In my ongoing journey of trying new things as a reviewer for ANN, The Treasure of the King and the Cat serves as my first introduction to the Boys Love/BL subgenre. I was not sure of what to expect, and had not seen anyone discussing this in my (admittedly limited) social media bubble. Given what I have heard second-hand about other BL works, I assumed this would be a pretty overtly romantic work. With the added double-whammy of this being a single-volume story, I assumed that The Treasure of the King and the Cat to be coming in hot, in a manner of speaking.
That's…not really what I got at all.
Perhaps it's my ignorance of BL works speaking, but I was surprised by how little romantic content was actually in this volume. I would not go so far as to say that it was invisible – Volks is very overt in his feelings towards O'feuille – but if I was not told ahead of time that this fit within the BL subgenre I might have considered the romance mostly subtextual.
The length of The Treasure of the King and the Cat is perhaps its most intriguing element. Being a single-volume series with two stories (and a few minor side-stories at the end), there's not a lot of room to work with in terms of page count, and again one would assume a heavy emphasis on the romantic qualities of Volks and O'feuille's relationship. To my surprise, there is a strong focus on fantasy world-building. A lot of page time is devoted to establishing a sense of place, fleshing out well-rounded side characters, and hinting at a much richer backdrop than what is being shown in the moment. In fact, given the lack of romance, the implied world-building, and sort of “problem of the week” story structure, I get the sense that The Treasure of the King and the Cat is building itself into something akin to Mushi-Shi where these relative outsiders travelled around helping people with supernatural problems. I thought I was mistaken and I found myself checking the back cover to see if I missed a “volume 1” or “start to a long-running series” cue. But no, this is a self-contained story and it builds up a very rich world before… well, it's all wrapped up pretty quickly.
Normally I am a fan of shorter, self-contained stories, but I feel that the length ends up constraining the positives of The Treasure of the King and the Cat . Volks and O'feuille have a foil and straight man dynamic that has a playful energy to it, but because so much time is dedicated to establishing the fantasy setting, the actual romance between the two is left underexplored. It's possible to infer from Volks' dialogue that they have a rather expressive love life off-page, but we see so little of it could just as easily come off as Volks merely talking a big game and O'feuiille dismissing it. In fact, there is a stronger implication of romance between Volk's brother King Castio and his best friend Duke Nios than with the leads themselves. This would typically be fine for a longer series, where readers would want to be a little more rooted in the setting and learn more about the background characters; however, this is a short, self-contained work, so any implied world-building gets cut short the moment things start ramping up, which is equally disappointing.
The art is remarkably strong. The character designs strike a good balance between having a softer look and retaining a pseudo-realistic detail that makes the fantasy world feel lived-in. The cast look suitably distinct from one another, and O'feuille has a particularly striking character design, easily standing out among the rest of the cast with his somber look and long black hair. The setting is richly detailed with excellent backgrounds and indoor shots, and You Kajika's art has a knack for toeing the line between depicting an idealized medieval fantasy world and a gritty place where broken people live. There are thieves around darkened alleys waiting to pounce and children risking their lives to save their cursed parents, but also talking birdies and funny cats wiggling their tushies. It's a tough balance to strike, much like a fairy tale that has sparkling towers and dark forests existing side by side, but You Kajika manages to do so quite deftly.
If I do have one complaint about the art, it is the clutter. Panels often feature numerous characters in the frame, all talking to one another and whispering comments to themselves and sometimes addressing the readers directly. This means that it can be difficult to tell at times who is saying what and to whom, and I found myself rereading a section more than once to get the flow of the dialogue. Compound that with somewhat aggressive jumps from one scene to the next, and characters transforming to and from animal forms, and things can get a bit hectic. At no point was I completely lost, but I did find myself confused as to how we got from A to B to F during a few busy conversations.
Ultimately, I'm not sure how to grade The Treasure of the King and the Cat. It feels very much like a work pulled in multiple directions. Its shorter length makes it accessible to a wider reader base because the time investment is low. It is light and airy and has some tender moments and interesting world-building. At the same time, it spends so much time world-building that there is little actual on-page romance of any kind, and it's only a single-volume story so the world-building implies a great deal but has little payoff. If you're looking for a true romance with passionate scenes or profound emotional connections, you really won't find this all that satisfying, and in fact you will see more character nuance in the short stories near the end than you will in the “main” plotlines in the earlier chapters. It has a lot of comedic moments: embarrassed catboys and talking animals are in abundance. But they don't do much beyond eliciting a few slight chuckles and smiles, as character-based comedy would require more familiarity with the characters to really pull off.
The Treasure of the King and the Cat actually reminds me of many of the OVAs and short films that I cut my teeth on in my youth as a young fan first experiencing anime back in the 90s: it's a little all over the place, does a few interesting things, and it's gone before really making an impression. It feels thoughtful and experimental but not terribly memorable.
I think if you are looking for something light and airy that touches on a few neat ideas before being on its merry way, The Treasure of the King and the Cat may be a great afternoon read. But if you're looking for a stronger connection you may want to look elsewhere as this is just a quick fling.