In the early to mid 90’s when anime distribution was centred around a small number of fledgling video labels here in the UK a lot of stuff was hard to come by. Most of it actually, everything that I saw I had to watch by buying on VHS. Streaming didn’t exist and no rental stores rented anime tapes in my area. So I read reviews in magazines and I bought the tapes that sounded interesting. Around 1997 I made an online friend who was slightly older than me and had been importing from the states for a while. He knew I liked sci-fi and monster movies, so he recommended this OVA to me.
Back then we used to trade VHS tapes of pirated and fabsubbed anime because in some cases it was the only way to get em. He’d bought the film from the states (it was released by Streamline pictures who released Labyrinth Tales/Neo Tokyo, Akira and the Fist Of The North Star movie). Because it was unavailable here he kindly made me a copy and sent it in the post.
This week I had a day off and felt like watching something short I could write about fairly quickly…..I was also in the mood to revisit something from my own collection of discs.
The Starship Saldes. 2264 AD. A crew of thirteen people awake from suspended animation after a journey to investigate a new planet that has taken 20 years finally reaches its destination. However they soon find out that the ship has two personnel members who are not supposed to be part of the crew and have forged their ID cards illegally in order to sneak aboard. Orders have also been given to the ship’s main computer to retrieve something from outer space and have it brought aboard the Saldes while everyone was supposedly asleep. Soon people are dying at an alarming rate, then their bodies begin to disappear. Who or what has been brought aboard the Saldes…..and by whom? Can it be stopped before the whole crew meets the same fate?
As you may have guessed the film is essentially a “creature feature” quite similar to Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) with elements of John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) thrown in for good measure. That’s not to say it’s just a straight rip-off though. It does a lot of things well that have endeared it to me over the years however I’m sure some people would regard it as trash (hence the title). There’s a good pedigree involved with the film though including character designs from Yasuomi Umetsu and Yoshitaka Amano, I’ve since gone on to become big fans of both of their work.
What I liked from the first viewing of this OVA is the sense of world building it achieves for a relatively short film. Even though the entire movie takes place on the Spaceship, we get a lot of information about the universe the film is set in. Apparently there’s a huge space race and many companies are involved competing to be the first to gather info on planets. A lot of things are discussed about the company the characters work for and about their respective backgrounds. It’s all good stuff and it really nails that “average working Joes in space” vibe that a lot of people (me included) like about the original Alien. Some TV series with a running time that’s about eight times longer than this movie don’t get world building right.
The ship’s cat “Lily” is often seen skulking about when people get bumped off. Don’t let the title mislead you. She isn’t the monster though the film does try to lead you down that path. She’s definitely important to the movie though.
The production values are pretty good too. Animation is decent and the character design is great. It plays a similar game with its approach to showing the monster as a lot of American movies of the era and keeps it pretty much out of sight until late in the film (apart from a tendril here and there). The characters are pretty good too and are all interesting in their own right, even the ones who get picked off by the creature early on. When I first watched the film and the characters discussed the fact their journey would take them a total of 40 years for the round trip there and back I asked myself “what sort of people would want to do a job like that?”. I hoped that it would get to that as I had my own theories. Close to the end when it seems all hope is lost that question is answered and the resulting scene of revelations is one of the best moments in the film.
There’s some good dialogue in the film too (or at least the way it’s been translated makes it seem that way in the subbed version). I particularly like a conversation our heroes have about the psychological effects of long term space travel and time dilation.
It definitely has tension and suspense, along with a decent amount of intrigue that should keep first time viewers guessing. The soundtrack is effective in places (the opening music really sets the scene for example) and the use of sound throughout is quite good including a scene where an incredibly unsettling noise can be heard by our heroes and we just KNOW something bad is going to happen.
While Lily C.A.T. is unlikely to be remembered as a classic it is at least a good example of how good characterisation and world building can enhance something that would otherwise be a little derivative.
I find it an enjoyable watch and since I’ve covered mainly classics on the blog (though Phantom Flying Ship is unlikely to be on that list) I thought it was about time to do another title that could be considered divisive.
If you like your monster movies or just dig stories about space travel or you really enjoy the “mysterious extra passenger/guest” plot then you should get something out of this one.
Availabilty: Discotek Media released Lily C.A.T. on DVD in 2014. It is still currently in print and for those who were wondering yes I now own an official copy.
If you enjoyed this article please leave a comment. It’s always nice to know that people get something out of my articles. Thanks to everyone who took time out of their day to read my thoughts on old anime.