Makoto Shinkai has always been highly regarded in the anime field. With a library of work that includes The Place Promised in Our Early Days, 5 Centimeters Per Second and Garden of Words, he is one of a select group of directors who has had the label of the next Miyazaki forced on him. This has increased tenfold since the release of his 2016 film Your Name which is not only the fourth highest grossing film of all time in Japan but now the highest grossing anime film worldwide. And with Shinkai now cementing himself as one of the all-time great directors in the field of animation, now is the perfect time to take a look at the latest entry of Vertical’s releases of the manga adaptations of his classic work.
This is the story of Miyu, a woman who lives alone with her cat, Chobi. As Miyu navigates the world of adulthood, she discovers both the freedom and loneliness that come with living independently, and Chobi learns of the outside world through her actions. Time drifts slowly for Miyu and her cat, but the harsh realities of the world soon catch up…
She and Her Cat is based on the five minute short film that was Shinkai’s first piece of anime work. Whilst shorter and lesser known than his later material, it left quite the impact on hardcore anime fans before getting a wider release as an extra in the Voices of a Distant Star DVD release. This 2016, four-chapter manga adaptation by Tsubasa Yamaguchi has the task of expanding on the original five minute film to fill out an entire volume of manga whilst keeping the spirit of the original source material. Luckily, the manga format lends itself very well to this task with Yamaguchi managing to create something just as poignant as the original.
The story (as in the original film) is told from the perspective of Miyu’s cat Chobi who is completely devoted to her (to the point where he is unable to fully commit to a female cat he is fond of). Our perspective of Miyu is heavily guided by Chobi’s observations and limited feline perspective. This is where the extended format really benefits the story as it allows Shinkai and Yamaguchi to go into far more depth than a five minute film would allow. Chobi is quickly accustomed to Miyu’s daily disappearances as she leaves for work every day, but there are certain nuances of her life that he cannot understand. This is emphasised further on as Miyu struggles with her job, the fact she lives alone has no human company in her home, the pressure she feels to find someone to marry as more her colleagues and friends get engaged and that through all these problems, she does not have her family around for comfort. Chobi is aware of her change in demeanor and understands she is sad, but cannot emphasise with her feelings and does not know how to cheer her up. Again, this is all mostly conveyed through Chobi’s narrative which makes through a truly unique reading experience.
Yamaguchi’s art is much more detailed than the more simple style used in the film and is more in line with the art style in Shinkai’s more recent projects. Needless to say it suits the story very well with Yamaguchi having a great grasp on cat behaviour and also does a great job of expressing a variety of emotional levels and types without having to use exaggerated features and super deformed styles. Miyu’s character arc in particular is one of the more subtle emotion journeys you will see depicted in manga art.
Fans of Makoto Shinaki and cats should obviously pick this up, and anyone who wants to see more from the creator of one of the most successful anime films ever will find a lot to enjoy. But more importantly, this is perfect for anyone who enjoys a more subtle approach to graphic novel storytelling.
She and Her Cat is published by Vertical on 3 August 2017 (£10.99, paperback, 180pp, )