clichés of its genre, it has heart, and it has it in abundance. The characters are likeable, and there is vicarious joy to be had in their interactions. No matter how far-fetched the story gets, the feelings that the girls have for their wimpy object of affection are real, and there are times in the story where it explores these feelings with sensitivity and honesty. Eris and Kio may be the first alien human relationship, which makes her broad affections for him more comical than realistic, but Manami feels she’s missed her chance and drifted into the Friend Zone, and winds up supporting Aoi. Aoi on the other hand feels that because of who she is, and what she has done in her work, she isn’t worthy of Kio. That Eris just comes along and pounces on him crystallises their own emotions and increases the conflict in their feelings. Of course Cat Planet Cuties manages to deliver a ‘cake and eat it’ ending that will satisfy the target demographic, for whom Kio is a cipher, but up to that point the show manages to engage the emotions.
This goes some way to explain why Cat Planet Cuties is a fun harem comedy show, but probably doesn’t explain my love for it. That’s a wholly personal thing, which goes back to my history as a sci-fi nut. I grew up with sci-fi, took in all manner of books and TV shows and movies, and first contact with aliens was a big part of that medium. That very rarely turns out well in entertainment, with Starman and E.T exceptions that prove the alien invasion rule. Where there’s an alien, there will soon be a mushroom cloud of justified human self-defence, or panicked human paranoia. Add to that my own growing cynicism as the years pass, as my suspicions grow that we as a species are more blight to the planet than blessing. It’s in our nature to destroy, we drive animals to extinction, we destroy the environment, and worse, we turn on each other. To watch the news for any length of time without suicidal thoughts ought to be worthy of a medal.
Then there is Cat Planet Cuties, where aliens come because they want to hang out with us, they want to play. They think we’re nifty. They know that there is good and bad in us, as they have recognised it in their own species, but they believe that the there is more good than bad in humanity, and when push comes to shove during first contact, sure enough the better natures of the people they meet prevail. Aliens that want to be with us because they like us, that there is something about us that is worth liking. That’s a powerful thought. It’s enough to get us liking ourselves. It’s no wonder that I have a lump in my throat at the end of episode 12, when I see the Catians' Christmas present. Cat Planet Cuties is a compelling mix for an anime sci-fi fan, with harem hi-jinks, sauciness, action, comedy, pop-culture references, big boobs and a bumper helping of hope.
One of my favourite shows gets even better with this Funimation release, and that’s even before I get a chance to watch it on Blu-ray. All of the things that Manga Entertainment cocked up with their DVD release aren’t an issue at all on Funimation’s discs. The authoring is just as you would expect, with episodes adequately chaptered, Japanese audio on the necessary extras, and the image quality so much better. Most importantly of all, all of the important dialogue and text that needs to be translated, subtitled and captioned is so. Manga’s release was broken. This one isn’t.