This was a year where we started to see some newer works from some older creators, and one of the strangest and most unexpected of the lot is today's one volume wonder.
JUNJI ITO'S CAT DIARY: YON AND MU (Itou Junji no Neko Nikki: Yon and Mu), by Junji Ito. First published in 2009 and first published in North America in 2015.
J-kun is happy to be moving into a new house with his fiancée A-ko, but that happiness is all too short-lived. A-ko insists on bringing Yon with her, a odd looking and spooky cat called Yon. Soon enough she brings in another cat, a fluffy Norwegian Forest Cat called Mu. J-kun isn't exactly thrilled about the cats at first, but soon enough he learns just how much owning a cat can change a person, for better and for worse.
So what happens when one of Japan's foremost horror mangaka tries his hand at a cute and cuddly cat manga? The result is a manga that's a little odd at times, but also one that will feel very familiar to cat owners and gives a bit of insight into Ito himself.
Ito is fairly upfront about this manga being only a slightly exaggerated version of his own experiences, and if that's true than Ito must be kind of a weird guy in real life. J-kun generally seems like a mild-mannered guy, albeit one that's prone to exaggeration and a bit spooky in general. It's just that as his interest in the cats grows, he starts to get a bit manic about capturing the cats' attention and even entering into a bit of an informal rivalry with A-ko for their affections. While he's prone to exaggerating his own qualities, he does not exaggerate his cats' behavior. Yon and Mu do behave as real cats do. That means that they don't just do all the usual cute cat stuff, but also the weird, indifferent, sneaky, and sometimes gross things they do as well. Thus we gets stories about cat puke, cats escaping and hiding in odd places, and just how fickle a cat can be about playing favorites. It's still amusing to read, but those used to cute and fluffy offerings like Chi's Sweet Home might be in for a little bit of shock. For me, though, it's that very juxtaposition of the surreal and the all-too-real that makes Junji Ito's Cat Diary so appealing to me. You get this combination of Ito's vivid imagination with the humorous realities of cat ownership that makes for a very engaging manga to read. Well, it's that or the fact that I truly am just a sucker for anything that features cute kitties, but I get the feeling that even Ito himself would understand that.
What makes Junji Ito's Cat Diary rather odd is that you have this perfectly domestic story drawn in Ito's signature style. That means you get lovingly detailed drawings of the cats and J-kun and A-ko's home, but you also get weird, ghoulish looking overreactions and rictus grins from them as well, all drawn with these heavily etched lines and dark, hatch-like shading. Sometimes Ito lets himself get a little surreal, like when a fit of exhaustion leads him to imagine Yon as a slug, a snake, and even an old man watching TV. Still, he's very good at capturing the subtle slinky movements of cats, as well as some darn good likenesses of the real Yon and Mu. Still, I wouldn't expect any less from Ito, from the quality to the creepiness.
There's a lot of extra content here for such a slim little book. There are brief Q&As after each chapter, a montage of pictures of the real Yon and Mu midway through, and an afterword from both Ito and his wife. A lot of their comments relate to the fact that the real Yon died in 2011, shortly before the Tohoku earthquake, and it's a rather sobering conclusion to what is otherwise a fairly lighthearted manga.
Junji Ito's Cat Diary is an interesting antidote to your standard cat manga thanks to Ito's artwork and its choice to focus more on the mundane and gross than on the cuteness. There is plenty of room on this side of the Pacific for more cat manga, and I'm glad we were finally able to get this one.
This book is published by Kodansha. It is currently in print.
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