Edo Nekoe Jubei Otogizoshi, Vol. 1

By Maru Nagao. Released in Japan by Shonen Gahosha, serialized in the magazine Nekopanchi. Released in the United States by Shonen Gahosha on the JManga website.

I’m not sure I’ve come across a title at JManga that so typifies what I wanted from the site – at least intellectually. This is a cat manga. From a magazine devoted entirely to cat mangas. About supernatural cat stories in the Edo period. And no, it’s not particularly adorable, though the cats can be cute. It’s not meant for a casual fan. It’s meant for hardcore manga readers who buy this magazine for cats and by god, they will have cats. (It also has one of the flaws of the site, which is the title is in Japanese with no English translation. I don’t mind the Japanese title, but at least tell me what it means. I think Jubei, Cat-Painter of Edo is close to an approximation.)

The plot is basically a series of supernatural mysteries, wrapped around our hero and his yokai cat-spirit. Jubei is a wandering painter, who specializes in painting cats – more specifically, a painting of a cat that will terrify the nice and other creatures from the Edo home. One reason his paintings are so good is they are semi-sentient, thanks to the magic of Nita, the aforementioned cat-spirit, who infuses the painting with some of his essence. We learn a little bit about Jubei as we go through this first volume, but for the most part the stories are about various cat owners, and the trials and tribulations they are going through with their pet. Jubei happens to be around at the time, and takes it upon himself to solve the mystery.

It was hard when I first read this not to think of Natsume’s Book of Friends. The art style is very similar, and a man and his wandering cat spirit solving mysteries, many of them featuring ghosts, also rings very close to home. But we aren’t really all that connected to Jubei the way we are to Natsume. Jubei seems to drift through the manga as he does through Edo. He has several admirers (a few women throughout are clearly attracted to him, but nothing comes of it), and is in fact the Edo Period’s version of a bishonen, complete with the hair, which the artist mentions is out of period but she didn’t want to cut it. I expect as we get more volumes we’ll learn about his backstory with Nita and see some depth, but the lead character is not the reason to read this manga.

On the other hand, the stories themselves are very well done. Sometimes a bit melodramatic, and designed to pull on the heartstrings of cat lovers, but that’s okay. You’re hear to read about cats being adorable, so some extent. Admittedly, there’s a lot more of cats being mysterious or aloof than there is adorable, but that’s okay. We see a cat who sacrifices his life to save his owner’s sight; a young man who realizes his cat may be MORE than just a cat; a pretty tea-shop worker with a tragic cat past; a stoic courtesan whose cat never leaves her side; and a samurai who is terrified of cats due to a haunting from when he was a child. Even the last story, which is mostly about a young man who’s about to be disinherited and is sent to Jubei’s master to try to find a profession, ends up being about how to paint cats, and how cat’s bodies move. You can’t say this doesn’t cater to its audience.

This is, I believe, the first Shonen Gahosha title we’ve ever seen over here that is not from their seinen otaku magazine Young King OURS. They really only have a few demographics as a publisher: Young King/Ours readers, porn readers (their Young Comic titles), and Nekopanchi, the magazine this title runs in. I’m happy to see something from the latter, which, as has been noted, is a classic example of something that would never otherwise have been licensed in Japan. Recommended, even if you’re not a cat lover.

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