It is no secret that I like books. Although perhaps the title of this blog makes it sound like my brain is on a mission to eradicate them from this world, nothing could be farther from the truth. I love books! I read them for fun, I read them for work, I cram them into every little available space in my house. (Fun fact: My linen closet doubles as a book shelf for comp copies!) My entire life basically revolves around books, and few things give me as much quiet, solid pleasure as noodling around in a bookstore, looking at all the books. Even if I have no intention of buying one, it is such a warm comfort to be surrounded by them, to pick one up and read the cover copy and then gently set it back in its place. One of the sadder parts of returning to Canada is the sparsity of bookstores, although I am very fortunate to live near two great independent shops, Glad Day and Bakka Phoenix. Between the two, my English-reading needs are basically covered. But nothing can replace that moment of delight I experience so much more often in Tokyo of stumbling upon a previously unknown bookstore.
It is also no secret that I like cats, like all good citizens of the internet. I only just this very day happened upon a podcast that is nothing but a cat purring, and it made the sun shine a little brighter in my heart. I will take any and all opportunities to hang out with cats, including going to great lengths to inconvenience myself by fostering rescue cats and timing my life in Tokyo around whatever cat I have living with me in Toronto. (If you are in the GTA and looking for some cat companionship, you are certain to find your perfect match at the rescue organization I work with!)
So I am obviously the target market for a manga about a cat bookstore. Sasakumako could not have my number harder if she came to my house, became my best friend, and spent the next twenty years of her life with me. Although I suppose I am fairly easy to read since the book was a gift from a publisher who I have known considerably less than twenty years, and she still knew exactly what I would want to read: a book about a bookstore staffed by cats. And while I was looking up the title of the book to put in a link so you could all take a peek at it yourselves, I discovered there is not one but two cat bookstores in Tokyo, so clearly the fantasy depicted in these pages is well on its way to becoming a reality. Once the cats get opposable thumbs, we won’t need humans in the bookstore at all!
But until then, we will have to settle for being surrounded by cats in bookstores and reading about shop cats Kurokichi and Shirokichi as they are roped into service by the elderly owner of Aoki Books. Times are tough for small booksellers like Aoki, and he worries that if the slow sales keep up, he won’t be able to buy his cats the high-quality kibble they so love. Or worse, he’ll have to send them out to live with his cat-obsessed sister in the country, where they will no doubt be forced to endure the humiliation of cat clothes. The cats quickly confer with each other, make some tea, and then sit down for a serious meeting with Aoki. Their proposal? They will work in the shop. And so, the human-sized cats don aprons and step out into the storefront.
But of course, the customers do not come flooding in just because there are cats there now. Because they don’t know that there are cats there now. Once a group of girls happens upon the extremely lazy and hungry Shirokichi napping beneath a tree in front of the store, however, they squeal their way inside for selfies with the bookstore clerk cats, and business slowly picks up.
Sasakumako’s keeps things simple with the art. Everything is mostly rounded lines and not too much detail, full of warmth and expressiveness. You quickly get a sense of the personalities of the cats in particular from the way she depicts them lying on the floor. And the simple style keeps you moving quickly to the punchline of each chapter. They’re only a few pages long, so the book has the feel of a gag manga, easily digestible in quick bites with that funny punch at the end.
On a day off, Shirokichi, Kurokichi, and Aoki all put on backpacks and hats and take the train over to the park. But once the cats show Aoki and another customer the joy of laying on the overhead luggage rack, they spend the entire day on the train. In another episode, a regular customer frequents the shop solely to spend time with Shirokichi and eventually lures the food-crazed cat back to his apartment where he sets Shirokichi up in Roman emperor style. Back at the shop, they come up with the idea of a valet on rainy days to take customer umbrellas and welcome them in, so they don’t drag their wet umbrellas all over the store. But it goes too well, and soon the shop is packed with people who just want to hang out with the cats and tell them all their problems.
The episodes are mostly little vignettes like this, with a recurring cast of characters like the young and overly enthusiastic publisher rep, who has the opposite of the Midas touch. Some get a little more fantastical, like the wizard who gives Shirokichi a weird plant that is the vanguard to an alien invasion, but it’s mostly cats selling books and hanging out. I look forward to this book sparking a cat bookseller manga revolution so we can all have more of the sweet cat/bookstore crossover content we deserve.