Junji Ito’s Cat Diary: Yon & Mu was one of the manga releases I was most looking forward to in 2015. Junji Ito is primarily known for horror manga–his Uzumaki is one of my personal favorites in the genre–but in 2008 he had the opportunity to serialize an autobiographically-inspired manga based on his experiences living in a house with two cats. The result was Junji Ito’s Cat Diary, ultimately collected in a single, slim volume and published in Japan in 2009. The English-language edition of the manga released by Kodansha Comics in 2015 also includes the contributions made by Ito and his wife (Ayako Ishiguro) to the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake relief anthology Teach Me, Michael! A Textbook in Support of Feline Disaster Victims. I thoroughly enjoy Ito’s brand of unusual horror and I, too, happen to have the privilege of feline companionship, so I was very interested in Junji Ito’s Cat Diary. I expected it to be a manga that I would enjoy and I wasn’t disappointed; I absolutely loved it.
J-kun is the proud owner of a new house in pristine condition from floor to ceiling and he’s looking forward to living there with his soon-to-be wife A-ko. What he didn’t initially realize was that by inviting her to live with him he would also become host to two more guests: Yon and Mu. J-kun is convinced that Yon, one of A-ko’s family’s cats, is cursed. He’s a strange-looking feline with skull-like markings that would seem to confirm J-kun’s suspicions. Mu, on the other hand, is an adorable kitten with a pedigree and cute enough to melt even J-kun’s dog-loving heart. And so begins J-kun’s trials and tribulations as a keeper of cats, slowly falling under their spell as he grieves the loss of his perfectly-kept house. He warms up to both Yon and Mu, but they don’t quite exhibit the same amount of warmth in return, more often than not preferring A-ko’s company. But J-kun is determined–one day he, too, will enjoy Yon and Mu’s love and affection.
Junji Ito’s Cat Diary is immensely entertaining. Ito has kept his signature style used when drawing horror manga and has applied it to a collection of stories that are closer to being gag manga. The illustrations can be intentionally grotesque and creepy, with an emphasis on J-kun’s exaggerated expressions as he reacts (and overreacts) to the events occurring in his household and the horrors of pet ownership. A-ko, too, is drawn in such a way that her disconcerting appearance adds to the atmosphere of horror in the manga. For the most part, the cats are simply cats (at least when J-kun isn’t hallucinating from lack of sleep); it’s the humans who come across as maniacal. Junji Ito’s Cat Diary looks like it should be a horror manga and has all of the genre’s visual stylings, but it really isn’t. The humor is even funnier because of this deliberate disconnect between the actual stories being told and how they are being portrayed.
As someone who tends to enjoy Ito’s work and as someone who tends to like cat comics, I was already in a position to particularly appreciate Junji Ito’s Cat Diary. It may certainly not work for everyone, though–the manga is a weird mix of horror and comedy, the grotesque and the adorable–but I loved it. In general, the stories in Junji Ito’s Cat Diary are less about Yon and Mu’s antics and more about J-kun’s reactions to their behavior and his changing relationships with the two cats. Yon and Mu are actually very normal as cats go; the humans in the manga are the ones who come across as eccentric and a bit odd. Junji Ito’s Cat Diary is hilarious but at the same time the manga maintains and oddly disconcerting and even ominous atmosphere. Ito simply excels at taking the mundane and transforming it into something truly devious and bizarre. I’m not sure, but perhaps I should be concerned by how much I can identify with the stories found in Junji Ito’s Cat Diary.