Reviewby Lissa Pattillo, Jul 12th 2010
Chi's Sweet Home
From the back of the book: “Chi is a mischievous newborn American shorthair who, while on a leisurely stroll with her family, found herself lost. When we found Chi it was clear to us she was completely distraught as she longed for the warmth and protection of her mother. Feeling sympathy for the little fur ball, we quietly whisked her away inviting her into our small apartment home … where pets are strictly not permitted. While we dread parting with her, there is no way she can stay. Little Chi is a happy and healthy litter-box trained kitten. And while she can be a little bit of a handful, she has been a great source of joy in our lives and a wonderful companion to our young son. Living with Chi has completely changed our lives, and we are sure she will have the same impact with whomever gives her a good home.”
The book's list of chapter titles holds nothing back in letting readers know what they're in for when they pick up this first volume: A Cat is Lost, A Cat Goes to the Vet, A Cat Plays, A Cat Is Home Alone, etc, etc. Rinse and repeat is the name of this kitty-cat game. The chapters in Chi's Sweet Home are chronological while at the same time almost entirely episodic with only a few directly overlapping transitions. It benefits the intended quirks of the story however, a series of events starring the title character coming to learn the ways of the world and their new home with literally wide-eyed curiousity.
It all begins with Chi getting separated from their Mother and siblings, then exhausted and laying alone in a park. But soon a mother and son take the kitten in and yet-to-be-named Chi suddenly finds themselves in a nice home with a whole new environment to explore. The stories are what you'd expect from such a starting point early in Chi's life – Chi explores the house, learns what they can be entertained by and slowly becomes accustomed to the rules of the home such as litter boxes being for business other than sleeping and that a variety of places such as boxes and shoes can be comfortable for napping. A little cuteness here, a little mischief there.
It's all very simple and straightforward, sometimes even proving a bit too much to take all in one sitting going from one episodic chapter to the next. There's no real drama or continuing plotline, per say, short of events in one chapter subsequently having an effect on the next. What really makes it all work is the artwork. It's so cute and colourful that every page is a treat even when Chi is doing nothing at all. This is a very expressive cat – their bug-eyed expressions for which they've become known for range from fear to fun to WTF. Everything is show over tell which works great for the humour. It's fairly reminiscent of Kiyohiko Azuma's Yotsuba&! in its execution, though does fall short of reaching the same level of snappy pacing.
Being a cat-lover makes you a natural fit for this story but that same poignant draw-in is also one of the series' biggest downfalls. Not a big cat person? Well then you may not be much of a Chi person either. The exaggerated expressions on the cat's face are still entertaining but a lot of places in the book will leave the less-than-enthralled readers wondering why we're supposed to find an animal breaking stuff, ripping your pant legs and peeing on your clothes adorable. The externalized thought process of Chi takes us through the motions of being a kitten and simply not knowing (or caring) any better, but it's still too easy to imagine this little ball of fur being in front of you and finding them anything but sweet.
In further attempts to make Chi cute, the adaptation takes some grammatical liberties with their ‘speech’. “It's miulk!”, “So scarewy!”, “This is fwun!” – throughout the book Chi uses these kinds of cutesy-slang to emphasize being… adorable? Young? Annoying? It's hard to tell but it often proves more jarring than endearing. This kind of speech may work in part for Black Jack's Pinoko but for Chi simple, short-sentenced proper English would've worked fine without the added jargon.
Vertical's physical presentation of the book is impeccable however. A full-colour release sporting a nice cut size and high quality paper with smooth texture makes this a book that feels instantly comfortable in your hands. In an effort to appeal the book to a wider audience, the pages have been flipped and regardless of intent there's bound to be the manga-purists out there upset with the change. Still, it's worth noting that the change is hardly noticeable with such a simple art style where the majority of the page time is on a symmetrical cat and not the now left-handed human cast.
Speaking of whom, the humans in the story consist primarily of the quaint family who take Chi in – a mother, a father and their preschool aged son. The three are all kind and accommodating, proving more springboards for Chi's antics than active players in the book itself. Still the family makes for a likeable trio and feel grounded as individuals in the page-time they do have while leaving Chi to the forefront of the attention. The father is especially entertaining as he struggles to win back Chi's affections after a trip to the vet leaves the family's new addition less than trusting of the man's attempts to coddle. At time's the son's growing-up parallels well to Chi's own learning curve while the Mother manages some admirable patience in light of some new stressors.
Chi's Sweet Home is an overall pleasant little book that should prove the perfect present for any cat-lover in your life, and who knows, maybe even work towards converting those who aren't. Well-tailored for some laidback reading and a few chuckles over several sittings, Chi's Sweet Home overcomes the majority of it flaws with a formula served best in moderate doses.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : A
+ A hit-home treat for cat-owners and lovers that has fun, colourful artwork and great production values
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