Ridley Scott’s Alien, much like his Blade Runner three years later, would prove to be a huge influence on anime. Of course, Alien was influential around the world, but on the island called Japan, far away from 20th Century Fox’s lawyers, things got pretty blatant. There wasn’t even a question of subtly submerging the influence or combining it with other sources. Rather, this particular niche of mid-80s OVAs became like an arms race with the end goal: who could most totally and effectively rip Alien the hell off? Dave’s already taken a look at >Roots Search, and now it’s time to check out the bizarrely titled Lily C.A.T.
Originally released in 1987, Lily C.A.T. was directed by Hisayuki Toriumi, who cut his teeth directing episodes of Mach GoGoGo, and whose most impressive credit is probably directing the original Area 88. It was written by Hiroyuki Hoshiyama, who’s got a huge stack of writing credits, including Megazone 23 and episodes of First Gundam and the Patlabor TV series.
On the U.S. side of things, Lily C.A.T. was released by Carl Macek’s Streamline Pictures alongside utter awesomeness like Dirty Pair, Fist of the North Star, and Wicked City. For some reason, Lily C.A.T. never developed the cult following these other titles did; at the least, it was never relicensed and released on DVD. Attempts to find the show left us with only one option: a German subtitled release, leaving me, Colony Drop’s resident kind-of German speaker, with the task at hand. Don’t worry, I understood everything just fine – this ain’t exactly Faust (or even that Faust).
C.A.T. opens with a ragtag crew of space mercenaries shooting the shit as they’re about to enter hibernation capsules. These capsules, it’s explained, will keep them young as their ship takes 20 years to reach its destination. Once there, they’ll embark on some kind of mission (what it is is never exactly explained, but we safely can assume it’s space mining or something). The group is made up of relative strangers of different backgrounds; the hot-headed jock, the scruffy captain, the fan-service girl, and the obligatory and slightly offensive-looking black guy (seriously Japan, I know you don’t have black people, but do blacks in anime always have to look like they’re straight out of a minstrel show?). Oh, and the ship is owned by a giant, mysterious company. Is this sounding familiar yet?
I could go on, but, well, things progress just about how you’d expect them to. There are a couple moments where C.A.T. strays from the Alien playbook: when the crew awaken, they’ve received a message from home, stating that two of the passengers aboard aren’t supposed to be there, and are dangerous criminals. Of course, the transmission cuts off before they actually identify those criminals, adding a They Were Eleven-style, “it could be any one of us!” layer of suspense. Also, I also don’t think I’m spoiling anything by saying a C.A.T. plays a major role: specifically, the seemly harmless feline onboard is actually a malicious android representative of The Company. Yes, they replaced Sir Ian Holm with a cat. Or, to be more precise, a Computerized Animal-Shaped Technological Robot. I shit you not.
When all this is added up, what’s really surprising is that I found this film pretty damn okay. When faced with such a blatant ripoff, the question becomes not “how creatively corrupt is this?” but rather, “how well a ripoff job did they do?” I’m happy to report a most effective copy, for what it’s worth.
For one, it’s a well edited piece of work. There’s an art in when to cut from scene to scene, especially in suspense/horror films. C.A.T. effectively heightens the tension by cutting away from scenes at their peak. There are a lot of characters at the onset, but they’re pretty quickly whittled away, leaving us with four main characters we get to spend some time with. And in an unexpected and refreshing twist, the most annoying characters die early on, leaving us with people we can actually get behind (what a concept!). All together, the film zips along – it’s about an hour in total. It does its thing and doesn’t linger longer than it has to.
Regarding characters, they are basically stereotypes cribbed from either Alien or, you know, every anime ever, but, as I mentioned, the annoying ones die pretty quick. Our main man is the otherwise unnamed Captain, whose beard looks suspiciously like Tom Skerrit’s. We grow to respect him because, in another refreshing change of pace, he tends to make decent decisions. C.A.T. also touches on an interesting theme that’s explored a little bit in Aliens – namely, the Captain’s been doing this for a long time, and is now over 200 years old. He gives two young pups a lecture about how when they get back to earth, 40 years will have passed, and no one will care about their little feud. It’s not particularly groundbreaking, but the fact that an hour-long film is willing to spend a few minutes dealing with ideas like this is pretty neat.
In short, if you’re in the market for either a good Macek-era OVA or just really like Alien, you could do a lot worse than this. Plus, you get to see a cat’s face slide off, revealing android guts underneath. Cool, right?