Soseki Natsume’s I am a Cat is a famous work of classic Japanese literature that follows a wise cat as he observes his fool-hardy master and his bumbling interactions with his family and neighbours. This manga edition, by Chiroru Kobato, presents the well known tale with the addition of some adorable art.
When a stray kitten becomes separated from his mother on a rainy night, he wanders into the home of Kushami, a modestly successful teacher who’s a bit on the dense side. While Kushami and his family aren’t exactly thrilled to have their home invaded by a scrawny stray, they permit the cat to stay. Unfortunately, his new master is too careless to bother giving him a name, so the poor cat remains nameless. As time passes, the nameless cat settles into the house and observes his master and his friends, finding quiet amusement in their foolish tendencies and useless pride.
I haven’t read the original novel, but I am a Cat is a famous enough work that I had heard of it before picking up this manga. I think that the original author, Soseki Natsume, is even a character in the Ace Attorney game I’m currently playing, making the timing of this release quite serendipitous.
I am a Cat can best be described as a comedy of manners. There isn’t much of an overarching plot and the story consists of a series of loosely related vignettes that highlight the foibles of the main characters. The cast is full of ridiculous characters and our narrator, the cat, is able to witness all of their silly antics from his vantage as the family pet while offering up the occasional sly observation or critique.
As the master of the house, Kushami is the primary source of comedy for the book. He’s stubborn, grumpy and not the brightest guy in the neighbourhood, frequently letting his pride get the best of him. He’s constantly picking up new hobbies and then discarding them, trying his hand first at music, then art and later philosophy. His only friends appear to be a pathological liar, who seems to only hang around so he can mess with Kushami, and one of his former students, who is somehow even more dense and flighty than Kushami. I can only assume Kushami is so unpopular because he’s kind of a jerk, something that becomes apparent as he gets pulled into the drama surrounding a potential engagement between the afore mentioned former student and the spoiled daughter of a wealthy couple.
While I’m sure it was intended to be humorous, I found a good portion of Kushami’s buffoonery unpleasant rather than funny. His jabs at the large nose of his snobbish neighbour (who at the time hadn’t done anything to him other be a bit pushy and overly blunt) came off as just plain mean, and he also makes some comments about his wife that didn’t sit well with me. These moments are doubtless intended to showcase how Kushami’s carelessness frequently leads him to cause unnecessary trouble for himself, but nevertheless it wasn’t very amusing to me.
I found that I enjoyed I am a Cat the most when it was focused on its narrator. The cat’s failed attempts to catch a rat, and his self-conscious over the fact that his master and the other humans considers him to be something of a layabout, were entertaining, and I also found his interactions with the other local cats to be cute.
A few of Kushima’s misadventures also managed to get a chuckle out of me, particularly his battle with the school boys who keep hitting balls into his yard. No matter how much time passes, some things remain universal.
The end result is I found I am a Cat to be a bit of a mixed bag. Some portions were funny, but not all of the jokes or social commentary have aged well. The manga also ends on an oddly sad note, which I found surprising, considering the book had been mostly light-hearted up until that point. I’m not sure if I’d recommend this to everyone, but it was interesting to read an adaptation of a famous masterpiece, so I’d say it’s worth checking out if you’re a fan of classic Japanese literature.
Final Score: 6 out of 10.
For more information on this manga, visit Tuttle Publishing’s website.
What did you think of this manga? If you’ve read the original book, be sure to let me know your thoughts on this adaptation in the comments!
If you enjoy reading my reviews, please consider supporting me through Kofi.