It's a prequel to a five-minute OVA from 1999, but I didn't know that at the time and it doesn't really matter. It doesn't have a plot. It's a character-driven observation piece, using serenity and compassion to address loneliness, sadness and death. I thought it was excellent. Anime tends to go to extremes, but this is all about simplicity and understated observation of its characters going about their lives.
There are two main characters: She (aka. Miyu) and Her Cat (aka. Daru). The episodes are narrated by Daru, who does nothing in them except to be a cat. (Well, unless you count growing old and dying.) He's not a cartoon cat. He's just a cat. Admittedly we can hear his vocalised thoughts, but these are pretty close to what you'd imagine a real cat's thoughts to be. He can't remember what his life was before he became Miyu's cat, apart from a little about his mother. Cats aren't really too fussed about memories. If it's not important, it slips away. Similarly he can't understand what Miyu says, but he's fine with that because he thinks they understand the important things about each other.
"I don't understand her words, but at times like this, I'm sure we're thinking the same thing."
He's a close observer of Miyu. He can see that she's lonely and struggling with rejection, even if the reasons for it are beyond him. "There's nothing I can do to ease her pain." He can't see her flaws. He can't see that she's deliberately pushing away friends and family because she can't cope. That doesn't matter to him. He loves her. He's a cat and she's his owner. Flashbacks tell us that she acquired him when she was a little girl and he was a kitten, even if she went through a phase of not wanting him and even trying to abandon him in a cardboard box beside the river. That's long forgotten now, though. As far as he's concerned, they've been together forever. Time before Miyu doesn't exist.
He loves the way she stands up straight and goes out to face the world. He lazes around and sleeps when she's out. He's getting old, especially in ep.4, and this too is closely observed. He's got fat, for a start. "I sleep longer now, and more deeply, than I used to."
There are two supporting characters. One is Miyu's single mother, who kept resisting Miyu's urging to remarry because she insisted that she just wanted to look after Miyu. The other is Miyu's friend, Tomoka. (Miyu appears to have no other friends and says she doesn't want any anyway.)
One thing that fascinates me about this, incidentally, is the fact that it got made at all. It's not by the original OVA's writer/director, Makoto Shinkai, now a highly regarded director of full-length anime movies. Instead it would seem that director Kazuya Sakamoto (also of Kyoto Animation) randomly decided to make a prequel to a five-minute OVA from nearly twenty years earlier that by all accounts can barely be called animation, at a length that would surely have no commercial value. In a modern world where everyone and his dog has to make money and you might sometimes think every decision in anything is based on the bottom line, this looks a lot like art for art's sake. (Unless of course it's effectively a showreel.)
It's philosophical. It's gentle and reflective. It has occasional humour (e.g. Daru catching a lizard in ep.2), but the general tone is autumnal and slightly melancholy. The show's too fleeting and gossamer-like to feel anything more than featherweight, but it's really well done for what it is. It's kind. It deals with sad things in an accepting way that makes them almost uplifting. I suspect the material couldn't have sustain anything much longer than this, but as it stands it's pretty much flawless.
"On the other side of this heavy door is an imperfect world that's also a bit cruel. Her job is to learn to love that world. I really love her for that."