Yokai Attack!: The Japanese Monster Survival Guide

Author: Hiroko Yoda and Matt Alt
Illustrator: Tatsuya Morino

Publisher: Tuttle
ISBN: 9784805312193
Released: August 2012
Original release: 2008

Hiroko Yoda and Matt Alt’s Yokai Attack!: The Japanese Monster Survival Guide is one of the primary reasons I have become increasingly interested in yokai and Japan’s supernatural heritage. The book was first published by Kodansha International in 2008, going out of print with the unfortunate demise of its publisher. I was thrilled to learn that Tuttle would be publishing a revised edition of Yokai Attack! in 2012, completely in color with more pages, more yokai, and more illustrations by the book’s artist Tatsuya Morino. I was even more delighted when Alt arranged to have a review copy of the new edition of Yokai Attack! sent to me by Tuttle. It makes me incredibly happy that Yokai Attack!, the first book in Yoda and Alt’s Attack! series (all of which I love), is available once again. And the new edition is even better than the first.

Traditionally, books of yokai lore are organized by the types of places that different yokai are generally found (mountains, bodies of water, households, and so on.) Yokai Attack! takes a different approach to classifying yokai, arranging them and their respective chapters by personality: “Ferocious Fiends,” “Gruesome Gourmets,” Annoying Neighbors,” “The Sexy and the Slimy,” and “The Wimps.” (I think this is a great way to introduce yokai to an audience which may be unfamiliar with them.) Each yokai entry includes useful information such as what the yokai look like, their history and habits, and how to survive an attack or avoid an encounter among many other fun facts. Every yokai included in the guide is illustrated by Morino and many entries are also accompanied by artwork from more traditional sources. Yokai Attack! also includes a preface, a glossary of yokai terminology, a list of resources and recommended reading and viewing, and an index listing the yokai covered in the book in alphabetical order.

Probably my favorite thing about the new edition of Yokai Attack! is the fact that every single page is in full color. The volume simply looks great. I’m particularly pleased to be able to see all of Morino’s artwork in color this time around—it leaves much more of an impression in color than it does in greyscale. I didn’t realize it when I was reading Yokai Attack! for the first time, but Morino was actually an assistant to Shiegeru Mizuki, an influential mangaka who was particularly well known for his yokai stories. Mizuki’s influence on Morino’s artwork can bee seen in Yokai Attack!, making Morino an ideal choice for the guide’s artist. The other great thing about the revised edition of Yokai Attack! is that it includes more yokai than the original, adding entries for te-no-me (which I hadn’t read about before), tsuchi-gumo, and yuki-onna (which I was more familiar with.) This brings the total number of yokai addressed in detail in Yokai Attack! to forty-nine.

Yokai Attack! is a fantastic resource and one of the very few books available on the subject of yokai in English. Yoda and Alt’s approach is both entertaining and informative. Yokai Attack! is a collection of conventional wisdom; most Japanese would probably be familiar with the creatures and stories it contains. However, the guide is written in a style that is accessible for readers who have no previous knowledge of yokai. At the same time, the guide is still engaging for those who do. I particularly appreciate the attention that the authors give to the cultural and historical influences that yokai have had on Japan. It is utterly fascinating stuff. Having previously read Yoaki Attack! and subsequently other books about yokai, I can safely say that it is one of the best and most approachable introductions to yokai available in English. This is even more true of the revised edition of Yokai Attack!. I enjoyed reading it even more than I did the original.

Thank you to Tuttle for providing a copy of Yokai Attack! for review.

Yurei Attack!: The Japanese Ghost Survival Guide

Author: Hiroko Yoda and Matt Alt
Illustrator: Shinkichi

Publisher: Tuttle
ISBN: 9784805312148
Released: July 2012

Yurei Attack!: The Japanese Ghost Survival Guide is the third installment in wife and husband team Hiroko Yoda and Matt Alt’s Attack! series. I read and loved the first two books in the series, Yokai Attack! and Ninja Attack!; there was absolutely no question that I would be picking up Yurei Attack!, too. Joining them this time as the illustrator for the book is Shinkichi, an artist and designer from Tokyo. Yurei Attack! is her international debut as an illustrator. Yurei Attack! was released by Tuttle in 2012. The publisher also rescued Yokai Attack! and Ninja Attack! after the demise of Kodansha International. Tuttle’s new editions of the Attack! books have additional content and have been released in full-color. Even though I already own the original Kodansha versions, after seeing how great Tuttle’s Yurei Attack! looks, I do plan on picking up the new editions, too. I have been impressed by the Attack! series—they are both informative and fun—and so I was very excited for the release of Yurei Attack!.

