by Konami Kanata; translated by Ed Chavez
published by Vertical; $13.95 US
I suspect my expectations for Chi’s Sweet Home may have been too high. I’d heard such good things about the “cute cat comic” that I think I wanted it to be more than it is.
This small volume, comfortable to hold, is surprisingly in full color, not the usual manga black-and-white. The book contains 20 eight-page chapters, each featuring a small incident. The kitten Chi has wandered away from her mother and siblings, only to be adopted by a family (dad, mom, young boy) who aren’t allowed to have pets in their apartment.
I found a couple of things unpleasant about the tales. The first is the cat’s name. It seems “Chi” means “pee”, as she’s named during a toilet-training incident with the family’s toddler. Also, if you’re not into cute, you will absolutely hate the way Chi’s internal monologue is written to sound like a baby with a lisp: “That was scarewy”, referring to the park as “the gwassy pwace”, “I think I’ll shtay here for a wittle while more”, etc. Often, these thoughts are unnecessary — it’s obvious through the cartooning when she’s lost, scared, and so on, so the text becomes repetitive. As do some of the situations.
The cat’s thoughts are often anthropomorphized, which led me to wonder why the mother cat just left without this kitten. If the baby is capable of logic and reaction, why isn’t the parent? More significantly, it’s hard to fully get into “aw, cute” mode about the cat’s behavior when her actions are frequently interrupted by her thinking how much she misses mom. That’s a downer. It also makes it difficult to consider the pet and the parents all part of one family, since there’s something so important to Chi that they’re unaware of. It works against the main flow of the book, that we’re watching how they all get to know and decide to keep each other.
The incidents themselves are familiar: cats hate baths, cats have claws, pets hate the vet, kittens are easily distracted by food or toys. The most creative moment in the book was the way Chi’s desire to sit in the windowsill, which risks exposing her presence to the neighbors, was camouflaged … only that reminded me of a movie. Perhaps this is all more amusing if you actually have a cat, so you get that glint of recognition: “oh, this is just like when Snoogie-Woogums scratched my armoire that time.” I do like some animal manga, but this one may have worked better for me if the cat wasn’t quite so cartoony. I expected something fresher and less familiar than I got. This feels like the Japanese Garfield.