What Dread Hand
Junji Ito’s Cat Diary: Yon & Mu
By Junji Ito
Junji Ito’s Junji Ito’s Cat Diary: Yon & Mu is a semi-autobiographical manga. First serialized as Itō Junji no Neko Nikki: Yon & Mū in Japanese manga magazine Monthly Magazine Z from the January 2008 issue to the February 2009 issue, Cat Diary was collected into a single volume in 2009 and translated into English in 2015.
Years of hard work1 have delivered horror manga artist J‑kun the life he covets. He has a brand-new home. He has a darling fiancée, A‑ko. However, to his growing alarm, he discovers A‑ko has dreadful plans, plans against which a simple writer/artist cannot hope to prevail.
Whereas J‑kun is a dog person, A‑ko is a cat person. A‑ko has a cat named Yon. Yon will be living with J‑kun and A‑ko.
Not only does Yon have an ominous name (“Four,” an unlucky number associated with death), the cat has an ill-omened face that fills timorous J‑kun with dread. Closer examination reveals the cat’s back fur is patterned in the shape of a skull. Surely, the cat is a demon straight out of one of J‑kun’s horror mangas.
Were this not bad enough, A‑ko insists on acquiring a Norwegian forest cat named Mū (Six) to keep Yon company. J‑kun can only speculate what nightmares await the artist now that there are two cats to conspire against him.
Watching A‑ko play with her cats, J‑kun finds himself warming to both the conventionally cute kitten Mū and the more unusual Yon. It seems that cats are not, in fact, eldritch beings straight from the very bowels of hell but adorable companions. Why, then, do the cats reject J‑kun’s sincere (and loud) attempts to befriend them?
The artist finds himself in an entirely different sort of hell: the hell of rejection! Will J‑kun ever win over his wife’s cats? Or does a grim fate await him?
Nothing bad happens to either cat in the course of this manga2, although at one point it does look like Yon escaped and got lost, while Mū has a life-threatening health crisis.
Junji Ito is deservedly famous for his horror mangas. I don’t know what his readers expected. What they got was an account of how a thinly disguised Junji found himself living with cats, how he grew to love them as much as his wife did, and how he learned to interact with the felines in ways that did not alarm them. In addition, the manga revels in the sometimes-disgusting practicalities of cat ownership. Litter boxes feature in the plot.
J‑kun comes across as a bit of a timid nincompoop. A‑ko is more level-headed and practical, not to mention more strong-willed than her husband3. Dominant Yon combines strength and curiosity with a deficit of self-preservation instincts (thus an ongoing battle to keep him indoors), whereas Mū is the more amiable feline.
In addition to the humour inherent with living with semi-domesticated predators, Junji pokes fun at himself (and possibly reader expectations) by flipping between a realistic style and one more suited to a horror manga.
Well, no doubt that’s how things appeared from Yon and Mū’s perspective.
It’s all harmless, heart-warming fun and perhaps the most misleading introduction possible to Junji Ito’s work.
Junji Ito’s Cat Diary: Yon & Mū is available here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada), here (Amazon UK), here (Barnes & Noble), here (Book Depository), and here (Chapters-Indigo).
1: It’s not just J‑kun who put in years of hard work. As the text acknowledges, the supportive women in his life, both mother and wife-to-be, have contributed to his happy household.
2: The real-life cat Yon died of heart failure in 2011, after the events depicted in this volume. This was the subject of the later chapter “Yon Went to Heaven.”
3: Why the artist depicts her with dead white eyes and a dreadful, fixed smile is a matter for the artist and his apparently long-suffering wife.