Bandai // 2001 // 60 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // May 5th, 2005
The Cat that Would Be Queen
Taruto, a cute little cat, has just moved to a new home. Her master, Iori, lives with his older sister and her daughter / his niece, Kinako. As with any major upheaval in life, Taruto is a little wary of her newfound circumstances. Fortunately, she runs into neighborhood felines Charlotte and Chitose, who determine to show her the local ropes. It's going to be tough getting used to a fresh set of surroundings, but Taruto seems skilled at making the best of every situation. After all, she's magical.
Magical? Why yes. It seems that Taruto is the long-lost princess of the Ganache kingdom, a realm where cats possess special powers. Taruto is slightly aware of her unique abilities, but has no real control over them. Over the course of the three episodes included on this Volume 1 DVD, we learn that the pleasures and pitfalls of a new environment are not the only things to be wary of. Apparently, there are forces after Taruto, both good and evil, who know of her regal linage and want it for their own, unknown devices. The adventures on Magical Meow Meow Taruto include the following storylines:
* "Beginning, Beginning"
Taruto explores her new home, convinced that there is a ghost -- or worse, a monster -- living within its walls.
* "Blossom, Blossom"
A sad neighbor man tells Taruto that he hopes his garden will bloom with kittens this spring. Taruto tries to make it happen.
* "Long, Long Ago"
A battle over a vacant lot, a secret place for both cat and human alike, leads to the discovery of the locations noble past.
It may indicate a level of advanced wussiness to admit it, but Magical Meow Meow Taruto is strangely affecting. At first, when our petite little anime chick is cuddling up to her owner's crotch, day dreaming of the day they will be married and settle down as husband and feline wife, your skin does start to crawl, if just a little. After all, the notion that we see these creatures as doe-eyed adolescents (the humans in the series only see them as cats) with high-pitched panting voices does suggest we're in hentai, not anime country. But make no mistake about it, Magical Meow Meow Taruto is completely wholesome in its approach and narrative. The odd human/cat concept aside, this is a wonderful series. The DVD represents the first volume -- three 22-minute episodes included -- of what should end up being a four-volume run (the series, based on a story serialized in Monthly Ultra Jump (Shueisha) and animated by Madhouse Studios, ran for 12 installments in Japan). And from what we have here, there is something both sweet and evocative in store for these special animal friends.
The storytelling here is intricate, without being confusing. Divergent narrative strands, some from the royalty story, some merely occurring as part of everyday happenstance, are woven together flawlessly, without once leading to bewilderment or disorder. And although it packs a great deal of exposition in each short episode, the pace never seems rushed. Indeed, Magical Meow Meow Taruto has a languid, luxuriant feel. A lot of this comes from a directorial desire to take a moment away from the forward drive of the plot and simply let beautiful animated images and soft, soothing music float by and fill up the screen. Once you accept Taruto and her friends as animals (their pixie-ish presence does make it hard at first), you really start enjoying the social customs and pecking order problems between the species. Magical Meow Meow Taruto does that one thing that is essential for successful fantasy: It creates its own private universe, and never once violates its codes or conceits.
Otherwise, this is just a simple story of friendship and fun. The characterization is also basic while still being believable. Taruto's owner, the teen boy Iori, is a wannabe chef (or maybe he just has a very distinguished palate). He is obsessed with foods and recipes (part of initial storylines revolve around candy and yams, of all things). His niece Kinako is portrayed as an obvious tomboy, more at ease using her butt-kicking skills with a potential paramour than any of her coquettish feminine wiles. From the villainous obsession of Miss Anzuko (she demands that Taruto be part of her animal menagerie) to the evil presence in the spooky old estate on the hill (who is never explained in these first few episodes), Magical Meow Meow Taruto paints its personalities fairly broad.
Even the humanized animals are carved out of certain concepts (Taruto, a klutz with a good heart; Charlotte as serious and proud; Chitose as kind and considerate). If there is a standout, it has to be Kakipi, the demented little flying squirrel who has absolute faith in Taruto's regal heritage. Manic to the point of passion, he gives the series a great deal of energy and, oddly enough, dignity. While everyone else is putting on airs, he is steadfast in his beliefs.
As for the stories themselves, it's amazing how quickly they get under your skin and into your secret sappy sensibilities. "Beginning, Beginning" is more set up than straightforward story (it is required to introduce far too many characters and circumstances), but once "Blossom, Blossom" arrives, Taruto is ready to roll out the emotion. The story of the poor man who's lost his family, and his feline friends, is heart-tugging without being cloying, and the legend of the old cat who sacrifices herself for the life of a child (and the physical well-being or her fellow paw pals) at the core of "Long, Long Ago" is deeply moving.
Of course, it could also be corny and unbearably saccharine. But thanks to the efforts of creator Kaishaku and director Tsukasa Sunaga, the epic instead of the syrupy is mined from this material. The artwork helps to keep us from adorable overdose, and the use of subtle, almost tone poem like music really helps to hinder any blatant banality. This is by no means a masterpiece of a presentation, but over the course of this DVD's 60 minutes, you'll find yourself anxious to learn what happens to this cat who would be queen, and her fun, furry friends.
Bandai does a wonderful job with the DVD presentation. While the extras are a little lax, everything else here is first rate. In the context department, we get trailers, a couple of crazy music videos (featuring the Japanese voice actresses singing songs from the show...in cat outfits), and a textless opening for the show, which allows us to see the introduction to each episode without a lot of gratuitous writing. The enclosed pamphlet gives us some basic information on each show, as well as character bios of our feline trio.
The rest of the technical specs are excellent. The 1.33:1 full screen image is colorful and clear, with nary a defect in sight. The animation is both fluid and highly stylized, and the transfer represents both with bold, beautiful strokes. On the sound side, the Dolby Digital Stereo mix is decidedly high ended, but there is no shrillness, tinniness, or distortion to be found. Oddly enough, this is one translated anime where the English version is just as good as the original Japanese. The voice acting is appropriate and doesn't make the fatal mistake of falling into slang or dumb derivations just to preach to a Western mindset.
While it may seem that this show is aimed at the My Little Pony, Strawberry Shortcake crowd, don't be put off by frills and or the cutesy. Magical Meow Meow Taruto may make "dog" people roll over and play dead, but those who understand the ethereal, mystical attraction of the feline will definitely purr with gratitude over this striking, emotionally sound show.
Review content copyright © 2005 Bill Gibron; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Japanese)
Running Time: 60 Minutes
Release Year: 2001
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Two Music Videos
* Textless Opening for the Series
* Official Site