February 23, 2011

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Cat Paradise Volume 3

Written by Yuji Iwahara
Illustrated by Yuji Iwahara
Yen Press

The story of the spirit animals and their reasons for hating the human race are revealed as lives continue to hang in the balance at the cat-friendly school with a set of deadly secrets. The villains they face now are getting increasingly clever and it will take all the strength that the human-cat pairs have just to stay alive, let alone try to prevent the spirit animals from taking over the world. By the end of this volume, it's clear that things are not nearly as black and white as we were previously led to believe.

I didn't have as much to say this time, but since I started reviewing the series and I intend to finish reading it, I thought I'd give a few quick impressions.

My first is that this is a manga that definitely picks up steam as it goes along, which is a good thing. As I finish each volume, I'm drawn further into the story of the spirit animals, though I admit I'm kinda rooting for them instead of the humans, since it appears that it was the humans who caused the problems in the first place by insisting on being different from the rest of the animals. (I think that was a brilliant idea on Iwahara's part, that both makes sense and gives a nice reason for conflict. In the world of Cat Paradise, it is the humans who lack souls while the animals all possess them. Lose your spirit animal and you effectively lose your ability to survive as a species.

That's a great idea, but why wasn't it in volume *one* rather than past the point some might have already given up? I understand the concept of the slow build, but you have to give the reader something to latch on to, and Cat Paradise really didn't do much of that in the first two trades.

I also liked the main battle in this volume, with the spirit animal turning the tables on humans by using their own hunting tricks against them. Like the soul concept, the reversal really works for me. It's nice to see villains in a shonen manga who really can give the heroes a run for their money. Sometimes I feel like they're created just to be knocked down, rather like a set of powerful dominoes. Iwahara seems to have something more in mind, and I like that.

What I did not like, however, is that I still don't care much about the human characters in this manga. They're still very plain and generic and easily swapped around for just about anyone else in the cast. Part of why I'm rooting for the bad guys is because the good guys just have no flesh on their bones. At least the spirit animals have plans, schemes, and dreams going for them. It's probably too late for anything to change on this score, however, so I'm just going to have to live with it through the final volumes.

Cat Paradise isn't a manga you need to run out and grab today, but if you like stories that involve conflict with ancient forces or talking cats and see it somewhere, I'd say it's worth a look. The story is enjoyable enough and sometimes that's all that's needed. This isn't a manga for the ages, but it's a nice Sunday afternoon read. Go into it with that mindset, and you won't be disappointed.