The first three chapters of Yurei Attack! are about specific ghosts and their stories. “Sexy and Scary” focuses on the most well-known yurei in Japan, most of which are females, while “Furious Phantoms” explores yurei filled with anger and rage and “Sad Spectres” looks at yurei which exist because of intense despair. The fourth and longest chapter, “Haunted Places,” examines real life locations throughout Japan which are associated with yurei and other strange phenomenon. “Dangerous Games” explains some of the ways people attempt to interact with and contact the spiritual world. The last two chapters in Yurei Attack! are the shortest. “Close Encounters” relates the stories of three men famous for their dealings with yurei while “The Afterlife” gives a glimpse of hell and Lord Enma. In addition to the main text, Yurei Attack! also includes a glossary, bibliography, recommended reading (and watching), an index, and plenty of illustrations and photographs to accompany the exploration of Japan’s ghost culture and related topics of interest.

Although yurei are closely related and often associated with yokai, another group of supernatural creatures, they are distinct phenomena. Yoda and Alt do an excellent job in Yurei Attack! of explaining the difference between the two. The short version: yokai are a something while yurei are a someone. When a particular yurei or haunt has some sort of connection to yokai, the authors make a point to mention it. They also make a point to take note of historical connections. One of the things that make yurei stories so fascinating and goosebump-inducing is that they are often based on real life events and people. The cross-referencing in Yurei Attack! is handled particularly well. References to Yokai Attack! and Ninja Attack! are also made when appropriate. It’s not necessary to have read the previous Attack! books, but they do build on one another and make reading Yurei Attack! feel even more comprehensive. The three books tie in very nicely with one another.

The basic format of Yurei Attack! follows closely that of the other Attack! books. Each entry begins with a quick fact sheet before exploring the subject in more detail and is accompanied by a full page illustration. The specifics covered for each yurei, haunted place, game, or person include its claim to fame, its story, its attack, how to survive an encounter with it, and additional trivia. The tone of Yurei Attack! is very casual, making it entertaining reading in addition to being packed full of useful and fascinating information. My only real complaint about Yurei Attack! is that the Japanese terms aren’t always defined very well. There is a glossary, but it doesn’t include every term used. (It’s also placed in an awkward location.) Generally, the terms are explained within the main text, but the reader may encounter them several times before they are actually defined. But even considering this, Yurei Attack! is an excellent volume. I enjoyed it immensely and my love for the series as a whole remains strong and continues to grow.

Ninja Attack!: True Tales of Assassins, Samurai, and Outlaws

Author: Hiroko Yoda and Matt Alt
Illustrator: Yutaka Kondo

Publisher: Kodansha
ISBN: 9784770031198
Released: November 2010

Ninja Attack!: True Tales of Assassins, Samurai, and Outlaws is the second Attack! book by wife and husband team Hiroko Yoda and Matt Alt, although this time they are working with a different illustrator, Yutaka Kondo. I read and thoroughly enjoyed the first Attack! guide, Yokai Attack!, finding it to be both entertaining and informative. In fact, I liked Yokai Attack! so well that I was immediately interested in Ninja Attack!, first published by Kodansha International in 2010. While Yokai Attack! looked at traditional Japanese creatures from folklore and urban legend, Ninja Attack! primarily focuses on real-life figures from Japanese history. As is explained in the books foreword, “Actual, historical ninja are fascinating enough subjects without needing to muddy the waters with fantasy.” Yoda and Alt go on to prove that to be true.

Like Yokai Attack!, Ninja Attack! is organized thematically as opposed to chronologically which might be expected with a book dealing with history. Ninja Attack! features thirty-one important or notable historical figures divided into six groups: “Ninja’s Ninja,” those who served as role models, epitomizing what it means to be a ninja; “Ninja Gone Bad,” which is just what it sounds like; “Ninja Magic,” those that seem supernatural in their abilities; “Ninja Rivals,” samurai and lawmen who interacted with ninja; “Ninja Masters,” those who made good use of and employed ninja; and “Ninja Destroyer,” which is pretty much just Oda Nobunaga. Additional information and fun facts are given throughout the book in the form of sidebars, sections called “The Illustrated Ninja,” in which the authors talk about ninja and ninjutsu more generally, and a brief history of Japan. A glossary, bibliography, and index are also provided, as well as a foreword and an “About This Book” section.

