I know a great manga or graphic novel when it continues to stick in my head long after I’m done reading it. Cats of the Louvre is that kind of manga. Created by the Eisner Award Winner Taiyo Matsumoto, who also created Ping Pong the Animation and Tekkon Kinkreet as well as many more manga. I don’t think I’ve seen another manga creator with the kind of style Matsumoto has. It is absolutely unique, eye-catching, and really sticks in your head for long after you finish. Not to mention that the stories are always just a little on the strange side, though captivating all the same. This particular manga has a feel all its own, from its French influences including its setting inside the Louvre, to its art style, to the strange story of a bunch of cats living in the attic of the most famous museum in the world and their various adventures and antics. It is sure to captivate you as well as soon as you read it. The hardcover edition is especially nice to behold and is a great edition to any manga or Matsumoto fan’s shelf.
Cats of the Louvre takes place in the darkened corners of the most famous museum in the world, the Musee du Louvre, that can only be witnessed after dark. Among the prowlers, guests, and staff of the museum is a family of cats who have taken residence in the empty attic, only coming out at night to walk the halls and play in the streets of Paris. The cats have been a staple of the museum for generations, watched over by the one of the staff who keeps their existence a secret. But when a new kitten, Snow Bebe, joins the clowder, it becomes harder and harder to keep their existence hidden as the snow white kitten prowls the halls and claims he can enter the world of the paintings he sees.
I love Matsumoto’s art style. I always have. I was first introduced to it with Ping Pong the Animation, and I thought it was absolutely crazy what he was doing with his line work and the style he was using. Some people would call it ugly or way too “out there” to watch, but I thought it was really cool. It was one of the first times I saw someone doing something so different in the anime medium, and it really stuck with me. My thoughts about Cats of the Louvre are similar. Matsumoto brings his signature style back for this one as well, creating very stylized character designs and adding a great deal of interest to the manga as a whole. I honestly think that he might have taken some inspiration from some french comics or artwork as well, given the nature of the style and its setting. To me, it certainly felt like it and it definitely feels very different from any manga I’ve read.
I love the character designs Matsumoto has come up with for this manga. The story centers around a group of cats and staff of the Louvre. However, the cats are given both feline character designs and humanoid ones. Each of them has their own special look to them that matches their other form. I especially love the way he did the black cat, with his angular design that elongates and looks like an evil shadow most of the time. You can really feel his animosity through just his body language and design. I also love the detailedness of the cats as you really get the feel of their fur from how much line work and value he adds to them, especially during close-ups. As for the human designs, I think they really reflect Matsumoto’s style in how they can be weirdly detailed at one point and then lightly drawn or messy and stretched-out at another. It really adds to the whole feel of the manga.
The setting of the manga takes place inside the Louvre, with the staff and the cats wandering about the halls after hours. One of the main plot points is that Snow Bebe, the newest and youngest cat of the bunch, can hear the paintings talking to him and can traverse in and out of them at will. Matsumoto seems to have done a lot of research into the art found at the Louvre, even getting research assistance from the museum staff. The paintings featured in the manga are the real ones, they can be found at the Louvre, and I love how Matsumoto incorporated them. I think he must have thought a lot about the meaning and the feeling behind the paintings he chose to use, especially the ones that Snow Bebe jumps into. It adds a layer of sophistication, you could say, to the manga as a whole by discussing and making the reader think about contemporary art.
Cats of the Louvre has a very strange story, but one that I fell in love with because of its strangeness. We have a clowder of cats living in the attic of the Musee du Louvre, who are the descendants of past clowders who have been living there for generations. One of the staff members takes care of them and keeps them a secret from the other museum staff. And then we find out that one of the kittens can hear paintings talk to him and even enter them at will and interact with the world inside the painting. And then we find out that one of the staff members of the Louvre, the man taking care of the cats, had a sister disappear and he thinks she might be in one of the paintings that the Louvre owns. It’s a fairly convoluted story, but I love the strangeness of it all. It creates opportunities to explore art, our relation to it, and discuss the process of growing up at the same time.
Snow Bebe, throughout the manga, creates this connection between art, humanity, and animals with his actions. He repeatedly risks discovery to go sit with the paintings and eventually falls ill, making the staff care for him, and wonder about his connection to the paintings. This prompts more investigation into the sister that went missing, and eventually to Snow Bebe’s wake-up call that he can’t spend all of his life devoting himself to the paintings. His story arc is one of loss, struggle, discovery, and growth as he moves through the different worlds of the paintings while trying to find a place for himself among the clowder of Louvre cats and the wider Parisian world.
It creates a great contrast to the life and story of the missing girl, who we find out is living in one of the paintings owned by the Louvre, has been living there since she disappeared. She hasn’t aged, doesn’t need to eat, and doesn’t want to leave. Her life has effectively been put on hold as she rejects the real world in favor of the pleasant fantasy of the painting. She will forever be a child, and that seems to be okay for her. For Snow Bebe, his journey into her painting was a pleasant escape from the outside world, from death, from hunger, from fear, but he finds a way to move past those things and leave. He begins to wonder about what the wider world can offer to him, and so begins to grow and mature.
Matsumoto has truly created a wonderful manga that still leaves me with questions the more I think about it. There is a lot to unpack here, but maybe I’ll leave that for another time. I hope you’ll give this a try because I truly think you’ll find something to enjoy, especially if you’re a cat lover or art lover like me.
~~Thanks for Reading!~~
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