Neko Musume Michikusa Nikki

lewd

The following content is somewhat lewd. Those pure of heart, take care.

neko musume michikusa nikki -01This? Lewd? You may be surprised.

Neko Musume Michikusa Nikki (ねこむすめ道草日記, Cat Girl’s Loitering Diary) by Ike (いけ) is a manga that I think should be better than it actually is. Whoa! Me? Starting a review off with criticism? That’s a scary first, but as always I only choose to write about what I ultimately feel I can recommend, and Neko Musume Michikusa Nikki certainly qualifies. This is a supernatural/modern day, slice of life, ecchi (that is, pervy) series featuring some really fantastic art — cute and unique character art, varied and detailed background art — a few interesting themes about moving on/being abandoned, and general relaxation. I say things like this, and I believe the series should have the makings of a true great — an easy high recommendation — but that is not the case. To be honest, I kind of figured this somewhat middling opinion of mine would be the one I came away with based on how the series came across my attention. I’ve seen it posted around a few times, noticed it’s been running a long time (almost 10 years, 14 volumes compiled), but have seen absolutely no discussion about it. None! Not a peep! I figured there were probably reasons, and there are. Allow me to try setting the record straight.

Oh, and sorry about it being quite a while since the last review. I screwed up!

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There isn’t very much to this series when it comes down to it, but what is there is a little…off.

The series’ protagonist is Kurona, a fun-loving but often lazy/moody cat girl who used to be a regular cat, but recently transformed into a youkai (a mythical Japanese creature/monster, basically) after her owner left her in a box on the street. There are several youkai around in the town where she lives, but they tend to stay out of sight, and it seems like their numbers have severely dwindled since ancient times. An old crow tengu tries keeping them together but they hardly respect him. Otherwise, he’s the one responsible for taking care of Kurona in the time just after her transformation. Later on, and in the present day of the manga, she began staying at an old woman’s home/store as a disguised house cat and sometimes zashiki-warashi (a helpful household guardian).

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Most of the series adheres to its title, in that Kurona loiters about town with her friends (or new youkai) and slice of life antics occur.

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Otherwise, when the series wants to be serious for a bit, it tends to concern itself with the fragile relationship between humans and youkai. I’m not absolutely certain on the specific rules Neko Musume Michikusa Nikk uses for its youkai, but the general mythological standard is that youkai feed off the fear of humans, and thus continue to exist through humans’ belief in them. That kind of thing. That aside, some youkai like Kurona actually like humans (though it takes her a bit to be more honest about that) and don’t just want to terrorize them, but the crow urges that getting too close to humans will often only end up leaving you hurt.

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Mostly we don’t see this from Kurona’s end (at least as far as I read) since humans already hurt her pre-series (in that her owner abandoned her); at worst we see humans slighting her in a few ways by being careless or selfish. Instead, most of the series has other youkai experiencing the woes of dealing with humans (mostly by being abandoned by humans themselves, or seemingly so).

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Chapters like these and this general theme can give the series a somewhat somber air, but it’s not exactly heart-wrenching or anything. It can be pretty good, but like much else with this series it can be a little “off”. It might be the case that something doesn’t quite click or tears fall when you’re not sure they should be falling. Like it’s just not quite right. A very strange issue, indeed. One good praise though: humans aren’t always bearers of despair in the series. In fact in chapter 1, the “problematic human” is the same one who resolves the central issue of the chapter by not abandoning someone, but instead coming back.

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On that note, the series has a handful of regular human characters (not including the lady Kurona stays with, since she doesn’t really feel like much of a character), and here is where I begin to have more problems.

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Not long into the series Kurona gets three human friends: a trio of kids from the neighborhood she ends up taking a shine to. That said, of these three so far only one of them largely remained as a consistent character which really disappointed me. Another showed up as well, this girl:

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Chika, and she really brought to the forefront a lot of what perplexes me about this manga.

