Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Plum Crazy! Tales of A Tiger-Striped Cat
Plum is a young tabby cat who lives with high schooler Taku and his mother, a traditional dance teacher. Her life is pretty great as-is, but when she spots a starving kitten, she can't help but bring it home. Now Plum's world has been turned upside down by Snowball! Can she adjust to life with a crazy kitten?
If you only read one cute cat manga, Plum Crazy! Tales of A Tiger-Striped Cat should be it. Less saccharine than Chi's Sweet Home or its companion Fuku Fuku manga but still cuter than Junji Ito's Cat Diary: Yon & Mu, Natsumi Hoshino's story about tabby cat Plum and her daily life manages to mix adorable cat antics with truly recognizable feline behaviors for a story that is both appealing and familiar.
Part of what works about this series is Hoshino's art. The cats are only slightly exaggerated for visual appeal, making them still endearingly sweet but still very recognizably cats without too much of a cartoony aesthetic. Although Plum herself can act more “human” as the volume goes on – particularly towards the end of the book – she's still much more in line with feline behavior, and the art style enhances that. Neither she nor Snowball contort themselves unrealistically nor do they have humanizing features in their body shapes or even in the form of lush eyelashes; these are cats, and the manga wants us to find their very catness appealing. About the only aspect of the art that is exaggerated for emphasis is facial expression, and while that at times can be jarringly unrealistic, for those unfamiliar with the usual markers of feline emotions (primarily ears and tails), it helps to allow for the transmission of the cats' feelings in a way that is still more subtle than not.
And these cats do express very feline emotions and behaviors. Having introduced a kitten into my multi-cat home last winter, Plum's reactions to Snowball read as true to life. She goes from taking care of the baby in need to wishing that perhaps she had left the damn kitten outside as Snowball sees her fellow cat as a source of comfort, play, and an outlet for her own frustrations. This, too, is recognizable, as is the reaction when a third cat is introduced into the mix for a time. Hoshino comments that she is basing her characters on her own cats, and it really shows. That Taku's mother is happily oblivious to most of it gives readers unfamiliar with felines a point of entry into the story – like Junji Ito himself plays that role in Cat Diary, Taku's mom expresses surprise at some regular cat behaviors and a total belief in cat myths at other times, such as her certainty that Plum is attached to Taku because of their opposite genders, so if Snowball is a male, he'll naturally bond to her. This also serves to highlight her inability to tell a male kitten from a female one, which both feeds into her misconceptions while disproving them as Snowball's true sex is revealed.
Of the two humans, three if you count Taku's school friend who spends a decent amount of time at their house, Taku is the less irritating. This is generally because his mother is so oblivious to some of the basics of cat care that her position as reader's entry character can get a little too obvious at times. Taku is, generally speaking, the more responsible of the humans in the household, and Hoshino does a good job of balancing both this role and the fact that he is, in reality, still just a high school student with a few too many responsibilities for his own comfort. This comes out when he gets flustered by Plum's behavior or his mother's apparent ignorance of how to discipline a cat, and it helps to make him feel like the most rounded of the human players in the tale.
Readers familiar with the story prior to its English publication will notice that the names of the cats have, in fact, been translated from Japanese, with Plum and Snowball originally being “Koume” and “Koyuki.” The name “Koume” does occasionally surface in the text, making it unclear if that might also be Taku's mother's name, and on the whole there doesn't seem to have been much reason for the linguistic change, especially since there are hardly hard and fast rules about naming pets. If there hadn't been the occasional Koume dropped, it honestly would not have been an issue, but with the occurrence of Plum's original name, it stands out more than it ought to have while begging the question of why it happened at all.
If you've ever shared your life with a cat, Plum and Snowball are instantly familiar characters. With its grasp of feline behavior and lack of over-exaggeration, as well as a glimpse of some less-charming cat actions, Plum Crazy! Tales of A Tiger-Striped Cat is one of, if not the, most relatable cat manga to be translated into English. It might not have much appeal outside of the cat community, but if you're a cat person, this is not a book you want to pass by.
Overall : B+
Story : B
Art : A-
+ Recognizable cat behavior, relatively realistic-looking cats, lots of charm
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