During one of her guided tours at Le Louvre, Cécile sees in the museum galleries a small white kitten who seems to be listening to her commentary. When she tells her colleague, he doesn't believe her.
Monsieur Marcel has been a night time security guard for years. His family has worked at Le Louvre for generations. That night, he is training Patrick, a young recruit. Very quickly, Monsieur Marcel strays from the usual path to get to the attic. There, Patrick discovers cats. Marcel feeds them and explains to his young colleague that these cats have always inhabited Le Louvre. They were already there when Le Louvre was still a castle. Once the two guards have left, the cats start to speak. There is Blue-Beard, Myosotis, Sawtooth, and the small white cat is Snowflake. They say he is special, they say he can enter the worlds of paintings...
If you enjoy Taiyo Matsumoto like I do, you should love Louvre no Neko. The drawing style hasn't changed too much from Sunny but the supernatural characteristic of the story lets Matsumoto be more varied with his techniques and styles. The characters are beautiful and express a million different shades of emotion through a look, a posture, their body language in general. The dialogues may seem innocuous taken out of context, but all the keys to the story and the emotional states of the characters are found in the art and the panelling. Which flows incredibly well. all panels have a purpose, no space is
lost. That's the hallmark of a masterfull mangaka, something Matsumoto certainly is. What's more Matsumoto was given an incredible gift (that you could see glimpses of in Takemitsu Zamurai and Sunny) for drawing cats. Seeing all these cats running around, grooming, sharpening their claws, stretching, hissing, it's pure joy.
A Matsumoto manga is character driven, but has its lyrical moments. The manga relies on this very well thought out balance between the cats and the humans, as the storytelling shares its time between the two perspectives. The cats' side has life and death, there is resentment, fighting and forgiveness. Here we get some western like duels, a fight against a beast, moments when the supernatural lets Matsumoto go wild on his art with dreamlike landscapes and imagery. On the human side there is less urgency and the progress is soothing. A guide working at the museum investigates about a mysterious painting and makes encounters, cats and humans, along the way. What it lacks in lyricism, it makes up for it with very subtle and heartwarming interactions and character development. Ultimately the story is about the cats. But then again it's maybe up to each reader to decide that.
It's a read that is effortless, it really is nothing but enjoyment from the first to the last page. I smiled seeing the cover and that grin didn't leave my face until much later, it stayed with me even after I was done and the book was back on its shelf. In the moments when it made me shed some tears, I was also smiling or chuckling at how the emotions were so subtly conveyed, in such a respectful way (respect towards the characters). There is a great word we have in French that is "Pudeur", there is a lot of "pudeur" in the way he shows us those emotions. That is something recurring in Matsumoto's manga, shining some light on very subdued emotions. We are taken close enough to the characters to feel those emotions, and in that sense his stories feel very intimate. A beautiful manga, from certainly one of the very best active mangaka today.