The cat is nearly one. Yet he’s still for sale in the pet shop, patiently yet fervently hoping for someone to buy him. Cute kittens are snapped up in no time and potential owners call him ‘ugly’. He’s distinctive, certainly, a flat-faced cat (‘an exotic shorthair’) and very large for his age – but surely there must be someone out there who will want him? The young lady assistant in the pet shop calls him ‘ugly-cute’ but is obviously fond of him. And then one day a mature gentleman comes into the shop and declares as he strokes him, “I just decided I wanted him. He’s so very, very lovable.” But once installed in his new home, the cat soon realizes that his owner has never looked after a cat before. It’s going to be an…interesting learning experience for both of them.
We see the relationship grow between Mr Kanda and his new pet (whom he calls Fukumaru, while realizing ruefully that the cat will respond happily to any name he is called) from both of their points of view. Mr Kanda, unaccustomed to the ways of cat-owning, soon learns the hard way that many of the things he has purchased from nice young lady at the pet shop, are utterly rejected by Fukumaru: the cat house; the collar (oh yes, especially the collar) and the enclosed litter tray to contain the cat litter (Fukumaru is an enthusiastic scuffer). All these details will ring true with cat owners! And then there’s the innumerable cat pictures to take with his new smartphone… As for Fukumaru, he adores his new owner, although he becomes very jealous when he realizes there’s a rival for Mr Kanda’s attention: a big, black glossy thing from which his owner draws loud sounds and is called a piano.
To go into too much detail would spoil many of the delightful, amusing and affecting little scenes in this first volume. From occasional glimpses into Mr Kanda’s memories, we realize that he’s recently become a widower. We get to meet some of his work colleagues and his dog-owning friend Kobayashi – and it looks as if they’ll all play a part in future volumes; the manga is ongoing, with four volumes out in Japan so far. It’s told in very short chapters, a structure that enables the mangaka to swap viewpoints very swiftly from man to cat and back again (with the occasional four-panel gags to vary the rhythm).
It’s a pleasure to have another engaging manga that falls into the A for All Ages category – even though, with its older human protagonist, it’s more likely to appeal to adults, than, say, the more child-centred Chi’s Sweet Adventures.
If you liked the anime series My Roommate is a Cat (as I did), you’ll certainly enjoy A Man & His Cat, another tale of a man – much older this time – whose solitary life is transformed by owning a cat. There’s always a danger with this kind of story that the narrative could lapse into sentimentality – but, fortunately, mangaka Umi Sakurai knows when to rein back and seasons her manga with a welcome dose of reality. The team at the new Square Enix Manga imprint have produced a very handsome edition with four colour pages and a fluent translation from Taylor Engel. The text can’t have been so easy to render into English as Fukumaru’s internal monologue is sprinkled with a lot of meows. “I hate mew! Mew got nothin’! Mew’re big, that’s all!” (Fukumaru addressing his arch-enemy: the grand piano.)
Read the first pages of A Man & His Cat #1 at the publisher’s website here.