by Carlo Santos,

Cat Eyed Boy

GN 2

Cat Eyed Boy GN 2
Half demon and half human, Cat Eyed Boy lives on the fringes of society and brings bad luck wherever he goes. With the "Band of One Hundred Monsters" on the loose, Cat Eyed Boy races to stop them and finally uncovers their bizarre origins. His next adversary is a fleshy monster that only appears to a single cursed family—so how come he can see it as well? Another mystery also awaits him in a village where a religious statue transforms into a bloodthirsty demon. But sometimes the problems Cat Eyed Boy witnesses are the ones that humans bring upon themselves: a boy longing for his dead mother, a father making an ill-advised promise, a boy who sees visions of hell, and two childhood friends drifting apart. Whatever happens next, it won't be a happy ending.

Just in case the first 500 pages of the Cat Eyed Boy compilation didn't freak you out enough, here's another 500 pages that are worth a try. Once again, each story boasts shocking images designed to prey on our greatest fears—monsters no one else can see, horrific creatures thirsting for blood, terrible tragedies befalling our loved ones. But maybe Kazuo Umezu indulges himself a bit too much in these shocking images: "Hundred Monsters" is already a continuation of a sprawling plotline from Volume 1, and "The Meatball Monster" keeps going until it skews off into absurd B-movie schlock. To tell the truth, Umezu's real mastery lies in the short pieces at the end of this volume: all it takes is a simple premise and several pages to create a chilling portrait of the human soul.

But about those long stories. Even though "Band of One Hundred Monsters" finally concludes after the ill-timed cliffhanger in the previous volume, it still feels like so much filler—random acts of cruelty and people yelling at each other until Cat Eyed Boy finally solves a mystery that he should have figured out a hundred pages ago. Similarly, "The Meatball Monster" starts out with a strong, spooky premise but overstays its welcome until it finally descends into one those ridiculous "It Came From Wherever!" creature features. Of course, the similarity between Umezu's work and mid-20th-century pulp horror is clear, but there are some things that just don't age well. Even "The Thousand-Handed Demon," which brings up the classic concept of a creepy-looking object coming to life, shoots itself in the foot with a cop-out ending: It was all a dream ... or was it?!

So maybe managing medium-to-long storylines isn't Umezu's greatest strength. Fortunately, his short horror vignettes in the book's last 150 pages are so much more effective: each story relies on a single idea or mood, designed to disturb the reader just by suggestion. "The Stairs" and "The Hand" both focus on the relationship between a mother and child—the most powerful of all familial bonds—and as those relationships become twisted with elements of the supernatural, they become something unsettling yet thought-provoking. Other familiar human relationships also become warped beyond recognition—father and son in "The Promise," and childhood buddies in "The Friend." These stories are the ones that linger in the mind, because they focus not on imaginary, cartoony monsters, but the fears and visions of normal people.

Yet even in those shorter and simpler stories, Umezu can't help but throw in the occasional creature—and really, that's the visual trademark throughout the Cat Eyed Boy compilation. A deformed body part here, an unnecessary appendage there, a cross-breed with an animal, perhaps—and voila! Yet another creature from the macabre master's inventive mind. Intense black-and-white contrasts, as well as detailed textures (used to terrifying effect in "The Meatball Monster"), also add to the visual shock factor. But the artwork has its weaknesses as well; the human characters all kind of look the same, and even if you like the retro designs, the fact remains that they all seem limited to a specific set of poses: Shocked Face, Running Away, or Dead. The strict rectangular paneling also hinders the horror potential of the art at times; a lot of key action sequences end up as lots of little squares crammed together. At least the full-page spreads make their impact felt, and the occasional color pages in this volume are a pleasant bonus (the blood-red segment of "The Hand" is wonderfully apt).

As one can imagine from the subject matter, nuanced dialogue is not to be found in these stories. In fact, staying true to its B-horror pedigree, most of the writing is simple and expository, almost like having the characters narrating directly to the reader: "The monsters are chasing us!" "I've got to get away!" "They're trying to eat other people!" Not exactly difficult work for a translator. Sound effects, meanwhile, are handled by replacing them with good old retro-horror lettering in English. Because of the dialogue's simplicity and the fantastical themes of the stories, there aren't too many cultural points to be explained, so this volume simply adds the occasional footnote where necessary. However, an afterword by cultural critic Mizuho Hirayama is a nice touch, where readers can reflect further on the themes of Umezu's work. Cover flaps, sturdy binding, and a $25 price tag also suggest that this is aimed more at the serious collector rather than the casual reader.

As Cat Eyed Boy wanders off in search of his next doomed encounter, the most interesting thing to think about is that he isn't inherently bad: he just happens to attract bad things. That moral neutrality, especially within the last few stories in this volume, reminds us that true horror comes not when gruesome creatures try to attack us, but when people do terrible things to themselves. Modern-day artists may have expressed that with better visual technique, and with better command of storytelling, but it is Kazuo Umezu who plunges his hand in and pulls out the raw, beating heart of these terrifying emotions. Once you get past good and evil, there is only mystery and dread, and standing right there in the center of it all is a freaky little half-demon kid with bulbous cat eyes.

Production Info:
Overall : B-
Story : C+
Art : B

+ Shorter stories do a great job of hitting upon some chilling ideas. Visually intense with bizarre, shocking imagery.
Longer stories end up being too long and ridiculous; artwork is stiff and regimented at times.

Story & Art: Kazuo Umezu

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Cat Eyed Boy (manga)

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Cat Eyed Boy (GN 2)

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