Chi, a little gray kitten, is separated from her family after she is distracted by a bird. Alone in a dangerous world filled with dogs and fast-moving cars, Chi doesn't know what to do. Hungry and exhausted, she is found by Mrs. Yamada and her young son, Yohei.
Although the Yamada family takes Chi in, they don't, at first, intend to keep her, mainly because pets aren't allowed in their apartment. However, they can't find anyone willing to take Chi, and she's so young they don't want to put her back outside on her own. Despite the risk of eviction, they decide to keep her.
This is a slice-of-life series, so everything that goes on is ordinary, everyday stuff. The Yamada family feeds Chi, bathes her, names her, litter box trains her, plays with her, takes her to the vet...you get the idea. In this first volume, the family has a few moments when their new kitten is almost discovered (the landlady hears Chi meow when Mr. Yamada is preparing to take her to the vet, and Chi develops a love for sitting on the windowsill), but luck and a bit of cleverness keeps them in the clear.
As you can tell from the way I began this post, I think very highly of this series so far. True, not much goes on, but Chi is delightful. If you have ever lived with a cat, you will probably find quite a bit of Chi's behavior and the Yamada family's experiences to be familiar. And, if you're like me, you may find yourself wishing you could have a big Chi poster to plaster on one of your walls.
The things the Yamadas go through with Chi are things many cat owners (or pet owners, in general) go through when they get their first cat, especially when the cat is a found stray. My own cat, who I have now lived with for almost 8 months, was found under a car when she was a tiny kitten. I had a bit more time to adjust to having her than the Yamadas had with Chi, but I remember getting all of her things, figuring out where to put everything, making sure she knew how to use the litter box, and, in general, just trying to figure out what her personality was like and how she was going to fit into my life. Remembering all of that, I had to smile while reading about the Yamadas doing some of the very same things I did.
Although the danger that Chi will be discovered is very real, this volume, at least, focuses primarily on humor and sweetness. Even during the times when Chi is almost discovered and Mr. and Mrs. Yamada worry that they might be evicted, Kanata doesn't weigh things down with that worry and keeps things light with fairly humorous solutions. As anyone who has ever tried to hide owning a cat knows, however, this situation can't last long, and I wonder how Kanata will be able to keep the tone of the series light. For now, for example, the Yamadas have managed to camouflage Chi's habit of sitting on the windowsill, but Chi will soon get much bigger and more obvious. Also, if apartment-living in Japan works the same way as apartment-living in America, the Yamadas will have to figure out what to do when they need maintenance work done or when someone comes to do apartment inspections or pest control.
For those who are wondering, Chi is anthropomorphized somewhat - she meows rather than speaking, but readers are shown her thoughts, which are done in a somewhat inconsistent babytalk. While the babytalk helps emphasize how young Chi is (and may have been a feature of the original Japanese), the inconsistency bothered me a little. For instance, Chi will say something like, "So scarewy!" Shouldn't that have been, "So scawey"? Sometimes her l's and r's are replaced with w's and sometimes not. While I'm sure readability might have been compromised if that had been done, I couldn't seem to keep myself from noting every time Chi's l's and r's were fine. It was a little distracting, so I hope that Chi grows out of her babytalk in future volumes.
Chi has happy, sad, angry, and scared expressions, just like any of the human characters in this volume. However, I thought Kanata did an excellent job of making Chi's expressions seem believable on a cat. In fact, I'm pretty sure I've seen some of those same expressions on my kitten's face, particularly "serious face" and "happy purring face." Kanata can definitely draw cats well. As an added bonus, the entire volume is in color. Manga lovers know how amazing this is. All of the manga I've ever read has been black-and-white. If any pages were in color, it was usually only a few extra drawings of the first few pages of the manga, and US companies don't always release volumes with those color pages actually still in color. I don't think I've ever read anything published by Vertical before, but they've impressed me with this volume, which has gorgeous color throughout, feels well-made, and is still somehow only $13.95 (and that's the cover price - you should be able to find it cheaper).
As a cat lover, I can't help but worry about Chi's future with the Yamadas and feel sad about her continued futile search for her mother. Chi wants to find her mother but can't, or, being a kitten, gets distracted during her searches. She dreams about being with her mother and remembers her mother grooming her when Mr. Yamada pets her in her sleep. It's the kind of thing that makes me want to go hug my own kitten.
Overall, I loved this volume. I loved it so much, in fact, that I plan on buying the later volumes as I can afford them. This is one of those series that I think I would regret not having bought if it ever went out of print, so I'm going to make an effort to collect it.
Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
- Azumanga Daioh (manga) by Kiyohiko Azuma; Azumanga Daioh (anime TV series) - Although this series is a bit less grounded in reality than Chi's Sweet Home, its slice-of-life school stories may still appeal to fans of Kanata's manga. Also, for those looking for more cute animals, you may enjoy one particular character in this series, a quiet, cool-looking girl who secretly loves animals. Unfortunately for her, almost all animals hate her, but that doesn't stop her from trying to befriend them.
- Yotsuba&! (manga) by Kiyohiko Azuma - Those who'd like another slice-of-life series that focuses on a cute, innocent character might want to try this. Yotusba is a strange young girl who, despite her strangeness, manages to make everyone she meets smile. Although she lives alone with only her father, their life isn't a lonely one - Yotsuba and her father end up with several friends they visit fairly often. Ok, so reading too much of this series at once might make your teeth rot, but the same could be said about Chi's Sweet Home. It's a very cute, sweet series, a great read when you're feeling blue.
- Fruits Basket (manga) by Natsuki Takaya; Fruits Basket (anime TV series) - This series also has cute animals, including a cat. The premise of the series is that the Sohma family has been cursed so that certain members of the family turn into an animal from the Chinese zodiac when they become weak or are hugged by someone of the opposite sex. Tohru Honda, a normal high school girl whose mother died a while back, ends up living with several of the Sohmas. This is somewhat a slice-of-life series, but, as the series progresses and the more twisted aspects of the Sohma family are revealed, it gets a bit darker. Those who enjoyed Chi's Sweet Home and would like something that's about more than just day-to-day life might want to try this.
- The Cat Returns (anime movie) - If you're a cat lover and would just like something with lots of cats in it, you might want to try this. The main character of this movie, an ordinary high school girl, saves a cat from being hit by a truck. In return, she receives several rewards, including marriage to the crown prince of the Cat Kingdom. With the help of the Baron, another cat, she enters the Cat Kingdom and tries to prevent her marriage.
- My Neighbor Totoro (anime movie) - If you'd like another mostly light-hearted, cute story, you might want to try this. Two young sisters and their father move to a new home in a fairly rural area, a home closer to the hospital the girls' mother is in. While waiting for their mother to get better, the girls explore their new home and discover strange, amazing, somewhat cat-like creatures that they then befriend.