(Added September 2016)
Because sometimes you’ve just got to read a kitten manga.
Chi’s Sweet Home is the endearing tale of a lost kitten who finds a home. How long is this one’s list of recommendations? They just keep coming: Anime Diet, Bookworm’s Corner, Comics Reporter, Comics Worth Reading, iFanboy.com, Manga Critic, Manga Curmudgeon, Manga Xanadu, Mania.com, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, and at least ten more.
The manga opens with a tiny gray-and-white tabby wandering away from Mama-cat and falling into the path of Yohei, a human toddler about the same mental age. The Yamada family take her home with them. Chi (so called because she used to wee around the house) and Yohei learn toilet training together, as well as how to eat, sleep, play, and share. Yohei’s parents try to find the kitten a home and are saddened by the long list of pleas from strangers who also are trying to give away cats. Chi is so little that she cannot eat solid food and has no chance of surviving on her own. The humans soon realize that this squeaking pile of fluff is here to stay. (They don’t put up that much of a fight.)
Much of the collection is simply vignettes of life: baby’s first bath, baby’s first kibble, first time she can jump so-high, and first encounter with bouncy-balls. Only six characters appear in the first book: the four Yamadas (Daddy, Mommy, Yohei, and Chi), the landlady, and a sleek and handsome bobtail nicknamed “the bearcat” for its sheer confidence and size. The simply told tale shows Chi’s excitement, wonder, and puzzlement at the complexities of her world. Mommy scolds her for destroying houseplants, but it’s fine to chew on grass outside? Daddy stays home from work sick one day but doesn’t play with her? And is the Bearcat a foe or a friend? Through Chi’s eyes we see all things afresh, as if for the first time.
Light sketch pencils and subtle watercolors render the panels luminous and airy. Yes, this manga is in color (rather rare for the genre). So effectively does the art communicate a kitten’s point of view that the reader has no idea how compact the Yamadas’ home really is. Only after Part 1 (478 pages) do we learn that the humans’ 4-room apartment is only 670 square feet.
For the Yamadas, a loving family and kind, characterization is gentle and leisurely. Mommy is a stay-at-home mother who takes care of Yohei and his kitty-sister. Daddy warms to the kitty quickly—the title was serialized in a men’s weekly magazine, after all—and cannot resist buying her toys and treats. They even dream about her. Chi’s relationships with them get tested now and then as they do things for her good that make her angry, such as trimming her claws or taking her to the vet. But overall, Chi and the Yamadas make each other very happy, and not coincidentally the hordes of voracious readers.
It would seem incredible that any but an inveterate cat-hater would criticize a kitten manga, but complaints do exist. These fall into two categories: dialogue and a lack of unifying plot. (Personally your host was more distracted by the “smile of fear” and “smile of sadness,” both of which are staple illustrations in manga but are less commonplace in Western art.)
Nevertheless, hypercritical reader, meet nitpicking reviewer. Your host diligently counted every word of Chi’s dialogue for the first 100 pages (“Homemades 1-12”). We did not penalize artificial contractions like “ain’t, gonna, wanna, lemme, or gimme” on the grounds that, while not Oxford grammar, they are all pronounced correctly. Chi “speaks” 476 words and lisps 59 of them. This is a ratio of about 12.4 percent. Chi is a baby. Babies use baby talk. The only person in Chi’s life who can understand her anyway is the Bearcat, and he is a mighty hunter, not a speech therapist. If the Gentle Curmudgeon truly finds this percentage of twee too insurmountable, one can always pretend it is a wordless book. The art certainly is expressive enough for it. Alternately, may we suggest the related manga FukuFuku, about an adult grumpy cat. Otherwise, Chi’s efforts are quite respectable when compared to a species that cannot correctly pronounce Arya, nuclear, or February.
As for the other objection, that the series has no plot, what of it? Babies do not have a plot. Babies have lives. Consider the TV program Seinfeld, “the show about nothing.” Your host found the series unappealing and its popularity inexplicable. Clearly many earthlings disagreed. Then of course there is the great Bambi. Bambi has no plot. Bambi needs no plot. Sometimes there is no accounting for taste. Therefore, if any should disparage Emergency Kitten for lacking a plot, your host is of the opinion that plot is not your real problem.
What the collection does have is choices. Chi and the Bearcat are living in an apartment complex that prohibits pets. One might question why their owners allow them to roam outside where the cats would be seen, but the author attempts to show the escape-artist inclinations of such smart kitties. Bearcat ultimately is caught because he cannot resist his mad desire to hunt (steal) just one more meal: defrosting salmon, bucket of chicken, and Chi’s own plate. Chi’s owners watch in distress and awe as the Bearcat’s owners are evicted. “They chose their cat over their home.” The Yamadas are left to wonder, what will they do about Chi? And where did Chi come from? She was too little to be separated from her mother. Did Chi once have a home? Does someone miss her there? But these are long-term questions and do not hover sword-of-Damocles style over day-to-day living.
[SPOILER]: Chi and the Yamadas return in the brand new manga series, Chi’s Sweet News, set in Paris, in fall of 2016. [/end SPOILER]
The comic, originally serialized in the seinen (Japanese men’s magazine) Weekly Morning (2004-2015) is available both as a traditional manga (right-to-left) and in the reviewed omnibus edition (3 volumes in one “part”/book and published Western-style i.e. left-to-right). The title’s popularity has grown exponentially: as an anime (animated presentation) available on DVD and by streaming Crunchyroll; plus calendars, posters, and official websites of Chi’s plushies photobombing their way around the globe. A new anime adaptation in 3D-CG is scheduled to air on October 2, 2016.
Summary: instant classic. Read this.
The Complete Chi’s Sweet Home, Part 1 by Konami Kanata (Kanata Konami). 478 pages.
Originally published in Japanese as Chiizu Suiito Houmu 1-3. First published Tokyo, Japan: Kodanasha, Ltd., c2004-2006. First serialized in Morning, Kodansha, Ltd., 2004-2015.
English language version: Omnibus edition. Printed Western-style (left-to-right). Contains 3 volumes per part: “Homemade 1-56” vignettes plus 3 bonus vignettes: “A cat meets FukuFuku,” “Kitten FukuFuku,” and “Kitten FukuFuku: You Called?” Imprint New York: Vertical Comics/Vertical, Inc. (www.vertical-comics.com). Translation copyright 2010, 2015 by Vertical, Inc. Manufactured in Canada.
Omnibus edition ordering information:
• The Complete Chi’s Sweet Home, Part 1. (Volumes 1-3.) 478 pp. ISBN 9781942993162
• The Complete Chi’s Sweet Home, Part 2. (Volumes 4-6.) 464 pp. ISBN 9781942993179
• The Complete Chi’s Sweet Home, Part 3. (Volume 7-9.) 480 pp. ISBN 9781942993483
• The Complete Chi’s Sweet Home, Part 4. (Volumes 10-12.) Publication date December 2016. (est. 480 pp.) ISBN 9781942993575
http://www.crunchyroll.com (streaming website for the anime)
http://www.discotekmedia.com (another streaming website for the anime)
http://www.chi-sweethome.tumblr.com (Chi calendar and posters)
Winner (multi-year awards): Manga.Ask.Com, Best Children’s Manga.
Nominee: 2010 Cybils Awards.
Nominee: 2016 Dwayne McDuffie Awards. (Results to be announced in February 2017).