What\'s Michael Vol. #11 (Mania.com)

By:Eduardo M. Chavez
Review Date: Sunday, June 18, 2006
Release Date: Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Creative Talent
Writer/Artist:Kobayashi Makoto
Translated by:N/A
Adapted by:

What They Say
Described as "Japan's version of Garfield, Heathcliff, and Krazy Kat all rolled into one," Makoto Kobayashi's What's Michael? mixes slice-of-life cat reality with out-of-this-world cat fantasy into one tasty dish of laughter that even cat haters will find delicious. This, the final volume of the collected series, includes the What's Michael? epic, "The Planet of the Cats," a sci-fi feline farce that will put you into comedy orbit!

The Review
There are only a handful of titles that are anything like What's Michael. First, this is one of the few titles that is still flopped. Printed left to right this series comes in a thin 104 page oversized softcover book. Despite being taller than most (taller than an A5) this is also thinner, so not only does it not fit in my book shelves it is hard to stand on its side alone. The front cover features the art from the 8th volume of Kodansha's Bunko version which has Michael, Poppo and Katrina in school uniforms as they walk under some cherry blossoms.

Inside the book's printing is incredibly clean. The inks are lines are strong and the tone looks great. There are no extras but just getting this title printed is exciting.

Kobayashi's art is subtle. If you were to look at the character designs you might not think much of his characters. They look very clean but these designs are seriously cartoonish with rubbery overly caricatured faces that are extremely expressive. However, Kobayashi does not have as much range with his humans as he has with his cats. His people have a few faces - laughing, sobbing and shocked; while his cats have a one less (entertained and not amused) but they look better. These cats come in all sorts of sizes and breeds. But how Kobayashi captures them in action could only have come from extensive observation. And their simplicity really makes them stand out.

The layout does a great job to present the world of the cat. Perspective comes from down low with close ups that focus on the unique sightlines that cats have. Panels are generally pretty simple, as well with very little variety. However considering that each chapter is only a few pages long that works. Moreover, Kobayashi fills his panels up with background art giving a detailed look at where these cats get into and why they are able to do what they do.

SFX are translated with overlays. I was amazed by how little they were used in this title considering how little dialogue there is and how visually focused the subject matter is but you can go for panels without an FX. The overlaid FX look good and they never compromise Kobayashi's art.

From the looks of things the translation looks pretty good. I haven't read the original but the story moved much like the film of the same name with a few parts of the television series as well. Honorifics are not left in so instead of "-san" and "-chan," we have misters and misses. We also get a few funky accents here in there but considering the context they work in their weird own way.

Contents: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
If you have ever lived with a cat you have possibly wondered about the adventures that kitty takes when you are away. How do they spend all their time? What kind of trouble do they get into? Do they live a double life? Do they even remember you while they play? In What's Michael readers are taken right in to day to day lives of the cats in your average Tokyo neighborhood.

There is something unique about the world of cats. These beasts are small furry animals that do not seem to live very significant lives. However, as Haruko, Konbayashi and the rest can attest to, cats live fulfilling meaningful lives that many of us humans often ignore.

The cats in What's Michael can have a huge territory. They can cover a large range of land on many levels of height. On street level they rule the alleyways hunting down the beast that move in the dark. They command attention sidewalks where they are given gifts, compliments and massages by their human subjects. Above ground they are able to move just as easily and they communicate without words. This is where they come to think and discuss - on rooftops, on fences and in trees. Finally in homes and apartments they are like royalty. Pampered and loved these cats are always the center of attention and that is well deserved.

This is a planet of cats. One where we talk to our feline friends as if they can understand us or even listen to us. We live in a place where we fuss over kitties like members of family; joking with them and we worry about their sometimes lonesome lives. But do they care for us back?

Kobayashi presents a real planet of cats in this edition of What's Michael. Here we get to see the tables turned and the in typical cat fashion there is no telling what these cats have on their mind. Imagine a cat world and you might agree these felines have it good enough already and in turn so do we!

What's Michael is a type of manga that tries to be many things at once but ultimately as it misses on many things it comes together as just great pure comedy. Kobayshi does not even need words to craft humorous moments. Scenes where the simple introduction of a cat gives him opportunities to show off precious quiet moments where cat and human interact in with a sense of honesty that can only come from experience. These scenes embody an openness that we as individuals seldom see with other humans in our daily lives. With a cat around we can act childish. We can fuss and worry about the little things without concern. With a cat around we can just find entertainment in their behavior as long as one is looking for it. With people we might have walls up to protect ourselves. Yet with cats these characters drop their guard and Kobayashi does not have to try hard to show us why.

What's Michael is at its best when it does not push the concept too much. Kobayashi goes nuts with a musical/amusement theme inspired vignette that must have been brought on by hallucinogens. He also tried to create a Planet of the Apes parody that lacked much of the cat observation that made this title so fascinating. The rest of the manga is like more of a reflection of how humans interact with these creatures. This is slice of life from a feline perspective. Always an adventure, always short and concise never boring these stories are just delightful without adding too much in plot or dialogue. And as the subtitle states, I have to agree Kobayashi is saying the cats are already in charge (most humans just don't understand that completely... yet).

Mania Grade: B
Art Rating: B
Packaging Rating: B+
Text/Translatin Rating: B
Age Rating: 3 & Up
Released By: Dark Horse
MSRP: 9.95
Pages: 104
ISBN: 1-59307-525-1
Size: 4x6
Orientation: Right to Left