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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.

An average day for Ordinary High-School Student Haru 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 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, 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, a living crow statue named Toto, and a handsome cat figurine called the Baron. 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.
  • 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 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Awesome Mc Coolname: Baron Humbert von Gikkingen, and Renaldo Moon aka Muta
  • Badass Adorable: Haru. It takes guts to run into traffic with a lacrosse stick to rescue a cat from becoming roadkill, and succeed. Later on, she stands up to the Cat King when he tries to propose to her, after nearly forcing her to marry his son.
  • 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.
  • Baleful Polymorph: After winding up in the Cat Kingdom, Haru begins to turn into a cat herself.
  • 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?
  • Be Yourself: The Baron's advice to Haru. Or else you're gonna turn into a cat.
  • 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.
  • Big Eater: Muta, who clears a whole plate of cakes in seconds. Up to Eleven when, under the name "Renaldo Moon", devoured all the fishes in a lake in the Cat Kingdom, which made him so infamous that he is mentioned in their historical frescos.
  • Blue and Orange Morality: The Cat Kingdom honestly doesn't understand why Haru is so unhappy. After all, they all agreed that mice, foxtails, 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.
  • Butt-Monkey: The beginning shows Haru having bad things happen to her, including getting to school late, being humiliated in front of her classmastes, and generally being clumsy. And then she rescues a cat and everything goes to hell.
  • The Caligula: The Cat King, who's quite insane. He throws people out of windows for liking acts that he doesn't like, among various other despotic acts (it turns out, that the cat chucked out of the window survived the fall and ends up sulking at the wall).
  • 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.
  • Cheshire Cat Grin / Slasher Smile: The Cat King sports one or the other very often, most notable being when he goes to see Haru after she first arrives (A) and when he blew up the tower (B).
  • Clever Crows: Portrayed positively, for a change. In the manga Toto is specifically stated to be a magpie, but he loses his white markings for the film.
    • Toto summons a gigantic flock of ravens for Haru to walk down after she returns back to her world.
  • 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.
  • Cool Old Guy: The Cat King. Well, at least he tried to be one..."babe."
  • 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...
  • 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...
  • Deadly Decadent Court: Played for Laughs.
  • 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.
    • Nightmare Fuel sets in when realizing that Haru almost turns into a cat to stay there.
  • 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, Dub!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.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: For as much of a jerk the Cat King is to everyone else, he loves his son and respects his wishes to marry Yuki rather than Haru.
  • Everything's Better with Princesses: Inverted, as Haru's life got worse when the Cat Kingdom made her princess. She reaches her Darkest Hour once she tries on the ballroom gown.
  • Evil Chancellor: Subverted. It's more than evident that Natori is the real power behind the Cat Kingdom's throne. He may look a bit shady and untrusty at a first glance, but actually he is...
    • The Good Chancellor: Natori is a great person entirely devoted to the Cat Kingdom's well being and is extremely loyal to the Cat King, despite his Lord's wacky hijinks and temper tantrums. When the defeated Cat King gives up his throne on favor of his son, Natori shows his loyalty by immediately giving up his own seat of power as well.
  • Extreme Doormat: A lot of Haru's trouble with the cats comes from her inability to tell them firmly but politely "no." She grows out of this later in the film.
  • 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:
  • Fish Eyes: One of the Cat King's eyes sometimes fall under this.
  • Fisher Kingdom: Haru slowly turns into a cat while staying in the Cat Kingdom.
  • Four-Man Band: The Cat Bureau forms one:
  • Freeze Sneeze/Plot Allergy: 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.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar:
    • In the English dub, Muta tells Toto to go and "fry" himself. Of course, he says this right after calling him a "chicken." (Get it? Fried chicken?)
    • A knife-thrower accidentally removes the top of his assistant, causing her to cover up her (non-revealing) chest and run out of the room in shame.
