Junji Ito’s Cat Diary: Yon & Mu

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Junji Ito’s Cat Diary: Yon & Mu by Junji Ito ✦ Translated by Stephen Paul ✦ Published by Kodansha, 2015 ✦ ISBN: 978-1-63236-197-4

Summary from publisher:

Hell-o-kitty! Master of Japanese horror manga Junji Ito presents a series of hissterical tales chronicling his real-life trials and tribulations of becoming a cat owner. Junji Ito, as J-kun, has recently built a new house and has invited his financée, A-ko, to live with him. Little did he know … his blushing bride-to-be has some unexpected company in tow—Yon, a ghastly-looking family cat, and Mu, an adorable Norwegian forest cat. Despite being a dog person, J-kun finds himself purrsuaded by their odd cuteness and thus begins his comedic struggle to gain the affection of his new feline friends.

Junji Ito is a fan favorite manga artist who is best known for his horror work. The fact that he made a slice-of-life manga about his wife’s cats in the first place is a little goofy, but the fact that it’s absolutely hilarious is perhaps even more unexpected. Ito’s horror manga often has a weird sense of humor underlying some of its more grotesque moments, but in this case there’s more like a sense of horror underlying the day to day life of a man and the two cats he lives with.

The first cat, Yon, is declared by J-kun initially to have a “cursed face,” although he softens that somewhat to the cat just having a “weird face.” On the other hand, Yon has a skull face visible in the spots on his back (the volume includes a bonus page containing actual photos of the cats, which reveals he’s not really exaggerating about the skull face). Mu, the new cat, which A-ko gets to keep Yon company, is sweet and fluffy but apparently a bit of a biter.

As someone who has long loved cats but not always been loved back by them, I can relate a lot to J-kun’s problems trying to get along with the two of them. He comes on a little too strong when the cuteness of the cats starts to really sink in, grabbing them and petting them while being horrified by such realities of life as a cat owner as the litter box, and the floors and walls getting scratched. Yon had apparently been with A-ko for some time before the move, so he is naturally more affectionate with her, even suckling on her finger and sleeping with her every night, so J-kun grows extremely jealous. His antics to win the cats’ affections are hilarious, and again relatable (particularly when A-ko shows off her method of playing with them and they completely ignore him when he tries it). There are a few touching moments, too, where the cats show that, at least for a brief moment, they do have a bond with J-kun as well.

My favorite thing in the book, though, was the moment when Yon started hanging out with J-kun as he worked on his manga, sleeping perilously close to the wheels of his desk chair. I have this problem myself when I actually use my desk (my cat strongly disapproves of me using my desk, so I don’t actually do it very often), although J-kun’s solution to the problem (putting rolls of masking tape around the wheels) isn’t really one I can use since I have carpet and he has wood floors.

Ito does not at all change his style for this manga. His art has always had a creepy bent to it (appropriate, as he is a horror artist), but somehow the seriousness of the illustrations just makes it more hilarious. He portrays normal cat behavior in the same way he might draw a monster attacking someone. That said, I think if someone is reading this who is unfamiliar with Junji Ito’s body of work, they may find the art style a little more off-putting, since it doesn’t really make that much sense that a cute, slice-of-life manga about cats is drawn so un-cute.

The volume also includes a short manga written by Ito’s wife and illustrated by him about the Tohoku Earthquake, which also covers Yon’s death. It was apparently part of an anthology created to raise awareness of the plight of animals after the quake. I thought this was a nice bonus for Kodansha to include, although it is, of course, a bit sad. In addition to this short manga, there’s also a few Q&A bits with the artist, and the aforementioned page of photos of the real-life Yon and Mu.

Review summary:

Story: 5/5; not really a narrative, but episodes most cat owners can relate to
Art: 5/5; Ito’s trademark style, a weirdly appropriate fit for a manga about cats

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