Manga-ka: Yuji Iwahara
Publisher: Yen Press
Rating: Older Teen (16+)
Release Date: August 2009
Synopsis: “Nine lives might not be enough to survive this catfight! At Matabi Academy, students are allowed to bring their pet cats to the dorms. For Yumi Hayakawa, whose favorite hobby is making clothes for her kitty Kansuke, Matabi seems like a sure bet. After all, nothing can possibly go wrong with her best friend at her side! But on the first day of school, the two find themselves face-to-face with a murderous demonic minion on campus! Will Yumi and Kansuke be able to defend themselves and their school against an ancient cat demon’s thirst for vengeance?”
Cat Paradise seemingly brings us yet another high school manga. As a fan of Iwahara’s King of Thorn, however, I was looking forward to a similar, mildly eccentric action-oriented work full of distinctive and illustrative artwork. Could he give us all that within the confines of yet another teen manga? Iwahara delivers, managing to make what might otherwise be a generic series into an engrossing, unconventional read. While not as tense or dramatic as King of Thorn, this story nevertheless gives us the goods, adding some fun moments and concepts while foreshadowing potential for even more intriguing future chapters.
As the story kicks off, you might ponder if this is going to be Ouran Host Club for crazy cat ladies. Yumi arrives at an elite private high school [are all high schools in manga elite?] where every student in the dormitory has a cat and the student council are rock stars adored by everyone. This seems almost a parody of other manga’s depictions of student councils, even inserting the accidental “oops, I’m so clumsy!“ meeting of the main character and one of the male council members. However, the plot quickly ventures into different territory as demons attack, and the student council is revealed to be a façade for a secret team dedicated to containing the demons sealed inside the school!
Adding in a battle manga aspect, the demons invading the school are dealt with by both the student council and their cats. It thus gives a perfectly sane reason for making the school into a training ground for future animal hoarders. Given super powers by the Princess who initially sealed the demons, the students’ powers reflect a wish made by their dreams, pasts and personalities.
For those who look at the cover and worry about a cat-person furry overload, no worries. Iwahara opts for originality by giving each team a unique ability and varying who gets the combat power – sometimes it’s the cat, sometimes the owner. Indeed it’s not always the human’s dream that triggers the Princesses visitation.
Visually, Yumi’s powers make for a fantastic scenery that I haven’t seen in super-power comics before. Empowered with magic yarn, hers is a knitting oriented power, which suits her cute personality. It also function in a myriad of ways, from embarrassing gothic Lolita dresses for Kansuke, to a rock solid barrier that saves lives. It also plays into Kansuke’s tough guy personality, as the power is rooted around embarrassing frilly outfits for him. You’ll recognize every cat you’ve seen forced to dress up in his hissing visage. The other powers shown in this volume are equally inventive, as the large orange Persian Musashimaru and his owner Hasutani take on a large pig demon with super powered home-cooked meat buns. It leaves me intrigued to see how the powers of the rest of the council work.
Iwarhara’s art is one of the best parts of his work. Each character is given a distinct design as they did in King of Thorn, even though it could of easily been another cookie cutter high school manga. You do get your pretty boys, but you also get short chubby girls, adults who look older than 30, and fun, inventive monsters. Did I mention even the cats get distinct appearances? Cat lovers will enjoy the assorted breeds and individual personalities, plus recognize many of the mannerisms. Even the colour art is put to good use with a great flashback sequence depicting the Princess and her cat’s battle with the ancient cat demon. There’s also a great establishing shot of the cast with colour art for each team member and their corresponding kitty. Readers will also be amused by the school founders resemblance to a certain Kentucky Fried Colonel…
Story-wise, we’re also dealt some decent writing. It‘s still your basic cheesy manga writing, but like King of Thorn, it keeps the story going strong. Iwahara gives us some fun characterization and history for the cats and humans while delivering assorted tidbits as to why the school is haunted, why none of the regular students seem to notice, and also some mildly sinister dialogue from the council members. A bit of mystery is hinted at as well as it’s unveiled Yumi makes one more cat warrior team then a prophecy expected.
Yen Press’s presentation continues to impress me with more of their usual colour pages, good paper, and decent translations. While I still don’t like their choice for sound effects, I can forgive them due to the overall quality of everything else. Cat Paradise comes with a short nifty bonus manga and a hilarious note to readers of Iwahara’s previous series King of Thorn not to take the bonus pages seriously this time.
Cat lovers will rejoice as the series delivers on it’s title’s promise while giving us lots we hadn’t expected. Fans of cat manga like What’s Michael and Chi’s Sweet Home will enjoy this, though it will also appeal to fans of Shonen Jump who are looking for similarly offbeat battle manga tales outside VIZ’s catalogue. Obviously for fans of Iwahara’s past series from CMX (Chiyuki Misaki) and Tokyopop, this is a must. For those looking for something that works within the usual comfortable manga tropes but goes a little off the beaten path, Cat Paradise might be just for you too.