Reviewby Carlo Santos,
Chi's Sweet Home
Chi is a mischievous kitten belonging to the Yamada family, and ever since they moved to a new neighborhood, she's been getting more and more adventurous. Now Chi is even exploring outside the house at night, and that's when she encounters a tiny stray cat named Cocchi, who doesn't quite share Chi's wide-eyed view of the world. Chi also learns the consequences of her wanderlust when she comes home the next morning and can't get back inside! Meanwhile, domestic life offers plenty of other distractions for Chi, like a new pet goldfish that's just too tasty to ignore. But the lure of the outdoors still calls out to her, and on Chi's next neighborhood excursion, she makes a number of brand new discoveries—including one that almost puts her life in danger.
As Chi the kitten matures, so does Chi's Sweet Home, expanding beyond the limited territory of "cute animals doing cute things." The series has already explored the emotional upheaval that comes with moving house, and at the same time, Chi's circle of animal friends has grown to the point where interacting with them is just as much fun as dealing with those pesky humans. In Volume 7, however, these storytelling ambitions wander off in an aimless loop—sure, Chi's gotten the guts to go out exploring at night, but what does she learn from that? She has a contentious new kitty pal, but what is the point of their arguments? Without any real answers to those questions, this volume is merely a collection of random acts of cuteness.
For once, however, that cuteness comes tinged with an air of danger and uncertainty—Chi's nighttime adventure, which actually began at the end of Volume 6, hints at the possibility that she'll fall in with a bad crowd of cats, get lost, and never come home. Add to that the various disagreements with Cocchi, and for the first time it seems as if Chi is battling against the world instead of merely exploring it. A major plot point in the volume's second half also presents a different sort of battle: Chi gets food poisoning and has to fight through the turmoil in her digestive system, eventually needing veterinary attention. Cat vomit is not a pretty thing, and thankfully the series doesn't romanticize or sugar-coat the issue—instead, Chi's illness is treated as a painful but necessary life experience for her.
However, these uncertain, thought-provoking moments are exactly that: they provoke a thought, but fail to follow through on it. When Chi gets stranded outside the house, it looks like a potential lesson about wandering out too far and too late—but here comes a deus ex machina in the form of the Yamadas' son, opening the screen door to let her in. Similarly, the drama of Chi's food poisoning goes away when her family takes her to the vet, thus solving her problem for her. Even when Cocchi reprimands Chi for her naïve, pampered ways, the discussion drifts off without making a solid point. The storyline is further weakened by the usual one-shot chapters where Chi does pointlessly cute things, like interfering with her family's mealtime or being a nuisance in the bath. While these slices of life are endearing, they also add absolutely nothing new, as the series has already covered moments like these before.
Unrelenting cuteness has a more positive effect in the art, where even nighttime scenes are enlivened by bold, bright tones. Chi may be going through uncertain times in her life, but when all her facial expressions consist of either goofy smiles or exaggerated snarls, they're a gentle reminder not to take anything too seriously. The other character designs remain as simple as they've always been (mere dots and lines for the Yamada family's faces), and Cocchi is the only major new character, so it's up to the surrounding environments to create some visual variety. Thankfully, Chi's adventurous ways take care of that: in addition to the park at night, we get to see how the neighborhood looks during a rainstorm, and the Yamada household gets a fresh look with a recently-installed goldfish tank. But the most interesting artistic touch may be the way Konami Kanata presents Chi's mental state when she gets food poisoning: a wild, swirly background conveys the uneasiness that comes with indigestion, and when Chi finally gets some medicine, a series of sparse, simply decorated panels show her drifting off to sleep.
One of the most appealing features of this English-language edition is the full-color presentation; the cheerful pastel tones add an extra dimension to the art instead of simply cluttering it up. The flipped (left-to-right) reading direction isn't a hindrance either—the visuals still look fine from this direction, even if it takes away from the "Japanese style." To make the series more accessible, sound effects have also been edited into English, with well-designed fonts helping to integrate the text cleanly into the artwork. Chi's adventures generally speak for themselves, so the translated dialogue remains concise and to-the-point: there's still the occasional "baby talk" coming out of Chi's mouth, but otherwise, the characters express themselves in clear, simple terms.
As a feline slice-of-life series, Chi's Sweet Home aims for new heights in Volume 7: Chi ventures ever further around the neighborhood, makes a new friend (who doesn't always get along), and has some experiences that teach her to be more wary of the outside world. But sometimes it stumbles in trying to reach those heights, or misses them entirely. When Chi's problems can be solved by simply waiting for the Yamadas to save her, is she really growing at all? And when some chapters go through the same old motions of Chi being mischievous yet adorable, is the story even progressing? It's easy to appreciate the series' lighthearted visuals and amusing characters, but the storyline is far more vexing—just like a cat, its goes wherever it wants, in any direction, not caring what anyone else thinks.
Overall : C+
Story : C
Art : B-
+ Moments of uncertainty and uneasy experiences prove that our adorable little kitten is growing up—all in a charming visual style.
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