This review contains spoilers.
Initially set to be released in Japanese theaters, anime film A Whisker Away released in mid-June on Netflix. It delivers a lovely mix of summer whimsy and a coming of age story. Directed by Junichi Satoh and Tomotake Shibayama, A Whisker Away tells the story of Miyo Sasaki, a young girl who has a bright personality, and her friends. Underneath her bright personality though, lies pain that Miyo purposefully hides from her friends and family.
Anime films often deliver on several fronts, whether that is in the comedy and drama presented or the character arcs that might appear. In that respect, A Whisker Away tells a story that has several intermingling themes present. The basic premise of the film is this: Miyo is an energetic girl at school and home. She’s secretly in love with her classmate Kento Hinode. She tries to get his attention in several ways, but he doesn’t take much notice of her. She is offered the chance to become a cat by a magical cat mask seller and she takes it. Realizing that this is one way to get close to Hinode, she quickly starts visiting him. But as we know from The Little Mermaid, making magical deals never ends how you expect it to.
Miyo makes a magical deal
Essentially, Miyo has made a deal with the mask seller that allows her to turn into a cat temporarily. But if she doesn’t confess her feelings to Hinode soon, she’ll be a cat forever. There are other details to the deal, but I don’t want to spoil the ending!
A Whisker Away takes this magical premise and delivers a very emotional story in it’s 1 hour and 44 minute runtime. We see a narrative that explores Miyo’s pain at being abandoned by her mother and feeling generally unloved by those around her. The story is littered with whimsical moments, like Miyo’s transformations from girl to cat. But there’s a strong emotional center that binds the film together. That being said, there are certain beats of the story that can drag on long. Like when Miyo and Hinode have a very awkward reunion later on in the film.
Miyo must come to terms with the pain she feels as well as recognizing that she can reach out to her friends and family for help. This is a theme that is explored through the idea of escapism. Miyo uses turning into a cat to escape from her life for short periods. But over the length of the movie, the sadness she feels only grows more. Eventually, she does come face to face with her feelings in a confrontation.
Stunning animation by Studio Colorido
In addition to a stirring story, A Whisker Away’s animation is gorgeous. The animation serves the story with beautiful details and vibrancy. It manages to capture the summer season on screen and brings to life some of the real world magic of the season. Studio Colorido was behind the animation of the film and their sensational work helps breathe life into the story. Also known for Pokemon Twilight Wings and the forthcoming Burn the Witch film, Studio Colorido captured summer and a magical world of cats in a way that reflects Miyo’s struggles.
With a conclusion to Miyo’s story that is heartwarming and optimistic, A Whisker Away delivers a mix of laughable moments, strong character exploration, and a moving story. A story that explores the importance of processing negative emotions and what growing up can be, the film is one to give a chance. While the film can drag at moments, the earnestness in the story can still be felt throughout.