Nekomachi Street is a sky platform in Tonarino region, in Second Life, that depicts a Japanese town inhabited by anthropomorphized cats. In the (almost fully) still scene composed there, they behave like humans: they go to restaurants, work as waiters at bars, ride bikes, deliver pizza, go to the movies and so on. They are like us — but they are cats.
Of course, Nekomachi Street reminded me of a post that I wrote years ago, about another sim and in which I argued that anthropomorphized creatures are an expression of our tendency to deal with others in our own terms — or, to put it differently, that in cases such as this, animals are us. Yet, the fascination that Nekomachi Street exerted on me made me reflect a little further on what could be at stake there.
I am not an expert in Japan to the point of lecturing on the material and symbolic relations of Japanese society with cats. It is interesting to notice, though, that, according to some traditions, not only cats could morph into beings with some human characteristics but also some creatures derived from cats, such as the bakeneko, could effectively shapeshift into humans. That set of transitions suggests not only some anthropomorphism but also a continuum, to a certain degree, between animals and humankind.
Certainly, cat-based creatures are not the only ones capable of establishing such a continuum, but, in that specific case, it happens with beings which are already part of a universe that is very close to humans: after all, cats are domestic animals, they live in our cities and homes, they interact with us all the time. In other words, they are already part of a close interplay between what classical epistemology tends to separate as nature and culture. And, it’s worth noticing, they are not purely inscribed in some production arrangement, such as cows intended to supply us with meat or hens in an egg farm. Although they can be used to control rodents, domestic cats are also pets, treated as companions.
Cats in Nekomachi Street are not supernatural creatures, though. They are funny animals, i.e. animal characters who live and act like human beings — and who walk like human beings (for they are bipedal). They are our domestic companions that, assuming our characteristics, took our place. They are funny animals also because they are not us and, at the same time, they are us: they are some other creatures living in a world that was conceived by and for humans, and behaving as humans would do. And, being cats, they are close to us, to our everyday life, which allows an interplay between familiarity and strangeness.
I wrote this post about one month after a significant loss in my atomic existence — what some would call real life. Those moments tend, sometimes, to be thought of as a rupture: between life as it was and life as it is going to be from now on. And when I look around, everything feels familiar, but it also feels different. I guess mourning is like that. Yet, death is part of life, for older generations will always, at some point, leave the stage and give way to younger ones. Death is nature invading our symbolic world, proving there is no rigid division between them and showing that all the time, anyway, it’s up to us to deal with the complexity of the world. Until cats take over.