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Anime / The Cat Returns

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"If you find yourself troubled by something mysterious, or a problem that's hard to solve, there's a place you can go where you'll always find help..."

A sort-of sequel to Whisper of the Heart conceived as a story written by the protagonist of the previous film, The Cat Returns (Neko no Ongaeshi, literally "The Cats Repay a Favor") tells a similar Coming of Age Story tale about Haru, a high-school girl learning to take confidence in her own abilities. Directed by Hiroyuki Morita in his directorial debut and written by Reiko Yoshida, it was released on July 20, 2002.

An average day for Ordinary High-School Student Haru Yoshioka (Chizuru Ikewaki) turns weird when she rescues a cat carrying a parcel from being run over by a truck... only for the cat to get up on his hind legs, bow to her, and thank her. Things get weirder when the Cat King (Tetsuro Tanba) and a cotillion of courtiers shows up in the middle of the night to thank Haru for saving the life of the King's only son, Prince Lune (Takayuki Yamada), and to offer her gifts to repay the debt. Unfortunately, their ideas of "gifts" (planting cattails in her backyard and filling her locker at school with live mice in boxes) cause Haru nothing but trouble... and then she learns they want her to marry Prince Lune!

Fortunately, it seems a few of the cats really are on Haru's side: she receives an offer of help from the "Cat Bureau," a trio of do-gooders consisting of a portly feline named Muta (Tetsu Watanabe), a living crow gargoyle named Toto (Yosuke Saito), and a handsome cat figurine called Baron Humbert von Gikkingen (Yoshihiko Hakamada). Just in time, as well, because Haru soon finds herself whisked off to the Cat Kingdom by a veritable army of felines! Even with the help of Muta and Baron, it'll take all the courage and wit that Haru can muster if she plans to get out of this mess.

Not to be confused with The Cat Came Back.

The Cat Returns provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Accidental Misnaming: Haru accidentally calls the Baron's portly associate Muta "Buta",note  to his annoyance. This gag is kept in the dub by having Haru call him "Moo-ta", invoking the cow sound. She also calls him "Fatso" at several points.
  • Adaptation Distillation: The original manga is quite different, although not unrecognizably so. Some character designs are changed, the story of the kingdom isn't touched on, and The Baron does not threaten to destroy it.
  • Aerith and Bob: "Von Gikkingen". Placenames ending with "-ingen" are quite common in southwestern Germany and a noble family "von Gickingen" (in the correct German spelling) did actually exist. It still sounds a little bit ridiculous though.
  • An Aesop: "Always believe in yourself. Do this and no matter where you are, you will have nothing to fear." See Lost Aesop for a few others that aren't so explicit.
  • After-School Cleaning Duty: Haru trades cleaning duties with a friend so that she can attend a ping pong match.
  • Alternate Universe: The Baron, who is just a prop in Whisper of the Heart (albeit a very important one) is a major supporting character in this one. Justified as the protagonist of the first story is supposed to be the author of the second, though you wouldn't actually know that unless you've read the manga.note 
  • Animals Lack Attributes:
    • Though it's already an obvious (and intentional) case here, there are some noticeable cases in a few characters where it seems to be just hidden. Muta, for example, has tufts of hair hanging between his rear legs.
    • Played for Laughs with the knife-thrower's lovely assistant. When the knife (or in this case, squid) was thrown in the target, it missed her (of course) but not the straps on what she was wearing, causing it to fall off where afterwards, she covers her chest and runs away crying. Which is weird because not only are many of the cats bare-chested anyway, that's not where they're supposed to go at all.
  • Another Dimension: The Cat Kingdom.
  • Arranged Marriage: The king tried to wed Haru to Lune. But when he found out that Lune already wanted to marry Yuki, he has no objection at all and is very happy for his son. So he tries to get Haru to marry him.
  • Art Evolution: The Baron noticably has a slightly different design then he did in Whisper Of The Heart, the most noticable differences being that he has more cat like eyes than he did in Whisper of the Heart (who had human looking eyes) and lighter fur around his face as opposed to it all being one color ala Whisper of the Heart, the slightly darker patch of fur patch on the top of his muzzle is also absent. This can be justified in universe by Shizuku changing and refining the design over time.
  • Badass Normal: Muta. In the original manga, he mopped the floor with the entire King's army, twice. The animated version severely toned him down and he still kicked butt.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Haru makes the mistake of musing out loud to a Literal-Minded Cat Kingdom resident that it'd be great to be a cat. Guess what happens later in the film?
