January 27, 2010

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11th Cat Volume 1

Written by Kim MiKyung
Illustrated by Kim MiKyung
Yen Press (Originally Ice Kunion)

I have to admit, there's exactly one reason I wanted to read this one: The word "cat" is in the title. I'm an unabashed cat lover, and adding a cat to the mix will almost always get me to at least take a look.

11th Cat is the story of Rika, a rather inept student of wizardry who wants to get a magic staff. She's barely able to keep out of the hands of goblins or even a perfectly innocent cliff. Her friends reluctantly help, and the next thing you know, Rika is the master of a powerful spirit.

What's a clueless magical wanna-be to do? Take on a dungeon master's quest against a wizard who's entirely too powerful for her, of course! Soon Rika is right back in the soup, but can even her new servant help her out, or will old loyalties surface?

Normally I talk about the story first, then the art, but in this case, I'm flipping the usual structure of my reviews. MiKyung's artwork is so damned cute, and that dominates the entire scene. All of the characters have wide, expressive eyes that look like they're ready to be your best friend, unless of course they're unhappy. In which case, you'll probably want to offer them a pony to stop the waterworks. Even her goblin looks adorable, and can't stay evil for long.

Backgrounds are a little sparse, but that's not really an issue for me. There's enough scenery for me to know what's going on, and that's all I need. The bigger issue is that while the artwork is extremely pretty, it tends to be on the confusing side. There's several times where I had no idea what was going on, especially at the beginning where MiKyung flips between past and present. I also didn't like the way some of the panels were placed. Jammed together , often with diagonal lines or other visual tricks, it was confusing for me to follow the layout. No matter how pretty the pictures were, they weren't telling a clear story.

Part of the reason for that is that I don't think the story itself was all that strong. It reads like a standard dungeon crawl without any interesting twists or turns. Rika must find a magic pouch hidden in a forest to receive her prize--the wizard's staff. Then, once she's recovered the prize, she goes on an adventure that's literally called an adventure(!). Perhaps this is a translation problem?

That adventure is right out of every single RPG video game I've ever played, as Rika must try to save a princess. It would be funny if the idea was to show us how an inept wizard manages to get by, but instead she gets caught so quickly, it's just predictable, not interesting. Theoretically, there's a cliffhanger ending, but I wasn't hooked enough to care.

Compounding the problem are the characters. Rika is likable enough as a main character, but her supporting cast is weak. The reluctant friend is too distant, the intellectual friend is a cipher. Her magical companion is nominally animal-like but really acts more like a delinquent child than the cat-like creature I was hoping for.

I guess that's the main crux of the problem for me--this book is called 11th cat, and I wasn't able to find anything sufficiently cat-like about it. Maybe that changes as the series goes on, but I really need to see the cat hook come out sooner to stay interested.

My manga and manhwa choices tend to be safe bets these days that I'm pretty sure I'll like. I wanted to take a chance on this just based on the title and quick summary, but there's just not enough for me to seek out more, when there's so many more comics out there for me to read. 11th Cat is one of the prettiest comics I've read in awhile, rivaling CLAMP's house style. Unfortunately, the weak story and pretty basic characters drag this down too far for me to recommend it. If you read comics primarily for the art, however, it might be worth a try.