Cat girls. The Japanese invented them.
What distinguishes Japanese “cat girls” from Western anthropomorphized/funny animals in general, is that they are drawn as human with only the animal ears and a tail. Western funny animals, including animalized humans, are drawn with full animal heads and fur (or feathers or scales, if they are bird-men or reptile-men). The first American anime fans were startled by this depiction, but quickly accepted it as a traditional Japanese cultural convention.
The first anime “cat girl” was actually a whole cartoon of “fox people”. In November 1949, director Mitsuya Seo, famous for directing the wartime propaganda animated films Momotaro’s Sea Eagles (1943) and Momotaro’s Divine Sea Warriors (1945), made the 33-minute The King’s Tail (Osama no Shippo) for Nihon Doga, a.k.a. Nihon Manga Eigasha (Japan Cartoon Film Studio). It was a variation of the tale of the Emperor’s New Clothes, about a tailless fox king in a kingdom of anthropomorphized foxes, but the foxes were drawn as humans with only fox ears and tails.
American fans became aware of cat girls during the 1980s, more from direct-to-video releases (Original Anime Videos; OAVs) than from theatrical or TV animation. Most of this animation is adapted from earlier manga. Two of the first anime cat girls were AnnaPuma and UniPuma, the mildly raunchy but very spectacular sisters in Masamune Shirow’s futuristic comedy Dominion: Tank Police. The manga was published in 1985; the first of three anime OAVs came in 1988. AnnaPuma and UniPuma were originally android love dolls that the villain Buaku enhanced with Artificial Intelligence to become his henchgirls. After Buaku disappeared, the authorities decided that the cat girls were not responsible for Buaku’s programming of them, and tried to rehabilitate them by making them members of the Tank Police, with dubious results.
Another early manga and OAV was Johji Manabe’s Outlanders, in 1985-87. Outlanders featured the aliens Princess Kahm and Battia, who looked like cute teenaged girls except that Kahm had a ram’s horns and Battia was a cat girl. Kahm deliberately destroyed Earth all by herself.
In Dragon Half, a warrior knight eloped with the dragon that he was supposed to slay. The result: their daughter Mink, who looked like a normal teenage girl with miniature dragon’s horns, wings growing out of her back, tail, and the ability to breathe fire when she lost her temper. Dragon Half was one of the first anime OAVs licensed for release in America, in 1993 by A.D. Vision. The reason is that the license was very cheap; Dragon Half was such a failure in Japan that the series was cancelled halfway through, so the American fans never found out how the hilarious story ended.
A stand-out cat girl was Pink, in the erotic (we don’t say porno) 1994-95 OAV series Dragon Pink. This was a parody of role-playing games, with the busty but innocent cat girl-slave dragged along on quests by the warrior Santa. Others with Santa included Bobo, an axe-wielding barbarian, and the elf mage Pierce. The adventures usually involved Pink getting captured, stripped nude, bound and molested, while the questers arrived late to rescue her.
Ruin Explorer was a 1995 four-video OAV series, a humorous parody of fantasy treasure-seeking stereotypes. In a world consisting of nothing but crumbling ruined cities, the young women Fam and Ihrie search for the Ultimate Power (which everyone else in that world is also after). Fam looks like a cat girl but is supposed to be a Wiccan sorceress. Ihrie, the dominant one of the pair, is a tomboyish human girl except that she is cursed to turn into a mouse whenever she tries to use magic herself. After a 1998 American release by A.D. Vision, the new distributor Maiden Japan has just (March 2013) announced that it has picked up the license and will re-release it in July. (This is a classic example of Japanese-English language confusion. The original Japanese title is Ruin Explorer, in English but singular since the Japanese language does not recognize plurals. The 1998 American release was titled Ruin Explorers, since there are two heroines. This was better English, but it caused some anime purists to object to the added ‘s’.)
The Vision of Escaflowne was a very popular 26-episode TV series in 1996. Most of its cast was human, but it did have the 13-year-old cat girl Merle, who spent most of her time being jealous of the schoolgirl protagonist from Earth, Hitomi. Older cat girls appeared later in the series.
