Reviewby Rebecca Silverman, Mar 25th 2017
Spirits & Cat Ears
Neneko Iizuna has been living as a shut-in since she was cursed by a pipe fox to have fox ears atop her head. Traumatized by the way her peers treated her, Neneko, who has spiritual powers, shut herself in her house and summoned Shichikage, a spirit familiar, to keep her company. Now fifteen, she suddenly receives an invitation from a spiritual clinic to come be one of their exorcist priestesses, and with Shichikage's help, she decides to brave the outside world once more. Of course, Shichikage's “help” involves his mastery of chains and it doesn't look like the other residents of the clinic complex are what you would call normal…
If you're a fan of Inu x Boku SS, Miyuki Nakayama's Spirits & Cat Ears is here to fill in for its absence. It's something of a spiritual successor to that series, with similar art and character relationships – not so similar that it feels like a direct knock-off, but it's hard not to see the two series as sisters of a sort. There's even a full-color guest illustration by the late Cocoa Fujiwara included in the back. Like Fujiwara's series, Spirits and Cat Ears follows a girl with a supernatural bent and her much taller male companion who is in love with her as they navigate living in a new complex full of people like them, in this case priestesses and their familiars. It's all a bit generic, but Nakayama's first English-translated series still has enough that's appealing to make it a decently entertaining read.
The heroine of the story is Neneko Iizuka, a fifteen-year-old girl with spiritual powers. She's basically at the starting point of becoming a priestess, as we can see by the fact that her priestess mark, a ring “tattoo” on her right middle finger, only has one of four loops. When she was younger, she accidentally got herself cursed by a pipe fox (kuda), and now she has fox ears on top of her head. (It's worth noting that the original title of the series uses “kudamimi,” or “kuda ears,” rather than “cat ears.”) This caused her to be bullied and ostracized by her peers, which resulted in her becoming a shut in. She summoned a spirit familiar to keep her company, a young man named Shichikage, who has control over chains. Unfortunately for Neneko, he also enjoys using them on her, at times putting her on a leash in order to get her to go out of the house, especially once she accepts an offer to move to a special clinic to work as a priestess.
This is all very deliberate on Nakayama's part. In her postscript, she comments that she wanted to write a “cute couple bondage story,” and while some readers may feel differently about the “cute” part, she certainly has kept her word. One of Neneko's first duties once she has accepted an invitation to the clinic is to form a stronger bond with Shichikage, which means both getting to know him better and settling on words of power that will activate his abilities. Shichikage immediately admits that he's in love with Neneko and enjoys both binding her and dressing her in outfits of his own making, which isn't as bad as it could be. To that end, the words of power Neneko ends up with are “Restrain me! I allow it!” It is nice that consent is required (and apart from the leash, Shichikage is very solicitous of her), but despite the obvious comedic intent, this won't work for all readers, regardless of how clear Shichikage has made his feelings.
Surprisingly enough given this aspect of the story, the fanservice is actually fairly light. Underwear shots are kept largely to a minimum unless one of the girls (who all wear very short skirts) moves in such a way that her skirt naturally blows or flips up, and often when Neneko is the focus of the art, her legs are positioned in such a way as to block a glimpse of undergarment. There are bath and bathing suit scenes that are more risqué, but generally speaking the art doesn't come off as prurient. Unfortunately Nakayama does make use of the “it's not harassment if a woman does it” breast-grope, which is a hoary old trope that can go away any time now.
Apart from this element, the art is soft and, once again, reminiscent of Fujiwara's work, as are the character interactions. Like Neneko, each priestess at the clinic has a male spirit, and the relationships between priestess and spirit, and later between themselves and Neneko, follow relatively established patterns. The highlight here is Sounouichi, who at first appears to be a typical tsundere but is instead just both timid and awkward. She and Neneko work well together in terms of character development, with each struggling to overcome their worries in a social setting.
Although quite a few things happen in the book, it also unfortunately gives the feeling of stagnating, possibly because there are so few new elements to its story. The plot takes us to the new environment, brings us the love confession, and puts Neneko in just enough danger to make things a little tense before showing us how she's improving – in other words, it follows a very basic story arc. While the addition of bondage does something to make the story feel different, it also has a very cookie cutter air, as if we've read this book before and it wasn't quite good enough to remember. That doesn't make it unenjoyable, but it does produce a niggling feeling in the back of your mind.
All in all, Spirits & Cat Ears' first volume is good enough. Its characters are likeable enough, its plot moves decently enough, and it never really overdoes anything so that it's a nice read on a lazy day. But it also doesn't really distinguish itself apart from the chains, and that distinction may be a deal-breaker for some readers. It does have the potential to get better, especially since a new character is introduced at the end that may begin to move the story in a different direction, but until that point, this remains good enough to read, but not, perhaps, to keep.
Overall : C+
Story : C
Art : B
+ Cute art, nice edition with lots of color pages, some good characters and interactions
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