One of the breakout series of 2019 and 2020 has to be Nyankees by Atsushi Okada. It was picked up for English release by Yen Press and quickly became one of mine and many others favorite manga series. It’s a shame that it only ran for six volumes but that might also be one of it’s strengths. So for this first installment in our Caturday special, let’s talk about Nyankees and why you should most definitely pick it up for yourself.
I’ve been wanting to do a review of Nyankees since the first volume came out, but I just couldn’t find the justification for it given the genre niche of this blog. However, the time has come to stretch my wings a bit and delve into more of the manga I’m passionate about with these the first special Caturday feature.
At the most basic level, let’s talk story. What is Nyankees about? Okada has crafted a world that delves into the secret lives of street cats as if they are teens or twenty-something gangsters trying to protect their turf. Each cat is given their own personified character drawn in human form with a fleshed out personality and desires. The main arc follows a certain tabby who is wandering through Japan trying to find the male calico cat that took him in and raised him as a kitten. Through his journeys, he encounters and interacts with many clowders of street cats just trying to eke out a living and protect their turf.
The basis of the story combines many of a lot of people’s favorite things: cats and tough guys. Both of these things combine to give us some really hilarious and even action packed moments. Tough guys acting like cats becomes the best thing especially when they do some very typical cat things like sitting in boxes, getting high off of catnip, and getting distracted by cat toys. The contrast and uncertainty creates the comedy. We expect cats to do certain things, and we expect tough guys to do certain things, but mash those two things together and the behavior of the characters becomes a little up in the air. Having tough guys act like cats also softens the persona that they try so hard to put on, creating another layer of comedy and adding to characterization as a whole.
But the reverse is also possible: cats acting like humans. And we get those moments too through high intensity fights, meaningful character dialogue, and characters who are just too smart to be cats. One of the best parts of this manga is the action-packed fights. They’re both amazing to look at and hilarious because of how the cats fight pretty much like people would. The manga takes these fights extremely seriously, and you can tell just looking at how much work Okada puts into the line-work for them. On top of that, we have this overarching narrative of finding and reconnecting with someone important to the main character. It becomes a quest that takes him into contact with other characters who all have interesting stories and meaningful struggles in the process of living and protecting the other cats they care about.
On a visual level, Nyankees is amazing. Okada has done such a great job with the art throughout the series and the character designs all feel unique and well-crafted. I think we see this the best with a couple of the lone cats that make an appearance to cause trouble. One of them is a hairless cat who is drawn as a bald, slightly “exotic” looking, with tattoos all over his chest. The type of cat he is is reflected in his human persona, and they match perfectly. One of the others is a long-haired cat who loves to roll in catnip dust. His persona is a dreadlocked, Jamaican-esque character that one could see as a person who deals in weed. Okada’s skills at creating his cat-human personas extend to the other major characters in the series and even some of the side characters. I really enjoyed seeing how each character’s human design correlated with their cat design.
The art at the basic level is highly detailed and pays a lot of attention to expressions, movement, and character design. Cats have a way of moving in some really agile ways and human gangsters have a habit of getting into some really intense fights, so putting these two together created a unique challenge for Okada to really showcase his artistic talent. The fight scenes, like I mentioned briefly above, are given a lot of care and attention. Movement is displayed through Okada’s line art really well, with both cats and humans twisting and moving in interesting ways to get a leg up on their opponent. It was one of the main reasons I kept coming back to the series. I think Okada managed to really capture the intensity and importance of these fights within the series as a whole.
However, the series isn’t just action and comedy. Okada manages to work in some truly meaningful and even tear jerking moments throughout. I guarantee you’ll come to sympathize with all of these street cats by the end of the sixth volume. The one that really got me was the story of one of the cats who was born to a mother cat trapped in a cage in an abusive household. Their owner used to beat and neglect them until he died suddenly. It was only through eating the corpse of his own mother was the kitten able to survive and escape when people finally checked on the owner. He struggled to make a place for himself on the streets and vowed never to live with a human ever again. That story was definitely one of the heavier moments in the series and it really had me moved to tears.
If you love cats, tough guys, intense fight scenes, and cute hijinks, I think you should definitely pick up Nyankees. Lucky or unluckily for you the series is only six volumes long, so not a huge commitment. I can’t stress enough that this series has become something that I came to love over the last two years and I would recommend it again and again if I could.
Let me know in the comments if you’ve picked up or made it all the way through the series. Who’s your favorite street cat? Cat tax below.
~~Thanks for Reading!~
Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and WordPress for all Bloom Reviews content updates and news!
If you like what I do, consider supporting me on Ko-fi.