Animal Academy

Animal Academy: Hakobune Hakusho Volume 1 by Moyamu Fujino

Jacket Copy: Can you pledge secrecy when you are… a human being? When Fukada Neko finds herself enrolled in the mysterious Morimori Academy–a secret school for animal-human shape shifters–she soon realizes she must pretend to be a magical cat and not allow any of the other students to find out her real identity… But as she struggles with the trials and tribulations of a new school and new friends, Neko’s just-discovered feline side might bring out the true human spirit in all of her animal classmates!

While this series about a girl entering a very strange high school might not appeal to older readers, one of the things I immediately noticed about the book was that it was recommended for ages 10 and up. That’s an age range that I think is underserved by most manga being published today, so school librarians might want to make a point of seeking out this series.

Neko is a decidedly less than stellar student. She hasn’t gotten into a high school, and her last chance is Morimori Academy. She’s on a train to her new school, and a fellow student named Miiko is sitting across from her. Miiko is strangely silent, but Neko persists in talking to her. At the train stop all the other students quickly vanish, leaving Neko and Miiko alone to navigate through an odd forest until they find their new school. Neko has an interview with the headmaster of the school. He’s shielded by a screen. The headmaster remarks that she’s human, so he can’t accept her into the school. Neko begs to be allowed to try and is set with the task of taking a test that shifts from math, to essay questions, to a three question list that asks her if she can keep a secret, fit in at school, and hide her identity as human.

Neko gets into school and finds out it is an academy for animals to learn human behavior! When she arrives at her dorm she finds out that Miiko is her roommate. Neko ends up being the only girl on the floor who knows how to use a doorknob, and she goes around explaining to her classmates how to open a door. Neko finds out that Miiko’s true form is a cat, and everyone assumes that Neko is a cat too. One aspect of Animal Academy that was funny was the characterization of the different animal types. Miiko certainly acts selfish and cute the way a cat would, laying out her conditions of friendship for Neko, “I’m the only one you should be nice to. You should walk in front of me…and open all the doors for me. You’ll carry my bags when they’re heavy. You’ll go where I want.”

There are some hints of romance, as Miiko is pursued as an object of marriage by a raccoon boy. Neko tries to fit in to her new school, and she’s often helped by a snake although it remains a mystery what the human form of the snake looks like. The art is very cute, with clean lines and huge eyes. Although the students are in high school, the character designs make them look much younger. There were some unexpected surreal moments when Neko faced her admissions test. Stories about characters entering strange schools and having to adjust are very common in manga, but the age range for this manga sets it apart. While older readers might not find Animal Academy very novel, I expect that younger readers will be entertained.

Review copy provided by the publisher.