Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Chi's Sweet Home vol. 1-8

I've been kind of cooling on manga lately. It seems like I haven't found a great, new title in a while. Well, it seems that my manga luck has changed with the discovery of 'Chi's Sweet Home', by Kanata Konami. What a great way to break my manga slump.

One day while out for a stroll with her mother and sibling, cute kitten Chi suddenly gets separated from her family. Lost, hungry, and a little scared, Chi collapses in defeat. Luckily, at the same time, a little boy named Yohei discovers the down and out Chi and together with his mother, they decide to bring Chi home with them. Too young to fully remember her original family, Chi settles in at her new home with her new family, the Yamadas. We follow Chi as she bonds with her new family, discovers new things, and meets other animals.

One of the most interesting things in this manga for me is Chi's interactions and relationships. Her main relationship is with her new family, the Yamadas. I particularly enjoy her interactions with the Yamadas' young son, Yohei. Their relationship is closer to that of brother and sister than pet and owner. Playing together, napping together. Yohei's parents even point out several times how much they seem like siblings. Another interesting relationship is with a big, black cat that Chi calls "Blackie". Chi encounters Blackie and strikes up a relationship that I wasn't expecting from this largely episodic story. Blackie starts to act as a mentor of sorts to Chi, teaching her how to be a cat and what not. And when Blackie gets kicked out of his apartment and has to leave Chi, it was genuinely sad. Chi was pretty devastated for a while, but when she came to the realization that "I can't see ya, but I know you're there"(referring to Blackie), it was a real heartwarming moment and clear character growth for Chi. Yet another budding and interesting relationship Chi has is with another kitten her age named Cocchi. Chi and Cocchi's relationship borders on a rivalry sometimes and at other times, they seem like partners. A couple even. But mostly, Cocchi is a great, same age playmate that fills a role that the older, less energetic Blackie can't. Chi and Cocchi truly have some fun times and I can't wait to see what antics they get into next.

Most of the manga I have read is in black and white, with an occasional color page if I'm lucky. 'Chi's Sweet Home' however, is in full color from cover to cover. I actually prefer black and white manga to colored western comics because I think the black and white is easier on the eyes and easier to take in. But the way 'Chi's Sweet Home' is colored is very soft and pleasant, like water colors or something. More than something nice to look at, I think the art is beneficial in another way. Being so easy on the eyes and looking so natural, I think it really contributes to how quick a read 'Chi's Sweet Home' can be. Now I'm not saying you should rush through this read. There is plenty to savor. But in my experience, partially because of the art(and partially because of the reasonable amount of dialogue), I was able to process the images very quickly. I didn't have to stare at the pages long to take it all in. Because of that, I was able to breeze right through when I wanted to, and I appreciated that.

Among all the comedy and cuteness, there is just the right amount of conflict and drama for me. A very, very tiny amount. The height of conflict in the story is that the Yamadas aren't allowed to have pets in their apartment building, and they are always worried that Chi will be found by the super. Many comical situations also involve Chi almost getting caught, but there was even one time when Chi and her black cat friend got chased by the super and I was genuinely worried that she would get caught this time. In a laid back, comical manga like this, that situation was actually kind of exciting and entertaining. Other forms of drama involve things like Chi getting sick or getting lost or trapped. But the great thing is, the drama never overpowers the cute and fun aspect of the manga. Actually, the most dramatic aspect for me is also the most overarching plot point. And that is when Chi starts to remember her real mother. Though subtle and infrequent, this always has me slightly worried. I'm scared that Chi will eventually go back with her original family. If not, why bring it up several times? I'm not saying this is a bad thing though. It's actually a good thing. It helps take the story to another level from just cute and funny episodic antics. And it shows how well written Chi is as a character and how well written the family dynamic with the Yamadas is. I both worry and anticipate the day Chi encounters her original family. 

Reading 'Chi's Sweet Home' this week has been such a wonderful experience. I haven't had this much fun reading manga in a while. The laughs and smiles were plentiful. But it's not just comedy. Sweet, cute and funny carry this manga a long way, but subtle story progression and genuine character development are what make Chi's Sweet Home a memorable series. And as a former cat owner, it invokes comedic nostalgia. I was able to recognize and relate to many of the situations Chi and the Yamadas got in to, and I now remember fondly those times I had with my cat. 'Chi's Sweet Home' isn't just a great manga, but a great comic in general. And since it is printed in the left to right reading format that westerners are used to, readers new to manga should have to trouble picking this series up. I really can't recommend this series enough. It is, without a doubt, one of my favorite manga series now.