Reviewby Carlo Santos, Jun 9th 2011
Chi's Sweet Home
Chi the orphaned kitten is becoming more and more a part of the Yamada family. However, her playful, inquisitive nature has gotten her into a lot of trouble with her folks recently! Chi's latest misdeeds include tracking dirt into the house, tearing up houseplants, ruining a birthday surprise, and messing up dad's art projects. That doesn't even include mild nuisances like getting in the way of vacuuming or playing with styrofoam and cardboard packaging. Meanwhile, Chi's outside adventures are becoming more intrepid as well: she meets a black-and-white cat obsessed with guarding its turf, socializes with the neighbors' pets (including a remarkable parrot), and meets up with old friend Blackie. However, a nighttime excursion with Blackie is about to take Chi down a dangerous path ...
Can a slice-of-life series be action-packed? If the subject matter involves a kitten discovering the world around her, then the answer is a definite yes. The sixth volume of Chi's Sweet Home sees the titular feline going through those terrible toddler years when she just has to touch, feel, eat, and most likely destroy every object she runs into. The result is a very boisterous first half of the book, equal parts amusing and exasperating: Chi's misadventures are fun at first glance, but the Yamada family's frustrations are mounting as well. Dad has to cat-proof his personal belongings, Mom can't keep the house clean, and little Yohei has his birthday sabotaged. So even as we laugh at cute pets doing cute things, the story carries a bit of an irritating edge to it as well, a sign that this isn't all fun and games.
But while Chi is tiring out her owners, her repetitive antics may also tire out readers, especially after seeing the same gag formula several times in a row. (Chi discovers something new! She tries to play with it! Chaos ensues!) At least we get a bit of variety by having some of Chi's mischief occur outside the house: the pigeon-hunting chapter injects tension and action into the most mundane of activities, while an encounter with a parrot, predictable as it may be, gets funnier and funnier each time bird mimics Chi's meows. Yet amidst these highlights, even the animal encounters become repetitive—how many times now has Chi met with a fellow housepet and interacted in a totally forgettable manner? Sharing a water dish with the cat next door accomplishes nothing. That's why, even though two-thirds of the book is pure cuteness and fun, it also feels empty inside.
Carefully woven into this volume, however, is a more serious storyline. It seems completely innocuous at first: Chi meets a territorial black-and-white cat at the park but regards it as more of a playmate than a rival. Just another boring animal encounter, right? Later on, however, Chi and her old pal Blackie go on a nighttime stroll to meet Blackie's nocturnal buddies at the park, and who should show up but that territorial, sharp-talking black-and-white cat? There's an air of danger to this entire storyline (the nighttime setting says it all), and the heart-dropping cliffhanger in the final chapter is a complete turnabout from the blandness of earlier escapades. It's a brilliant plan of attack: dull everyone's senses with cuteness, then shock them with dark, uncertain moments like this one.
With the series' sudden mood swing over the last couple of chapters, the artwork also makes its most dramatic change yet as Chi goes out at night for the first time ever. Lots of heavy tones and blacks set these scenes apart from the light, pastel colors of the rest of the series. (Unlike most other manga, this one is printed in full color.) Dark and striking as those scenes may be, though, Chi's Sweet Home is obviously much more comfortable in the daytime, where a scheme of light yellows, blues and greens creates a relaxed mood throughout. The character designs are as simple as they've always been, but there's a lot of work going on behind them: Chi's animal friends are drawn very economically but still resemble specific pet breeds, while humans and animals alike express themselves with a full range of emotion despite their simple dot eyes and plain faces. Simple panel layouts and clearly drawn gestures also make it easy to follow the action at any point in the story.
What makes the action even easier to follow, at least for general readers not accustomed to manga, is that this translation is presented in left-to-right format. Fortunately, the artwork is simple enough that this page-flip doesn't cause any hiccups, and the story reads just fine in the Western direction. Sound effects also go through a full conversion into English, and while the comic-styled fonts could use a little more variety, they match up nicely with the dialogue text and give each page a unified look. Meanwhile, the script itself is as simple as they come, with Chi basically commenting on the events around her. Thankfully the "baby talk" is all but gone now—a sign of growing maturity?—and some of Chi's conversations with her animal pals even lend themselves to a little humor. (Not that the hilarity of the parrot scene really has anything to do with witty dialogue...)
For most of Volume 6, Chi's Sweet Home readers will find themselves experiencing various degrees of amusement, affection, and boredom. Chi's mischievous antics at home, coupled with animal encounters outdoors, are a consistent source of gentle entertainment—so consistent, in fact, that by the midpoint of this book it's easy to become weary of the same formula replayed over and over. Yes, we know that Chi is going to find something or someone to play with, get in a spot of trouble, and it'll be all right eight pages later. Only at the last minute does this volume redeem itself with an intriguing development: characters from previous encounters catch up with Chi and lead her to an unsettling cliffhanger ending. It's a reminder that raising a kitten, or being a kitten, is not some magically charmed experience where everything is happy and beautiful. That's the wisdom of Chi's Sweet Home—although that wisdom might be easier to reach if it weren't buried under so many cloying layers of cuteness.
Overall : C+
Story : C
Art : B
+ A surprisingly dark turn in the last few chapters balances out the cute, easily accessible humor that this series is known for.
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