A question: I'm pretty sure it's established somewhere in the VNs that they're genetically engineered 'cat girls', so why call them 'cats'? Are there actual cats in this world aside from catgirls, or are all cats catgirls now? Yes, I seriously thought about this hypothetical question while watching the show.
Within the Minazuki household lives six different catgirls. When the older of the two siblings leaves to start his own patisserie business, the two youngest cats follow their master and appear in boxes as he's moving in while the other four cats and his little sister stay behind in their family home, occasionally coming by to take shifts at the pastry shop. And thus (I guess) starts another chapter of their lives.
Aside from the first three episodes which establish a completely new character to the Nekopara series, the anime comprises of only one-off stories that put one or two of the catgirls (who're conveniently put together in pairs) in some kind of situation that serves as the episode's focus, rarely deviating from that single story before the twenty four minutes are up before a different set takes their place in the next episode. As a result, conflicts for the anime typically only exist within the confines of the episode, so there really isn't any overarching things to keep track of.
As for the content, the show is (of course) only focused on cat-based stuff. Rather than spending time with Kashou, the cats' male master, practically everything in the series centers around how the cats interact with each other and any relationship changes that might occur as a result of the episode's conflict being resolved. The conflicts themselves though feel very random. One episode can be about something vastly different than another's, and I felt a little thrown off watching at times because one episode can have the girls telling stories in a blackout, and the next has two of them going through a giant, custom-built obstacle course that comes out of nowhere.
Despite the surprising amount of variance the episodes have though, Nekopara just feels...boring to watch. Even if the content is different, the general storytelling of the anime is centered solely around the girls acting like cats in every conceivable situation, and hardly anything really changes. Because conflicts are so easily resolved, there's not a lot of actual plot to draw the attention of the viewer, especially since the cute girls are probably the biggest selling point the show has. Without that, there's hardly anything else that can really hook the viewer, which is made especially boorish when the girls can be extremely hit or miss depending on who they are and whether or not they're the focus at the time.
As a result, Nekopara's story feels less like a 'story' and more like a collection of memories put together one after another and told through hearsay. The episodic storytelling is by no means bad, but everything about them lacks anything significant to draw in the viewer aside from the girls doing their damndest at being cute, acting cute, and having whatever little powwow at the time to keep the episode moving. The content feels extremely samey, and given how the Nekopara VNs pan out, a part of me wishes the story went a little beyond just having the cute catgirls do cute things.
I want to get Kashou Minazuki out of the way first because this man barely does fucking anything. Despite being the player character that every girl in the series supposedly fawns over, he not only gets barely any screentime, but also has no real purpose in the plot aside from being the establishing point since his confections shop is one of the key settings in the series. Like I get it, he's a blank slate to project onto, but come on, put a little effort into making him something other than a plank of wood that occasionally does something.
But of course the main stars of the series are the six catgirls: Chocola, Vanilla, Cinnamon, Maple, Azuki, and Coconut. Based on six different breeds of cat, each of these six girls bear a different archetype which range from the Kuudere, to the dumb one, to the incredibly horny one. Despite the show putting as much effort as it could to develop and show off each one, each of the six girls feel incredibly one-note, which serves well to make each one recognizable and add more to the 'cute girls doing cute things' storytelling, but little else beyond that. Each girl only has a small handful of different things or character moments that they're capable of doing, which ultimately makes them really static characters if not barely impactful beyond the initial splash. Sure it's kind of fun to see what Azuki and Coconut are fighting over this time, but I can only see Cinnamon getting horny over something random so many times before it gets stale.
Minazuki Shigure serves as the second master to the catgirls as well as Kashou's younger sister of unknown age. (Yes, it's canon that she doesn't have a confirmed age.) Despite having something of an established brother complex, the show really makes it seem like this is her cat harem, which in my headcanon is both amusing and terrifying. A lot of the show features Shigure instead of her brother in coincidence with the catgirls, which really only exemplify how much she loves (and creeps on) the catgirls that live with her since that's the primary character trait that's being showed off. It's definitely an...interesting character trait, but that's about all the show really has for her.
