Hey there; I’m back. This review is cross-posted from Neko Machi, a weird little webcomic I do in collaboration with the very talented C. Ellis. Since Neko Machi is about a bunch of catgirls, I’ve started doing a series of posts reviewing other works featuring them.
Shoko Iwami’s Suzinari! is yet another of the 4-panel manga that Yen Press licensed from Houbunsha. With a catgirl right on the cover I couldn’t very well not pick it up, could I? It has two volumes total, and it winds up being short but sweet.
Kaede Takamura is a diligent and somewhat dry high school girl. One morning she wakes up and finds herself face-to-face with a girl who looks just like her. Except for two important details: this other girl has cat ears…and bigger boobs. Suzu is a simple-minded but good-natured girl, and Kaede’s parents accept her as part of the family with comical ease. This marks the beginning of the two “sisters” attending high school together (with Suzu wearing a cap to cover her cat ears), which is the main focus of the manga.
Shoko Iwami’s art is cute, appealing, and conveys what it needs to quite well. She does a good job of conveying where each scene takes place and what’s going on there. The character designs are typical manga saucer-eyes and such, giving the comic a very stylized look, though it’s interesting that she doesn’t contort her characters into wild takes all that much (least of all compared to the likes of Kiyohiko Azuma).
There are three other characters that come into play at school. The iincho is a moe-obsessed otaku guy with a keen mind, but shaky grasp of reality. Natsumi is Kaede’s friend, a glamorous girl with a creepy connection to the occult. Etoh-sensei is their homeroom teacher, who is a deeply cynical gambler with a distinctly un-teacher-like attitude. They’re not exactly sophisticated characters, as you might guess, and in terms of the story they’re basically part of the backdrop for Kaede and Suzu’s developing relationship.
Suzunari! is mainly a gag comic, and it succeeds nicely but not spectacularly at that. (For sheer laughs I prefer Azumanga Daioh or Sketchbook.) Kaede is basically the straight man, and all of the other characters are frivolous and weird. It runs through a lot of typical high school manga stuff–physical exams, a summer festival, cultural festival, new years, school trip, etc.–and while I enjoyed them here, if I keep reading enough manga I’m sure I’ll get tired of these cliches eventually.
What sets Suzunari! apart from other the 4-panel manga I’ve read, and in my opinion the real appeal of it, is the relationship between Suzu and Kaede, and how it grows progressively warmer over the course of the story. Suzu clearly loves her Onee-chan unconditionally, and the story in this manga is about Kaede coming to accept her. Where Kaede’s parents instantly take to Suzu (her mom just says, “Wow, it seems I gave birth to another girl yesterday.” and that’s that), Kaede herself has a somewhat more realistic character arc. In retrospect, despite Suzu being a catgirl, Kaede is probably my favorite character here. It has the kind of ending that comes out of nowhere to tug at the heartstrings. I’m not about to spoil it, but although it’s nothing deep, I found it compelling and a fitting conclusion to the story Iwami told.
Shoko Iwami has since started a new 4-panel manga called Kanamemo, which was adapted into an anime series last year. I haven’t checked it out yet, but the enjoyment I got out of Suzunari makes me want to. In the final analysis I give Suzunari! a 3.5 out of 5. I liked it a lot, but that’s partly because it pushed certain buttons.