“If there really are two minds inside his body, then they’re both the real one. Saying that one is fake is twisted.”
Il Gatto Sul G deals with topics so often covered in manga as to be virtually clichéd: childhood abuse, multiple personalities, youthful ambitions, love triangles. It could very easily have turned into a godawful melodrama or a trivialisation of some very serious issues; indeed, I’m so used to certain issues being trivialised in manga (especially BL manga, where artists often dispense with realism the better to indulge their whims) that I tend to let it slide, filtering out the more offensive elements in otherwise satisfactory stories. Throughout my reading of Il Gatto Sul G, I held back a little, leery of trusting Miyagi to handle the difficult subject matter with enough delicacy and respect; but I needn’t have worried. Miyagi approaches her story with all the care necessary to do it justice, and the end result is deeply moving.
As befits its title, Il Gatto Sul G is a stray cat story, beginning when college student Atsushi Ikeda finds a teenage boy unconscious and bleeding on his front step and takes him in. The boy, Riya Narukawa, has cuts on his fingers and atrocious table manners; he carries a violin that he claims he cannot play and makes reference to a dead twin brother whose spirit sometimes enters him and plays the violin with his hands. But when Riya transforms before Ikeda’s eyes, shifting his personality completely, Ikeda realises that something else is going on. He soon finds out that Riya is an only child, that the cuts are self-inflicted, and that Riya has a form of multiple personality disorder. One personality, referred to as “White”, is shy, obedient, and reserved, and plays the violin like a virtuoso; the other, “Black”, is bratty, wilful, and ill-mannered, and never plays the violin at all. “Black” knows about “White”, and resents him for getting all the attention in his family and at school; “White” does not know about “Black”, and knows only that sometimes he wakes up to find himself in an unfamiliar place, with no memory of how he got there or what happened in between.
What unfolds from Riya and Ikeda’s accidental meeting is a painful and difficult coming-of-age for Riya, in which he is forced to confront the gap between his two personalities and the horrific abuse which created them. His relationships with Ikeda and with Kousaka, a sempai at his school, bring out the different sides of him and bring to the fore the vast chasm between the life he has and the life he wants; most painful of all is the very believable way in which Miyagi shows us that Riya has been hurt so badly and has withdrawn so deeply inside himself as to have lost sight of even the idea of wanting something for himself. Even the apparently selfish “Black” is confused and uncertain in his desires, and it takes all three volumes for Riya to come to know himself well enough to be able to ask honestly and truly for something — and someone — he really wants.
Miyagi’s art undergoes a notable improvement between volume 1 and volume 2; volume 1’s art is certainly perfectly adequate, but by volume 2 she’s developed a softer, lighter style that is delightful to look at. The writing, too, becomes more assured as the story progresses, although it is gripping and convincing throughout. There are no easy solutions provided for the difficult issues raised by Riya’s situation, and the ending is all the more satisfying for having been earned through struggle on the part of all the significant characters. Even some aspects that troubled me to begin with, such as Kousaka’s aggressiveness and unwillingness to take “no” for an answer, proved to have a larger point in the story of Riya’s breaking away from the chains of his childhood, and were resolved with care and grace. The entire series is melancholically lovely, sweet and bitter and achingly hopeful, the kind to leave you smiling through tears, without a single false note throughout.