I have a hard time with graphic novels, particularly Japanese manga. I’ve never quite been able to figure out why, but they’re difficult for me to follow and I tend to get lost easily. A friend of mine loves manga and suggested I try the “What’s Michael?” series as an intro since I’m an avid cat lover/owner. And seriously, who wouldn’t want to look at fun stories about cats?
I’m happy to say these were a delight. There’s not a direct story line to our hero’s adventures. Michael seems to be companion to a family, a Japanese gang member, and a single woman all at the same time. One could hypothesize that, as with many cats, they refuse to be pinned down by any one person, and so have several humans who believe they own him. Or I just missed something, which is totally probable. Michael goes on lots of cat adventures, wreaking havoc on all those who own him from dutifully ignoring his owners instructions to creating his “I didn’t do it, I don’t know what you’re talking about” cat dance. My favorite adventures are when he’s with Yakuza member, “K,” who has a secret love for all cat things. From cat pajamas to cat toys, to his pen-pals that send him letters and photos of their cats, this man is terribly worried that he’ll lose all his bad a** points should any other members find out about his hidden hobby. I also enjoyed the strip about Michael strutting about town and a photographer keeps trying to get the perfect photo, only to have Michael ruin it over and over.
I still struggled a little with following the language in some of the stories, but this is being translated from Japanese to English, and I felt like much of the meaning was lost on me due to cultural and vocabulary barriers. During my MFA, a fellow student gave a presentation on the difficulties of translating Japanese into English based on the grammar and mechanics of the languages, and I thought about that the whole time I was reading these stories. That being said, the use of cat antics as the plot are so universal that it really did help bridge the gaps for me as Kobayashi draws the most adorable felines throughout his series, fully capturing all their fuzzy cuteness. As a cat owner himself, Kobyashi truly captures what it’s like to own felines, and any fellow cat lovers out there will laugh uproariously over the antics in these shorts even if they don’t always understand what’s going on with the humans.