Cat has Nine Lives: The Rise, Stumble, and Rise (Again) of Miku Maekawa

There’s something to be said for an unbending spirit. It’s a shounen staple for a reason; characters like Son-Goku and Naruto’s refusal to give up despite frequently overwhelming odds makes them easy to cheer for. Naruto especially was formative for me, because my friends were busy fangirling over Sasuke, who I frequently had real trouble rooting for, while Naruto is an easy hero. He wants to save his friends. He won’t back down. Simple, maybe, but likable, I think. But this isn’t about Naruto, and it isn’t about heroes. This is about a cat.
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This cat.

Miku Maekawa is energetic, and she is stubborn. For a large chunk of the Cinderella Girls anime, these are her defining character traits. When Uzuki, Rin and Mio, the late arrivals who only got noticed by Pro-Idol Mika and the Producer specifically because it took them longer than everyone else to get their photoshoot right, get offered a CD-debut before anyone else, Miku knows that’s not fair. She knows, and she makes sure everyone else knows, and she demands justice, to the point of organizing a holdout protest when the Producer refuses to accept her own debut proposals. Miku knows what she wants and she will work tirelessly to get it, even if she’s not always the smartest about it.

Of course there are lots of characters who fit that niche, so why am I writing about Miku rather than, for example, Honoka Kousaka, a character I’m far more commonly associated with? The reason doesn’t strictly lie with Miku herself. In fact, it’s very closely related to someone else entirely!

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Riina Tada is the dog to Miku’s cat. They’re fundamentally similar but consistently fail to communicate, and they spend a lot of time at each other’s throats, especially after the Producer pairs them up as a unit. Forced to spend time with each other and work out their differences, they unsurprisingly develop a very intimate relationship very quickly. Once Girlfriends-in-all-but-name, their chemistry is among the best on-screen relationships I’ve seen. They’re fun, warm, and even when they fight (which is pretty often, really) they understand and respect each other. For an anime relationship, you can really feel their mutual trust. That is, until Riina meets Natsuki.

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Natsuki is essentially Riina’s ideal self. She’s mature, cool, and actually plays the guitar. She’s as Rock Idol as they come, and when she notices that Riina doesn’t actually know what rock is, she doesn’t reject her, she encourages her to hang out and talk more. She’s just so much cooler than Miku and her cats and her bubblegum pop…

For me, this is where the story gets personal. When Riina starts showing up to work meetings unprepared and absentminded, Miku immediately knows something is up. They’re an established team after all. And Riina responds to Miku’s concern by shutting her out. She tells her nothing is wrong, nothing is on her mind, not to worry. And that is unforgivable.

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Miku is trapped in an awful hole where she knows something is wrong but wants to believe her partner. She trusts Riina. Riina would never lie to her. So what could the cause of the problem be? Miku responds by blaming herself, urging herself to be perfect, to be someone Riina won’t feel held back by. Needless to say, communication breaks down further.

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When I first saw Cinderella Girls, I had just gone through a pretty ugly breakup coming off a very similar situation, and to say this episode hit me hard would be an understatement. I was pretty bitter and everything here seemed specifically designed to rub salt in my wounds. It hurt. Honestly, the episode’s resolution still feels a bit too easy for me.

But despite that, I found some hope in Miku Maekawa. This girl who went through this horrible, horrible pain that I had, found strength to carry on. She weathered the storm and comes out notably stronger. And if a cat can do that, maybe I can too.

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