I hear a voice. It’s saying the words I’ve always longed to hear. (Fukumaru)
Retired concert pianist Fuyuki Kanda has found a new lease of life since he adopted a year-old cat: Fukumaru, an exotic shorthair left languishing for months in the pet shop because of his unusual appearance. So when Kanda bumps (literally) into his onetime pianist rival, Kanade Hibino, in the pet shop, he’s overjoyed to learn that Hibino has just got a cat. Hibino is far from overjoyed; he spotted Kanda walking out of his recent piano recital and still feels hurt and snubbed. How is it, then, that he finds himself bringing his mother’s cat Marin (unceremoniously dumped on him recently by his insensitive mother) to Kanda’s place so the two cats can meet. This could, as all cat lovers know, prove to be a recipe for disaster but it turns out that Marin is Fukumaru’s litter mate and big sister. The two cats bond – and, after some very awkward moments, the two estranged pianists begin to talk to each other again.
But Kanda is still traumatized by the final concert recital that he gave at the time of his wife’s death. When he fled Hibino’s recital (giving Hibino entirely the wrong impression) he realized that he still is unable to enter a concert hall without suffering a panic attack. This is obviously preying on his mind, for guitar teacher Moriyama overhears Kanda telling the manager at the music school where they both work that he’s decided to hand in his notice. The reason why? He can’t face the prospect of being in the hall for the upcoming children’s concert. The young music teacher is horrified. Mr. Kanda is his idol and the thought of him leaving the school is too hard to bear. Luckily, all the staff feel the same way and implore Kanda to stay. What will the older musician decide to do? He’s been suffering this (undoubtedly a form of PTSD) since his wife died and although he loves teaching (and his young students obviously love him) it’s limiting his life. Perhaps Kanda’s childhood friend Kobayashi, loud and cheerful (and dog-owning!) can think of a way to help?
And meanwhile, Fukumaru’s world revolves around his ‘daddy’ and food (from wherever he can get it, including stealing the fish from Kanda’s plate) although he occasionally thinks back to his desolate days in the pet shop when no one wanted to buy him and the only consolation were the tough but kindly-meant advice given him by a hard-bitten black Maine Coon. What became of that early mentor after he was bought by a woman and her young son?
Umi Sakurai’s popular and successful manga continues into the fourth volume with more of the same alternation of chapters advancing the plot and cute 4-koma snapshots of Fukumaru and Kanda’s life together such as The Mysterious Crab Dash (a cat manoeuvre cat owners will recognize!) Scritch Scritch Lick Lick, Fukumaru’s Hidden Cloud Technique etc. It’s hard not to suspect that the mangaka is a fan of stories about Oji-san (older men) as, with the arrival of Hibino, we now have three older but attractive male protagonists (Kanda’s childhood fried Kobayashi makes up the third member of the trio). Beneath the fun and eccentric cat antics lurks a genuinely touching story of learning to cope with loss and regret – although with the many chibi images, the comic elements with the cats balance out the human drama well.
Taylor Engel’s translation for Square Enix Manga continues to help bring the different voices of cats and humans to vivid life, as does Lyn Blakeslee’s choices of lettering. It can’t be easy to find a variety of different way to convey Fukumaru’s ‘cat-speak’ (nya) in English (“Mew bet I am!” and “Thank mew, Daddy.” etc.) but this translator rises successfully to the challenge! Like the earlier volumes, this fourth entry in the series has the benefit of a double-sided colour page at the front and the back, showcasing Umi Sakurai’s bold use of colour.
I imagine that by now, Fukumaru and his gentle, kind-hearted ‘daddy’ have found many fans in the English-reading manga community and, like me, they’ll be looking forward to the next volume which is due out in December 2021. The cover art suggests that that black Maine coon is going to play a larger role in Fukumaru’s life…
Read a free preview of Volume 4 at the publisher’s website here.