Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Junji Ito's Cat Diary: Yon & Mu
Self-professed hamster person (but really more of a dog person) and horror mangaka Junji Ito is in for a surprise when his fiancée A-ko announces that not only is she bringing her cat Yon from home, but that she'd also like to adopt a kitten to keep him company. How will Junji survive having his beautiful new home taken over by scratch-protectors and litterboxes? And how will the cats survive Junji himself?
This is not a horror story. Or maybe it is – famed horror mangaka Junji Ito (Uzumaki, Gyo) has never lived with cats before his fiancée A-ko tells him that her family cat Yon will be moving to their new home, which they already share with Junji (J-kun in the story)'s mother and a long-haired chihuahua named Sakura. If you've never lived with a cat, or even really interacted with one, which is basically Junji, that can be pretty scary – they have claws and sharp teeth, they're unpredictable, and they make weird noises. The stuff of horror indeed.
Junji Ito's Cat Diary: Yon & Mu is definitely going to have more appeal for the cat lovers out there. The short volume chronicles the early days of Junji Ito himself getting used to living with cats and discovering that not only are cat people creepy, but also that he has no idea how to interact with kitties. His trademark style works really well for the book, with his more realistic (than other manga) artwork giving Yon and Mu very lifelike realism that allows us to fall in love with the cats right alongside the author. His horror art, with pointed faces full of evil teeth and eyes that are more blank white space than eyeball, serves as humor in this case, with his attempts at feline interaction coming off as utterly terrifying to the cats, while A-ko's obsessive love for her fur babies makes her look as creepy as many of us cat owners fear we do. As a nice comparison point, there are two pages of color photos of the cats included in the book, which shows us that Ito really has done a great job at recreating his feline companion in manga form – Yon, the mixed breed shorthair, is particularly well captured. And for those of us who immediately assumed that Mu was a Maine Coon Cat, he's actually the similar Norwegian Forest Cat; if you know the breeds, you can see the difference in both Ito's art and the photos.
Yon and Mu are not only recognizable in the images of them, but also in the way Ito portrays their personalities. If you've ever had a cat who clearly felt that you co-habitated but did not own him, you will recognize Yon – the cranky, holier-than-thou attitude comes through in the stories as well as the body language. Chapter five, “Yon is a Weird Cat,” is not only one of the funnier sections, but also captures the essence of living with a cat with a mind of his own as an over-tired and overworked Ito has a late night encounter with the feline and comes away utterly creeped out. It is made very clear over the course of the volume that there is no one “cat personality,” with Mu being far more easy going and the author's encounter with Goro, the shy formerly feral cat who lives with A-ko's parents.
One of the most entertaining parts of the book is watching the author attempt to interact with Yon and Mu. He goes from being anti-cat to afraid of Yon's weirdness (to say nothing of the skull markings on his back) to desperately wanting the cats to play with him. Like many who have never had a cat, Junji goes about it all wrong, being overly aggressive and not understanding the finer points of playing with a feathered wand toy. His exploits in trying to convince Yon and/or Mu to sleep with him instead of A-ko are some of the best in the book, both familiar and amusingly futile as he learns that cats really can't be bribed.
The book itself may only be a bit over one hundred pages, 121 to be precise, but Kodansha has made up for that with the presentation. The book is slightly oversize and is entirely printed on smooth, glossy paper with slightly thicker pages than is the norm. As mentioned, there are two pages of color photos of the cats, as well as two essays, one strictly prose and one in manga form, about what happens later and how much the cats mean to both Junji and A-ko. Also included are interview questions with the author, discussing his career, the cats, and life in general, which are more interesting than such questions typically are. There are also four panel gag comics and a very cute color frontispiece.
If you're a cat lover, this really is a must read. Junji Ito proves just as adept at capturing life with kitties as he is at horror, and the story is by turns touching, hilarious, and heartbreaking. It may not have quite as much appeal for people who have never experienced feline life (and it almost certainly is not a book for cat haters), but if you want to see the horror master prove that he can do whatever he sets his pen to, give Yon & Mu a chance.
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : A
+ Really captures life with cats, personalities come through clearly in both art and text. Edition is very nice with good non-story content.
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