I’m clearing my shelves these days, a bit belatedly since I just moved and should have done the bookshelf pruning before the move rather than after. But moving came in the middle of far too many other, more pressing matters, like being in Tokyo for the months before the move, making things like packing and finding a new apartment in Toronto a lot harder. So most books got tossed into boxes without much thought (except the ones that were lovingly packed before I left for Japan when I felt like I had all the time in the world for moving. Oh innocent days!).
However, I’m moved now into a place that is a fair bit smaller than my old place and a cursory glance at the spines of books stuffed into every available space is enough to let me know that getting rid of some books is a necessary task that has been too long neglected. There’s no other way to explain the fact that I still have every single volume of Inuyasha.
I have a hard time sending books out to new homes, though. In the back of my mind is always the thought, “But what if I want to read that again one day?” So to preempt unread book regret, I have been re-reading before tossing. Even Inuyasha, although I didn’t need to re-read the whole series to realize that I will never want to read that whole thing again. The annoying episodic nature of shonen manga! Takahashi did not need fifty-six volumes to tell that story!
Ahem. I’m not telling you all this to rant about the plodding nature of Inuyasha, however. This careful examination of the books I surround myself led me to rediscover Kyo no Nekomura-san, a series I was initially enthusiastic about, but gradually grew less interested in as it progressed. To the point where I actually bought the latest volume, but didn’t bother reading it. So this series is a combined read/re-read project for me, and I think my initial assessment stands: starts strong, trails away.
The Nekomura-san of the title is a cat named Neko Nekomura (i.e., Cat Catterson). This cat gets a job as a housekeeper. But she is a cat! This is the entire premise of the story. And it works really well for the first volume, less so for the second, even less for the third, and so on. Because, you know, the incongruity of a cat sweeping the floor grows stale and there’s not a lot else to hold the story up. If you are a big fan of slice of life style things, it most likely will have a lot more staying power for you, but I just ended up bored with the daily doings of the family Nekomura works for and the house where she lives with other housekeepers working for the same family company.
It doesn’t help that Nekomura becomes less and less cat-like over the course of the series. In the beginning, she frequently does things like flop over on the pillow she is sitting on to knead it, excusing her behaviour to the humans present with a quick “Excuse me for a moment”. Or when she gets frustrated or upset, she runs off to scratch the hell out of a pile of cardboard boxes. But these sorts of charmingly cat-like actions gradually disappear, so that by Volume Four, the only reference to her cat nature is when she declines hot drinks because of her “cat’s tongue” (a Japanese expression for people who can’t handle hot drinks).
She’s also exceedingly good-natured and optimistic, provoked to anything resembling anger only by the neighbourhood busybody, who pushes all of her buttons, despite the fact that the family she works for are jerks to her a fair bit of the time. Interestingly, it’s basically just the women in the family being mean to her; the guys generally take a paternalistic attitude toward Nekomura, gently explaining a variety of things to her without actually being asked. So women are bitches and men are displaying leadership as usual.
I shouldn’t be so harsh here, because I did enjoy reading it for the most part. The cat as a housekeeper is genuinely funny, and I really love the way the fact that she can talk and learn how to keep house, along with all the other people things she does, is never ever addressed. It reminded me of Gaspard and Lisa and how they are puppies dressed in nothing but scarves living in a world of totally normal humans, and everyone is totally fine with that. The only difference is that occasionally in Nekomura-san, some character will make a remark like, “Wait. You were talking to a cat?” There is also a whole subplot with Oniko, the daughter of the family the cat works for, and how she is a super tough gang girl with her super tough gang boy friends. But the gang boys delightedly accept afterschool snacks of hot cocoa and hotcakes from Nekomura, which is just adorable to me. They’re just kids at heart!
And the whole thing is done in pencil, quick sketches that evoke the scene rather than portray it in a way that really works with the story. Hoshi has a deftness with her lines that somehow manages to capture much more than is actually shown. There’s a lot of movement in these panels. And she’s not afraid to let word balloons take over the majority of a panel, so that the character is set against a background of handwritten words, which has a good look to it. Apparently, the manga started off as a webcomic with one panel a day, and it has that casual feel to it, like she was sketching out this silly story for her own entertainment. I think where it starts to fall off is when it becomes a popular print book and there end up being actual people out in the world having actual expectations of her.
Or maybe it is just that once the novelty and silliness of a cat making milk tea for the mistress of the house wears off, it’s at heart a story about the everydayness of life. And I’m not sure I’m the target audience for that story. Still, Nekomura imagining crossing the ocean in a tub and starting a sushi shop for passing boats with the freshest fish possible is hilarious enough that I’m glad I read/re-read it.