Harsh Stories from Cat Bar Review • Anime UK News
“I’ve heard that a cat’s grudge can be a lot more terrifying than you think.”
It’s a black tale about tough (or tough) men involved in shady affairs and their love of cats that draws them to the Kitty and me bar, run by a former professional wrestler.
Hitman Miyake (aka Undertaker) is totally inconsolable; her beloved cat Cheriko has just died. He introduces himself to Kitty and me where bartender (and retired professional wrestler) Nampla Tsuchida tells him about Dandy, a cat in a tuxedo, who awaits the return of his missing master Onodera. As it turns out, Kouji Onodera is the name of the latest hit-job sent by Undertaker… and at that point, the peace of the bar is brutally shattered when two men barge in. One throws himself in front of Undertaker while the other – face hidden – brandishes a gun. A quick thought from Undertaker identifies the armed intruder as a policeman (the mark of a gun) and, summoned, he hastily retreats. Tsuchida warmly welcomes the newcomer, as does Dandy, acknowledging his long-missing master. This is Onodera, Undertaker’s target, marked by the cross-shaped scar on his right cheek – the hallmark Hitman left on his victims. Is it a dead man walking? Or even a ghost? And who is the policeman? What connects these men and a successful job three years ago?
As Onodera and Miyake speak, we see the events leading up to That Night in the Bar in a series of flashbacks – but not all in the order they happened. The other two regular cat-loving bar patrons can’t help but get drawn into the conversation. They are the editors of a publishing house, Kaizuka, and his client, the ex-yakuza turned successful writer, Mukouyama, famous for his sensational presentations, such as My pen is looser than my lips. A grim trail can be traced back to Onodera’s past – and that of her partner, Kajita, when they were both detectives investigating drug trafficking. What really happened three years ago? A plan is made to find out the truth no matter how dangerous it can be. And since it happens in a cat bar, you can be sure the cats will be involved in bringing the perpetrator (s) to justice!
Mangaka Yourei Ono tells us in the afterword that this is their first published manga – and that it is very artistically accomplished to begin with. The eye-catching pulp fiction art is awesome – and perfect for a tale set in a dark world of assassins, drug trafficking, and undercover cops. However, a few small artistic hitches: the proportions aren’t always great (look at the oversized hands on the cover) and the general darkness that permeates most night scenes means it’s often very difficult to tell which man is the Undertaker. and which one of his targets, Onodera – adds Police Inspector Sakota who also often looks frighteningly like him. In fact, it’s such a problem that – even though Onodera is the one with the cross-shaped scar on his right cheek and Miyake sometimes wears glasses. No problem distinguishing one cat from another, however, with the star cat Dandy, with her big golden eyes and tuxedo coat – and each cat is given the same value as the human characters.
But, my boy, is this story difficult to disentangle! I love a complex mystery with unreliable narrators – but I kept wondering if some of the pages had been bound in the wrong order as I turned between flashbacks. With such a complicated time scheme, it would have been useful to be able to more easily distinguish the three main characters.
Serious kudos to translator Ajani Oloye who just sets the harsh, luscious tone of voice for the character interactions and finds suitable localization equivalents for the double meaning (there are quite a few – this tale is not lacking in dark humor!). But this manga must have presented a hell of a challenge to translate! Kudos also to Abigail Blackman for conveying the many different voices (internal and in conversation) and varied vocalizations of cats so well.
Harsh stories from the cat bar received a beautiful large-format paperback from Yen Press with two beautiful color illustrations on the front; the mangaka here uses the fall colors brilliantly, as on the cover – and a page of translation notes at the end, after the mangaka’s afterword (which is worth reading).
A few trigger warnings: The first for cat lovers because – even though Tsuchida is fanatical about protecting her cat customers from anything harmful, including cigarette smoke – there are representations and allusions to cruelty to them. animals. The second is that there is also a certain graphic violence towards the humans represented and described. These stories are really tough as the title suggests.
Despite all its narrative complications, Harsh stories from the cat bar is fascinating, if frustrating, read seinen, and will turn (and go back) the pages. I’m really interested to see what this promising mangaka, Yourei Ono, comes up with next.