by Risa Motoyama
published by Digital Manga; $12.95 US
One of Digital Manga’s last print releases before their announced hiatus, Start With a Happy Ending is an odd but comforting selection for the end of the year. I found its message, to take more joy in life and make more rewarding choices for yourself, memorable and needed.
It’s a single volume, and the short chapters all have a similar premise: someone who died suddenly is reincarnated as a cat to handle any unfinished business … but only for seven days.
It’s comfortable seeing how content the characters are with their suddenly simple cat lives. Most of them are kittens, with a cat mother. They play, they sleep, they eat, and they’re relaxed and happy… some, it seems, for the first time. The theme is summed up in the first chapter, as one cat-person is told her second chance at life is almost up:
If I’d known that, I would have… I would have…
(Cat god:) Our time is not infinite. Don’t tell me you’ve been living your life as if it is?
The cat god is drawn almost as a mix between a cat, an old man, and an obelisk. He shows up to tell the newly cat-ercized what’s happened and their deadline. Many of them need the guidance.
The recently deceased had mundane but relatable struggles: A lonely student driven away from her true friend by peer pressure. An overworked, distrustful employee. A wife in an arranged marriage who never shared her true feelings with her husband. A son pressured to take over the family shop. The person convinced nothing will get done without her learns that everyone will somehow muddle through. Family members trying to control each other realize they should focus more on their time together.
They’ve all wasted their lives to the point that they’re given a chance to see how enjoyable life can be if they get past the boring and mundane and feeling wronged. Eventually, they find understanding and peace. Sometimes, it’s touching; sometimes, it’s funny, as one of the cats helps her former co-workers finish one last job by batting at the computer. Often, they inspire those left behind to seek new directions.
The flat art tells the story sufficiently, although you’ll need the text to convey the nuances. The cats are cute and expressive, which is the important thing. The stories all have the same structure, but I liked being reminded of the bigger picture, of seeing the suggestions of how to better enjoy and appreciate life. (The publisher provided a review copy.)