The Good Cartoon – Oruorane the Cat Player / Neko Hiki no Oruorane (1992 – Dir: Mizuho Nishikubo)

I’ve often heard many praises sung towards the OVA scene of Japanese animation in the 1980s and 90s. Yes, there were plenty of forgotten stinkers from that era, but there’s something about how creative and experimental these short films were that I can’t help but admire. If there’s one example that demonstrates what an OVA could be at its finest, I think it would have to be Mizuho “Toshihiko” Nishikubo’s Oruorane the Cat Player.

An adaptation of the manga by famed writer Baku Yumemakura, Oruorane is the story of a young, unemployed cellist who stumbles across an old man with an astonishing gift: the ability to play music with a trio of cats. Dumbfounded and curious, he strikes up a friendship with the man and his cats, and learns to play music with them.

In just about every aspect of its production, Oruorane is a beautifully cozy short to experience. The backgrounds are gorgeously drawn and rendered with warm, inviting colours. The pacing is deliberate, frequently taking the time to appreciate the world around the characters and getting the cellist to appreciate it as well. The sound design never becomes too loud or overwhelming, with pleasingly calm background music that sounds like it fell right out of Dark Cloud. In other words, it’s the perfect short to relax and perhaps even fall asleep to.

But then there’s the scenes where the old man and the young cellist play the cats, and this is where things really come alive. There are only two sequences, but each has an entirely different exploration of the same concept – using the power of music to transport the listeners to a new world. This is an idea that animation is excellent at exploring (another example would be the opening of Isao Takahata’s Gauche the Cellist), and one that Oruorane takes full advantage of.

The first performance is a serene, almost reverential hymn in which the cats’ music takes the listeners to a tranquil lakeside – initially distant from the old man, but eventually joining him in their reverie. Meanwhile, the second performance is a free-wheeling acapella rock sequence, and the artstyle drastically changes to a simplified carefree appearance that visually expresses the upbeat, optimistic mood of the music.

Despite the sparse number of in-universe musical performances, the quality of their direction and performance makes them the most memorable sections by far both stylistically and emotionally. If you’ve seen anything from Oruorane prior to reading this article, it’s most likely either of these scenes. However, they are best seen within the context of the film, to really understand and appreciate what they’re trying to do.

Indeed, the film is only half an hour long, and was subtitled into English some years back by Orphan Fansubs. So there’s really no reason not to give it a look if you’re interested and you’ve got time. It’s one of my favourite anime films, and I highly recommend it.

(As an aside, some of Baku Yumemakura’s short stories have received animated adaptations, most notably through the OVA anthology Twilight Theatre For more information, check out this overview by Ben Ettinger:

Special thanks to Matty Prower for suggesting I try to write this article one bored evening.

FrDougal9000 writes for as Apollo Chungus. When he isn’t writing about video games, he is cultivating his love of animation that’s only increased over the last few years as he’s explored the wide, weird and wonderful world of the medium.

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