There is a…vague — very vague suggestion of romance in this series, most specifically between Kurona and the boy in the page above — Daiki. I…completely don’t get it. Kurona has no interest in romance and indeed probably does not actually know what romance is. I read about half of what was available for translation before deciding to write since nothing about the manga was changing (aside from adding a few more characters who might show up again and again over time) and Kurona remains just kind of universally friendly. Despite this, the mangaka likes to push Daiki in particular (though honestly, Ton-chan, the pudgy kid, is a more interesting character who I would’ve figured Kurona would be more attached to). When I see weird moments with characters like Chika pulling STRONG tsundere routines (since she quite obviously has a crush on Daiki) and other characters actually shipping the two (this spider girl does it all the damn time, it’s annoying) I have to ask myself “Okay, did I miss something?”

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Perhaps the author is seeing something that I’m not seeing, because honestly I find these elements not exactly distracting, but most definitely detracting. The series is straight up a little worse just for having these jarring aspects that don’t actually seem to have any reason or credence — it would do a lot better not having them there at all and just having Kurona being what she is, a silly friend, with nobody misconstruing what should be very difficult to misconstrue. Kurona has many friends, three of them little boys so what exactly is making Daiki the special one in this equation? Because he’s the one who looks most like a protagonist? Kurona doesn’t seem to make the distinction. Is the obvious misunderstanding supposed to be humorous? I don’t really find it so, what with them just being silly elementary students and Kurona being a silly cat. Man, it’s just weird.

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On that note, gotta explain why the series has a lewdness warning.

What in Sam Hill is a page like that doing in a manga like this? And why are there so many pages like that? Look at this! You’re making me sound like a prude! Me!

It’s no secret to the world that I couldn’t care a lick less about perversion. In fact, I don’t actually care that it’s happening to what characters this service happens to in Neko Musume Michikusa Nikki, but… No, this is a relaxed, slice of life, down to earth, and sometimes dour comedy manga; there is almost no place here where fanservice should be fitting, and yet there’s so much of it. Maybe it would help if the art style was less adorable/chibi? It doesn’t really look right. As it stands I look at these service pages and am not offended, but baffled. It really doesn’t feel like any of this should be here.

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And this, all of this, is why Neko Musume Michikusa Nikki feels so off, and I think this is why I just don’t see people talking about it much. There’s poignant moments with lonely creatures yearning for a sense of belonging that don’t all carry through as they should leaving you to think “Eh, hm, well, maybe that’s too extreme a reaction”; there’s romantic elements that are utterly out of place and senseless given how the characters actually feel; and there’s fanservice that honestly shouldn’t even really bother you if you’re the type who HATES fanservice, but goddamn is it weird that it’s even there at all. And when it’s not all of these things? It’s a slice of life series with some cute, some funny, but nothing overwhelming in either case. When I first read this to highlight it on my podcast, I recall writing somewhere that I didn’t exactly find it “super remarkable” and yeah, that holds. Like, it is what it is, so what else is there to say? Nothing, I suppose. If you’re looking for a slice of life manga and don’t mind some strange quirks, this is it.

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But you know, I really don’t want to sound down on this series. I am not down on it, I’m mostly just confused by parts of it. There’s a whole lot of this manga and most of it isn’t “I don’t understand this”, but instead “that deserves a light chuckle, haw haw haw!” It’s good, that’s certainly true, and I want to give special mention to the character above, Koma, who really emphasizes that. Time for a praise bomb.

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There is literally nothing bad about Koma, the kind of friendly rival to Kurona. In fact, there is only good. Her brother, Shishimaru, is cute cool too.

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The two of them are “komainu”, stone lion-dog shrine guardians and not youkai. They’re basically more like “divine”, I suppose. Their old shrine was torn down in relentless human development and the priest of another shrine took them in. Throughout the manga, they (in particular, Koma) try to prove themselves as useful and worthwhile by doing good at the temple and around the town. Their arc is genuinely compelling, especially so since they kind of cause a lot of trouble and when faced with the question of whether they’d like to leave the shrine and go be the guardians of the shrine where youkai like to gather (and thus, where Kurona makes some of her keep), Koma decides against it since she really doesn’t want to give up and instead wants to make a place at the new grounds where she and her brother were taken in.

