January 22, 2011

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Cat Paradise Volume 2

Written by Yuji Iwahara
Illustrated by Yuji Iwahara
Yen Press

The evil spirits start to reveal themselves, as they take advantage of an opportunity in the school library to take down a chunk of the protectors trying to keep the spirits on their side of the barrier. With humans separated from their cat pairs, can they prevail when one of the spirits tries to give them a severe case of arachnophobia? The stakes are deadly in what continues to be the oddly named Cat Paradise!

I almost gave up on this one after the first volume, but hell, it has talking cats in it, and the library had the next volume, so I figured it was worth sticking with it. Nothing lost other than a bit of time. I hate to give up on something after just one volume, because often things need time to build.

Just to review briefly, my earlier issue was that this manga felt too much like a paint by numbers. There were quite a few elements I've read before in other stories, but none of them had any original spin on them, at least to me. The characters were flat and the dialog was weak, which meant there just wasn't anything for me to hang my hat on.

I'm still not going to count this as a favorite, but Cat Paradise definitely got more interesting this time around. For one thing, Iwahara upped the level of danger, making me believe he was capable of killing off several characters. That's a storytelling hook for me--if the writer is willing to take major players off the board, that means he or she is going to keep the reader on their toes. I definitely stood up and took notice this time, rather than just turning the pages without much interest.

The second thing I liked better is that the characters seemed like they were more individualized rather than clones of either other manga characters or each other. I started caring about what happened to them, especially during the big battle scene, because I could actually tell one person from another. This is never going to win a lot of points from me in terms of characterization, but at least there are markings on the face of the cardboard cutouts.

Lastly, I found the battle itself to be more interesting. The situation is far more dire because of the ramped up level of danger, the attack by the villain is a diabolical trap that plays into a common fear of many people, and there's a great pacing that keeps the fight moving through most of the volume without feeling played out. It's just as exciting on page 50 as it is on page 1. The artwork in the battle scenes feels better here, too. There's a use of facial expression, "camera" placement, and shadow that I don't think we saw as clearly in volume one.

I'm still not overly fond of the general story, as I don't think it's fleshed out enough for the reader to take notice (evil stuff wants to rule the world is a definite trope). However, I'm hopeful that things will pick up in volume three because the action definitely got moved up here as the evil spirits definitely overplayed their hand. Our human-cat protectors know what's going on--but can they stop it? I wish there was more to it than the basic save humanity plot, but if we keep on moving, I'm far less likely to notice the vanilla storyline.

Cat Paradise is never going to make a best-of list for me personally, but I liked it better here than I did in volume one. I'm going to finish it now, since there are only 5 volumes anyway, but I don't see a strong need to recommend this to anyone, unless you must read anything featuring cats (and hey, who can blame you?). Your mileage on this one may strongly vary, but I find it to be an okay read that just doesn't reach the level of good--at least not yet.