December 22, 2010

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Cat Paradise Volume 1

Written by Yuji Iwahara
Illustrated by Yuji Iwahara
Yen Press

Yumi is going to a school I'd love to be at--one that allows the students to keep one cat each living with them at the dorms. The trouble is, this school comes with a catch--it's the portal to a demonic world where evil spirits with animal natures are ready to lay waste to all of humanity! When Yumi finds herself about to be devoured, she's offered the chance to save the world. Will Yumi and her cat be enough to stop the evil forces at work, even with the help of others at the school? Find out in the rather ironically named...Cat Paradise.

I have to admit, this one didn't grab me as much as I'd hoped it would. I love cats and will generally pick up any comic that involves my feline friends. I'm inclined to like stories that involve cats, perhaps a bit more than they deserve. This time, however, I wasn't able to get myself on board. The overall feel of the manga was like it was trying too hard, stretching to hit several notes at once but never striking any of them solidly. I'll try to explain here in the rest of the review what I mean.

First we have the setup of the school. This is where so many manga begin, but here's there's nothing new for the reader. Yumi is late to class and has issues with a mean assistant principal who of course will feature later as part of the evil villain's plans. There's an elite group in the school who come from the standard playbook as well, and do nothing to make themselves unique as the story plays out. I blame part of this on there being too many--6--to give any the room they need to show their worth.

From this weak premise, we move on to the idea of talking animals, one of who apparently secretly wishes to be human. There are 6 of these animals as well, though Iwahara wisely keeps the action centered on one of them plus Yumi's cat, Kansuke. There's quite a bit of confusion at the beginning of who can understand the cats and I don't think that's ever clearly resolved. The cats seem to act rather like humans as well, which means that the specialness of their power of speech is limited.

Third is the action itself. Like other shonen manga I've read and felt like I don't need to keep reading, Cat Paradise's action scenes are cluttered with extra lines and unclear fights that pushed me away from the book rather than towards it. There just wasn't enough clarity for my liking, as though Iwahara had to cram as much battle as possible into each chapter. Sometimes less is more.

Finally, I thought the dialog was clunky. It's not badly translated--every speech makes sense--it just feels badly written. Nothing about the banter between any of the players in the drama--whether they're cats, humans or demons--is original to me. I could easily get this material in any shonen story. Because I could not get a read for any of the characters, their stale lines really registered with me, and not in a positive way.

Overall, I can't say that Cat Paradise is a manga I'd recommend. My library has it, so I'll try volume two to see if things get better (this would not be the first time a comic series took more than one volume to warm up enough for me to like it). Right now, however, this is one I'd say steer clear of--there are better cat stories and better shonen manga out there. Life's too short to read books that play by the numbers like this one did.