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Review: ‘Plum Crazy: Tales of a Tiger-Striped Cat’ Vol. 1

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Plum Crazy: Tales of a Tiger-Striped Cat, Vol. 1
Writer/artist: Natsumi Hoshino
Seven Seas Entertainment; $11.99

Long before the manga boom of yesteryear, when the shelf space devoted to translated manga in big-box book stores first began to dwarf that allotted to American comic book collections, it was fairly common to hear worldly comics aficionados speak admirably of Japan, where popular comics could be about anything. Plum Crazy is a pretty good example of an “about anything” sort of manga: It is about a house cat.

plumcrazy_coverMore specifically, it is about an ordinary house cat and how her home life is irrevocably altered when a second cat is introduced. Yes, it’s a situation comedy about the family dynamics between a pair of cats. The cats aren’t magical and they don’t talk; there’s nothing supernatural or sci-fi going on. It’s just a comic about some cats and the human beings they live with. And it’s pretty great.

Plum is the tiger-striped cat of the title, an extremely intelligent and surprisingly obedient indoor/outdoor cat who lives with high school boy Taku Nakarai and his mother, who teaches traditional Japanese dance in a studio attached to their home. Ms. Nakarai is a little ditzy and not nearly as knowledgeable about cats and their behavior as Taku is.

One day when Plum leaves to do her rounds, Ms. Nakari calls after her not to bring back any bugs or small birds, and Plum cheerfully meows over her shoulder, “Kyah!” as if she understood. When she returns, she is carrying a tiny animal in her mouth, but it is not a bug or small bird: It’s a little lost kitten that she found and rescued.

The kitten is soon adopted by the family and named Snowball, for the little white round patches above her eyes. Snowball has the bad habit of biting Plum, sometimes for no reason at all and other times to take out any stress she might be feeling. Like a martyr, Plum just takes it, perpetuating the cycle of their relationship in which Plum is sometimes a mother figure to Snowball, and sometimes a bullied sibling.

The eight chapters of the first volume are devoted to introducing the characters and then detailing little adventures of varying levels of drama: Snowball gets a cold, Plum follows Taku to school one day and gets lost in the halls, Ms. Nakarai drinks some wine and dreams of being lost in a forest full of cats, a second kitten is brought into the Nakarai home and upsets the dynamic once more (until its owners are found at the end of the chapter), and so on.

Manga-ka Natsumi Hoshino flip-flops between a very realistic depiction of the cats, like the cover image featuring Plum as a kitten, and the more standard, looser and more expressive version she uses through most of the book. In addition to the vacillations in degrees of realism, she gets a rather incredible range of emotion out of her feline actors, whose expressions and gestures are easily readable (even to those of us who don’t own or spend much time around cats), and the sound effects, “dialogue” (sighs, question marks, various meows, the occasional “…”), and cartooning effects further communicate what’s going on inside the cats’ heads.

There are a few sections between chapters labeled as “Stories About My Cat” that Hoshino uses to discuss her real-life cats, Sakura and Kuu, the models for Plum and Snowball respectively. In the first, she explains that the comic was partially inspired by Sakura’s behavior of always looking attentively at her when she was speaking to her, practically nodding as if she understood. If some of the stories, like that revolving around Snowball’s habit of “wool-sucking” and chewing-up Taku’s clothing, seem realistic to the point of mundane, well, that’s because they are transposed from her own life into the comic.

Also included in the volume are a series of short strips, each of which is only a page long—or shorter. These are human-free, drawn in a looser, more cartoony style, and allow readers to read Plum’s thoughts, as she narrates them.

It makes for a pretty perfect comic book for cat people, but it’s an accomplished enough work that it could certainly endear itself to readers who didn’t think they were cat people before they read it.

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J. Caleb Mozzocco About J. Caleb Mozzocco

J. Caleb Mozzocco is a way-too-busy freelance writer who has written about comics for online and print venues for a rather long time now. He currently contributes to Comic Book Resources' Robot 6 blog and ComicsAlliance, and maintains his own daily-ish blog at EveryDayIsLikeWednesday.blogspot.com. He lives in northeast Ohio, where he works as a circulation clerk at a public library by day.

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