Cat Shit One
Number of Episodes: 12
Production Company: Studio Anima
Brief Overview: Sergeant "Packy" Perkins and Private "Bota" Botasky are two military rabbits on a mission to resolve a hostage crisis in this mashup of cute characters and military tactics.
Episode Summary: Packy and Botasky are on a mission to rescue three hostages from an enemy group in the valley below. The situation turns violent, and with reinforcements half an hour away at best, Packy decides to go up against more than fifty enemies by himself, with Bota playing backup by sniping from above. Packy's tactical know-how proves superior, until Bota's location is discovered and he's forced to come into the fray. Though the hostages are rescued from imprisonment, it's a long trek back into the desert South of town to meet the helicoper, and one of the hostages is injured. Packy offers to go it alone just to buy Bota and the others some time.
Bota and the hostages escape and then signal the rescue copter, just as things turn explosive back in town. Packy suddenly finds himself greatly outnumbered due to enemy reinforcements, and it's only a timely save by Bota that keeps him from getting killed. The two try to defend themselves as the enemy surrounds them, but are rescued by their own helicopter which arrives at just the right time to take out the bad guys and pick up the two soldiers.
Thoughts: While I've been anticipating this show since seeing the first trailer months and months ago, I had very little idea of what to really expect from it. Many people can attest to the aversion I have towards crummy CG talking animal movies, but from the beginning this seemed like something a bit different; more "Watership Down" than "Madagascar." The one thing I really couldn't pin down was the tone. Was this supposed to be a satirical or critical look at the War in the Middle East? Or would the creators play it completely straight, leaving out specific details to focus on action? After watching episode one, I get the feeling that the second scenario is probably the more accurate one. While this is a bit disappointing, there's also no getting by the fact that this episode excels as an action piece.
There's very little introduction provided before shots are fired; from the brief opening onward, most of the episode is an edge-of-your-seat affair based almost entirely around Packy being outnumbered and somehow having the brains and the guts to overpower and subdue all the enemies in his way with what appears to be minimal effort. The fight choreography and editing are coupled together well, and one has barely enough time to take a quick breath before Packy pops another camel in the back of the head or Bota pulls off another successful snipe. I found myself especially impressed by the level of tension the episode was able to maintain, especially considering that there's really very little question about whether the two main characters are going to survive (spoiler: they both do). This is, truth be told, one of the closest analogues to the standard American action flick that I've seen since Black Lagoon, and while the anime adaptation of Rei Hiroe's manga is clearly superior, in no small part due to its ensemble cast of interesting characters, Cat Shit One does manage to give action junkies a brief fix.
One thing that's bothered me since I first learned of the show, though, is that I'm left questioning the choice to cast cute animals in the roles of military personnel. I think that, if utilized correctly, the creators could have cultivated a delicious sense of dissonance between the big-eyed, fluffy protagonists and the brutal violence taking place all around them, but that doesn't seem to be the goal here. Most if not all the violence is completely bloodless, the enemies dropping to the ground like baddies in an Old West film. There's certainly some novelty in witnessing a fuzzy rabbit twist a silencer onto his handgun or fire an RPG, but this in itself is more humorous than thought-provoking; the viewer is more likely to giggle at how "wrong" the juxtaposition of cute elements with violent acts is than to be compelled to seriously consider why that choice would be made in the first place. The only really solid hypothesis that I can come up with is that computer animation is still woefully incompetent at rendering believable human figures; the medium is just much better suited to the portrayal of characters whose facial expressions are much simpler and who aren't likely to fall into the so-called "uncanny valley."
I'm also a bit put off that the characters weren't given a bit more development. Sure, there's some minimal introduction; Packy is clearly the hardened leader, Bota the greenhorn, more concerned with the fanciness of his rifle at times and not truly aware of the danger of the situation (until he's spotted). But beyond that there are very few tidbits left to help endear the characters to us. I'm guessing that there was a certain urgency in the production of this show, because even just the release of the first episode seemed to have been plagued by delays, and the likelihood of more episodes has been called into question. I suppose that, if faced with just one chance to prove their worth, it makes sense that the production staff would have chosen to entice fans with flash and excitement rather than slow moments of character introspection. But that doesn't mean I can't mourn its exclusion.
The visuals in the episode are truly a high point, especially the way in which the background scenery is realized. I don't honestly know how challenging it is to render sand using computer graphics, but the craggy rocks, crumbling brick homes, clouds and smoke are all very convincing in their realism. The CG is also used to very good ends portraying some impressive camera angles; there's one point near the end when the rescue helicopter shoots some missiles at the enemy trucks, and the camera angle is somewhere behind and above the helicopter, providing some great feelings of exhilaration. The characters perhaps don't quite live up to that standard. I get the impression that many of their movements were done using motion capture, and that part doesn't bother me exactly, but their facial movements while speaking are too rubbery somehow, and the texture of the fur on their bodies feels too uniform. The combination of the elements makes it feel as if the characters aren't really animals, but humans in mascot suits, and it can be distracting at times.
Flawed and shallow as it might be, however, the first episode is tons of fun and filled with action that combines the best elements of popcorn action flicks with dashes of flavor from various first-person shooters. I'd like to see some expansion of the character dynamics should the series continue; while I "get" that the characters are meant to play off of each-other's opposite personalities, I think that they could be fleshed-out individually a bit more, to the show's benefit. Japan also seems to have a preoccupation with cute-for-cute's-sake, and while there's nothing wrong with that and the show certainly stands out because of its characters, I would also be really impressed to see that element explored a bit more in potential future installments.
- The action is non-stop, well-edited and makes the episode very exciting to watch.
- The CG backgrounds are very nice looking, as well as the characters (to some extent).
- This feels like a dip in the kiddy pool - shallow, characters included.
- Of all the angles the show could have taken, it chooses the most generic.
Recommended? Yes, especially for action film fans. It's impressive as a one-shot, whether it remains so as a potential series remains to be seen.