2015 has been a banner year for Junji Ito. In April, VIZ re-issued Gyo, Ito’s ick-tastic classic. Two months later, VIZ introduced readers to Fragments of Horror, the first new Ito title to arrive in the US in a decade. That was soon followed by the stateside debut of Junji Ito’s Cat Diary: Yon & Mu, a humorous anthology published by Kodansha Comics. I first heard about Cat Diary back in 2011, when Ryan Sands posted a few images at Same Hat! It sounded like something I’d like–I’m on record as being an animal sap–so I was delighted when Kodansha announced plans to release it this year. Here are my somewhat biased thoughts on Yon & Mu.
On the surface, Junji Ito’s Cat Diary is a gag manga. J-Kun–a lightly fictionalized version of the author–reluctantly agrees to let his fiancee bring two cats into their home: Yon, a black-and-white cat with sinister markings on his back, and Mu, a Norwegian forest cat with a cute face and a wicked bite. Each story depicts Yon and Mu doing normal cat things, from coughing up hairballs to resisting unsolicited human affection. Readers familiar with Ito’s previous manga will get a chuckle at J-Kun’s over-the-top reactions to cat poop, scratched floors, and feather wands, as his grotesque facial expressions have been swiped from the pages of Gyo and Uzumaki. Surprisingly, these grimaces work just as well in the context of a domestic comedy, capturing the mixture of revulsion and love that cat behavior elicits. The uninitiated reader may also find these scenes amusing, if a bit excessive; surely a grown man realizes that cats can be jerks?
On a deeper level, however, Cat Diary is a meditation on human relationships. Though the ostensible plot focuses on J-Kun’s struggle to overcome his dislike of cats, the real story is Yon and Mu’s role in bringing J-Kun closer to his fiancee. J-Kun comes to love the cats–spoiler alert!–but the way in which he expresses those feelings demonstrates his journey from “me” to “we,” as his selfish concerns about the house give way to a shared sense of responsibility for the cats’ welfare. This human dimension of Cat Diary infuses it with a warmth that’s frequently missing from Ito’s work, and prevents the stories from reading like a collection of cat GIFs. (I can haz laffs now!)
On a totally shallow note, reading Cat Diary made me want to get my own Norwegian forest cat. I’m not sure if that’s an endorsement of Ito’s comedy chops, but it’s proof that he can draw the hell out of cute, furry things.
The verdict: You don’t need to be a cat person–crazy or otherwise–to enjoy this idiosyncratic manga, though a healthy respect for cats definitely helps.
Reviews: In the mood for shojo? Megan R. of The Manga Test Drive has you covered with in-depth reviews of The Demon Prince of Momochi House, First Love Monster, L♥DK, and Requiem of the Rose-King. Comics Alliance contributor Tom Speelman reflects on the legacy of Naruto, one of the world’s most popular manga.
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