From the stack: Chi’s Sweet Home

We adopted a dog not too long ago. Her previous owner had passed away, and she was being fostered by a kind family in a neighboring town. She’s about two years old and small, apparently some kind of hybrid of Chihuahua and Dachshund, and yes, she looks as odd as that combination suggests. (We’ve unofficially labeled the hybrid “Gummi Weasel,” but we have yet to hear back from the AKC.)

She’s adorable and quirky and we love her very much. Of course, introducing an animal into a new house never goes flawlessly, at least in my experience, but we’re doing our best to convince her that our home is her home and that we’ll always have her best interests at heart, while reassuring our preexisting brood that they’re loved every bit as much as they were before this little alien moved in.

During this gradual and pleasurable process, I’m reminded of the many things Kanata Konami gets exactly right in creating Chi’s Sweet Home (Vertical). I say “reminded,” because I’m sure we relearned all this the last time we welcomed a new animal, but I guess it’s a much milder version of what some people say about childbirth: you forget the negatives, and you just remember the outcome.

The beauty of Chi’s Sweet Home isn’t in its narrative sweep but in the way that Konami captures specific beats in the process of being a pet owner. Yes, there are plenty of kittenish antics from the titular feline, but the spine of the series is her human family adapting to their shared responsibility for this furry little creature. They shift things around in their household to make sure Chi is both safer and less prone to mischief. They take her to the veterinarian. They figure out what kind of food she likes. They trim her nails. They make choices and sacrifices that responsible people make when they add an animal to their family.

If the book was simply about a cute kitten doing cute things, I don’t believe it would be nearly as successful as it is. Powerful a force as cuteness is, care-giving isn’t all romping with plush toys and blissful naps. It’s sometimes messy, sometimes expensive, and sometimes inconvenient. The cuteness is the reward, as is the affection and the gradually strengthening bond between pet and owner. (This is one of the reasons that I think Chi’s Sweet Home would be a great comic for a kid, since the work end of the equation isn’t neglected.)

Over at Comics Alliance, David Brothers gives a persuasive summary of the book’s strong points, noting that Konami has a good grasp of feline behavior. This is absolutely true, and she doesn’t over-anthropomorphize Chi’s antics. She doesn’t need to, because she finds all of these telling moments in the warmly everyday relationship between humans and pet.

Brothers also notes Konami’s willingness to fold sadness into the narrative, which is also entirely correct. I knew it was dramatically successful when I originally read the sequences Brothers describes. But I know it’s accurate from watching our new dog have moments when she seems to remember that our house hasn’t always been her house, that she’s had other, meaningful people in her life, and that something inside her amounts to unfinished business. And if you ignore those moments or reject them, you miss the fullness of the experience that Konami is describing. I never thought I’d use the phrase “mono no aware” to describe a manga about a kitten, but I guess that’s what you get when it’s a seinen manga about a kitten.

So, as we continue to welcome our new little citizen to the household, I’ll certainly keep up with Chi’s immersion in her new home. And I’ll probably have a Gummi Weasel on my lap as I do so.

(This review is based on complimentary copies provided by the publisher.)