On the surface, Junji Ito’s Cat Diary is a gag manga. J-Kun–a lightly fictionalized version of the author–reluctantly agrees to let his fiancee bring two cats into their home: Yon, a black-and-white cat with sinister markings on his back, and Mu, a Norwegian forest cat with a cute face and a wicked bite. Each story depicts Yon and Mu doing normal cat things, from coughing up hairballs to resisting unsolicited human affection.
Readers familiar with Ito’s previous manga will get a chuckle at J-Kun’s over-the-top reactions to cat poop, scratched floors, and feather wands, as his grotesque facial expressions have been swiped from the pages of Gyo and Uzumaki. Surprisingly, these grimaces work just as well in the context of a domestic comedy, capturing the mixture of revulsion and love that cat behavior elicits. The uninitiated reader may also find these scenes amusing, if a bit excessive; surely a grown man realizes that cats can be jerks?
On a deeper level, however, Cat Diary is a meditation on human relationships. Though the ostensible plot focuses on J-Kun’s struggle to overcome his dislike of cats, the real story is Yon and Mu’s role in bringing J-Kun closer to his fiancee. J-Kun comes to love the cats–spoiler alert!–but the way in which he expresses those feelings demonstrates his journey from “me” to “we,” as his selfish concerns about the house give way to a shared sense of responsibility for the cats’ welfare. This human dimension of Cat Diary infuses it with a warmth that’s frequently missing from Ito’s work, and prevents the stories from reading like a collection of cat GIFs. (I can haz laffs now!)
On a totally shallow note, reading Cat Diary made me want to get my own Norwegian forest cat. I’m not sure if that’s an endorsement of Ito’s comedy chops, but it’s proof that he can draw the hell out of cute, furry things.
The verdict: You don’t need to be a cat person–crazy or otherwise–to enjoy this idiosyncratic manga, though a healthy respect for cats definitely helps.
Junji Ito’s Cat Diary: Yon & Mu
By Junji Ito
Rated T, for readers 13+
Kodansha Comics, $10.99
This review originally appeared at MangaBlog on December 12, 2015.