Imaginary Cat: Episode 1
Charming, adorable, and sweet. If you were wondering if the newest webtoon adaptation Imaginary Cat would deliver the cute, you were absolutely right. It serves up a dollop of cute and a hefty serving of smiles in its first few minutes, which means it won’t take long for you to fall in love with the grumpy cat and her equally stubborn human.
Words can’t fully describe just how happy it makes me watching a hero try to coax his furry friend to eat something or get a little exercise. It’s the everyday interactions between these two that make this episode such a quick and easy watch, so if you’ve got a half-hour to spare, spend it with a man and his cat.
SONG OF THE DAY
Standing Egg – “Nobody Knows” [ Download ]
CHAPTER 1: “I’ll Be On Your Side”
We’re introduced to our hero right off the bat: 26-year-old HYUN JONG-HYUN (Yoo Seung-ho) calls out to his cat while drunkenly trudging up the steps to his home. The ears that perk up inside belong to his orange furry feline BOK-GIL (voiced by Han Ye-ri), who isn’t at all surprised by her human’s drunken state.
Her mind is fixated on one thing: food, and she sighs when she sees her owner set out a bowl of water for her while helping himself to more soju. She looks hopeful when Jong-hyun realizes he hasn’t fed her yet, only to see him give up after a few pathetic failed attempts to pry the can open.
Thinking that he’s fallen asleep, Bok-gil tries nudging him, but that’s when Jong-hyun picks her up and cuddles with her on the floor. In a sad voice, he asks, “Bok-gil-ah, it’ll get better tomorrow, right? Tell me that it’s okay…” before falling asleep.
That strikes a chord with Bok-gil, who wonders what happened to her human today that made him so depressed.
Turning the clocks back to early that morning helps us understand why: Jong-hyun is an aspiring webtoon artist whose illustrations today will determine his future. He’s plenty excited and rubs his face into Bok-gil’s furry body to gather her ki (energy) for good luck.
He hurriedly runs over to meet his prospective supervising PD DOKKO SOON (Lee El), who wonders if his own life is as dark and cheerless as his comics. Often readers are drawn to light-hearted material, and she asks if his work is a reflection of his stick-in-the-mud attitude.
Jong-hyun retorts that his drawings were never meant to simply please the crowd; he thought that readers might pick up on his sincerity. Realizing at that moment that he’s arguing a lost case, he rises to leave… which is when Dokko PD offers to sign him.
He can hardly believe his ears at the surprise turn of events, and she reminds him that he’s got his work cut out for him. How can one say no to that winning smile?
The star webtoon artist at this agency is also a longtime rival, who wonders if his stubborn hard-working friend has finally caved by making a pitch here. But Jong-hyun denies it, saying that he’s happy working part-time at a bookstore because at least that means he’s reading plenty of books unless someone else he knows.
Let’s go and give the elite artist a name: PARK JIN-SUNG (Kim Hyun-joon) who gets visibly upset when Dokko PD says she plans to make something of Jong-hyun.
Jong-hyun doesn’t have it easy at his part-time job either—he gets scolded for not being super early for his shift. While his boss launches into a full-on lecture, Jong-hyun thinks to himself to hold out for three minutes—the same length of time it takes for him to stop being mad at Bok-gil whenever she claws him.
All it takes is for her to meow and paw at him to make everything better. Aww. He’s saved from the rest of the lecture when a customer grabs his boss’s attention. But when a shifty-looking man slides a book into a nearby female customer’s tote, the boss thinks that she’s a thief.
It doesn’t help that she heads out moments later, and Jong-hyun is sent out to flag her down. He follows her through the streets but eventually loses her when she turns a corner to feed the alley cat. Needless to say, his boss isn’t pleased and tells Jong-hyun that he can either dock his pay or find out which book went missing.
Understandably Jong-hyun finds all this completely unfair, but next thing we know, we find him going through the entire inventory by title. He keeps ignoring the string of texts from his friend pestering him to come out tonight—until a picture of a bag of cat food grabs his attention.
