A Man & His Cat Volume 11 Review

When we first met retired concert pianist Fuyuki Kanda, he had recently become a widower and – because his late wife Suzune loved cats – he decided to adopt Fukumaru, an exotic shorthair kitten. Since then, Mr. Kanda has become a complete convert to being a cat owner and has found many other allies among his fellow musicians. It’s taken him a while to summon up the courage to visit his father-in-law but, feeling the time is right, he pops Fukumaru in a harness and then in the cat carrier and sets off. (Yes; Fukumaru doesn’t make a fuss about going in the carrier, so unlike the cats I know and love!) On the way over to his father-in-law’s, Mr. Kanda visits Tsukigata-ya, a sweet shop that he and Suzune used to frequent, to buy some sweet bean mochi as a gift. The owner remembers him and Suzune and obviously isn’t aware that ‘Suzu’ has passed away, which leads to an awkward conversation (from Mr. Kanda’s point of view) in which he has to smile and behave as if everything was still as it was.

Distracting himself from his bitter-sweet memories by letting Fukumaru out of the carrier for a walk (that’s why he put the harness on him) who should they encounter but Mr. Kanda’s mother! It’s only now that we get to see how much Mr. Kanda is upset by this unexpected meeting and realize how much his childhood has traumatized him, as he gathers Fukumaru up in his arms and flees. The story then flashes back to his childhood when his mother made him enter piano competitions even though competing gave him terrible stomach pains. As he runs from her, he finds himself realizing, I can’t even go on stage. I can’t play for an audience properly. I’m a pianist who’s gradually being forgotten. The sort of loser you detest!!!… And you want me to come home?!

With his stomach aching, he crouches down – and then has a flashback to his first meeting there with Suzune when they were both children. He had doubled up then with stomach ache at the prospect of having to go to his piano lesson and she was only too eager to distract him with the insects and snails she’d been collecting (so their daughter Sorako must have inherited her love of entomology from her mother!).

When Mr. Kanda eventually arrives at his father-in-law’s house, he’s relieved and reassured to find him on good form. When he introduces him to Fukumaru, the older man exclaims, “Hanamaru Kitty?!” Hanamaru Kitty is the name Suzune gave to a lucky charm cat made by her late mother which she then gave to young Fuyuki to bring him luck in all the piano competitions his mother was forcing him to enter. There’s something of a resemblance between the mascot and Fukumaru – and it’s still in the family, although Sorako is now looking after it.

However, Mr. Kanda’s father-in-law is harbouring a secret of his own… it’s just that his feline companions are hiding and won’t come out and introduce themselves to his guests! Can Fukumaru persuade them?

As in all the previous volumes, A Man & His Cat is all about feelings – and having come this far with Mr. Kanda, it’s good to learn more about how he and Suzune first met, as well as the pressure imposed on him as a gifted child by his terrifyingly ambitious mother which, Umi Sakurai now suggests, is probably a major factor in causing his current inability to perform in public. But the way Sakurai portrays Mr. Kanda’s mother in this unexpected encounter shows us that even as she tells her grown-up son to come back and live with her, at the same time speaking harsh words about his late wife and his beloved Fukumaru, that the balance of her mind is disturbed. Her eyes go blank and dark as she speaks to Mr. Kanda as if he were still a little boy. It’s a truly chilling moment – although the memories of his life-enhancing friendship with Suzune follow, and it’s contrasted tellingly with the warmth shown towards him by Suzune’s widower father when his little daughter brings home her new friend.

If all the family angst and drama seem too oppressive at times, no worries as Umi Sakurai lifts the mood between chapters with more light-hearted 4-koma pages about Fukumaru. And there’s a one-page illustrated afterword by the mangaka.

Taylor Engel continues to translate this delightful All Ages-rated series for Square Enix Manga and expertly delivers all the cat voices, meows, and cat conversations (that humans can’t understand), ably aided and abetted by letterer Lys Blakeslee. As in the other volumes, Square Enix Manga give us four colour pages, including one yon-koma page and everything (including the chibi cat motifs on the inner covers) make this another must-have volume for cat-lovers (and musician-lovers too). Square Enix Manga are also bringing out the child-friendly one-shot (64 full-colour pages) hardcover A Man & His Cat Picture Book: Fukumaru and the Spaceship of Happiness in July.  Volume 12 is due out in October and the series is ongoing in Japan.

(And even though we don’t yet find out about what has happened to rescue cat Siam – see Volume 10 – we do get to see what happens between the two younger musicians as Yoshinari Kanda and Teruaki Kuju have a very frank and emotional conversation that they should probably have had years ago. Is it too late to rebuild their broken friendship?)

Our review copy from Square Enix Manga was supplied by Turnaround Comics (Turnaround Publisher Services).

8 / 10


Sarah's been writing about her love of manga and anime since Whenever - and first started watching via Le Club Dorothée in France...

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