Today is the day we leave for Anime Expo, so we figure we should write this review before the convention takes up all our brain space and shoves memories of this translation deep into the recesses of our minds. ...It may already be too late.
Okay, so this is the penultimate volume of Nekogahara, and most of it is taken up with...drumroll...flashbacks!! I like it, actually, because Norachiyo is the kind of character that makes you really want to know what his deal is. He was a very different cat before his run-in with Abyhei and his gang. Now I'm going to have to recap what happened, or else I won't be able to remember my reactions to anything.
We start out with Norachiyo in the brothel, and that reminds me! I don't remember if the term for brothel ever came up before, even though the brothel itself featured in several important scenes in earlier volumes. Maybe we should have checked that before we went all over the internet looking for feline-sounding names for whorehouses. Oh well. Anyway, the thesaurus told us that one word for such an establishment is "cathouse." It's an Americanism, so maybe a little too modern for the purposes of this series, but we were like, "!!!!" We came thiiiiiiis close to using it...and I think we wrote about all this in the note for queanhouse, which is what we ended up using. For those of you who haven't read that note, the reason we decided against cathouse is that since all of them are cats, any house where any of them lives would be a cathouse, so they would probably not use that word for brothels.
Abyhei and his gang are the bouncers for the brothel, and pretty much the muscle for anything Big Boss Odama wants done. This is where we did a bunch of research on organized crime terms, mostly what do gangs call themselves. We discovered that most yakuza groups have entirely untranslated names, even at Wikipedia. I don't know how they refer to themselves to their non-Japanese speaking associates (but we know they operate outside of Japan, too, because we ran into a guy at an outdoor market one time who told us about how he was friends with a yakuza boss...unless he was making it all up). Anyway, since organized crime does exist outside of Japan, we figured it might be easier to just use an English word, so we went to Wikipedia and looked at their entire list of crime syndicates. Most of them called themselves gangs, but there were also syndicates and families. In Japanese, they have gumi, kai, and ikka, mainly, so we figured they could be gang, syndicate, and family, respectively. Odama has a gumi, so we gave him a gang. It kind of has a different nuance in English, I think, but that might mostly be because Southern California gangs give off a much different impression than the mob does. Still, if that's the word they use, I don't see any reason not to use it, and while it might have a different impression, it is still basically the same kind of deal.
Anyway. Abyhei decides to give Norachiyo a chance to join the gang (he doesn't bother asking if Norachiyo wants to join), and he takes him out to help collect from one of the gang's debtors. I kind of really liked everything about this chapter, but mostly Norachiyo's attitude about the whole thing. I totally get Abyhei's stance on it, too, but it's always nice to see optimism. I like to think that Norachiyo could have beaten Shikataro without Abyhei's help, but I guess if Norachiyo thinks he couldn't, maybe he couldn't, since people are more likely to overestimate their abilities than underestimate them. Athena points out that Norachiyo was trying too hard not to hurt Shikataro, and that's why he couldn't have beat him, and that's fair. And thus begins Norachiyo's change of attitude, leading him to the bitter, jaded old tom he is today. The sudden addiction probably didn't help.
Norachiyo is introduced in the worst way possible to the big boss, who insists that kept cats are not to be admitted into the gang, and takes Norachiyo out to get rid of him...by which he means taking him to dinner and giving him more money than anybody could ever need as a bribe to leave forever. We also get to learn his backstory, which is kind of fun. I'm not going to give it away, mostly because I don't have much to comment on about it. But I do like his philosophy about money versus hearts.
Well, Norachiyo can't just take the money and run, because he had to go back and get his beloved sword. Unbeknownst to him, Abyhei had a treacherous plot in the works, which also gave Norachiyo his addiction, the poor little kitten. Catnip is apparently a powerful hallucinogen (at least in this world; we didn't look it up to see if that's true in real life), so Abyhei's sidekick drugs Norachiyo to get him to fight the big boss, and it's all very tragic and makes you want to punch Abyhei, as if it would do any good. We don't learn how Norachiyo got away, or anything about the aftermath of the potential catnip overdose, but we do go back to the present with Shishiwaka and Short.
And just then! Little Fold shows up and says okay you three, you're going to Hizen Province. And this is where we started to realize that there's a bit of a problem here, because the series very much takes place in Japan, which means the logical thing is to leave all the names in Japanese, but Takei-sensei is going around tweaking them all eeeever so slightly to turn them into cat puns, and those are going to be totally lost on the readers. In a completely unrelated internet search, we came across a Nekogahara video review where the reviewer was basically giving his opinion as he read volume three for the first time, and he got to a mention of Norwe Shishiwaka, and he was like, "That's gonna remind me of Norway every time," as if that was some unintended side effect of the spelling. And we were like, "...He's a Norwegian forest cat. He's supposed to remind you of Norway!" And we realized that we were remiss in writing notes about all the names. We were hoping the readers would be able to figure it out themselves, since the first chapter features a Siamese cat named Siamechika. We thought it would be obvious from there... Oh well.
Anyway, there were a few places where we tried to compensate for the lack of English puns, but I don't remember where they were or what we did with them. The rest of the volume mostly follows them as they travel to Nekosakai (that one we had a note for) and board the pirate cruise liner for Hizen. This is where we finally found out that not all the cat names are based on breeds, but some of them are based on historical figures. Amagami Shiro, for example, was based on the Christian rebel Amakusa Shiro. The pirate cats were also based on historical pirates from the Sengoku Era. We didn't note that explicitly, but we wrote notes that point it out in a more roundabout way.
So while Norachiyo and company basically follow the ninjas orders, they discuss the significance of ninjas being involved in the whole thing, and speculate about what exactly the shinobi are trying to use them for. Mukuro was pretty great in all this. I liked when she suddenly was on top of a cart carrying all their supplies, that apparently appeared out of nowhere. Well, the point is that Shishiwaka decides not to let it bother him, and he was going to stop thinking about it. Dun dun DUN!!! Then Shiro shows up to kill him, and the volume ends. Next time we'll have the exciting conclusion!
Anyway, the story still seems to be...I want to call it "fluff," but that's just because that's really what it is in shoujo manga. It's the samurai series equivalent of fluff, but it's more action-packed. What I mean to say is, it's not exactly groundbreaking material, but it's a fun ride. And the art is as dynamic as ever. I really think this series has the most unique art style we've come across. And that reminds me! I'm pretty sure we're not the only ones who noticed that Takei-sensei seems to have given up on giving his characters feline faces. Seriously, all the new characters were like humans with cat ears. And big, burly humans, too, with the kind of strong chin you see on a Milt Kahl character. Pinsuke maybe looked more like a cat...
Anyway. It continues to be a lot of fun, and I'm definitely interested in seeing how it all wraps up! (I may be a little more enthusiastic about it because I feel like this last volume wasn't nearly as hard to translate as the one before it. We'll see how volume five goes.)
Aww, what a fun series. I don't think I have anything to add, but seriously, it's worth checking out.
This week is another week with no new releases, but we just checked November and we have four whole books (including the last volume of Nekogahara) coming out on the same day (in three weeks). In the meantime, tune in next week for our review of Waiting for Spring 8!
Today I'm thankful for having time to play Kingdom Hearts despite having extra things to do, Page not being too mad at us for not letting her outside, surviving the chocolate cake (it's tasty, but we need to figure out how best to ration that stuff), fond memories of Nekogahara, and people on Twitter telling their friends to get Edens Zero from Comixology or Crunchyroll.