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Baron Humbert von Gikkingen is a kind, gentle and polite guy, even during the middle of a fight. But if you get him really pissed off... he'll not think twice before destroying the world and everyone on it.
  • Be Yourself: The Baron's advice to Haru. Or else you're gonna turn into a cat.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: The Cat Kingdom honestly doesn't understand why Haru is so unhappy. After all, they all agreed that mice, cattails, catnip, and other such presents are marvelous gifts to repay her for saving their prince's life. And since he's the best catch in the whole kingdom, she should be thrilled at the chance to marry him. What's that? She's not a cat? That's okay, they took care of it. Oh, she's crying? That's okay, a little entertainment will turn that frown right upside-down!
  • Blush Sticker: Hiromi has a permanent pair.
  • The Call Knows Where You Live: After saving the cat prince, Haru is immediately inundated with cat gifts, and then talking with an envoy from the Cat Kingdom to offer the marriage to the prince. When she goes to the Baron to get help, they find her there right when she's about to leave. This leads to Haru getting swept away to the Cat Kingdom.
  • Cat Girl: Haru is turned into one at one point.
  • Cats Are Magic: And walking on two legs and talking are the least of their abilities.
  • Cats Are Mean: Averted - these cats run the whole personality gamut. The Baron, Yuki, and Prince Lune are all genuinely nice, while Muta is sarcastic and lazy but ultimately an okay guy. The Cat King, on the other hand, is little more than a crazy jerk.
  • Character Development: Haru goes from being a klutzy, awkward, perpetually unlucky Butt-Monkey to a calm, confident, relaxed young woman.
  • Cliff Stack: Thrice over, twice in the maze, once on the tower. Hilarious every time. Muta's accidental body-checking the guards may also qualify.
  • Conspicuously Light Patch : The movable walls in the maze.
  • Cool and Unusual Punishment: Being turned into a Cat Girl, for some.
  • Cool Cat: To an extent, almost every named character in the Cat Kingdom with Muta and the Baron has special mentions.
  • Culture Clash: The cats try to woo Haru with things that, understandably, do not appeal to humans, such as tasty mice and catnip and a garden of cattails (to which Haru is allergic). (Natoru, for his part, profusely apologizes.)
  • Cursed with Awesome:
    • A meta example with Haru's transformation into a Cat Girl. She's upset by this and spends the second half of the film trying to reverse the transformation, whereas many furries would embrace it.
    • Notably, part of the reason for her annoyance with it isn't that she's been turned into a Cat Girl... When she's dancing with Baron, he has to remind her to be herself, because, in her head, she's with this handsome aristocrat who is drop dead gorgeous...
  • Dance of Romance: Between Haru and Baron, with the romance part more, shall we say, evident on Haru's end.
  • Darkest Hour: Haru reaches this once she first puts on her ballroom gown. Her transformation into a cat becomes noticeable, Muta is supposedly dead, Baron is nowhere to be found, and there's no other sign of hope that she will be able to escape the Cat Kingdom. This is also when the Cat King reveals his true colors...
  • Delayed Reaction: Haru doesn't even notice she's turning into a cat until she sees herself in the mirror, and even then it takes her a few moments to process what is happening. But once she does, she completely flips out.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: Played to great effect with the introduction of the Cat King.
    Natori: Please allow me to present, our wise and incredibly magnificent ruler, king of the Cat Kingdom: The Cat King!
  • Destination Defenestration: Don't get the Cat King mad, whether you're performing for him or breaking out in hysterical laughter from another act. (Both victims are tossed through high windows with no glass, but as cats, they're okay, and show up sitting against the wall in a later scene.)
  • Dead to Begin With: In the original manga, all the cats from Cat Kingdom are spirits that chose to stay behind and live on their own private world. It also leads to a small Tearjerker when Haru realizes that her childhood friend Yuki was dead all along. The manga heavily implies that Muta is a spirit as well.
  • Denser and Wackier: The film is already this to Whisper of the Heart; which was much less comedic, was more focused on character drama, and limited its fantasy elements to Shizuku’s novel (which the film is a Defictionalization of). But the film is also denser and wackier than Shizuku’s novel as seen in Whisper of the Heart; having a far more lighthearted and twee tone with tons of comedic moments, as opposed to the more serious and dramatic story that Shizuku was writing.
  • Deus ex Machina: When Haru, Baron, and Muto are trapped by the king's guards at the tower, the section of stairway the guards are standing on randomly collapses. This is lampshaded.
  • Disappeared Dad: Haru lives with her mom, and no mention is made about a father.
  • Dubtitle: Disney's DVD release, unfortunately. Although, Baron is so well cast, it's questionable if that's a bad thing.