Hyper Police featured a whole Shinjuku police force of – well, the chief was a god, and the regular cops included Batanen, a werewolf who looked human with a wolf’s ears and tail; Tommy, a funny-animal dog; Sakura, a traditional kitsune who looked like a human woman with eight fox tails, going for her ninth; and the main character, Natsuki Sasahara, whose father was human and whose mother was 2/3 cat. (???) Natsuki looked like a 17-year-old human girl with a cat’s tail and both human and cat ears. 25 TV episodes, 1997.
Outlaw Star (above) was a 26-episode TV space opera series in 1998 loosely based on Stevenson’s Treasure Island that was much better than Disney’s later Treasure Planet. The cast was human except for the comic-relief alien cat girl Aisha Clanclan, princess of the Ctarl Ctarl, who is at first a reluctant member of the human group seeking the treasure planet, but comes to enjoy their “familyhood” and embraces their quest for the journey, not its eventual end.
Night Warriors: Darkstalkers’ Revenge was a 1997 4-episode OAV based upon the very popular video game that introduced the later Street Fighter concept. The supernatural families of Dimitri Maximoff, vampire, and Morrigan Aensland, succubus, are fighting for control of the Demon World. Felicia, a bakeneko or cat-demon, is one of Dimitri’s family. As a cat demon, Felicia looks like a cat girl with enhanced feline features: carnivorous teeth, cat paws/mittens, and furry clawed legs up to the thighs. She is the most sympathetic character to humans, wanting to be a pop singer in the human world. She tried to join a touring company of the musical Cats, but was rejected because her “costume” was too revealing. She was raised as a child by a Roman Catholic nun, and is confused by human religion but is generally predisposed to Catholicism.
Di Gi Charat appeared in Japan in 1998 as the ultra-cute cat girl mascot in advertising for Broccoli Inc.’s video games. The adverts were so popular that Broccoli quickly spun her off as a manga heroine, and then a 2001 TV anime series. Di Gi Charat, abbreviated Dejiko, and her tagalong friends Petit Charat (Puchiko) and Gema (for gamer), work in the Gamer video game store in Akihabra, Tokyo’s electronics district where the best video game shops are located. The 2001 TV series was so popular that there have been Di Gi Charat animated TV sequels, OAVs, a 20-minute theatrical “movie”, and of course video games. Gamers has even opened an Anime Gamers shop in Los Angeles, devoted more to Broccoli’s anime and manga books and DVDs and related merchandise (girls’ school accessories, coin purses, etc.) than to video games. The Di Gi Charat DVD cover shows Dejiko (green hair) and Puchiko (brown hair) with cat ears, and Dejiko’s rival Rab-en-rose with purple hair and rabbit ears.
Another popular Broccoli anime and video game title has been Galaxy Angel(s), a comedic s-f series about the misadventures of a squad of five ditsy all-girl interstellar policewomen, one of whom is Mint Blancmange, a blue-haired, lop-eared bunny girl (second from left, above).
Tokyo Mew Mew (above), 52 TV episodes in 2002-03, was a big hit with little girls. Five schoolgirls get the DNA of almost-extinct animals and fight alien demons out to destroy Earth’s ecology. They are Ichigo/an Iriomote cat (less than 100 still alive), Mint/blue lorikeet, Lettuce/finless porpoise, Pudding/golden lion tamarin, and Zakuro/gray wolf. When in superheroine mode, the girls are Mew Ichigo, Mew Mint, etc., with (usually) the ears and tails or other attributes of their animals. Their secret headquarters is disguised as an exclusive tea shoppe with them as the waitresses. Tokyo Mew Mew was Americanized by 4Kids Entertainment as Mew Mew Power, and heavily criticized by the fans for all the cuts of any scene showing Japanese ethnicity. There was a manga sequel in Japan, Tokyo Mew Mew a la Mode.
Phew! That’s enough cat girls for one column.