Chi’s Sweet Home, Vols. 1-2 | By Konami Kanata | Published by Vertical, Inc. – Chi’s Sweet Home is the very sweet story of a lost kitten who is rescued by a family whose apartment building does not allow pets. Originally serialized in Kodansha’s seinen magazine, Morning, it is endlessly cute and monumentally charming. What’s immediately striking about the series, however, is how much more it is than just a “very sweet story.”
Even from the very beginning, there is a darker side to this tale. Chi spends nearly half of the first volume trying to get back to her mother, while her tiny kitten memories slip away, bit by bit. Though she eventually settles in happily with her new family, her first days with them are mainly spent in panic, a truth of which they are entirely unaware.
This is a recurring theme throughout the first volume of the series, not Chi missing her mother, per se, but the lack of effective communication between humans and cats. In volume two, this is taken a step further, when Chi meets an older neighborhood cat who warns her not to trust humans too much.
“And what does ‘twust’ mean?” Chi asks.
“To think they’re your kind. Cuz they aren’t your kind,” the cat replies. “I scratch their backs, they scratch mine.”
Not that this cynical tone reflects the author’s intent. It’s made clear throughout that whatever lack of understanding may exist between Chi and her human family, the love is real, and certainly Chi’s innocent acceptance of her humans’ love and care makes her a much happier kitty than her jaded counterpart appears to be. But what’s also clear is just how vulnerable cats are to the whims and choices of their human caretakers, who may not know or care how well they are serving the needs of their feline houseguests.
As a long-time cat owner, mangaka Konami Kanata hits upon one of my greatest worries over the years–that, thanks to the communication barrier, my pet may be unhappy or even ill without my knowledge. Kanata’s message is a reassuring one. Though this may indeed be true, she says, speaking through Chi’s innocent, wide eyes, it’ll all be okay as long as there’s love.
This gentle touch is just what the doctor ordered for overly-anxious adult readers, but it also serves as a real teaching tool for new cat owners, especially the very young. A child reading Chi may even find herself schooling her parents on “what kitty really wants.”
And children will read Chi’s Sweet Home. Published by Vertical “flipped” left-to-right and in full color, Chi’s Sweet Home is the family-friendly manga we’ve all be waiting for. Its tiny feline protagonist is uniquely poised to appeal to readers of all ages, and even very young readers will find its image-heavy narrative easy to follow. Kanata’s simple, expressive art tells her story so clearly, it’s a series most of us could probably follow even if Vertical had printed it in the original Japanese.
That said, I’m glad they didn’t, because their adaptation is truly dear. Though Chi’s cartoonish, childlike speech (based by Kanata on Tweety from Looney Toons fame, according to translator Ed Chavez) might have easily come off as cloying or contrived, alongside Kanata’s jubilant artwork, it’s just plain cute. The language is clear and true to its characters, both human and cat. From translation to paper quality, these books were obviously produced with care. Each volume is a delectable treat for the senses. All warm ambers and sweet pastels, Kanata’s artwork dances brightly over crisp, white pages, within a soft, matte cover that is even pleasant to the touch.
At the heart of it all, though, is Chi. She’s feisty, sweet, surprisingly poignant, and possibly the very key we’ve all been looking for to help bring manga into non-otaku western households. On Christmas morning this year, my family’s getting Chi’s Sweet Home. How about yours?
Review copies provided by the publisher