Monday, July 07, 2008

Manga Monday: Cat Eyed Boy

Cat Eyed Boy (Volume 1) & (Volume 2)
Kazuo Umezu
Cat Eyed Boy is the latest addition to Viz's very good Viz Signature Line of manga. The two volumes of the series were released simultaneously in huge 500+ page editions boasting great cover and interior designs by Ronnie Casson. The first thing you come across as you open these mammoth editions are really neat splash pages on the inside covers full of the different monsters that appear within the pages of Cat Eyed Boy. Now, I've read Umezu's recently concluded The Drifting Classroom and his minor horror work Reptilia, but they quite easily pale in the face of the awesomeness that is Cat Eyed Boy, where Kazuo Umezu really earns his title of master of Japanese horror manga.
Cat Eyed Boy features several small stories that involve a boy born with defects that make him look like a cat...and grant him some magical powers. He travels around Japan taking refuge in people's attics and spying on the tenants while helping himself to their food, waiting for something awful to befall the household, as always seems to happen with everyone he visits. The books kick off with the story "The Immortal Man," which gives a pretty good introduction to the series at large, as it's pretty indicative right off the bat of the quality of the other stories collected. There are two larger stories that span over these books, the excellent "The Band of One Hundred Monsters" (of which the first collection ends in the middle of the story on a cliffhanger before resuming in the second) and the tedious, too silly "The Meatball Monster," which is more of the reaction shots and screaming and gore that people who've read The Drifting Classroom will be familiar with. While that kind of stuff can be great fun, I got my fill with The Drifting Classroom, and felt that the lengthy story served to bog down the second volume of the series rather than enhance it. So obviously I was happy to be presented with genuinely frightening stories throughout the rest of the stories. At times, Cat Eyed Boy feels a little superhero-y, and sometimes he's presented as a force of nature that comes into people's lives as opposed to the central figure the story is told through (as is the usual), but it all works well, and it's nice to get a variety of storytelling methods to keep things fresh throughout.
I feel like not only was Umezu's storytelling far superior in these books than previous projects published in America, but I think that the art is a big leap forward too. The designs for the monsters are great, and coupled with Cat Eyed Boy himself, serve as great subjects for Umezu to show off his cartooning skills. In The Drifting Classroom and Reptilia, the kids kind of blurred for me, always with the same vacant stare of horror on their faces. While there are a few shots of secondary characters like that, they're few and far between. I'm not sure where Cat Eyed Boy falls chronologically in Kazuo Umezu's career, but it's definitely the highlight for me so far. Overall, this is a fantastic read and easily one of the best horror manga I've read to date.

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