Anime Spotlight: Cat Shit One
Online for another week
Available on DVD and Blu-ray from anima, Inc. / IDA, Inc
With an expletive in its name and that image of American soldiers as bunny rabbits, Cat Shit One has the dead-halt audacity that counts for a lot in the internet age.
Cat Shit One began with Motofumi Kobayashi's manga chronicling Botasky, Packy and Rats, otherwise known as the recon team "Cat Shit One" during their service in the Vietnam War. A pun prompted the American armed forces to be depicted as anthropomorphized rabbits. USA GI = usagi, Japanese for rabbits. The Vietnamese were depicted as cats. Japanese as primates. Koreans as dogs. Russians as bears. Chinese as pandas. French as pigs. English as rats and so on. This survey of the conflict went three volumes, which ADV released in North America as "Apocalypse Meow." In 2008, Kobayashi followed this up with Cat Shit One '80, in which the group gets involved with various terrorist incidents, the Iran hostage situation and cold war proxy conflicts.
Now, Kazuya Sasahara has begun adapting Cat Shit One as a CG animated series, featuring variants of Packy and Botasky in post Cold Wars Middle Eastern conflicts. The first episode features the pair serving as private military contractors in an operation to rescue hostage from camel Arabs.
What's essential to recognize about it, is that Cat Shit One is not Maus. It's not Watership Down. It's not a fable. Though Cat Shit One the manga and Cat Shit One the anime are for different sorts, both are for military enthusiasts.
The manga is for war history geeks. It's full of dates, maps, tactical diagrams and foot notes. The narrative is a sense of what the conflict was like and its story is shaped to cover a great deal of its scope.
Cat Shit One '80 was no different. It embellishes on the lives of the CSO team, and there's firefights, but it's mostly jumping around, describing why and how gunfire was being exchanged in 1980: geopolitics, counterterroist infiltration diagrams, hijacking routes and the like.
The new Cat Shit One animation is not like the manga. The extent of the offered context is the opening sentences informing the audience that following the end of the cold war, some veterans took work in the employ of private military companies. Antithetical to the character of the manga, no year or nation is specified. And, what follows is shooting and not history.
It's not Rambo or Hurt Locker or like conflict movies from any decade either.
What the animated Cat Shit One resembles is a modern warfare video game. Packy and Botasky go in, quip, move like highly trained forces, and kill a score of adversaries. There's an objective: rescue the hostages and stay alive long enough for everyone to be extracted. There's a battle field. There's even cover mechanics. Avoiding real politics or events, the adversaries are just there to kill the protagonists. When more armed Arab camels arrive by truck, it's as if the game was spawning them in.
The appeal is still drawing from the viewer's military enthusiasm, whether that's Botasky's pride in his gun, Packy screwing on a silencer or cutting a throat, or the pair making a tactical run through a battle field. More than any character or plot driven moment, a scene like Packy firing off an RPG is supposed to be a high spot.
What sets Cat Shit One apart from video game cut scenes is the novelty of seeing rabbit soldiers kill camels. That starts up a unique dynamic. It's not as if they're hopping like bunnies. I'm not a military buff, but it looks like there's an attention to details here that suggests trying to capture reality. I can't say whether it succeeds or whether someone who knows the subject better than I would be rolling their eyes or pulling out there hair. I can say that the impression is often intended to be of highly trained, heavily armed soldiers and not rabbits. It's not that the novelty of the rabbits and the details of the military action are at odds with each other, so much as that there is no justification offered as to why they should be complementary. The mind volleys between the two notions... it's Peter Cotton Tail goes to war... it's a CG rendering of fire arm tactics... back and forth.
The appeal of the animated Cat Shit One is seeing the violent demonstration of military details. It certainly isn't G.I Joe. There isn't that much military animation produced, and especially not much like this, but, I don't think its landing in that near empty niche counts for much
Cat Shit One has the novelty of rabbit as soldiers, but for viewers who aren't military enthusiasts, I don't see much of note beyond that novelty. There's none of the history of the manga and little varnish of character or narrative. For the Call of Duty fans, the novelty of the rabbits will set the CG animated work apart from cut scenes, but I'm not sure that that's enough. In the scheme of all entertainment competing for an audience's attention and money, I'm not convinced that being one of the only military animated series, and being a novel one at that is enough to draw from a crowd all ready well served by video game. It'd would have to be transcendant and not just an eye drawing curiosity and Cat Shit One is not transcendant.
Cat Shit One has long tried to interest international audiences. Pre-2000, the manga had English excerpts online. This anime made its presence known to international audiences/market early in its production cycle, then offered the first episode on Youtube for two weeks, while being sold on DVD/Blu-ray. In theory, success of the first episode will fund more. Specially as a fan of Japanese animation, I'd like to see this quirky, internationally minded endeavor snow ball. The problem is, I suspect that what's here doesn't go beyond a passed around link to a trailer featuring armed rabbits under the sweary title "Cat Shit One." At it's core, it's a lot like Afro Samurai: an attention flagging incongruous bundle that makes for an interesting action figure. In this case, the novelty might sell those figures, but the anime itself lacks the sustaining "you have to check this out!" appeal of the snap shot. Unlikely to grab either the military interested or uninterested, Cat Shit One doesn't seem liable to break out beyond that widely linked to trailer.