Konami Kanata has made a name for themselves as the premier purveyor of adorable yet realistic cat manga, at least in English translation. While they are best known for Chi’s Sweet Home (which, as of this writing, even has an official coloring book to its name), Sue and Tai-chan takes a slightly different approach by pairing an elderly kitty with a rambunctious young kitten. It’s perhaps not as much of an odd couple as it seems to anyone who’s had pets, as it’s a relatively common practice to get a young companion animal when another is reaching old age, although how the older pet feels about this is up in the air.
In the case of Sue, the answer is definitely “unimpressed.” Certainly it helps (to a degree) that her beloved human Natsuki didn’t deliberately seek out a kitten to inflict upon her; instead, he was persuaded by one of his friends to look after his kitten Tai-chan for an apparently unspecified amount of time. There’s definitely a feeling that he just got a second cat foisted off on him, but whatever the reason, Sue seems to feel that he ought to have tried harder to get out of it. After all, a kitten is a terrible thing to inflict upon a mature feline such as herself.
Since this is precisely what my oldest cat felt when I (foolishly, in her opinion) rescued a kitten and brought him home, there’s definitely a clear sense of relatability to these volumes. In volume one, Sue is much less inclined to interact with Tai-chan of her own volition; it’s more that she feels that it is her duty to teach him the basics of being a cat. Of course, this doesn’t come until after she’s made a grave error. Early on in volume one, Natsuki puts Tai-chan’s litterbox next to Sue’s in the bathroom, and Tai-chan immediately wants to use Sue’s. She makes it known that that box is her territory, sending him into his own box. But the moment Tai-chan uses the litterbox, she realizes that, having marked it with his scent, he has established territory in the home. This scene is not only a wonderful example of cat behavior, specifically the idea of scent-marking to delineate territory, but also a good gateway for Sue to begin accepting Tai-chan for cat reasons. Sue and Tai-chan don’t need to be anthropomorphized, either in art or in behavior, and that the creator manages to still move the story forward without resorting to that demonstrates why their cat manga is so good.
Each of these volumes explores a different phase of the cats’ relationship, which allows for character development without rushing the pace of the story – or, for that matter, dragging things out. Volume one focuses on Sue accepting Tai-chan’s presence in her home, while volume two looks at the way that she’s begun to take him under her tutelage. In both books Tai-chan manages to get himself into some very typical kitten trouble, but we see Sue’s exasperation with those lessen as the volumes go on. The first signs of this come towards the end of the first book, when Sue realizes that she needs to teach Tai-chan how to clean himself – he doesn’t realize that he can use his paws to clean his head where his tongue can’t reach. Sue gives in and helps him out, but in volume two we see Tai-chan learning to copy Sue’s movements and mannerisms, which is every bit as adorable as it sounds.
As you might have guessed, the cute factor is extremely strong in this one. While the cats do have some distinctly manga-style features – such as Tai-chan’s huge round eyes – they are also relatively realistic; we know their genders because the story tells us, not because Sue has more eyelashes or something like that. Sue’s movements are also drawn more stiffly than Tai-chan’s to show her age. She often appears lower to the ground as if arthritic, and it’s clear that more effort is needed to do basic things. Tai-chan, meanwhile, bounds through the pages as though he is barely contained by gravity, attempting to balance on watermelons, getting stuck in the bathtub, and sleeping so that he takes up far more space on the bed than a kitten of his size ought to. Both Sue and Tai-chan are adorable in their own special ways, and whether your soft spot is for elderly kitties or babies, there’s a lot of appeal in both the art and the story for both.
Speaking of the art, the series is printed in full-color, although not on glossy pages like an American comic book. The color palette is soft and fairly limited, which adds to the appeal of the art, especially for younger readers. It’s also fairly apparent that the chapter book crowd is the intended audience, as the books are printed flopped, presumably to aid with learning to read the comic book format. The lack of real danger and tragedy also makes this suitable for younger readers; Sue may be elderly, but there’s no mention of her being at the end of her life, and the only time anyone goes to the vet it’s for a regular check-up.
Although both volumes are very short – somewhere between 128 and 114 pages each – they’re also very satisfying reads. The stories aim to be cute, realistic, and recognizable, and they succeed on all counts. If you’re mourning the endings of Chi’s Sweet Home and Fuku Fuku: Kitten Tales, Sue and Tai-chan should fill the void very nicely with its charming antics of the odd couple of cat manga.