Although there is some variation, most entries in Ninja Attack! consist of five major parts: a full-page, color illustration; a quick fact sheet about the person; a section called “The Man” (or “The Woman” where appropriate), which is a brief biography or introduction of sorts; a section called “The Moment of Glory” which describes an exploit for which the person is known; and a section called “The End” which explains how things ultimately turn out. Some entries have additional sections and in a few cases may be missing some of the ones just listed. One of my few complaints about Yokai Attack! was that the color pages were dropped partway through the book. So, I was very happy to see that this was not the case with Ninja Attack!, which continues to alternate between color and black and white pages from beginning to end.

As much as I loved Yokai Attack!, I think I enjoyed Ninja Attack! even more. The very informal, conversational tone that Yoda and Alt adopt make the book extremely approachable. Even readers who don’t consider themselves history buffs should find Ninja Attack! interesting and probably won’t be scared off. Readers who already know some Japanese history will most likely recognize a number of the people mentioned, but there were plenty who at least I was previously unfamiliar with. A few important fictional ninja are also included in the book, but for the most part Ninja Attack! focuses on historical figures who are known or are believed to have existed, exploring the truth behind the myths and legends that surround ninja even today. Ninja Attack! isn’t the definitive source for its subject area, but it makes a fantastic introduction. Ninja Attack! is lighthearted, thoroughly engaging, and very informative. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the book.

Yokai Attack!: The Japanese Monster Survival Guide

Author: Hiroko Yoda and Matt Alt
Illustrator: Tatsuya Morino

Publisher: Kodansha
ISBN: 9784770030702
Released: October 2008

I’m not sure why I passed over Yokai Attack!: The Japanese Monster Survival Guide when it was first published by Kodansha International in 2008. Perhaps it got lost in the slew of zombie materials coming out at the time. The book is written by the wife and husband team of Hiroko Yoda and Matt Alt, who have worked on several other projects together, and is illustrated by Tatsuya Morino. Fortunately, Yokai Attack! was recently brought to my attention again. And since I have become increasingly interested in Japanese folklore and legends, it made sense for me to pick up a copy. I’m particularly interested in yokai—traditional Japanese supernatural creatures—because I frequently come across references to them in the books and manga that I read, the videos I watch, the games I play, and even at my dōjō. Yokai seem to be everywhere. The information on yokai readily available in English is somewhat limited, and I believe Yokai Attack! may actually be one of the first guides of its kind.

Yokai Attack! provides detailed information about forty-six different yokai. However, there are only forty-two separate entries because closely related yokai are addressed together. Instead of being arranged alphabetically, the guide is arranged thematically, grouping the yokai into “Ferocious Fiends,” “Gruesome Gourmets,” “Annoying Neighbors,” “The Sexy and Slimy,” and “The Wimps.” (There is also an alphabetical index of the yokai covered towards the end of the book.) Each entry provides brief details about a yokai’s name, appearance, where it is likely to be found, and how prevalent the creature is. Each entry is also fully illustrated and many include reproductions of Sekien Toriyama’s (1712-1788) traditional woodblock prints in addition to Morino’s modern interpretations. More information is given in depth regarding a yokai’s claim to fame, various stories and trivia, how a typical encounter plays out and how you might survive or at least minimize the damage incurred. Unfortunately, quite often the answer is “Sorry, you’re screwed.”

Although Yokai Attack! is extremely informative, it is not particularly academic or definitive, instead relaying facts and trivia about the various yokai that could be considered common knowledge in Japan. It is also presented in a very relaxed manner. The writing style is very informal and while some readers might find it annoying, overall it makes Yokai Attack! very approachable. The book’s design and layout are colorful and include an eclectic mix of images and reproductions. Unfortunately, the color pages are abruptly dropped for the last quarter or so of the book. Personally, I would have preferred a consistent page design throughout and was sad to see the color pages go. But really, I was primarily reading Yokai Attack! for the information anyway; the entertaining layout was simply an added bonus.

I am very glad I finally got around to picking up Yokai Attack! I found it very informative and enjoyable to read. In addition to some of the yokai I was already vaguely familiar with—like the kitsune, tanuki, kappa, and tengu—Yokai Attack! also covers plenty of yokai that I had never even heard of before and many which I have seen references to elsewhere but knew very little about. Yoda and Alt also include more contemporary yokai in the book along with the more traditional ones. At the end of the book they have provided a section devoted to other yokai resources. They list films featuring yokai, note several online resources available, and include a bibliography of Japanese and English language print materials. Yokai Attack! really is a fantastic resource with a ton of great information presented in a very accessible way. It’s certainly one of the best introductions to yokai that I’ve come across. While it may not be comprehensive, it is a wonderful place to start learning about yokai.