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by Rebecca Silverman,

Man and His Cat

GN 5

A Man and His Cat GN 5
When Fukumaru sees Moja, the Maine Coon Cat he watched find his happy home in the pet store, alone and beaten up in his yard, he's desperate to find out what went wrong for his friend. He races out the door when Mr. Kanda comes home only to find himself lost and alone on the streets. Can the man and his cat reunite? What happened to Moja? And is this the end of Fukumaru's happy home life?

Reading a volume of A Man and His Cat can be emotionally exhausting. That's not necessarily a bad thing, because creator Umi Sakurai truly captures the ups and downs of having a pet. This volume, however, covers a more difficult topic than most in the series: what happens when an indoor cat gets out and can't find their way back home.

Certainly we could have seen this coming from the end of volume four. Fukumaru, snug in his house, sees a long-haired black cat out in the yard, and realizes with horror that he knew him as the cat in the pet store. He was adopted (well, bought) by a family with a young son, and as far as Fukumaru knew, had been living a wonderful, happy life with them. So how did the cat end up battered on the street? Desperate to find out, Fukumaru takes advantage of an open door when Mr. Kanda comes home, and the next thing he knows, he's out on the street himself, with no idea how to get home. Meanwhile, we see MOJA collapse in the rain behind another house, clearly on the verge of death. If you're a pet lover, this is easily one of the most upsetting volumes of the series thus far.

Before you decide that you're dropping it merely from this description, however, allow me to reassure you that things do work out for everyone – this is no Where the Red Fern Grows or Stone Fox. But that Sakurai can evoke that anxiety in us is a testament to how well the story is told and the truth of the emotions that the characters express. While we can relate to Mr. Kanda's fear and panic, it's also not hard to fully believe the feelings of the cats as well – how many people who had a cat go on a walkabout didn't believe that the cat was scared and sad? And if you've ever worked to slowly coax a stray to trust you, it's easy to see the fear and worry in the animal's body language. What Sakurai is doing is tapping into both of those sets of feelings, human and animal, and combining them to create a volume that is harrowing on several levels, making the moments when things work out even better.

In part this is so effective because of the way that the human characters all react to Fukumaru's escape. Mr. Kanda is fully hysterical and trying very, very hard not to appear that way. From his initial guilt that he let the cat out to his panicked run out the door, he's almost reliving the pain of his wife's loss again, only now with an added dose of grief because it's his fault (in his mind) that Fukumaru ran out the door. When he eventually pulls himself together enough to make a poster and ask the pet store to hang it up it looks very much like he's just putting on a brave face, something that Miss Sato, the woman who sold him Fukumaru, sees through immediately. When she takes over the rescue effort, telling him that he needs more posters and that he should call in his friends, Mr. Kanda's relief is palpable; not only is he not alone in this anymore, but someone is telling him what to do, which is plainly reassuring. That all of his friends actually show up to help is another relief, because a piece of him didn't think that they actually would – because to other people, Fukumaru may be “just” a cat.

The art does a particularly good job of helping to show the toll the plot of this volume takes on Kanda and Fukumaru both. As Fukumaru gets skinnier and scruffier the longer he's out, Mr. Kanda's face grows increasingly haggard, the bags under his eyes increasing in depth and darkness as he wears himself to a frazzle. When he finds MOJA while looking for Fukumaru and has to make a difficult decision, we can read his despair in his body language. No longer the perfectly groomed elderly gentleman, Mr. Kanda becomes something more human as he grows disheveled, reminding us that he really is just as human as anyone else, something that those around him don't always see or remember.

Fortunately there are some lighter moments to balance out the emotionally heavy content of most of the book. Once the main storyline is resolved, we get one of the most perfect depictions of cat barfing I've ever seen, which is not nearly as gross as it sounds; it's more about Mr. Kanda trying to delicately get the cat to throw up on something easier to clean than the floor/rug and utterly failing, because cats are going to be cats. There's also a light treatment of the way owners tend to think that overfeeding a pet equals love; it doesn't go into health issues or anything like that, simply acknowledging that it's a thing that happens and that we maybe shouldn't do it.

A Man and His Cat, though a bit heavier this time around, is still a remarkably consistent and heartwarming series. It may make me tear up at least once a volume, but it captures the way that a pet can enrich our lives beautifully, and to do that it does need to cover the darker moments as well as the fluffy ones. But it never loses its sweet and hopeful touch, and that combination of emotions is what makes it such a successful series about the ups and downs of sharing your life with a cat. There's a reason why the French title of the series is “The Cat Who Makes the Man Happy.”

Overall : A-
Story : A
Art : A-

+ Never loses hope despite some bleak content, art enhances the emotions well.
Cartoonier images don't work as well this time, very heavy storyline.

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Production Info:
Story & Art: Umi Sakurai
Licensed by: Square Enix Manga & Books

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