Yuji Iwahara (creator of King of Thorn and Chikyuu Misaki, character designer for Darker than Black) is a master of putting astoundingly cute characters into creepy situations.
Cat Paradise tells the story of Yumi and her companion cat Kansuke, as they transfer into an unusual private school which caters to cat owners. Like many such stories, this school is dominated by a powerful student council — and the student council is the guardian of a secret: the school sits astride a gateway to the world of the Beast Spirits, the original spirits of wild animals. 1000 years ago the Beast Spirits were sealed away, and now they are trying to return to exact their revenge on humanity.
The student council, and their cat familiars, are charged with guarding this gate and protecting the other students of the school. They do this without the knowledge of the faculty (we actually only see one member of the faculty in the entire series).
Yumi arrives in this school, eager and unaware, but when she is surprised by being able to understand the speech of her cat Kansuke, it turns out she has the Hime-mark birthmark that is a sign that she is a member of the circle of guardians, despite not being part of the student council.
Battles ensue. Students are possessed by Beast Spirits. The Beast Apocalypse approaches. Prats fall. Schoolgirls crush. Guts work hard.
In all his works that I’ve seen, Iwahara takes fairly typical manga tropes and executes them superbly, while giving them a subtle twist. Volume four of this series hinted that the ending would surprise us, and volume five delivers — and not the Green eco-resolution that one might have expected (or dreaded, depending on your point of view) after the revelations of the fourth volume. No, Iwahara’s ending is more nuanced than that, more complex, and a lot more interesting.
Ever since a friend recommended Chikyuu Misaki, I’ve been on the lookout for Iwahara’s works. King of Thorn is excellent (and has had an anime film adaptation that is doing the festival circuit) — another series which transcends its fairly conventional setup. He also has (untranslated) manga adaptation related to the game Koudelka, and (also untranslated) a manga series called Darker than Black: Kuro no keikyakusha.
I’m afraid my scans do not do justice to Yen Press’s outstanding production work on this series. I believe they’ve managed to improve on the Japanese covers of these books.
Sorry about the gutter, but this is a fine two-page spread: