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We finally have a reason to be excited about a fully-electric Toyota, now that the carmaker turned its Accessible People Mover EV into the “Catbus” from My Neighbor Totoro. Ever since sisters Mei and Satsuki climbed aboard the feline in the seminal Studio Ghibli film, kids and former kids alike have dreamed of taking a ride on the “Nekobus.” And now they can, although it’ll require a trip to Japan.

Bringing the Catbus to life was harder than just throwing some fur on an old Ford Econoline to turn it into a “Sheepdog,” and Toyota worked closely with director Hayao Miyazaki to make the Catbus EV true to the original from the animated film:

Totoro Takes The Cat Bus | My Neighbor Totoro | Max Family

The APM EV that underpins the Catbus is a relatively boring vehicle made to ferry passengers at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The APM EV has a top speed of 12 miles per hour and a range of 62 miles. It fits up to six people, including the driver, who sits behind a center-mounted steering wheel.

Image for article titled Toyota Turned A Boring EV Into A Real-Life Catbus From Studio Ghibli

But Toyota and design partner Naoki Nagatsu exchanged plenty of notes with Miyazaki, ranging from the placement of the cat’s paws to the authentic glowing eyes that double as headlights in the film. Since the real-life Catbus is based on an EV that’s just under 11 feet long, the magic cat’s dimensions had to be scaled down and its 12 paws pared back to six.

Image for article titled Toyota Turned A Boring EV Into A Real-Life Catbus From Studio Ghibli

Miyazaki suggested changing Toyota’s original design to make the Catbus look like it was mid-stride, lending it some of its characteristic charm from the film. Nagatsu tells the Toyota Times that Miyazaki helped him get all the little details right, such as making the eyes point outward rather than perfectly ahead, as they are depicted in My Neighbor Totoro:

In fact, the left and right eyes are not facing forward, but slightly outward. With Miyazaki-san’s advice, I tried to express the character of a bakeneko, but it was difficult to set the left and right black eyes comfortably on the spherical eyeball.

Other details include the fur-lined ceiling and seats, as well as mice riding on the roof of the Catbus. Their glowing eyes serving not just as decorations, but working lights, too.

Image for article titled Toyota Turned A Boring EV Into A Real-Life Catbus From Studio Ghibli

Image for article titled Toyota Turned A Boring EV Into A Real-Life Catbus From Studio Ghibli

Image for article titled Toyota Turned A Boring EV Into A Real-Life Catbus From Studio Ghibli

The other challenge in bringing the Catbus to life was how to translate the design of a two-dimensional being to a three-dimensional object that lacks an outline. Per the Toyota Times:

The most difficult aspect of designing the APM Nekobus was that the animation was two-dimensional, but the actual vehicle was three-dimensional. Animated characters have outlines drawn, but three-dimensional objects do not have outlines.

If you look closely at the completed APM Cat Bus, you can see that the areas where the “cat brown” color changes are expressed with steps rather than outlines.

Nagatsu: “It is not just a matter of adding different levels of paint and applying different coats of paint.

For example, the space between the mouth and teeth is painted a light gray color. The lips are painted a color called ‘cat lips,’ and the teeth are painted a ‘cat teeth color,’ which is neither too white nor too dark.”

(…)

This fine division of color creates a three-dimensional effect that replaces the outline.

Overall, Toyota and Nagatsu managed to turn an uneventful EV into an accurate depiction of the Ghibli magical being. The Toyota Catbus will start ferrying passengers on March 16 in Ghibli Park, and rides will begin at ¥1000 for adults and ¥500 for kids, or around $6.70 and $3.35 based on current exchange rates.

Image for article titled Toyota Turned A Boring EV Into A Real-Life Catbus From Studio Ghibli

Image for article titled Toyota Turned A Boring EV Into A Real-Life Catbus From Studio Ghibli

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