Episode 51: “There’s a Cat on the Stairs”
Original airdate: December 1, 1982
Corresponding manga chapter: “Two-Story Ghost Story”, volume 9, chapter 9 (Viz release)/volume 11, chapter 9 (Japanese tankobon release)/overall chapter 111
Major character introduced: Kotatsu Neko
Summary: It’s cold outside, as we can tell from the bleak, windy hellscape on the streets and the background music that sounds kind of like “Fool on the Hill”, but Ten is enjoying floating around on the breeze. Inside the House of Moroboshi, Ataru is trying to sneak out without alerting Lum, but his mother is on him to take his kotatsu to his room. Lum catches him anyway, but he manages to get away by dint of letting himself get clobbered by the opening door (does their front door really open outwards?).
Outside, a couple pieces of KFC lie abandoned, and two armies converge on it, one of cats and one of dogs, bringing to mind the Animaniacs segment “Les Miseranimals”. The dogs scare the cats into cover behind a wall, and the lead dog slowly advances on the food. It’s startled by a sudden blast of snow, and out of a vortex a giant cat appears:
The dog tries to convey with charades that it wants the food, but the cat barely notices, and the dog gives up and runs away. The cats come out, beg for the food, and when the big cat doesn’t object, grab it and scarper. It opens its bag and pulls out a taiyaki, and when Ten flies by, offers him one too. Ten (who really ought to be wearing a coat, or at least a shirt) offers to put him up at his squat. Cutting back to Ataru’s room, his mother is still on him to bring the kotatsu upstairs, but he’s in no mood to bother, and the palmprint on his cheek may explain why.
Ten opens the front door carefully, and gets permission from Mrs. Moroboshi to bring his friend in. The cat enters, its eyes lock on the kotatsu, and suddenly it’s all over it like orange on an orange. Upstairs, Lum has a bright idea to stop Ataru being unhappy from rejection: stop chasing girls! Ataru isn’t having it, even when Lum points out that she’s the only one who’d ever have him, but his train of thought is interrupted by the sight of a giant cat occupying the stairs with his kotatsu.
We cut to Sakura at her shrine, when her devotions are interrupted by the sight of a cat in the flames, and she and Cherry know that they’re needed. Back on the staircase, Ataru is not pleased, but his attempt to grab the kotatsu winds up with a scratched and dented face. His mother calls him to dinner, but trying to step over the kotatsu earns him a leg sweep. Variations on this continue until Sakura and Cherry come, Sakura giving an apt summary of the Moroboshi house:
Mrs. Moroboshi initially blames Ataru, naturally, but when she finds out Ten is responsible, she tries to sweet-talk him with the “cats are a big responsibility speech”, or more accurately “cats eat a lot and are disgusting”. Sakura and Cherry start an exorcism, which produces a phantom snowstorm like the one that startled the dog earlier, but it ultimately fails, their implements crumbling. Mrs. Moroboshi goes to start dinner without Ataru, and Sakura and Cherry argue about whether Cherry should join them. Sakura shuts him up by saying that if they succeeded, Mrs. Moroboshi would order eel for them; she denies it, but Mr. Moroboshi orders two orders of the most expensive kind, defending himself by saying that they can pay in installments.
Mrs. Moroboshi pulls her husband into the kitchen for a discussion, resulting in an explosion, and Mrs. Moroboshi tries to get Ataru on her side.
She passes him dinner on a tray, but Kotatsu Neko (as we can now call it) knocks him away and starts eating it, prompting an uncharacteristic level of pity in Ataru’s mother. Lum calls him upstairs for some roasted sweet potatoes, and points out that now he can’t chase girls because he can’t leave. His attempt to do the obvious and sneak out the window is thwarted in the usual, electricity-based way. Downstairs, Mrs. Moroboshi is packing a suitcase. Ataru sees this when he climbs down on a bedsheet, but he doesn’t get much further because Lum intercepts and electrocutes him again. He protests that there’s no bathroom upstairs, and she says she’ll fetch him a dimensional porta-potty.
Sakura asks the cat why it’s fixated on them, and Ten translates that it’s because they have a kotatsu. Asking the obvious followup question, it pulls out a pipe and reminisces. It was a normal cat on the streets on a cold day, sometime in the past (the art style suggests a while ago, but I couldn’t say what era is implied). It followed a female housecat to where a couple were drinking sake and gossiping around a kotatsu. The cat repeatedly tried to sneak underneath but was rebuffed, eventually knocking it violently back into the snow. It hears a grandmotherly type on the second floor welcoming the housecat under her kotatsu, but when it tries to come in, she tossed it out. Out in the cold, things turned all Little Match Girl, and the cat swore that as God is its witness, it’ll never be cold again.
Sakura comes out of the flashback to discover that Cherry has eaten all the eel. She asks what would get the cat to leave, but it refuses. In the living room, Mrs. Moroboshi has her coat on and is ready to go, but her husband assures her that it’s okay because he’s made a lucky charm, in the form of a scarf tied to a broom. And in Ataru’s room, Lum has outfitted him with a lifetime’s supply of supplies, including the dimensional porta-potty.
Apart from the dangers inherent in peeing on the Great Will of the Universe, Ataru also gets partially sucked in before freeing himself. He asks for food, and Lum hands him a tin of cat food, which is the final straw. He charges downstairs, where his father is clutching onto his mother’s legs to keep her from leaving, and is taken aback to see that Kotatsu Neko is still there. Cherry points out the problem in the cat’s plan:
Ten tells the audience that the cat is still there, under the now plugged-in kotatsu in the corner of Ataru’s room.
Changes from the manga version: Mostly extensions of existing scenes (the face-off with the dogs isn’t in the manga, and the flashback is only three panels plus a thought balloon). The subplot with Mrs. Moroboshi leaving is new.
Thoughts: This episode is one of my favorite type (the “introduce a single complication and let character traits take it from there” type) and introduces one of my favorite minor characters. Kotatsu Neko is a great background character; its immovable-object nature (it’s the second most powerful character in the setting) would be tiresome if it were the center of too many plots, but having it hang out with Cherry or drinking tea with the Principal are fun background notes. I also like the way Takahashi draws cats, and the fact that it doesn’t talk outside the flashback (and even that could have been skipped, but it’s in the manga, where it’s more important because the flashback is so brief) means that most of its personality is carried by its face.
(I’m referring to Kotatsu Neko as “it” in this writeup because that’s my policy with animals and aliens where it’s not obvious, but the indicators in this episode point to male; its appearance is contrasted with the female cat, and Ten says “he” in the ending narration. Since the first point isn’t in the manga and the second one was probably introduced by the translator due to Japanese’s approach to pronouns, those aren’t definitive, but I don’t have an issue with that identification, either.)
This episode covers a couple of minor Japanese cultural points. Cats being drawn to kotatsu is treated as an obvious concept, and my own experience of cats supports the idea (as does Wikipedia). We also see a reiteration of the nature of the Moroboshi’s marriage, with Mrs. Moroboshi the one who handles all the finances, as shown by her anger at her husband for ordering eel and her reference to wishing she could be rid of the mortgage. (The privation leading to the cat becoming a notionally vengeful ghost is very Japanese, but by no means uniquely Japanese.)
For the record, Kotatsu Neko punches or swats Ataru 22 times in this episode, and holds him at arm’s (paw’s? shank’s?) length once.
We’re briefly back into the episodes Viz translated, but the jump backwards is a logical result of timing, since this episode wouldn’t work if it’s not winter.
Next episode: Something about a crane, a raccoon and a closet!?!