Otaku USA Magazine
[Review] Nekogahara: Stray Cat Samurai
©Hiroyuki Takei/Kodansha, Ltd. All rights reserved.

“Some cats commit atrocities too cruel to bear. Deeds that are truly infeline.” The latest manga from Hiroyuki Takei (Shaman King) is a bloody, hard-boiled samurai drama. The catch: all the characters are cute kitties. In the world of Nekogahara, cats with owners—so identified by the bells on their katana—are samurai lords, while the common strays treasure their freedom but all too often sacrifice their dignity for human gold. Norachiyo, an aging ronin who lost his master long ago, wanders the countryside, getting into bleak, brutal catfights.

The fun of the manga is in the juxtaposition
of gritty revenge drama with the cute art and whimsical cat conceit. Takei peoples (felines?) his world with aristocratic Siamese, huge sumo cats, and even a longhaired bishonen cat assassin. Catnip stands in for opium and the bathrooms are stocked with kitty litter. Takei has always been a visually arresting artist, but this is his best artwork yet; the characters show the graffiti-inspired funkiness that’s been his trademark since Shaman King, but now they have a satisfying chunkiness and dimensionality, and they move through evocative, detailed natural landscapes.

The Kodansha translation plays along, shuffling poetic samurai dialogue with shameless cat puns. It’s hard to tell how long Takei will be able to keep the joke going, but this beautiful, slyly witty first volume is a promising start.

publisher: Hiroyuki Takei
story and art: Kodansha Comics
rating: 13+