A decidedly odd blend of philosophical fantasy and cat-lover’s whimsy, Risa Motoyama’s Start With A Happy Ending (DMP) is a teen-rated shojo collection of fifteen short pieces following the same basic formula. In each story, the protagonist passes on suddenly and is reincarnated as a cat for the space of a week. These poor souls have been granted this brief respite by a bearded benevolent cat god for having once shown kindness to a needy feline. Seeing their past lives from a cat’s-eye view, each character is given the chance to either complete some unfinished business or get a fresh perspective on the life they’ve led.
Thus, in the opening story, “Limited Time,” a young girl who has lost her love of life rediscovers it when she comes back as a kitten. In the second, “Complex,” an office girl too closed off to let the rest of her co-workers know her, learns the advantages of opening yourself up to the world (“The only person didn’t appreciate me was me.”), a lesson that she presumably will be taking into her next life. “Just as life is an accumulation of days,” the wise cat god tells a newly departed game developer, “the soul is an accumulation of the lives it has lived.”
If Motoyama occasionally moves her stories along by giving her host cats’ abilities that extend beyond the believable (in “Complex,” her kitty is able to tap out the password to the deceased soul’s work computer), she still manages to be cleverly use their essential cat-ness to ground her fantasies. In ”Freedom,” for instance, a deceased mother who had been overly controlling in her daughter’s life learns a lesson when her host body’s owner throws away the clothesbasket that she had learned to love as a resting place. “You didn’t even ask me?” the stunned kitty says, appalled at her owner’s presumptuousness.
Motoyama’s art is flatly cartoonish–at times to the stories’ detriment–though I have to admit it won me over by the end of this charming opening volume. Looking like the work of a talented young girl who’s been doodling with her pen to avoid thinking too much about an unrequited crush, it’s well suited to a work so ruefully focused on the pitfalls of the introvert life. As an entertainment which coaxes its readers to reconsider the paths their lives might take, Start with a Happy Ending seems wholly apt for this time of year: It’s a Wonderful Post-Life.