Review – A Man and his Cat (Umi Sakurai)

Keywords: manga, Year 3+, adorable, cats, feel-good, light-hearted, friendship, love, pets, animals, really cute!

Okay, so we’ve spoken about graphic novels like Nimona and comic books like Dogman. But what about manga? Manga is the name given to Japanese comic books. You can find lots of manga translated to English. The main difference between manga and other comic books is how you read them. In English comic books, you usually read each panel and speech bubble from left to right, right? Well, in manga, you actually read them right to left! This is because Japanese books are written right to left. I think that everyone should read at least one manga book in their lifetime. And what better place to start than with an adorable manga about cats?

The front cover of the first volume

A Man & His Cat is exactly what it says: it’s the story about a man who adopts a cat. The cat lives in a pet store for the first year of his life. Nobody wants to adopt him because they think he’s ugly (which is just objectively wrong, since he’s so adorable!). He comes to the conclusion that nobody will ever adopt him or even want him around. He resigns himself to living alone in the pet store for the rest of his life.

But then, an elderly man visits the store. And without a second of hesitation, he chooses the cat. He adopts the kitty joyfully, calling him ‘Fukumaru’ (which loosely means ‘joy’ in Japanese). And so begins the adventure of Fukumaru the cat and his human Mr Kanda.

Fukumaru: cat, main character, and absolute cutie who deserves the world!!

The manga follows Fukumaru and Mr Kanda’s friendship as they grow used to each-other. You see, Mr Kanda has never had a cat before, and Fukumaru has never had an owner. Thankfully, Mr Kanda is an incredibly kind person who tries his best to take care of his new kitty. He’s actually a great role model for any readers who want to adopt a cat (or any pet!).

Of course, this manga would probably be more enjoyable for cat people, since the story centers around a cat. There are many moments in the story that are just so relatable to humans who live with cats. I laughed with utter joy many times while reading this! For example, this is one of my favourite parts:

The amount of times my cats have done something cute, only to stop doing it as soon as I get my camera…it happens way too often! So yeah, that particular comic strip is very relatable.

But throughout the cute and fluffy chapters are moments of real emotion and love. To be honest, there were many times that I was actually about to cry. And I mean actual sobs. The best example of an emotional, tear-jerking moment is the very first chapter, where the man decides to adopt Fukumaru.

I’ve read this manga at least a dozen times. Every single time I read that first chapter, I start tearing up because it’s just so sweet and emotional and ah! I love this book!!

So, a word of advice to end this review: read A Man And His Cat when you’re feeling sad or lost or hopeless. This is one of those rare books that remind you of the sweetness of life. There is no problem that pops up in this story’s plot that cannot be solved with love. But beware! Those with tender hearts will definitely cry of joy while reading!

While these two cats are usually at odds with each-other, Jenny and Alfie both agree that this is a wonderful book! Jenny recommends it to those who love adorable and love-filled stories. Alfie recommends the book as a good way to start reading manga for the first time.

Review – Nimona (Noelle Stevenson)

Keywords: fiction, graphic novel, Year 7+, fantasy, politics, good vs. evil, action, fights, humour, bittersweet, villainy, fun!

Graphic novels have a bad reputation. Some people say that they aren’t ‘real books’ or that they aren’t as complex as ‘real literature’. Well, let me be the one to tell you that that’s all poppycock, gobbledygook, and just plain nonsense!

Nimona with dragon wings!

Noelle Stevenson’s Nimona is more than a graphic novel. This is a book about heroes and villains; it is a story where you choose who is a hero and who is a villain. Technically, the main characters – Ballister Blackheart and his spunky sidekick Nimona – are the ‘villains’. That’s what the whole city calls them anyway (and it doesn’t help that Blackheart has a black goatee and a secret science lair, while Nimona is literally a murderous shapeshifter). Blackheart is a loner who never planned to get a sidekick, so imagine his surprise when some random girl who calls herself ‘Nimona’ comes into his lair and tells him she is his sidekick now. For some reason.

Although Blackheart isn’t too excited about having a sudden sidekick, Nimona begins to grow on him. After all, she’s a shapeshifter! Imagine how much her powers would help with Blackheart’s evil schemes! There is a bit of a problem, though. You see, while Blackheart is technically the boss and supposed to be evil or whatever, Nimona is…actually way more violent and malicious. Like, take a look at this scene in Chapter 2:

(Page 1 transcription: Blackheart, “We’ll attack the city using my genetically modified dragons. The king will be attending the parade downtown. Our dragons will swoop down and kidnap him. I’ll announce our ransom demands from the top of the tallest tower. Then we’ll fly off with the king, detonating the tower behind us for emphasis.” Nimona, “Hmm. Not bad. Nice touch with the explosion. However, I do have a few suggestions. Here, I’ll show you.”)

(Page 2 transcription: Nimona, “We could do with more general chaos. I’m talking fire everywhere. We’ll murder the king in front of everyone. Then you crown yourself the new king. And since Goldenloin is sure to try and stop us, I’ll disguise myself to get close to him and take him out before he knows what’s happening!” Blackheart, “No. That is not how I work. You can’t just go around murdering people. There are RULES, Nimona.”)

What do we find out from this scene? Well, Nimona has no problem murdering people, while Blackheart – the guy who’s supposed to be incredibly evil – has ‘rules’. He doesn’t find joy in murdering people. Doesn’t sound too evil to me.

An accurate depiction of the relationship between Blackheart, Nimona, and Goldenloin.

As the story continues, we find out more about Blackheart and Nimona’s different kinds of evilness. It’s actually really interesting how both characters are considered villains and yet they have such different ways of showing it. Meanwhile, there are also ‘heroes’ who fight against them. The main ‘hero’ is named Goldenloin: a blond guy who used to be Blackheart’s best friend when they were both training to be knights. He works for the government who are supposedly the ‘good guys’. Whether or not they’re actually nice people is up to you. Personally, I’m not a big fan.

The book itself is a lovely read! It was very easy to get lost inside the story and read the whole thing in one sitting. But don’t get me wrong: it was easy to read, but that doesn’t make the story simplistic. Actually, the story and its characters are some of the most nuanced and fascinating I’ve encountered for a long while. I read the book a few times in a row to really grasp all the themes and concepts it tackles. Honestly, I think this would be a great book to study in class – maybe in a Year 7+ class about war and politics. There’s some great stuff in this book to explore academically: the concept of good vs. evil, morality, political corruption, protests, what it means to work for ‘the greater good’, friendship, and, of course, love. Because isn’t every great story about love, in the end?

Nimona shapeshifting as the science-loving Blackheart

Also, here was what I was thinking when I finished the book: WHAT AN ENDING. WOW. Reading through the climax genuinely made my heart race. I was so scared for everyone’s safety! I don’t want to spoil anything though, so just know that it’s a wonderfully fitting ending for the story. It’s the type of ending that makes you admire the author’s writing skills while also inspiring you to write a story just like it! It’s not sugar-coated and overly sweet, but it’s not horribly depressing either. It strikes the perfect balance of bittersweetness!

So. Can this book be recommended? Well, I know that Jenny is 100% obsessed with this book and will gladly tell the whole world about how much she loves it! And Felipe is a huge fan of it too, especially the magical elements of the story! With these two kitties recommending it, I cannot help but recommend it too. (But is it really that surprising after I’ve written a whole review talking about how great this story is?) So go ahead and read it if it sounds like your cup of tea!