Cardboard cats attempting to go to space thought up by a little girl are just as innocent as their creator.

Fans of Azumanga Daioh creator Kiyohiko Azuma’s Yotsuba&! manga have been waiting for years for the green-haired heroine to appear in animated form. The story of the manga isn’t exactly rocket science–it revolves around a curious and spunky little girl named Yotsuba Koiwai and her adventures in everyday life alongside her family and friends. Still, the manga’s snappy humor and lovability of the young protagonist has made the series a favorite among the manga and anime community.

Maybe that’s why people tilted their heads when Nyanbo, the cat version of the Danbo cardboard box character created by Yotsuba within the manga got an anime instead.

Nyanbo! is a 5-minute anime from the animation studio Shirogumi Inc. (Moyashimon, Stand By Me Doraemon) that is airing on public television channel NHK in Japan. The show uses CG animation over a real world backdrop, meaning aside from the cardboard cat kitties, real felines are bound to come jumping in once in a while to cause them trouble as they look for pieces of a UFO ship in order to return back to space.

While some Yotsuba&! fans might be disappointed that the innocent Yotsuba Koiwai is not the one in the animated limelight (though she does appear animated for the very first time in the credits!), I would argue that the characters in Nyanbo inherit the innocent, childish spirit of the manga’s protagonist. It’s not hard to see why–after all, the Nyanbos originate from her imagination.

On the Nyanbo team, there’s the reliable big brother Tora and the white cardboard cat who’s in love with him, Shiro. Then there’s the active spotted cat, Mike, and the cat of few words, Kuro.

While they each have defined personalities of their own, they are often dragged into trouble by Kotora (seen above), Tora’s little sister, who is curious about everything around her. With positivity bursting at the seams and a lack of common sense, it’s easy to compare Kotora to Yotsuba.

When Yotsuba gets into crazy situations, she usually ends up laughing her head off without caring about the possible danger she’s in. Similarily, Kotora will willingly chase danger if it means satisfying her curiousity.

In one incident, Kotora chases after a real cat. (Nyanbo are actually bad with real cats, despite being cardboard kitties themselves.) Even when she’s thrown against the wall on accident by Mike when playing, she gets back up immediately and asks to be thrown again.

This reminds me of a certain scene in Yotsuba&! where Yotsuba is smashing her face in with a swing–not understanding how it works–but is immediately laughing and smiling only moments after her new friend Ena offers to help her ride it.

However, that positivity isn’t just stupidity–it also helps the people around them. Just like Yotsuba is entertainment for those around her despite being a bit of an unintentional troublemaker, Kotora is the little spark that supports the team. When Mike is angry at the Tora and Shiro, Kotora is the one to cheer him up. When Tora is looking for UFO parts, Kotora is there to help without complaining.

While its uncertain if a Yotsuba&! anime will ever come, as a fan of the manga myself, this series of shorts satisfies me with similar humor and feel-good warmth that just oozes out of the characters. Nyanbo! is the same positivity and innocence found in Yotsuba&!, with just a touch of crazy antics and lots of cats.

Crunchyroll is streaming the Nyanbo! anime as it streams in Japan. Yen Press publishes the Yotsuba&! manga in North America. If you’re interested in taking a look at Azuma’s previous work, Azumanga Daioh, Sentai Filmworks has just recently rereleased the series on DVD in North America.

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