But by the time Jong-kyun makes it to the restaurant, all of his friends are long gone except one, his buddy YOOK HAE-GONG (Kim Min-seok), who hands over the enormous bag of organic cat food. Jong-hyun’s attachment to Bok-gil is no secret, and Hae-gong gets upset that his best friend cares more about the cat.
Speaking of whom, we see Bok-gil grooming herself at home and hungrily wondering what’s keeping her human so late.
A few beers later, Hae-gong loudly tells his buddy to go sign that contract and become an even more successful webtoon artist than that pompous Jin-sung. When he turns to the next table that his friend here is going to make it big, Jong-hyun tells him not to count his chickens before they hatch…
… and that’s when Jong-hyun gets the disheartening news that he won’t be signed this time after all. By midnight, when Bok-gil hops onto the bed Jong-hyun remarks that she must not mind the smell of alcohol anymore. “I’m putting up with it just for tonight,” she thinks back.
When he lets out a sigh, she thinks, “Oy, Human. It’s going to be okay. Everything is going to be okay. Trust me.” And it’s almost as if he can hear her as a corner of his mouth breaks into the tiniest of smiles before falling asleep.
It’s no surprise that Jong-hyun wakes the next morning with a splitting headache and a shocking surprise: Bok-gil sitting atop the torn bag of cat food. He immediately jumps to the conclusion that she’s eaten her fill and more.
He adorably raises her paws in the air as “punishment,” then desperately tries to get her to exercise, worried that she’ll remain a fat cat. “You once said you liked me this way,” Bok-gil thinks bitterly. “Traitor.”
She has no interest in moving and is offended by his comment that she’ll turn into a pig at this rate. Why that’s no way to speak to a lady, sir. And your valiant efforts to grab her attention with that cat toy is futile, sir.
CHAPTER 2: “The Sound of Her Approach”
Later that day, Jong-hyun stumbles upon an angry ajusshi railing on a young lady. Her habit of feeding the alley cats makes them a bigger nuisance at night, but she asks him not to punish the innocent animals.
When the ajusshi grabs her, Jong-hyun intervenes, then advises her to be more careful next time. But when she replies that she’ll be fine, he lets out an exasperated sigh and tells her to think of the stray cats, some of which died a few days ago. It’s understandable that other people would get upset too, and asks if she fed the kitten two days ago.
Her answer that it was raining that day only sounds like an excuse to him—if she meant to take care of the animal, then she should’ve done so in any kind of weather condition. “Don’t bother with [them] if you won’t take responsibility.”
Her lower lip quivers, and once he leaves, she wonders how his words of truth can be so hurtful. We’ll come to know her as OH NA-WOO (Jo Hye-jung). Jong-hyun wonders if he was too harsh before dismissing the thought to eat his ramyun instead.
That’s when Hae-gong joins him, and it’s sweet how he wants his buddy to pursue bigger and better things in life. Jong-hyun shuts down the idea of going on a double blind date because no girl could be better for him than Bok-gil at present.
Jong-hyun sighs when he’s reminded that his first love SOO-IN no longer exists in this world. Worried, Hae-gong asks what’s been keeping Jong-hyun back for the past decade–it’s like he’ll let any girl get close to him. But that hits a nerve with Jong-hyun, who storms off.
Back at home, Bok-gil stares longingly at her full bowl. She contemplates on whether to give into her hunger or not, only to forsake it in the end for her diet.
Just outside the bookstore, Jong-hyun spots yesterday’s alleged book thief by the same tote with the bell hanging from it. He hails her down and recognizes her as the same young lady he saw earlier.
He barely lets her explain herself before trying to take her back into the bookstore. He grabs onto her tote when she resists, which causes its contents to spill onto the ground. Emptying the rest, she asks if he can find the book that he’s looking for.
