Say It With Manga, The Pet Edition
While I have none myself, pets are near and dear to many people. It follows that there are many series about keeping pets, and manga is no exception. There are whole magazines dedicated to the genre of pet comics in Japan, but only a few series have been translated into English over the years. Honestly, I did try to come up with series with more unusual animals… the heroine of Wild Act keeps flying squirrels that help her commit thefts, for instance, and Io Sakisaka has a strange habit of relating stories about her chinchilla giving birth in the author’s notes of Strobe Edge. But pets aren’t really the focus of those, and this week, I’m looking at a few series that are specifically about cats and dogs.
For the record, Guru Guru Pon-chan is the best series I can think of about keeping a pet, but it’s so unbelievably weird and uncomfortable that I’m saving it for another day. Do look it up though, if you’re curious.
What’s Michael? – Makoto Kobayashi (11 volumes)
Admittedly, I haven’t read this series, but I wish I had. This is a comedy centered around a cat named Michael and some glorious nonsequitors. The short 6-page chapters are suited to short and absurd gag topics, so while many of the stories are about Michael and how he interacts with his family, just as many are strange stories of anthropomorphic animals in uncomfortable social situations, or Michael dressed as Michael Jackson and dancing. Michael and the other cats featured here don’t talk (except for the chapters not actually set in reality), but even the more mundane chapters usually feature strange gags about how Michael and the human characters interact and relate to one another. Kobayashi is a great artist too, well-suited for a comedy like this, and his art is very detailed and imaginative, as you might expect from a series that has a lot of dancing cats in costumes. I didn’t learn how excellent it really was until long after it stopped coming out, and it’s a shame that it seems to have not been popular. Dark Horse released 11 volumes, though they’re slender volumes, and I have no idea if they completed the whole series. It’s likely close enough, as there isn’t a whole lot of ongoing story, and 11 volumes of something like this is plenty. All of the volumes seem to be relatively affordable at the moment.
Inubaka: Crazy for Dogs – (22 volumes, 17 in English)
This is the only one of the three series today with an ongoing plot and lengthy story. The main character, a young woman named Suguri, is an enthusiastic but clumsy employee of a pet store called Woofles. Suguri isn’t the best at a lot of things, but she’s good with dogs, and dogs like her. Dogs like her so much, in fact, they get so excited they pee the first time they meet her. She has a mongrel dog that she’s learning to care for and integrate into greater dog society, and she also interacts a lot with the customers of Woofles and various dog-themed events. While the plot is about Suguri becoming a better and more knowledgeable staff member of Woofles, the volumes contain mostly one-shot stories about various topics that build on the main theme. Suguri investigates the world of Dog Dancing competitions (not as ridiculous or funny as the cat dancing in What’s Michael), learns about dog breeding and adoption, diagnoses and cares for various ill dogs, learns to cope with the loss of a pet, and other things. The stories are simple, and the characters don’t have a lot of depth, so you’d likely only be reading this series if you really, really liked dogs. Initially, I thought this was for a young teen audience, as the stories are somewhat simplistic, but this actually ran in a men’s magazine in Japan, so there are an unfortunate number of vaguely inappropriate things scattered throughout the stories. Suguri and the other females in the series tend to be scantily clad and well-endowed, Suguri deals with some creeps hitting on her, and in the story that made me realize this series wasn’t for children, Suguri and a dog bust a creep that was apparently using a camera to peep on elementary school students. Ick. I’m not a dog person, so this series didn’t have much to offer me, as that’s the main selling point. I seem to remember it being reviewed well as a guilty pleasure among dog lovers, and it’s a bizarre enough mix of simple story, obsessive subject matter, and creepy men’s manga that it might be worth checking out a volume or two if you happen across it. Viz didn’t finish the English language run on it, and part of me suspects that it crossed into even creepier ground than the story I mentioned above. All of the volumes are out of print, but none are currently valuable.
Stargazing Dog – Takashi Murakami (1 volume)
This is a short (128 pages) and sweet volume containing two vaguely related stories, and is probably one of my favorite dog stories ever. The first story is the longest, and is also a fairly simple tale after the initial set-up. A small family consisting of two parents and a young daughter decide to adopt a puppy, though the father objects strenuously and insists he will have no part in its care. Over the years, the father is the one that winds up taking care of the puppy the most, and eventually, as time goes on, the family falls apart and the mother and teenage daughter leave the man and forget entirely about the dog. The man loses his job, and decides to pack up his car and take a road trip down the coast with his dog. All this exposition takes only a few pages, and most of it is wordless or near-wordless, with no direct explanations and most of the relationship dynamics conveyed with random dialogue snippets from several years in the lives of the characters. One of my favorite things about this book is that it really does show rather than tell, which is all too rare in the manga I read. The man and dog go on their trip, and both are thrilled to be spending the time together out in nature, with nothing much to do. But with no job, the man begins to run into money problems and eventually spends all his savings and sells most of his posessions to be able to afford a life-saving operation for the dog. This happy story finishes in one of the darkest places you can imagine, and yet neither the man or the dog seem to regret the course of action. It’s likely overly sentimental for some, but I loved it, and it does a good job capturing the pleasure that the two took in each other’s company and a kind of live-in-the-moment attitude. The art helps, as it is quite detailed and Murakami puts a lot of love into his backgrounds and depicting the nature that the characters enjoy so much. The second story deals tangentially with the events of the first, but tells a similarly sentimental story about a dog and some lost opportunities. It’s short, and not nearly as good as the first story, but it’s nice enough, and similar enough to the first that it’s clear why it was included. This volume is in print and available. Sadly, there was a sequel volume available on JManga that died with the service.