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She makes this decision despite not being “true” guardians of the new shrine, having to live and sleep under a building on the grounds, and not getting any respect from others for their hard work/being regularly insulted. There’s more to her character in regards to this, too, that’s spoilerific so I won’t mention it but will say it makes a lot of things more interesting.

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So, this is all of what makes Koma and her brother compelling; these true hearts of gold, driven to be accepted rather than just stewing in resentment toward a world and people that have turned away from them. And that’s all I’m doing here: saying what makes her compelling. What makes Koma friggin’ awesome is…basically everything else about her.

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Koma is:

  • a little girl bruiser.
  • specifically a brawler, most used to using her damn FISTS like a boxer.
  • STRONG.
  • proud.
  • fiercely loyal.
  • a grouch with a kind heart.
  • fitted with a default expression of >:(.
  • filled with the joy of battle.
  • responsible for many a hype as fuck action sequence.
  • cute.
  • badass.

All in all, she’s an incredibly unique character at base, and on top of all this she’s one of the few characters in the series who actually develops over time and changes/improves. Honestly, she is an easy highlight to the entire series, basically a shining example of what the author is really capable of. She fields for all walks the manga takes: slice of life, sadness, redemption and wanting, and fights (which I haven’t mentioned, since they aren’t too much of a focus of the series, per se). She is furthermore basically Kurona’s best friend after a while, although she quite obviously despised the cat at first. Last but not least, she’s crazy adorable, often trying (and regularly failing) to mask excitement or joy behind a stern mask to keep up appearances, perhaps just as a guardian, perhaps as a responsible older sister. She’s basically incredible and the main reason I am going to continue reading this series despite any other issue I take with it. Plus, who doesn’t like a genuine portrayal of close siblings?

Also I love her and her brother’s character design, which incorporates the look of komainu while making them distinct as well. SUPER cute eyebrows, too.

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If the series didn’t have those weird problems it has, Koma alone would make this a high recommendation from me. Honestly, since I haven’t read all of what’s available yet, mayhaps my tune will change down the road and I’ll add it to the category.

And, well, that’s enough of that. There isn’t really anything more that I wanted to say. I hope after reading this, you’ve figured out whether or not this is the kind of series you’d like to pick up.

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This series could use some help in the scanlation department, if you’re an editor/typesetter/cleaner and willing to assist, check out this recruitment page. Otherwise, want to buy Neko Musume Michikusa Nikki? You may do so through Bookwalker (guide), CDJapan, honto (guide), or ebookjapan. Alright then, happy trails until Wednesday!

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10 thoughts on “Neko Musume Michikusa Nikki

  1. Have you watched Kuma Miko? It’s a SOL-comedy anime which aired last season, about a young shrine maiden who lives with a talking bear. The first episode hits all the right notes – it is a cute, funny and heartwarming ‘single father raising a daughter’ type of show, albeit the father is a talking bear.

    However, as you progress through the series, odd hints are dropped which begin to disturb the otherwise innocent show. Odd, and perhaps even suggestive, inappropriate framing of body shots. Slapstick tongue-in-cheek jokes about typical pervy old men… lusting over this young girl.
    This only gets worse, until you realise with grim certainty that this (once cute show) is actually a show pandering to lolicons. Now, it isn’t like this all the time – the show does have its moments – but the experience is greatly soured by the uncomfortable presence of lolicon humour.

    By no means am I a prude, but some elements just don’t mix well at all in nearly all cases.

    Your review strongly reminded me of how I felt watching Kuma Miko.

    • I read/was reading Kuma Miko long before the anime announcement and to be honest, while I noticed a few pervy jokes it was just that by my perception: a few. Like very early there’s the joke about the legend of bears with the gift of speech, but I wrote that and a few other moments off as signs of humor. The manga just didn’t strike me as “fanservicey”. NOT like Neko Musume; I wasn’t seeing a bunch of molestation scenes out of nowhere.

