Itoh Junji’s Cat Diary

cat diary cover
I’ve always had my suspicions about cats.

Whether its with they’re ever smug, holier than thou attitudes or that ever creeping sense that they’re always up to something, at times making you think just much of the film Cats and Dogs was actually fiction or not – The fact that British milk company Cravendale recently released this advert didn’t help my suspicions either:

Yet this is a view that, paranoid it may be, Japanese horror mangaka Itoh Junni [whose works include Uzumaki, the Souchi series and shibito no koiwazurai amongst others] also relays in his part autobiographical one volume manga called [imaginably enough] Junji Itoh’s Cat Diary.

This 10 chapter series, first published in 2009, follows the trails and tribulations of J-san[no prizes for guessing who this is] as his otherwise ordered life as a horror mangaka is suddenly invaded by a pair of cats – one of them being the surprisingly cute and otherwise normal Muu.
However its when J-san’s fiancé A-ko [and sufferer of the worst case of Young Bloods Disease I’ve ever seen] brings home Yon, the former pet cats of her parents that…..well…..

dont worry. its not like you were planning on sleeping any time soon.......

The fact that one of his distinguishing marks is a trio of spots that bare more than a passing resemblance to a skull, that sets off Itoh Junji’s horror writing narrative and drawing talent, taking otherwise normal situations and making them out as though they were from one of his horror manga – from playing with the two cats, to trying to find Yon when he runs away.

and yet its paradoxically this style that adds a sense of the absurd to J-sans actions, and actually making the scenes all the more humorous. And there is the key good thing about this – the very fact that this is the very kind of real life events that have happened to so many cat owners around the world, that enables the reader of this this serial to relate with j-san and a-ko through their trails and tribulations.

Additionally its this manga also givess Junji Itoh the ability to show that he’s capable of doing more that gore and gruesome scenes – in fact a lot of his background and renditions of both himself and his family are clear and well detailed, and in no way detracting from the overall feel of the story and events happening therein – even if said scenes include scenes of cat poop and frozen cat snot [no seriously!].

At the end of the day though this manga is both in part a letter to all cat owners but also a chance for Junji Itoh to branch out from his traditional horror roots – a feat that only a rare few mangaka have been able to achieve without alienating their fans both past and present.

If your a cat lover, or know someone who is, or looking for a dark, well written comedy/ slice of life, then this is one to look out for.

Just don’t let Tiddles see you reading it.

Itoh Junji’s Cat Diary has been published in english by Kodansha comics and is available either in physical print or in digital format from either the digital comic distributor comixology, or from either amazon’s kindle books, ItunesBarns and nobles [for the nook] or for kobobooks.com.

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S.S. Astro

The vast majority of high school manga and anime series released nowadaysd are primarily focused on the lives of the students, with the teachers either non-existent or relegated to being mere background pieces in most scenes (although Azumanga Daioh and K-on touched on a few of the teachers lives, the series was mostly based on the pupils)

S.S. Astro on the other hand shows us high school life from the teacher’s viewpoint.

The series, from Negi Banno, and which originally ran in Manga Time Kirara Carat in Japan between 2005 and 2007, and has now been translated and released by Yen press, follows the lives of Izumi (who has a Tomboyish attitude to the job) and Yuko (who wears a kimono and eats her own weight in food), both of whom are graduate teachers. We follow them as they return to the school they grew up in as members of the faculty, and watch the comedy unfold as they realize that the biggest problems aren’t the kids – it’s their colleagues!
These include the nursing teacher Setsuna (who has a seeming fascination with blood and injuries of the grisly nature, and would give even Dracula the shivers) alongside foreign language teacher Kaname, who has a stalker-like infatuation with poor Izumi.
There are also star turns from other staff members, who compliment the series nicely – Izumi’s brother and part-time teacher Itsuki and his “relationship” with Setsuna, to cooking teacher Hibiya
whose skills in the kitchen could put Gordon Ramsay to shame. All in, it’s a great cast and the author clearly had fun invented them.
The only real criticisms I have is that the series uses the four panel Yonkoma layout – in most series I’ve read in the same vein the use of this medium seem to be pulled off wonderfully, but in the case of S.S. Astro however it just seemed to constrain the book, stifling the artwork and plotting and also resulting in the supporting characters never really getting the chance to truly shine in my opinion.
However, whether you’re a teacher yourself, know someone who is, or just want to see an engaging twist to the high school manga genre then this series is for you.
Ding Ding! School’s in!

Additional information
The name of the series, for those of you interested, is short for (deep breath) Asashio Sogo Teachers ROom – you can see why they shortened it. But where does the S.S. come from?
As to be expected from Yen Press, the book comes with a comprehensive set of translation notes in the rear – ever wondered what Monjayaki is? Read on and find out more.
Additionally the book comes with an 8 page preview of another Yen Press release, Suzunari.
The school where S.S.Astro is set is based on a real life school (Tokyo metro HS senior high school – what is it with the Japanese and excessively long names for places?)