  • Glowing Eyes of Doom: Baron in the Manga. If you value your kingdom or your hide, don't piss him off!
  • Humanoid Female Animal: Justified with Haru, as her transformation into a cat was a gradual one.
  • Iconic Outfit: Both Haru's school outfit and ballroom gown are this, the latter of which is especially notable since she only wears it for a brief moment.
  • Imagine Spot: Haru has a brief one about being declared "cat husband and wife," in the traditional Japanese style. She lets out a Big "NO!" about it. Probably since it was the wrong cat that was the husband...
  • Important Haircut: Haru, at the end.
  • Ink-Suit Actor: Apparently unintentional for the character designers in regards to the English dub, because they may not have based the Cat King off Tim Curry himself.
  • Involuntary Shapeshifting: Haru briefly turns into a Cat Girl after she travels to the Cat Kingdom.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: It takes a while for Muta's softer side to show up, but he definitely has one.
  • Jive Turkey: In the English dub, the king is a mild case, probably to let him look more casual.
  • Karmic Transformation: For Haru after rescuing a cat and later being forcefully taken to the Cat Kingdom.
  • Kind Hearted Cat Lover: Haru.
  • Knife-Throwing Act: One is performed in the Court in an attempt to entertain Haru. It doesn't go well.
  • Large Ham: The Cat King, voiced by TIM CURRY in the dub.
  • Late for School: Though the Call to Adventure doesn't come until Haru is on her way home.
  • Lennon Specs: The king's adviser, Natori, wears one with green lenses.
  • Lighter and Softer: The film compared to the manga. Not that this is a bad thing.
  • Living Statue: The Baron and Toto the raven, both Creations given souls by their creators.
  • Loophole Abuse: Poor Haru tries to invoke this regarding her Arranged Marriage to their prince, Lune. After all, he's a cat and she's not, so that means they can't marry, right?
  • Lost Aesop: Believe in your abilities? No good deed goes unpunished? Don't marry talking cats? It's all rather vague.
  • Love Imbues Life: The Baron's explanation for how statues like himself and Toto come to life.
  • Luminescent Blush: Haru, when the Baron carries her to the portal and looks at her face.
  • Magic Skirt: Well, it IS a Ghibli film...
  • Master Swordsman: Baron not only takes out about five guards with just his cane, but later breaks the Cat King's jewel crown and shaves the lower half of his body in one move.
  • 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.
  • Meaningful Name: We have a beautiful white cat named "Yuki" whose name can be Japanese for "snow".
  • 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.
  • Pimped-Out Dress: Haru wears an Elizabethan-era style gown when at the court of the Cat King.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: Natori tries to convince the King not to blow up the tower because it will ruin his approval rating.
  • 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.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Prince Lune is clearly of a sounder mind than his father is, and steps in to take action when his father takes things just a tad too far.
  • 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.
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning: Baron, in the original manga.
  • Rubber Face: Haru to Natoru.
  • Shared Unusual Trait: The king and Lune have Mismatched Eyes.
  • 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.
  • 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).
  • Spell My Name with a "The": Fans of this movie (or if his name is going to be used in a sentence) would often times call Baron, "The Baron". Nobody really called him by his first name, "Humbert". In-Universe, he's not mentioned by first name explicitly except when he introduces himself. However, Baron himself didn't insist anybody to spell his name with the "the" and is okay to be simply called "Baron".
  • 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.
  • State Sec: Lune has his own personal guard, loyal only to him.
  • 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.
  • Teleporters and Transporters: The cats use portals during the abduction of Haru to shake von Gikkingen, Muta, and Toto, and to travel to the Cat Kingdom.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Wham Line: " You're half-cat already."
  • You Got Spunk: Muta is rather impressed with Haru mouthing off the Cat King, and states "I admire a woman with spirit. You've got yourself an ally in me, kid."
  • 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. Though WOTH!Baron and TCR!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. TCR!Baron's design 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.


Example of: