Manga Review: J


Author: Junji Ito

Manga genre: Seinen/horror

Number of volumes: 1

Still in print? Yes

Junji Ito is perhaps most famous for creating Uzumaki (the Spiral) – a manga so deeply unsettling that it won’t be getting reviewed here, simply because I’m doing my best to forget I ever read it. But luckily, Junji Ito’s Cat Diary is a very different sort of manga, where the horror is on a far more… personal level. Partly played for laughs, partly very sweet and moving, this is the story of how the horror artist was more or less forced into becoming a cat person.

J-kun, as he calls himself in this book, has just moved into a nice new house with his fiancé, A-ko. Only then, A-ko decides they’re getting cats. J-kun’s terror at the idea transforms her into a sinister force, with white, pupil-less eyes. Simply put, he can’t say no to her. And so, the cats move in. There’s Yon – brought back from A-ko’s parents’ house, a white tomcat with a weird face, a striped tail and some rather strange markings on his back. Perhaps weirdest of all is his habit of sucking on A-ko’s little finger, a strangle little ritual reserved only for the two of them. And there’s Mu – a fluffy pure-breed Norwegian forest cat who, as A-ko hilariously puts it, “needs a new home”, as though she’s not, in fact, buying him from a breeder. Poor J-kun does his best to get along with them, with mixed results.

The cats are everywhere. Always staring. Yon, with his weird face and, let’s just come out and say it, skull pattern on his back. And Mu, so deceptively cute, who will lure you in with his adorable fluffiness, lull you into a false sense of security with his purring – before he bites your finger. How is the horror artist supposed to work under these conditions?! Working late on a manga deadline, J-kun realises that Yon has started transforming. First into a giant slug, crawling under his desk. Then, into snake-like creature, still with Yon’s trademark skull spots on its back, slithering down the hallway. It can’t just be lack of sleep, right?! There’s definitely something weird going on with that cat!

It’s not just the cats that transform, though – J-kun and A-ko themselves are transformed by their presence, shall we say. Ito seems to wonder, what must we look like to them – huge creatures, bending over them and cooing in their faces, scooping them up with our long, tentacle limbs for enforced snuggles? Who are the true monsters here?!

The days go by, with their share of cat-related adventures. Mu has to be castrated, and is traumatised after the operation. Yon escapes from the house and runs away, prompting a huge search that even involves taking down a wall, until he is finally caught.

And slowly, cautiously, J-kun and the cats start to become close. Mu starts to snuggle up to him on the couch, even ends up sleeping on a pile of J-kun’s dirty clothes. Yon jumps on his lap, demanding to suck on J-kun’s finger. Step by tiny step, the gaps between man and animals are bridged, as he and the cats accept each other. Until one day, while he’s working, J-kun looks down and finds them both sleeping peacefully beneath his chair.

Junji Ito’s Cat Diary is a slim little volume, perfect to take along on your commute. You could probably devour the whole thing in just the one sitting, or nibble away at a more leisurely pace, to enjoy each little gem of a chapter on its own. There are even extras: A little story that seems to be an unused scenario for a chapter, A-ko’s photos of the two cats, and two yonkoma gag strips. There’s also a mini-comic where we learn how Yon passed away, right before the great Tohoku earthquake, and a letter from A-ko about Yon’s death. (A-ko, we learn, also helped out with the manga, and was apparently not best pleased by her eyeball-less appearance in it.) The whole thing is such a personal little package of love-letters to their two pets, such an intimate little glimpse into the daily life of their little family, and you will find plenty of laughs and sweet moments to enjoy here. Even if, like J-kun at the start of the story, you’re more of a hamster or dog person.