Finally is Cacao, the an anime exclusive character who is a kitten that serves as the seventh catgirl of the family. And she doesn't really do anything. She's silent for a great majority of the series, making her appearances more like a puzzle for the other girls to figure out. Which makes her a character of little consequence. Beyond the first three episodes which establish her as a new part of the family, Cacao is mostly just...there, participating only occasionally in the series and serving as a mouthpiece for things in the Nekopara universe to get explained to since she doesn't really know anything about being a 'catgirl' as weird as that sounds. And aside from liking dried fish and generally wants to participate in things with the other girls, there's not much else to say about her.
Felix Film being responsible for animating the kickstarted Nekopara OVA that got mixed reception coming back to do a full cour adaptation is definitely not something I expected but hey, at least this time it looks pretty good, right?
The art of Nekopara 2020 is one of the things I praise about the show because it's surprisingly good. The characters look pretty good even when compared to the L2D/VN counterparts, and the consistency of the art genuinely surprised me because I did not expect this show to have actually good art. This alongside with the light color scheme and the detailed frilliness of the girls' various outfits and uniforms really had me take a step back and actually think, "Wow this looks pretty good." Admittedly seeing basically human women/girls on all fours hissing at each other like cats or curling their hands like paws to make a 'nyan' pose definitely made me feel a little uneasy because people don't normally do that, even to be cute, but hey, it makes sense for the context of the show.
And to keep up with the theming, both the OP and ED of the anime keep up the cute exterior this series has by having the seiyuus of the girls sing them with happy, bubbly instrumentals going on in the background. "Shiny Happy Days" being the OP is sung by all six of the girls alternating with an upbeat, bubbly tone, whereas the ED, "Hidamari no Kaori", is sung only by Chocola and Vanilla's voice actors in a slower ballad reminiscent of falling asleep since the two girls do sleep in the same bed.
My one qualm with the sound however is actually the voice actors. Compared to the kickstarted OVA, the entire cast of Nekopara 2020 is voiced by different people. Although I don't know the reason why Nekopara got an 'anime adaptation' after the OVA's reception, I'd imagine the best way to make one would be to use the original voice cast, so I'm a little confused why this isn't the case.
Considering the source material for this show involves a series of visual novels that have a dedicated slider in the settings to adjust how much boob bounce the girls have whenever their L2D models are moving on-screen, I was not expecting this show to be serious or outstanding in the slightest, and was prepared for whatever ridiculousness was going to come my way. I did not expect this show to be as boring as it was. I even got tired of watching Cinnamon, my favorite of the six cats, because almost all of her scenes just ended up with her becoming horny without anything else of note.
Because everything was side stories, it felt like the show was more like a slideshow that was showing off the girls rather than being any kind of faithful adaptation to the source material. (Which I guess is what they tried to do with the OVA, and failed.) The 'cute girls doing cute things' subgenre of slice of life is so oversaturated with so many different shows that almost nothing about this show stood out aside from the notoriety that the name 'Nekopara' has curried over years within the anime community. Sure the girls were cute, yes there was a plot during each episode, and Cacao did spice things up a bit by being a completely new character with potential, but all of that is meaningless when the show is nothing but an endless cycle of 'cute'.
I'm sure there're many people who enjoy this kind of mindless cuteness, but for me, it never felt like the cuteness had a purpose. It was the default tone and mode that this series had and that alone made watching it feel like a slog then a brand of cute that had some substance behind it. Had the show given us some more substantial story arcs aside from just doing side story after side story, then maybe things could've been different. But as it stands, the show is so mindless in being this cute cat creation that I find it hard pressed to define it as anything aside from that. Admittedly it does that well, but the show has nothing else going for it.
As such, my recommendation really goes out for fans of the series, especially those who're REALLY hardcore fans since this is the group that I think would get a kick out of this adaptation the most. For the casual viewer, there's not really anything I can see is worth the time since the brand of 'catgirls' being the show's main characters are about the only thing that gives the show any sense of unique qualities. Without that, the anime ends up feeling like a cute girls doing cute things show, and I think we've gotten to a point where we have more than enough of those in the world.