By Taiyo Matsumoto. Released in Japan as “Louvre no Neko” by Shogakukan, serialized in the magazine Big Comic Original. Released in North America by Viz Media. Translated by Michael Arias.
In the beginning there was Rohan at the Louvre, a one-volume collection published by Musée du Louvre Editions in an effort to publicize the famous museum. It was written by Hirohiko Araki, the author of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, and I believe also serialized in Ultra Jump. Then we get Guardians of the Louvre, by the late Jiro Taniguchi, author of The Walking Man (he gets a cameo signing said manga at the end of this volume, which made me tear up.) Both of these were published here by NBM Publishing. And now we have Cats of the Louvre, by Taiuyo Matsumoto, author of Tekkon Kinkreet and Sunny. Each of these volumes, despite all being about the Louvre Museum, have also been books you can pick up and immediately know who drew it. They are all very distinctive artists. And this applies whether we are seeing cats, humans, or the odd cat-human hybrids that Matsumoto decides to use through the story, a choice I was not a big fan of at first but grew to like. Best of all, the plot is terrific.
The cat on the cover is the main protagonist, Snowbebe, a small white kitten who has remained small and a kitten for about six years now. He’s one of many cats that live secretly in the museum, helped out by the night watchmen who know they’re there but don’t say anything. There’s also Cecile, a middle-aged Louvre tour guide who dislikes large crowds and is therefore not at peace with her job. She sees Snowbebe during one of her guided tours, but then he vanishes. Talking about it with the night watchmen, Patrick and Marcel, she is asked – as Marcel has asked everyone for the decades he’s worked there – if she can hear the voices of the paintings. Turns out there’s a very good reason for this question, which ties in with his sister, who also disappeared looking at a painting – but unlike Snowbebe, she did not return. Can the cat really walk through paintings, and if so, which painting is the one Marcel’s sister went into?
This is the basic plot, but I’ve left out all the other cats who also inhabit the Louvre, many of whom have personalities of their own and one of whom is very unhappy with Snowbebe wandering through the museum and paintings when he pleases and getting them in trouble. Usually with a book like this you’d expect to empathize with Snowbebe’s innocent sense of wonder, but after a while you start to see the other cat’s point – it’s looking less like innocence and more like a refusal to grow up (you never age in paintings, which is why Snowbebe is still a kitten). I also liked the minor plotline with Cecile trying to find the correct painting Marcel remembered, and then trying to meet with her old teacher, who is restoring it – we hear that she was on the fast track to be a restorer as well, till her father died and she had to leave school. I do wonder if she might be enticed back to that side of the business, which seems far more her speed.
The plot and characters are very good, but I’d argue the art and mood of the book is the main reason to get it. Matsumoto’s quirky, “indie” art style fits the Louvre well, and there’s many times when I found myself having to go back and read the dialogue as I’d been concentrating too much on the images. This deluxe hardcover edition should be read by anyone who loves manga.
Also, the art opposite the title page has Snowbebe looking just like Kitten Kong from the Goodies, which I loved. Whole lotta cat…