To mark this year’s Halloween, Headstuff animation expert Joseph Learoyd is starting a new three-part column titled Cartoon Pumpkins, delving into the spooky side of animation. His second entry is on 1987 anime horror Lily C.A.T..
After some soul-searching, thinking of which cartoon I would most like to look at for this spooky cartoon catch up, I settled on Lily C.A.T., a 1987 Japanese animated film, written and directed by Hisayuki Toriumi. Now, “why pick this film?” you may be asking. “There must be countless other ones that you could have chosen for this segment.” In my mind, two films that define the fear and paranoia of horror/sci-fi are John Carpenter’s The Thing (my favourite horror film) and Ridley Scott’s Alien and Lily C.A.T. nicely rips off both of these.
The plot of the film is similar to that of Alien. A crew aboard a spacecraft get an unwelcome visitor that begins to pick them off one by one as paranoia sets in as to what may be after them, and how to stop it. Like Alien too, there’s even a ship cat. But what transpires during Lily C.A.T’s 70-minute runtime is so wild and crazy that it is worth watching just for the experience.
Lily C.A.T. plays much more heavily on gore than jump scares and genuine horror. Yet, the influence of Carpenter’s paranoia feature still manages to weave its way through the narrative. It is a typical 80’s sci fi adventure in many ways, but in others it stands out. Sure, the cast never seems fully developed and bar a couple of characters, most are just there to raise the body count. But the ones that this film does explore and the possible other stowaways on-board lead to some interesting concepts. In particular, the anime manages to hold the audience’s attention as characters interrogate each other and try to work out what is happening.
Back to the gore factor: there are some messed up scenes here. Character deaths, for the most part, are bloody and/or creatively executed. If that is your cup of tea and you like your films with a kill count, you won’t be disappointed. The animation quality is pretty strong here for an 80’s cartoon, managing to have distinct looking characters and strong fluid motions. One moment in particular that stands out to me is a first-person shot: beautifully animated from a robot’s perspective, showcasing that older works of the form can still produce stunning visuals.
The alien doesn’t make too many appearances. Instead, Lily C.A.T. focuses more on the interactions between the scared crewmates, playing up the mystery of the creature. The soundtrack and audio elements are solid, the dub being pretty nice. The latter was made by Streamline Pictures who released high quality dubs of many anime throughout the years, from the critically acclaimed Akira to many of Hayao Miyazaki’s films.
If you have time this Halloween and you fancy checking out something different or you are a fan of the Alien film franchise, The Thing or any sort of paranoia-inducing sci-fi/mystery/horror, then I have no doubt you will enjoy watching Lily C.A.T. It almost plays like a homage to the western films of its day, and watching it back now, more than thirty years later, really helps to solidify the cultural impact that those films played in the world of cinema. They remain inspiring to filmmakers to this very day.