  • Dungeon Bypass:
    • How the Baron leads Haru out of a maze. In the original manga, the dungeon was in the bottom of the sky lake that connected Cat Kingdom with the real world, and hence, it was upside down. When Muta attempted to climb onto the walls, normal gravity kicked in and he almost plummeted to his death.
    • Subverted with the maze in the movie. Muta tries to climb onto the walls and walk on top of them to reach the tower, but the guards come along and declare, "HE'S CHEEEEEEEAAATING!"
  • Endless Daytime: Muta said that the Cat Kingdom is always noontime while in the real world, time still goes by normally.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: Not including the epilogue, the film takes place in a span of two-and-a-half days: Haru rescues Prince Lune on the first day, is taken to the Cat Kingdom on the second day, and escapes by the dawn of the third day.
  • The Fair Folk: The cats come off with this vibe throughout the movie, almost verging on Blue-and-Orange Morality.
  • Family Eye Resemblance: Prince Lune's heterochromia is the only clue that he's the son of the Cat King.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: The guests at the Cat King's feast look inspired by the Osman Empire, North Africa, Imperial China, Ancient Egypt, Saudi-Arabia and Old Venice.
  • Fat Bastard:
  • Fisher Kingdom: Haru slowly turns into a cat while staying in the Cat Kingdom.
  • Forced Transformation: After winding up in the Cat Kingdom, Haru begins to turn into a cat herself.
  • Freeze Sneeze: Haru wakes up sneezing the morning after her first visit by the cats. The English dub seems to attribute this to the cattails planted outside her window - she later tells the messenger that she's allergic to them. She doesn't say this (or at least not explicitly) in the Japanese version or in the manga, and as the cattails were planted elsewhere in the manga, it appears she was just cold from her bedclothes being out of place.
  • Funny Animal: Most of the cats walk on two legs (albeit awkwardly) and wear clothes. The royalty, the royal guard, The Baron (whose anatomy is much more human-like), and Muta have much greater poise and balance. In the original manga, only the Baron wears a full suit of clothes, while other cats use little hats and earrings instead.
  • Maybe Ever After: At the end of the movie, Haru admits to the Baron straight out that she's got a crush on him. He doesn't explicitly take her up on it or turn her down.
  • Morphic Resonance: Haru retains her hairstyle in cat form, because her transformation from human to cat wasn't complete yet. The cats don't change her out of her uniform either, just put the ball dress over it.
  • My New Gift Is Lame: Haru receives a huge assortment of gifts from the Cat Kingdom for saving Lune; unfortunately, they amount to things a cat would like (cattails growing outside, pockets laced with catnip, boxes of mice, etc.), along with a ton of lacrosse sticks since she broke Hiromi's during Lune's rescue. And there's the arranged marriage...
  • Never Trust a Trailer: Walt Disney Home Entertainment released the American DVD on the same day as those of Porco Rosso and the uncut Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. Trailers proclaimed that three Hayao Miyazaki movies would become available on that day, but did not admit that he served as executive producer of this film, not director.
  • No Name Given: Well, we do have...
    Natori: Please allow me to present, our wise and incredibly magnificent ruler, king of cat kingdom, The Cat King!
  • Non-Indicative Name: In context to this film coming out in the US before Whisper of the Heart, since audiences would be unfamiliar with The Baron in the first place; however, the Japanese title would be closer translated as "The Cat's Repayment," which makes much more sense even without WOTH to precede it.
  • Non-Mammalian Hair: Some of the male cats in the Cat Kingdom have mustaches and facial hair.
  • Oh, Crap!: Haru when she realizes that she's transformed into a cat.
  • Only Sane Man: Yuki and Prince Lune seem to be this to the whole Cat Kingdom.
  • Our Gargoyles Rock: Toto the crow is identified as one by the Baron. Like him, Toto is alive because his sculptor did the best they could on him.
  • Pimped-Out Dress: Haru wears an Elizabethan-era style gown when at the court of the Cat King.
  • Product Placement: Played for laughs in the movie, as the King's golf equipment's brand is... Puma.
  • Plucky Girl: It's a Ghibli film, it wouldn't be complete without one, although not as much as her Miyazaki counterparts.
  • Recurring Extra: The somewhat indifferent Meganekko, that is seen with Hiromi twice and only speaks a few words. Her name is Chika by the way.
  • Rubber Face: Haru to Natoru.
  • She's a Man in Japan: Natoru is female in the Japanese version. However, Natoru's gender is changed to male in the English dub, given Andy Richter voiced the character.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The movie makes a few obvious references to 1969's film ''Nagagutsu o Haita Neko" (Puss in Boots) which was one of Miyazaki's earliest movies as an animator.
