Poor Yukiharu. At age sixteen he has the misfortune of being a manga protagonist, which means that not only has he been orphaned with no extended family to take him in, but his house has also been demolished and he's discovered that his father was one of those Debt Dads that make life so difficult in fiction. The only thing he's inherited (beyond what he could stuff in his suitcase) is a key labeled “Miyako” that his father asked to be given to him in the event of his death. With nothing to do but hope that his father managed to do right by him in the end, Yukiharu seeks out Miyako…and is in for the shock of his life.
The cat yokai known as bakeneko aren't as widely used in manga and anime as the two-tailed nekomata, but that's precisely what Miyako is. Or rather, he's one of them – it turns out that Yukiharu's father went into debt in order to house five of the cat monsters, who gain the ability to shapeshift into human form after a long life. (Other stories that use them include The Cat Proposed and Kemono Jihen.) While that latter part doesn't seem to be a factor for these particular bakeneko, who are of a variety of ages, they are still cats who can become human when they feel like it. Since Miyako, who becomes an adult man, also works outside the house as a math teacher, it's not quite clear why Yukiharu's dad had to support them, but at least the house he bought for the cats is large enough that there's space for Yukiharu as well – assuming he accepts Miyako's terms.
As the title implies, those terms are largely that Yukiharu work for the bakeneko as their servant: cooking, cleaning, brushing them in cat form, etc. In return he will be paid the equivalent of an allowance (as opposed to a salary) and given room and board – and Miyako will take over the outstanding debt. While that last is certainly something he should do, seeing as the debt was incurred on his behalf, the way that he phrases it all is very feline: he's practically doing Yukiharu a favor in letting him work for the cats for such a consideration. Anyone who has ever lived with a cat will be familiar with this particular style of feline negotiation. In any event, Yukiharu really doesn't have much choice, and he ends up agreeing to work for the five catlords, which has the added benefit of allowing him to resume going to high school.
Much of the fun of this volume is in the ways the catlords' actions hop back and forth across the line between human and feline behavior. Miyako, an imperious Russian Blue, is every inch the purebred, while Ragdoll Kyou makes his living as a host, in line with the beauty of his breed. His hair is also significantly longer than everyone else's in human form – possibly a nod to the fact that Ragdolls are long-haired – and like many long-haired cats, he really enjoys being brushed. In fact, one of Yukiharu's jobs is to brush Kyou when he's in cat form, with the implication being that proper fur maintenance somehow results in Kyou's human hair also being silky and beautiful. But the most entertaining cat-to-human moments belong to Akira, a black cat, and Susumu, an orange tabby, both of whom are Yukiharu's own age when wearing human shape.
What's also interesting is the way that Susumu's past as a stray cat is incorporated into his behaviors as a human. If you've ever taken in a cat directly from the street (as opposed to adopting a former stray from a shelter), you'll be familiar with the ways that they have to adjust to being safe, warm, and fed for the first time in a long while, if not the first time ever. Susumu is very territorial, making his “patrols” whether he's at home or at school in order to ascertain that all is right in the area he considers “his.” This is more important to him than anything, even education or food, because it's what proves to him that he is safe and secure. On the other hand, food is a major fixation as well, another fairly common thing for rescues. But the most impressive (and heart-wrenching) piece of Susumu's behavior is the way he looks out for other strays – he's afraid that they will be taken away and killed, like he almost was before Yukiharu's dad intervened.
Susumu's story not only gives us more of an idea of what Yukiharu's father was like (not all bad, clearly, albeit still pretty irresponsible), but also gives creator Rat Kitaguni the opportunity to show us their skills in foreshadowing through art. During the chapters at school (which also focus on Akira's determination to give Yukiharu mice or birds as a gift, either dead or alive, his preference), we see glimpses of Susumu in cat form doing his rounds and posters advertising a lost chinchilla, both of which end up coming together impressively at the end of the story arc. They're almost throwaway moments, little background details that you wouldn't think anything about until their relevance becomes known. It's very nicely done, and it's a good indicator of the level of thought that goes into this book, both in art and writing. It's certainly not without its flaws – Miyako's treatment of Yukiharu does shade into mean at times and while the gag about Akira's pet spider-cat-beast-thing is funny, it doesn't quite fit with the rest of the oddly grounded book, to say nothing of the fact that we know nothing about bakeneko number five – but it is a good start to what could be both a fun and heartwarming story. Especially if you've ever played servant to your cat.