Comic Review: Cat-Eyed Boy
Review by Comix
I know, it seems like I love Japanese horror comics. Every third review is Japanese comic this and “what the fuck!?” Japan that. Well let me tell you, some of the best horror I’ve ever read was from Japan and Cat-Eyed Boy is no exception. Now, I’m sure you remember my past reviews on Junji Ito (Gyo) and Suehiro Maruo (Ultra-Gash Inferno), two kings of Asian horror, and now I present to you a third member of the cast, Kazuo Umezu. Actually dubbed the Godfather of Horror Manga, Umezu is to Japan what Clive Barker is to us, widely recognized as a man of great horror and awesome personality. Seriously, I hear Umezu is a really kick-ass guy. Cat-Eyed is just one of many comics that Umezu has released over the decades, but it’s an outstanding work in its representation of Japanese demons and ghosts. Kind of like the Hellboy of Manga.
Cat-Eyed Boy is about a boy who is a cat (or a cat who is a boy?) who was the son of a pair of demons. He was cast out of Hell for looking too closely like a human and forced to wander the Earth, eventually finding himself on a coastal village, living in a temple. It is here that he firsts witnesses the power of the demonic presences that lurk among the humans. As his village is threatened to be destroyed by ocean monsters, he also learns that despite his good intentions, his own twisted face damned him to a life of being an outcast. Though the village epidemic ends up working itself out, along with the help of Cat-Eyed Boy and a pissed off village diety, he flees the area and takes to wandering the land, hiding in attics and fighting other monsters. He also spends a lot of time watching people go about their lives, taking note of human action and emotions, especially at those they deem “below them.”
Though the comic is filled with your basic doe-eyed, no lipped school babes, it packs a punch in its keen observation of the human condition. Kazuo Umezu is one of the first Manga creators to combine grotesque imagery with girly art and it has careened him to the top of Japan’s best-selling comic list. He also is one of the original artists to combine the pacing of movies to the hand-drawn world of comics, also known as Gekiga. If you’ve ever read a Japanese comic and was like “man, this shit is slow,” it’s because back in the 40’s and 50’s, when foreign movies were beginning to arrive on the shores of Japan like plague rats on a ship galley, many comic creators would venture into movie theaters to take a much needed break for drawing. (Trust me, it was definitely much needed; these guys would work on schedules tighter than my pants.) The pacing and set-up in many of these older movies (especially the ever-popular noir movies) were established to create mood and emotion and the artists would walk away inspired. They applied these cinematic techniques to their artwork and ba-blam, the creation of multi-issue, single story arcs were created. Sure, Cat-Eyed Boy can be slow at times, it has a quite the pay-off in the end.
Another interesting note about Cat-Eyed Boy and Kazuo Umezu’s style in general is his focus on human relations and their faults, which is generally the cause of the misery that the characters make for themselves. As Cat-Eyed Boy travels and takes up residency in people’s houses, he watches as the people he lives with build up and destroy each others lives. Greed, anger, jealousy, and hate are heavily applied to the stories, reflecting our own actions as readers and members of the human race. Also, the actions of these people attract tons of awesome old school monsters and ghoulies, many reflecting traditional Japanese monsters. I mean, it’s not like Mothra or Godzilla or anything, but like snake women, demonic shadows, and pissed off ghosts, really fun stuff. If you’re a fan of old timey horror creatures, you’re going to dig the monster designs of Umezu’s work, especially since a lot of them have been made into
Cat-Eyed Boy is widely available at any place that sells comic books and comic book accessories. The whole story is available in bible sized, two book works published by Viz Media for the very reasonable price of $25 each. Each book has over 500 pages of tightly packed artwork filled to the brim with shocked faces, slimy monsters, and adorable kids. If you read this and enjoy it, he has plenty more translated work to get your grimy mitts on, such as The Drifting Classroom, about an entire grade school that gets transported to a barren landscape overrun with elephant size insects and their struggle to survive, or Scary Book, a collection of short, scary comics collected from various magazines that he has worked for. Cat-Eyed Boy is good start for anyone who wants to check out Kazuo Umezu’s work and see why even though he’s retired from comics, he’s still the media darling of Japanese horror.