      That said, I did watch the anime since I was excited for it, but it felt like there was indeed a different intended audience. Among other issues, like more wicked interpretations of scenes that just made me depressed, finishing the Kuma Miko anime killed a lot of my enthusiasm for the series.

      That said I wasn’t horribly bothered by any sexualization perhaps because I considered it to be somewhat rare and when it was there it was mild. Neko Musume…it’s not like ALL THE WAY fanservice like To Love Ru or something, but it’s in your face very often with the stuff and I don’t see how it’s supposed to work. You may not want to try it out if Kuma Miko was bothering you for similar reasons.

      • I actually enjoy the fanservice in To Love Ru, since the manga does not attempt to disguise its own nature. All female characters are treated equally (with regards to unexpected molestation and accidental fanservice). The sheer absurdity is amusing.

        In the case of the anime Kuma Miko, the sexual aspects are focused on Machi alone. Often in situations that she is very uncomfortable in and pressured into, such as being an idol. This is made worse by the fact that she is only a young girl, and they spend the rest of the show beating her up over her anxiety anyway.

        You can’t help but think the pervy old men, or Natsu are surrogates of the author – which may or may not be true, but the thought causes me discomfort nonetheless.

        I agree with you that the fanservice aspects were mild; I had issues with the show on a whole (as you may be able to tell!), but only mentioned the fanservice since it is what I was reminded of.

        It seems to me that mangaka often have strange minds. You sometimes see the most wonderful stories with fantastic atmosphere, characters, art etc. And then inexplicable added elements. Perhaps an unexpected ending (Usagi Drop), or their own fetishes and humour, or perhaps a romantic pairing that you really do not want happening. Which usually breaks immersion for me, reminding me that there is an author controlling everything which happens – that this is not an organically grown story, but one which the author controls.

        Perhaps I will give Neko Musume a try some time.

        • Well Kuma Miko’s author, Yoshimoto Masume, is a woman, so at the least she’s not a pervy old man but an arguably pervy young woman. It’s not all dirty guys working out their fetishes in the industry, which funnily enough is something I appreciate. Watashiya Kaworu (Kodomo no Jikan) is another notable example similar to her, I suppose, although more extreme. Then there is, yep, Usagi Drop’s author whose like of “father figures” went in a direction that bothered quite a few people.

          Also I never really saw Natsu as a perv, he just loves Machi because she’s cute. They bathe together without issue, after all.

          Anyway I do agree of course. If something feels out of place it feels out of place and kicks you out of immersion. Neko Musume kind of has that on the regular and I frankly find that aspect irritating. Well, like I said to begin with it’s a manga that I think could be better than what it is.

  2. Kama says:

    The fanservicey chapter you’e using as an example is the series’ pilot, which is clearly different in tone. The manga proper is a lot more toned down (and what little there is left is more tasteful), and focuses on cute/heartwarming youkai antics.

    • The series pilot? The chapter I used was after chapter 5, but maybe I missed something. Besides, even chapter 1 had the kappa pulling off Kurona’s panties, if I remember right.

      Disregarding that there’s still many scenes of undressing, nudity, or provocative posing. If it was just that, even, I could perhaps ignore it as my overthinking but the author is an admitted pervert (and I am not criticizing that, really). It’s not an outright fanservice series and yes, it’s mostly just slice of life, but there’s plenty of ecchi elements which I’m not sure actually belong.

      • Kama says:

        Yes, it’s the pilot. Not only it says so in the title, there are various little differences from the main story. In the latter, the crow tengu is drawn differently and Kurona’s hair is a bit shorter and her general look is more tomboyish, among other things.
        Generally speaking, as the series progresses the overt bits are fewer and further between, enough that I think presenting this comic as an “ecchi series” front and center is misleading and a disservice to it.

        • If you say so, but what I said still does stand; you’re even agreeing with me by saying it IS there. It’s not like it isn’t there, and that it’s there is ultimately my issue. I don’t think it should be, and it kind of clashes against the majority of the atmosphere. Nearly every chapter I read had something like that. What, would you like me to completely ignore it?

