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Quality Cat Manga
By Ghia Vitale
I’ve been waiting a long time for the release of What’s Michael? Fatcat Collection Volume 1 by Makoto Kobayashi. This manga lived up to my standards, but there’s some stuff in it I wish more people were talking about. Warning: Light spoilers and suicide mention/description ahead.
As many of you know, I’ve been reading a lot of old school comics lately due to coronavirus, being in quarantine, and practicing social distancing. One of the ones I’ve read is a collection of comics from a series called What’s Michael?. If you haven’t heard of What’s Michael?, you’re missing out on a truly classic manga. Think of it as a Japanese version of Garfield. It was out of print before Dark Horse Comics rereleased it during late February of 2020. Accordion to Wikipedia, these comics were first published during 1984 and then stopped getting published at some point during 1989. Fortunately, Dark Horse Comics rereleased it in the United States, which was something I had been looking forward to for a long time.
Well, I’m happy to say that this manga lived up to my expectations and I wish more people were talking about it.
Michael is a cat that the manga follows throughout his time with various humans, illustrating the differences between humans and cats. Quite a few of these comics feature animals (including Michael) in human situations to further demonstrate these differences. Michael is an average cat that loves food and naps, but he’s quite clever. Because this manga is an anthology of comics, most of them featuring Michael participating in hilarious and interesting feline adventures with separate storylines.
The (re)publishing of What’s Michael? Fatcat Collection Volume 1 represents an increased interest in Makoto Kobayashi, a mangaka who’s famous for his unique drawing style. In fact, he won the Kodansha manga award twice, once for Sanshiro of 1, 2 in 1981, and then What's Michael? in 1986. He also won the new artist manga award from Shōnen Magazine. He is an award-winning manga creator if there ever was one, so I’m glad his work is getting attention again. More readers can now experience the humor, wit, and art style that Kobayashi is famous for.
My favorite character is this manga is Nyazilla, a fat tortoiseshell cat who prowls the neighborhood for fun and food. She’s such an adorable chonk and I appreciate that there are multiple comics that follow her in this collection. Nyazilla is the only cat in the comics who’s fat, so I’m wondering if the title is a reference to her. However, the term “fatcat” refers to a wealthy or powerful person, especially in politics or business, so I could be wrong. “Fatcat” could also refer to the fact that this manga is absolutely stacked! (See the picture below for reference.) I hope to see more of Nyazilla in the second volume that’s due to come out on August 4, 2020. UPDATE: It appears the Amazon page to preorder What's Michael? Fatcat Collection Volume 2 now describes itself as “currently unavailable.” Also, the release date has been changed to December 28, 2021.
There’s just one thing about the first volume: Sometimes, the people aren’t to the animals in the comics, which can be hard to see if you’re an animal lover of any kind. Personally, it pains me to see cats experiencing any kind of upset, and I know there are others out there who are like me. What the animals experience isn’t anything over the top, so I didn’t mind, but I know individuals who would forgo reading this because of it. Whenever the people fail to treat the animals right, Kobayashi is depicting the faults in their characters or perceptions.
Nonetheless, I came across something that shocked me: In one comic, a couple who Michael lived with was having anxiety about leaving their cats at home. Kobayashi illustrated their anxiety thoughts as they popped into each person’s head. Well, one person imagined that Michael might commit suicide and there’s a dream bubble drawing that features Michael with a noose around his neck. I understand why seeing this would be triggering for a lot of people, so I wanted to give readers a heads-up about it. That was really the only issue I had with this book. Other than that, I really enjoyed reading it.
As far as cat manga goes, this book is a lot of fun. It’s not drawn in a kawaii style, but I still appreciate the quality cat content, humor, and retro art style in What’s Michael?. Those traits alone make it cute and worth reading.
Thanks for reading!
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