Free Collars Kingdom Vol. 1 (Del Rey)

fckheaderWhether you're allergic to cats or not, it might be best to steer away from this supremely pandering tale of anthropomorphic cat-people.

 

 

232 pgs. B&W; $10.95

(W / A: Takuya Fujima)

 

Cyan is a cute, cuddly little kitten who wants nothing more than the love and devotion of his master, a boy named Kokoro. When Kokoro dies unexpectedly, his grief stricken mother abandons the poor kitty, leaving him to survive on the streets. From here on out, Cyan appears not as a cat, but as an anthropomorphized cat-boy, human in appearance except for his ears and tail. Cyan runs into the Free Collars, a rough-n-tumble gang of strays who hold control of Nyan-Man, the infamous cat mansion that once housed Wild Cat, the wildest, meanest, toughest cat ever to wander the streets of Ikebukuro. The Free Collars give Cyan a chance to prove he's worthy to join their gang just as they have a run-in with their rival Siam for control of the mansion they call home. Can Cyan awaken his wild spirit, and possibly find Wild Cat's collar and gain the power to rule all cats?

 

Click thumbnail for a larger image.A young boy orphaned meets a group of hardened street urchins like himself and begins training, setting off on a quest for an all-powerful object. If that doesn't sound familiar to you, you've probably never read a manga before. It's certainly a formula that can work, but unfortunately it doesn't in the hands of Takuya Fujima. After introducing his cast and premise, one would expect that the quest for the collar would get under way, yet in this first volume the Free Collars don't even bother to start looking for it.

 

What we get instead from the creator of Deus Vitae (available in English from Tokyopop) is a handful of short vignettes showing the housebroken Cyan learning the ropes of being a stray, whether its foraging for food in Nyan-Man's basement or learning how to get rid of a particularly troublesome hairball. The series seems to exist only to show cute catboys and sexy catgirls doing vaguely cat-like things, yet Fujima's idea of anthropomorphism is all over the place. The characters' hands transform into paws seemingly at random. The Free Collars, despite being cats, have uniquely human obsessions like anime, action figures, and fashion. The Free Collars' resident vixen, Char, is even in a rock band who performs a special Christmas concert in the book's final chapter, something that has no feline analogue this reviewer can think of. Scottie, Cyan's potential love interest, even has wings and feather-based attacks, which makes less than no sense. Don't cats eat birds?

 

The book may be a frustrating read, but it at least looks good, slickly illustrated with rich toning. Fujima's art is fanservice to the max, with moneyshots of characters in mid-attack and scantily-clad catgirls never in short supply. Cyan, in particular, isn't much of a fighter, so his "attacks" consist of exploiting cat weaknesses like giving bellyrubs or giving the kitty something to sniff at, something he only does to the female characters and something that always in results in said females left in submissive positions. Furry fans will no doubt love seeing all the sexy catgirls rolling around and purring, but it makes for a rather queasy reading experience. It's pandering in the way, say, Oh!Great's Air Gear is pandering, but Fujima doesn't have the storytelling chops that Oh!Great does, as his layouts are frequently difficult to follow. Del Rey's choice of mixed-case lettering certainly doesn't help on that front.

 

Free Collars Kingdom is certainly easier to read a chapter at a time than most manga, as Fujima's writing is packed with recaps and expository dialogue. The book would seem tailor made for the short attention spans of the tween set, but many parents would freak out at the sexed-up artwork. With that in mind, Del Rey has rated the book 16+, but its simplistic story make it hard to imagine anyone of that age getting much out of it. | Jason Green

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