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!
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).
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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:
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?”
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.
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.
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 (now discontinued, fairly lame) 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- a little girl bruiser.
- specifically a brawler, most used to using her damn FISTS like a boxer.
- 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.
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.
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.
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!