Nekogahara: Stray Cat Samurai, Vol. 1
Nekogahara: Stray Cat Samurai, Vol. 1 is tale set in a feudal Japan primarily occupied by… cats. Enter the mysterious Norachiyo, a one eyed cat who’s now a masterless samurai, or a kept cat without their “person.” Left on his own he wanders the feudal landscape, getting into tussles with criminals and corrupt cats, all while looking for… something. From the Hiroyuki Takei, the man who gave us Shaman King and Ultimo, comes Nekogahara: Stray Cat Samurai, Vol.1
There’s not a whole lot to say about Nekogahara because as of the first volume, there’s not much to it. Norachiyo is your typical mysterious badass with a mysterious past cloaked in mystery. There are hints scattered throughout that his “person” was once someone important and on the losing side of some war, but there’s not much information given about this. This actually highlights the main problem of the first volume, it’s just too vague. Everything from Norachiyo’s character to the world he exists in are just barely existent things.
For example, at first Nekogahara seems like it’s set in feudal Japan, but everyone’s a cat, yet as the volume goes on it’s revealed people exists and some cats are owned by people. This just raises more questions, though. Since there are people who are samurai, do they know that the cats are samurai and can talk? Is the samurai stuff some kind of secret cat world and the people just see them as normal cats? If so, then what about the all the cat cities and clothes? Where are the people anyway?
Hiroyuki Takei’s artwork is all over the place. It jumps back and forth between stylized and slick poses, such as when Norachiyo faces down a group of enemies, to an incomprehensible mess of lines and ink slashes, such as when Norachiyo attacks said enemies. Blank and grey backgrounds abound and they make everything feel like it’s happening in some kind of isolated void, cut off from any substantial world. When Takei does give us a background shot of a town, or a temple, it looks good and lends the scene a nice sense of atmosphere. Sadly, the infrequency of the backgrounds just highlights how detached the rest of the book feels without them.
If the art was a bit clearer it might be a solid action series, but as it is Nekogahara: Stray Cat Samurai, Vol. 1 is just a mess of cute cat puns, ultra violence and messy action scenes. Uninteresting characters, Norachiyo’s tacked on mystery and a world that doesn’t quite make sense, just make the whole thing feel like Hiroyuki Takei decided to make a series based on a character design, some cute cat puns and not much else. In the end, this is a forgettable, bland and uninteresting debut volume.
Nekogahara: Stray Cat Samurai, Vol. 1 is available now from Kodansha Comics. Review copy provided by the publisher.