Nyankees, Vol. 1

By Atsushi Okada. Released in Japan by Kadokawa Shoten, serialization ongoing in the magazine Shonen Ace. Released in North America by Yen Press. Translated by Caleb Cook.

I was pretty excited when I heard about this license, despite never having heard of the title. I mean, stray cats depicted as delinquents in the classic “Japanese high school gang members” sort of way. It sounded hilarious and cute. Sadly, while it is cute when the cats are shown as cats, and there is an occasional joke that lands, this turns out to be a title that takes itself all too seriously. I get the sense that this is someone who wants to write delinquents rather than cats, and is therefore using the gimmick to tell the story he wants to tell. We haven’t had all that many successful delinquent manga in North America (have there been any?), so it’s also relying on a lot of tropes that are likely far more nostalgic and familiar to the Japanese reader. The premise is great, though, and the creator at least brings some nifty cat art to the title. It may get better as it goes along, but not a strong start.

The cat/hoodlum on the cover is Ryuusei, who is new to this neighborhood and cares not for all of your so-called “rules”. He’s here searching for the one-armed man… erm, sorry, for the calico tom with a scar on his eye that apparently has a past history with Ryuusei. In his new neighborhood, he looks like a pushover at first, not impressing the one female cat in the cast, Mii, and getting the crap kicked out of him by the other cats/gang members. But it turns out he was just starving, and once he gets food in him he actually kicks a lot of ass, including the gang leader, Taiga. In fact, he kicks so much ass that Taiga immediately wants to give up the leadership position to him. But it’s complicated. Ryuusei has his own thing that he’s doing, rival gangs are there to step in at any sign of weakness, and worst of all, Mii’s been kidnapped!

One thing I liked is the research that apparently went into the various kinds of cats the characters are. Our lead is a male dark tabby, pretty damn common, but the calico tom he’s looking for is quite rare, something mentioned by the others. The ‘stray cat = delinquent’ theme is sometimes amusing, as when we see the human-drawn Ryuusei get stuck in a box too small for his frame – though frankly the gag goes on far too long. And I hope you like cat puns, because they’re in here as well. Honestly, I don’t think they translate well, though at least Yen realized it had to keep the ‘nyan’ in ‘Nyankees’ to have it make sense. But honestly… at the end of the day, this is for delinquent manga fans, such as Worst. There’s the tough, rakish lead, the tomboy girl who slowly finds herself drawn to him, lots of fights, lots of guys acting tough. But they’re cats. Sometimes a girl chases after them, and they all scatter. I’m hoping the 2nd volume makes this either a bit less serious or a bit more cat-oriented.