          It would be a disservice to anyone reading this review to not mention elements they might disagree with which ARE there and never actually DISAPPEAR. If it actually bothered someone more than it bothered me, what would it mean that I didn’t bother mentioning it, downplayed it, or ignored how the manga is noted as an ecchi series just about anywhere you can find it? Even then I do handle it at level, not really overblowing it, and I quote “there’s fanservice that honestly shouldn’t even really bother you if you’re the type who HATES fanservice, but goddamn is it weird that it’s even there at all”.

          I don’t just praise the manga I go over, I discuss any perceivable faults or address concerns I feel potential readers may have. When a manga opens with content like this http://i.imgur.com/oep9jAm.jpg am I supposed to pretend it’s not there, downplay it, and say “well, it’s only this one page” (even though it’s not; the next page has the kappa trying to remove her panties)? And then the next chapter has this http://i.imgur.com/GqbaCnj.jpg , and chapter 16 has this http://i.imgur.com/mrlp7UV.jpg , 42 this http://i.imgur.com/vMG8tzN.jpg

          Perhaps further on, even more so into the volumes that are untranslated, the series loses more and more of these elements, but as it stands it’s at least front-loaded, it doesn’t gel well with the atmosphere (in my opinion), and it’s not particularly good either since the art style doesn’t seem too suited for it. You also tacitly agree with this way of thinking because you’re saying the elements become less over time, as if it’s a positive that they fade away (because saying it’s ecchi would be a “disservice”, in your words).

          And lastly, you’re too hung up on this aspect of the review. While I do have a problem with it and think there’s way too much of it, I recognize that the series isn’t only that, describe its other faults, and go over its other praises. I don’t really even mention the fanservice that much in the grand scheme of the review. But again, I would be LYING to not point out what is very clearly there.

  3. nightman1 says:

    Another good one I found it hard to appreciate, primarily because of the absence of humans and the “busy” art. Now I will give it another shot, magnified on screen to take care of the “busyness” problem. As for the ecchi material, I bet I’ll like it when I get to it. I think the frequent outbreaks of dislike for ecchi elements that I see in English commentary on manga come from the movement of manga with such elements in them out of their culture of origin and into Western culture.

    This culture has, deep in its Christian background, 2 millennia of queasiness about representing or even alluding to sexual matters. Japan does not. I’ve seen beautifully drawn and colored Japanese woodblock prints of folks making love with genitals sticking out of their lovely robes.

    I think, against that background, manga artists just stick in sexy stuff wherever they feel like simply to hold our interest when the story is getting complex or the like. Such doings are verboten in much of our art and entertainment over here, due to America’s history of Puritanism, which is resurging after having been banished in the late ’60s through the mid ’90s. I (an old man) saw the peak of Puritanism’s banishment from “respectability” in the late ’60s through the ’70s and was happy. I’m very sad to see it creeping back. Nothing I can do about it though! Each new generation has its own views.

    • Nice that you’ll give it another shot but I think your talk on puritanism here is rather misguided.

      As I said I don’t actually have any problem with sexualization. I don’t believe I COULD and could still enjoy something such as Tsugumomo, an extremely sexual work without any discrimination as to who or what gets fanservice. My issue with THIS series is that I don’t feel the sexual elements mesh whatsoever. Say you were reading a serious, deep, sobering tragedy, and all of a sudden every few scenes there were fart jokes. That’s basically what the sexual elements feel like to me in this series; they don’t fit.

      I’ll repeat, I guess: the art style doesn’t really “work” that way, the generally relaxing atmosphere doesn’t gel with the sudden eroticism, and really it would probably do better WITHOUT the elements rather than with them. They don’t serve to create a more entertaining experience, they instead take you out of one mood by sharply turning into another.

      I’m more than aware of Western society’s more annoyingly conservative views, but I don’t share them whatsoever. If I did, there would be much too much of this medium that I would never even bother with.

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