Every time I move between Canada and Japan, I overestimate my abilities, stamina, and time to a degree that is honestly quite shocking. I have been doing this round-trip life for a decade now, so you’d think I would have at least a vague grasp of what I am capable of doing in what period of time. But no. Every single time, I grow increasingly frantic as I push further into the crumple zone—the plane is going to leave whether I am on it or not, and that unyielding wall jams my days back up into each other like the front end of a car in a crash. Miraculously, however, I did once again manage to throw my apartment into my suitcases and get them to the airport on time. Even more miraculous perhaps is the fact that for the first time in I can’t even remember how long, said cases were not overweight because of all the books I bought. Friends, I showed admirable restraint on my bookstore visits during my summer in Tokyo.
That is not to say that I did not buy any books. That would be absurd. My suitcases were still filled with fun treats for my brain to battle. I simply tried this idea of only buying books when I was ready to read a new book. Plus a couple extra. I am not a monk over here. But during the last frantic week of the crumple zone, I make a concerted effort not to buy any new books because I am panicking about how much space I don’t have in my luggage. This effort is constantly thwarted, though, because people keep putting out great books that I want to read. Or author friends spring their latest release on me over dinner the night before I leave and said release just happens to be a 500-page tome. (Please stop writing doorstoppers, author friends. Think of my poor, struggling suitcases.) Or I happen to spot the latest from an author I’ve enjoyed battling before, like Ami Uozomi, whose live-in lesbian cooking/romance manga charmed the pants off of me. And this one promised cats, too! How could I resist the possibility of queer cat manga?? I am not made of stone.
Unfortunately, as of volume one, there is no queerness to be found in this story. I am shipping the two teenage girl characters, however, currently positioned as best friends. I feel like they could get a little cuddly in future volumes. But Uozumi delivers in spades with the cats, just as the title promises: a cat for every person. And this part is no surprise at all, given that the manga is being serialized in Neko Panchi, which appears to be a magazine devoted to cat manga. I had no idea such a thing existed until this book, but in hindsight, it seems obvious that it would. There is a magazine catering to every taste in Japan, so why not one full of cat comics?
Hitori Hitoneko is full of cats. Cats, cats, cats. Most of the cats featured are house cats who live with the Koba family in a small town in the middle of nowhere, but there is also a cast of street cats who make occasional appearances. The basic idea is that each member of the Koba family has their own cat, but Yamato does not. She finds this grossly unfair because she clearly loves cats more than anyone else. But cats very much do not like her. She is too over the top, too energetic in her love of them that they want nothing to do with her. Such is the way of our feline friends. But she can’t contain her powerful cat love, and so she never stops trying to befriend each and every cat she sees, to the point where she carries cat food and treats in her school bag to try and entice the street cats along the way.
And then she comes across a stray kitten and knows that she must rescue it. She faithfully leaves food out for the ragged little thing, and the kitten eats it every time, but never lets Yamato get anywhere near her. Until one fateful winter day when the cat comes to Yamato’s house to find her, and that is the start of their tumultuous relationship. As the story moves forward, we also get the back stories for how the other cats came to live in the Koba house. Each of them is adorable and heartwarming in their own way, but the dad’s cat’s story is hilariously dad style as he does the whole grumping about how there’s no way they’re getting another cat, they’ll just have to find a home for this kitten his wife has rescued, and then when they do find a home, he can’t let the cat go. (Every single cat my family had growing up adored my father above all others, and he perpetually sniffed his disdain of each and every one of them while spoiling and pampering them every chance he got.)
Uozumi injects a little magic realism into the story with conversations between the cats, establishing a cat hierarchy and world that has little to do with the humans. Some of the best of these interactions are with the neighbourhood “boss”, a scarred tomcat who is positioned as a sort of benevolent cat lord, bestowing his blessings on the cats (and humans) who come to see him. The cats will also “talk” to the humans sometimes, although they are never understood. This is not a Disney movie. And later on in the book, Yamato’s cat turns into the narrator of the series, so you get a healthy balance of cat and human voices in here.
But cats are really the star of this series, so it’s a good thing Uozumi is great at drawing them! Each cat has its own distinct character and look, and having known a great many cats through my work fostering them, it’s a treat to see how deftly she captures each of their personalities and idiosyncrasies with warm lines and an eye for detail. The humans are cute, too, but you know all the truly adorable moments are centred on the cats. As they should be! This is a cat manga running in a cat manga magazine drawn by a woman who clearly loves cats! We can only hope to see such quality cat content in English.