The answer is no, and that’s because she already returned the book that mysteriously appeared in her tote yesterday. Instructing him to back off, Na-woo collects her things and hands him the bag of cat food, adding that it’s his. “And I thought you were a good person.”
With the other hand, Jong-hyun picks up the bell that fell from the tussle, and that’s when it hits him: Last night, he had ripped into the bag of cat food to feed the hungry kitten. Little did he know that Na-woo had seen him and that food kept spilling out from the bag onto the street. And now he realizes that he wrongly accused Bok-gil of tearing into the bag this morning.
Later that night, when Na-woo’s older cousin tries to dissuade her from wandering out at night again, Na-woo returns that she wouldn’t have to if she was allowed to raise a cat here. But her unni cousin reminds her that Na-woo lost her cat Haru ages ago and that the animal can be dead for all they know…. before stopping herself for going too far.
Ha, so Jong-hyun returns home to try and apologize to an already annoyed Bok-gil, pushing the full bowl of food towards her. Yeah, good luck with that.
She perks up upon hearing the bell though, but Jong-hyun doesn’t let her get near it. Suddenly looking determined, he heads out with the bell, which has Bok-gil crying out that he should leave “her bell” behind and pouting whether he’s got another secret household to feed.
Jong-hyun heads back to the alley where he hears Na-woo talking to the tiny alley cat, asking whether it’s seen her lost cat Haru. She asks it to relay a message for her: that she didn’t abandon Haru.
He’s like a dog with his tail between his legs when she tells him that she fed the kitten today like a responsible caretaker. He returns the whistle (which once belonged to Haru) and asks that they let bygones be bygones. She asks him to apologize instead, and he lets out a strained “sorry” while averting his eyes.
She suddenly draws close, much to his surprise. She plucks a tuft of cat hair from his jacket and remarks that he must be an owner to a very pretty cat. The close proximity makes him gulp, and he can’t help but ruminate over it later.
Turning to Bok-gil, he tells her that he met a really strange girl today. “Are you thinking about another girl right now?” she thinks back. Jong-hyun gathers Bok-gil into his arms, telling her, “Bok-gil-ah, all I need is you.”
Does it get any cuter when it comes to a man’s love for his cat? It doesn’t, it really doesn’t. A loving relationship between owner and pet is the crux of this show, so it warms my heart to see it wonderfully played out before my eyes in Imaginary Cat. That, and waiting for Yoo Seung-ho to finallly come back to dramaland. You’ve been away far too long, good sir.
To be honest, I would’ve jumped on any post-army project Yoo Seung-ho would’ve chosen, but as luck would have it, his soft return to dramaland would be centered around a shared adoration of cats. Because apparently there’s no limit when it comes to adorbs on my screen. As a real-life cat lover, I’m sure that he didn’t find it at all difficult to snuggle up to a cat all day long, especially if that cat allowed him to do so. Perhaps the drama cat Bok-gil could feel that genuine love too because I swear you can hear her purring whenever she’s near Yoo Seung-ho. And hey, who could blame her?
Speaking of which, I was most interested in the kind of feline commentary we would get in Bok-gil, whose lines are words my cat would say if he could speak. I love how grounded her dialogue in her primary wants (of food), but is also able to keenly pick up on her human’s mood. She might not know what’s going wrong in his life, but shows that a little comfort goes a long way. Conversely, I love how much of a cat she still is, choosing to give her owner her attention when she wants to give it and that anything he brings into the home is technically hers.
Which brings us to one of the ongoing mysteries in this series: the story of Na-woo’s lost cat Haru. At present, we’re given hints that the bell might belong to Bok-gil (unless again, she’s claiming everything she sees as hers), but it’s too early to tell and that would be an obvious narrative course. I’m hoping that there’s a bit more depth on that front, though really I could spend the next seven episodes just watching Jong-hyun play with Bok-gil. Dance, human. Dance for the cat—the true ruler of this kingdom you call your home.