This semester, I moved in a month early, hoping to buy myself time to settle in and find a job on campus before classes started and most of the student body moved back in. The start of sophomore year meant pressure — the pressure to pay rent on time and the pressure to finally find out what kind of career I wanted to pursue so I could start applying for internships — so I packed all my things into my parents’ minivan and drove to Ann Arbor.
I discovered “Bee and PuppyCat” two weeks after moving in, which was either a decade or a year late, depending on how you count. Last year, the show received near universal acclaim when its second season dropped on Netflix. Created by “Adventure Time” expat Natasha Allegri, the first season — which I’ll be focusing on here — was released on YouTube between 2013 and 2016. It follows Bee (Allyn Rachel, “Valley Girl”), an unemployed 20-something woman whose humdrum, couch-surfing life is interrupted by the appearance of PuppyCat (voiced by Vocaloid program OLIVER), a temperamental dog-cat hybrid from somewhere in space. Together, Bee and her canine/feline friend undertake a number of temp assignments in outer space where they must babysit giant fish, battle soul-eating cherry monsters and work at a bathhouse for anthropomorphic cats.
The result is sweet, calm and at times deeply strange. There’s a particularly odd scene in the pilot episode in which Bee has a dream featuring herself and several miniature versions of PuppyCat dancing atop a giant gemstone. One by one, the PuppyCats (Puppies-cat?) all jump off the stone. When she grabs the last one, it rakes its claws down her arm, forcing Bee to drop it as her arm bleeds ribbons. “Why does this make me so sad?” she asks herself.
The first time I watched this scene, I felt a reciprocal — and equally inexplicable — feeling. Maybe this was because of the image it ends on: Bee standing alone, a halo of ribbons unfurled around her, staring into the landscape — cold, empty, beautiful. Maybe it was that this little hint of loneliness reminded me, at the time, of my isolation from my family or friends, of the emptiness of the Diag or the library, of the barrenness of my room with its half-unpacked boxes and blank walls. Or maybe it was something different, something that clung to me even when I finished the show.
Strip away the show’s absurdist trappings, and you’ll find more quiet, sad moments like that first dream sequence, moments often centered on contemplations of the future. The first season concludes when PuppyCat asks Bee what she wants to be when she grows up. She answers, “Everything. Is that an answer? Everything.” It’s a sweet moment, but one that underscores one of the show’s main themes and a crux of Bee’s character. Bee struggles to keep a steady job — magic temp work notwithstanding — and to decide what to do with her life while the people around her pursue careers as boxers, computer programmers and chefs. Her response to PuppyCat is a reminder that the joy and wonder with which she views everything around her is wholly incompatible with what the adult world expects from her.
This summer, I told myself that I know what I want to do when I exit college, made a vague career plan and declared my major during the first week of class. In truth, I feel torn. Part of me wants to pursue a career in publishing, and part of me wants to study journalism and arts criticism, and part wants to get involved in public policy or advocacy. I’m not sure if those competing parts of me will ever go away, even as the pressure mounts to decide now or get left behind.
That same vague purposelessness seeped into my first few days back in Ann Arbor. With nothing to show for my job search, I struggled to figure out why I’d chosen to come back in the first place. All I could do was wait around for my friends to move in: friends with summer internships, with plans to go to med school, with jobs that let them pay rent. Friends who seem like they have their lives together (even if they don’t in reality) and who have made real plans for their future. Friends who seem like they are, in a sense, real adults.
It’s not rare for a piece of media to make me cry (as much as the Cure might suggest otherwise). I sobbed when Bing Bong died in “Inside Out,” when the Little Prince got bitten by the snake and when the land came back to life in “Princess Mononoke.” But it’s far rarer for something to make me want to cry without drawing a tear from my eyes, to make me want to find that moment of pure, physical catharsis but leave me without the barest sense of closure. It’s a feeling that lingers.
“Bee and PuppyCat” reminds me of the awkward little phase of life I was stuck in that first month in Ann Arbor when I contended with the fact that I needed to grow up and get my act together without quite knowing how (or where) to start. The show is a wholehearted affirmation of that realization, one that acknowledges how difficult it can seem without settling into self-pity. It says that though growing up is hard, growing up is normal, a reality highlighted by the bizarreness of every temp assignment. I’m not sure I’m ready for whatever comes next — who is? — so it’s comforting, if somewhat sad, that it’s something I don’t have to experience alone. We all have a little growing up to do.
Daily Arts Writer Alex Hetzler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.