What's Michael

America has Garfield, Japan has Michael. Michael is not one cat, however, but a collective of every orange tabby cat in the whole of the island nation. His adventures are actually more revealing into human reactions to cats than into cats themselves. For the most part, Michael never talks (except in surreal bits) and does...well...cat things. The What's Michael OVA is interesting enough for what it is, which is a virtual adaptation of various skits from the long running manga series. However, it's a grab bag of styles and concepts that don't quite mesh together, despite the uber-cuteness of the main character.

The skits range widely, though most are comedic in nature. It's really hard to describe them in that the segments are so short, no one routine stays around for very long. The format is actually not all that different from the Garfield and Peanuts cartoons broadcast perhaps 10-15 years ago, where they'd run through a variety of strips in short interludes. If there's one thing that's unique, though, it's that What's Michael will go off into bizarro land at a moment's notice. Sometimes, the cat tie-in is so out in left field that viewers are left scratching their heads. Despite the universality of cats and cat behavior, this is quite a Japanese show.

The show succeeds best when it steps out of its cultural milieu and allows Michael to be simply normal. Though there are plenty of cartoon cats in America, there are essentially no realistic representations left to be found. What's most enjoyable about Michael, in his most excellent moments, are the points at which a feline fan can smile knowingly and say, "That's my cat!" When that happens, Michael becomes a great character. There are a few of these moments scattered throughout the OVA. Thankfully, there are enough skits that we can quickly get through the ones that are annoying; it's just too bad that the best skits aren't longer.

I am a strong advocate of anime over manga, a stance that puts me at odds with many other fans. However, in the case of What's Michael, I suggest anybody interested read at least a portion of the comic book first. Sections have been licensed in the US and are available, and frankly I think they work better on the page than in animated form. Also, the anime is more enjoyable if you're a little familiar with the manga first, in this case. I don't recommend it for everyone, but those who like cat tales will be amused by both.

What's Michael OVA 1 -- extremely brief nudity -- B-