    • When Haru saves the cat from being run over, the license plate on the truck is 1701.
  • Something Else Also Rises: Probably unintentional example, but when Haru is dancing with the disguised Baron, she stares up at him with a rather... special gaze, contemplates to herself about having never felt this sort of feeling before... and whiskers suddenly spring out of her face.
    Haru: (thinking) Maybe being a cat won't be so bad... (cue a Karmic Transformation)
  • Speaks Fluent Animal: Possibly. As a child Haru claimed she could talk to cats, but forgot about this ability as she grew older. After saving Lune, she suddenly rediscovers it. It's left ambiguous as to whether this is actually an ability Haru possesses, or if the cats themselves are secretly able to speak and only show this to certain people. In the case of the Baron and Toto, their speech seems to stem from the fact that they're magical artifacts to begin with.
  • Speech Impediment: As Muta explains, cats talk funny because they can't pronounce the "ph" sound. Haru immediately asks him why he can, but Muta just shrugs it off and asks her to not think too much about these details. This is only present in the manga (they can pronounce "f" just fine - possibly a translation hiccup).
  • Spin-Off: The film is conceived as a novel written by the protagonist of Whisper of the Heart.
  • Standard Hero Reward: Deconstructed throughout the film. For saving the prince of the cat kingdom, Haru is offered his paw in marriage. At first she's hesitant about making a gentle refusal, but the idea of being married to a cat horrifies her. She goes to the Baron for advice on how to get out of this, since the cats don't exactly take "no" for an answer. It also turns out that Prince Lune was in love with another cat, and was in the human world to get a special food for her.
  • Stellar Name: Two for "moon":
    • Renaldo Moon.
    • Prince Lune, whose name is French for "moon".
  • Talking Animal: Muta, The King, and the denizens of the cat world.
  • Tempting Fate: Haru and Muta cannot stop doing this throughout the film, to great effect.
    • Not wanting to hurt the cats' feelings by outright refusing, Haru tries to call off the wedding by saying that he's a cat and she's not, so obviously there's just no way they can marry. Guess what happens next.
    • Muta tries to beat the maze by climbing on top of it. When Haru calls him out for cheating, he sarcastically asks if she thinks he'll get in trouble? Cue a troop of guards marching up and the captain yelling, "He's cheating!"
    • As soon as they beat the maze, Haru and the others celebrate their success and cheerfully exclaim that she'll be home in no time. Cue the Cat King blowing the tower up.
  • That Poor Cat: The movie was asking for this one anyway. It shows up twice during the maze scene. The first when they topple over the fake wall-bearing cats (complete with commentary on how stupid it was for them to line up like dominoes) and the second when the heroes climb over each and every one on the way to the tower.
  • Thinking Up Portals: The cats use portals during the abduction of Haru to shake von Gikkingen, Muta, and Toto, and to travel to the Cat Kingdom.
  • Traumatic Haircut: In the manga, Haru starts out with medium-length hair. The first morning after she starts transforming into a cat, some cats sneak up behind her with a giant pair of scissors as she's waking up and chop several inches off, explaining that doing so makes her look more like a cat. Her hair does not revert to its original length after she returns to the real world.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Muta and Toto, who bicker every second they're onscreen together but seem willing to work together when needed.
  • The Walls Have Eyes: The castle is surrounded by floating eyeballs, which serve as surveillance for the king.
  • Wardrobe Malfunction: In the second entertainment act in the Cat Kingdom, a female assistant is chained to a wooden board, while a knive-throwing cat throws sharp fish bones at her, but this causes her bikini top to be chopped off, exposing her flat chest to everyone. She immediately covers herself up and runs off sobbing. She's a cat, so there is nothing inappropriate shown, and this scene is played as a joke.
  • Wham Line: "You're half-cat already."
  • You Don't Look Like You:
    • The Baron had at least three different designs in each of his appearances in Whisper of the Heart and in the manga of The Cat Returns, including its film. Thought the first film's Baron and the second film's Baron had some resemblance to each other, his design in the manga where he had all-black fur with a snappy tuxedo to match, was quite the contrast. Baron's design for this film seems to be the most well-known.
    • Toto, in the manga, was a magpie.
    • Prince Lune was an earring-wearing tabby cat in the manga. In the movie he's a sleek-looking black cat with mismatched eyes.
  • Your Approval Fills Me with Shame: Baron and Haru saying that Muta is actually a good person deep down upsets him.