Cursed by a Kuda spirit at a young age, Neneko Iizuna has grown into a shy fifteen-year-old shut-in. The curse gave her the ears of a cat, something that inspired other children to make fun of her. Neneko is also one of the rare people who has a bond with a familiar and the potential to exorcise wicked spirits. Unfortunately, her familiar—a young man named Shichikage—has an annoying tendency to try and comfort her social anxiety by stroking her ears and putting her on a leash!
Salvation arrives in the form of a letter offering Neneko a job as a priestess at a local clinic. It’s an opportunity for Neneko to hone her powers, help other people, and maybe even make some friends. It just might help her to find a cure for her curse, too, if only she can rise to meet the challenge of her new station.
I’m unsure exactly who the target audience of Spirits & Cat Ears is meant to be. At first glance, it seems to be a fairly standard shojo manga with a cute teen magical girl protagonist and a semi-antagonistic relationship with a cute, androgynous boy. Yet the staging of the artwork suggests a male-gaze aesthetic, featuring multiple up-skirt shots and a lot of fanservice—particularly if one is a bondage enthusiast.
The book gets even more confusing once you start getting into the story and understanding how the rules of magic in this universe work. On her first day as a priestess, Neneko is told that she has to get to know her familiar better and find the “magic words” to activate his powers fully. Halfway through the book, Neneko discovers that Shichikage’s magic words require her to give verbal consent to being dressed up and chained down later. This sets up a repeating cycle of Neneko being given a task, giving Shichikage permission to restrain her, and everything ending happily until he makes her a new skimpy outfit and she freaks out about it.
Creepy? That’s putting it mildly. It doesn’t help that (with the exception of the director) all of the priestesses at the clinic are said to be teenage girls, but Miyuki Nakayama’s art style makes them look much younger than that. It REALLY doesn’t help that the director herself pervs on Neneko and gropes her chest, or that the only clearly-adult male in the series is a familiar spirit who is described as a pervy old man. Naturally, he only objects to the “old” part.
To give Spirits & Cat Ears credit, the relationship between Neneko and Shichikage is a more realistic depiction of BDSM culture—wherein all the power lies with submissives—than Fifty Shades of Grey, but that’s damning with faint praise. If Neneko were older or the artwork seemed more concerned with telling a story than catering to those who want to see a 15-year-old swimsuit model with cat ears wearing a collar and chain leash, this might be a tolerable book. As it stands, I can’t recommend this book for anyone regardless of their age or interests.
For what it’s worth, Yen Press’ OT for 16+ rating does seem appropriate. There’s no outright nudity and no gory violence but the adult situations and age of the characters involved make this an uncomfortable read any way you slice it.
Spirits & Cat Ears, vol. 1
by Miyuki Nakayama
Yen Press, 2017
Publisher Age Rating: OT (16+)