KANTA ON MANGA / Tales of a stray cat who heals souls

© Kaoru Fukaya 2016

By Kanta Ishida / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior SpecialistThe manga this week

Yomawari Neko (Night watch cat)

By Kaoru Fukaya (Kadokawa)

Philosopher Kiyokazu Washida said listening intently to someone is not just a passive activity. For a person who has something to share, it is imperative that their words are acknowledged and taken seriously. This allows them to relieve their anxiety or find clues to solve their problems — even if the listener can’t provide any precise answers.

Heizo Endo, the protagonist of this week’s manga, is a stray cat. As a yomawari neko (night watch cat), he patrols the streets every night, sniffing out people with a scent of tears and then snuggling by their side. Young people with no money or a job, for example, or a bullied girl; a mother who is worried about child-rearing and a boy who is fighting an illness. But Heizo is only a cat — all he can do is to listen to their stories. His signature phrases are “I’m smiling,” and “I’ll keep a lookout for a good partner for you.”

Each story has only eight panels. They are all gritty, true-to-life tales that provide no eye-opening solutions, yet each one brings me to tears. While thinking about why this might be, I stumbled across Washida’s aforementioned observation.

Previous published works by “Yomawari Neko” creator Kaoru Fukaya include “Eden no Tohoku” (Northeast of Eden). She drew the first episode of “Yomawari Neko” with a felt-tipped pen while visiting a family member in hospital, hoping it would amuse them. In October 2015, she started to post these illustrations on Twitter every day, and her work gradually spread via word of mouth.

One day, renowned copywriter Shigesato Itoi retweeted one of her illustrations and all of a sudden her popularity skyrocketed. “I started drawing this manga because I wanted to, not because it was work,” said Fukaya. That such a spontaneously created manga could touch the hearts of so many people is surely testament to the power of the internet.

Although fully aware of the danger of linking this fictional work to reality, I cannot help but recall a brutal incident in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, in which many mentally challenged people living in peace were murdered or wounded in July 2016.

“Even if you don’t do anything or feel as if you are a nobody, remain just the way you are, because you are an encouragement to someone.” This is the clear message of this manga. Although it might sound naive when said casually, it becomes convincingly true when spoken by Heizo.

The cover image shown above is from the first print version of “Yomawari Neko.” Kodansha will publish this manga in two volumes on March 23. I am sure there are many more people out there who need Heizo to patrol the streets, while calling out “Nakuko wa inega” (Is anyone around here crying?).

Ishida is a Yomiuri Shimbun senior specialist whose areas of expertise include manga and anime.Speech

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