July 25, 2011

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Cat Paradise Volume 5

Written by Yuji Iwahara
Illustrated by Yuji Iwahara
Yen Press

It's the climax of our story as the spirit animals are on the verge of being loose in the world once more, and while our heroes are damaged, they're determined to save humanity no matter what the personal cost. But is there an even more sinister scheme at work, one that puts the entire world at greater threat than evil monsters ruling the earth. Can our band of school children find a way to save the day? Find out in the finale to Cat Paradise.

If you'll recall, I wasn't planning to continue this series after volume one, and if I had it to do all over again, I definitely would have given up back then and moved on to other things. This final volume continued the trend of confusing visuals, plot elements that seemed to skip around on a whim, unnerving changes in the goal for the protagonists, and, perhaps most importantly, the introduction of an evil boss that completely upends everything we've been working towards.

I just don't see how this gets translated to an American audience, with all due respect to Iwahara. From beginning to end, there's so many leaps in the story that it feels like a ten volume story was condensed into five. I can forgive the somewhat confusing art, because shonen doesn't seem to put a priority on quality linework, but when I'm mouthing aloud "you've got to be kidding me" multiple times within about 20 pages, there's a problem.

From the beginning, we've been told the Spirit Animals are evil and must be stopped. But here in the final volume, that's no longer the case, and the monsters go off to protect their kind (I think?) without so much as a "we'll still be there to stop you" from the group of teens who seem to have been nothing but pawns this entire time. Did I miss something along the way because I started to lose interest? I'm not seeing how these homicidal shadows are suddenly not worth pursuing or that they're no longer interested in the mass murder of children they were planning on eating only a few moments before. It's like they all got hit with a falling beam of closure or something and changed their motivation like an old screwball comedy.

I also don't get why we needed to go down the trope of "evil old man must abuse a cute girl" trope when we had the spirit animals as villains. Wasn't it enough to have these kids going against the odds to face the primal rage of creatures? I liked that story, even if it was a bit confusing now and again. I am not a fan of the generic girl in danger theme, and once we break down into that plot point, I'm more or less checked out.

By the end of the story, people seem to have forgotten everything that happened, except for our little band. The problem is that there's no sense of completion. It was like a bad dream, complete with dream logic that shifted from volume to volume. The characters involved won't remember what happened, and those that do don't even seem to be better for it. The spirit animals are hiding and there seems to be no hint that anyone will be ready if they decide to attack again. For me, that's inexcusable. Characters should never leave a story acting just as they did at the beginning, especially not when you are using your own intellectual property. It's like Iwahara hit the reset button on his own universe, which bugs me. Why should I read this--or recommend it to others--if in the end, there's no growth, no development, and no real point?

I was extremely disappointed by Cat Paradise. There's a lot of good manga out there and this isn't one of them. My recommendation is to skip it.