Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Monstrous lives


Sunday October 12, 2008



Story and art: Kazuo Umezu

Publisher: VIZ Media; 536 Pages

(ISBN: 978-1421517926)

For ages 16+

SOMETIMES strangeness is more potent than beauty. This is especially true in Kazuo Umezu’s Cat Eyed Boy, or Nekome Kozo, as it is known in Japan.

Kazuo Umezu (, 72, is one of Japan’s premier masters of horror manga. He is best known for his award-winning The Drifting Classroom (Hyouryu Kyoushitsu), but Cat Eyed Boy is one of his most well-loved works. (It was made into a live-action movie in 2006.)

Cat Eyed Boy Vol.1 is an omnibus of five stories taken from the original 1967 Cat Eyed Boy manga series. Unlike most manga where the story focuses on the hero, this one is mainly about the gruesome, horrific and tragic incidences that happen whenever the worlds of humans and demons collide.

Curiously, the Cat Eyed Boy repeatedly finds himself in the thick of it, often because of his luck, curiosity, and his desire to help and be accepted by others.

The first tale, The Immortal Man, is an introduction to Cat Eyed Boy’s contemporary world and it sets the overall feel of the manga. The story revolves around a boy who meets a man with a disfigured face. The latter tries to usurp the boy’s family riches by manipulating the youngster’s feelings.

It’s one of the best introductions to a manga series I have ever read. The story subtly reveals the relationship between humans and monsters, and Cat Eyed Boy’s feelings and connection towards them both.

The tale of The Ugly Demon shows that no beauty or good intent can hide a wicked heart and justify evil means. On the surface, The Ugly Demon seems like a simple scary story but it is actually deep and tragic - a story of a father’s misguided love and of an unsightly creature with an evil and vengeful heart.

This was the first story that made me realise how intricate the series is; Cat Eyed Boy is more than just a shallow horror manga.

The Tsunami Callers reveals the Cat Eyed Boy’s tragic origins. Reviled by monsters for his human-like features and detested by humans for his cat-like qualities, the Cat Eyed Boy entered a world filled with hate towards him. Abandoned by his Cat Goblin parent and raised by a human, he grew up with a kind heart.

However, the humans in his seaside village are blinded by the antipathy towards him, so much so that they are unable to see the impending doom that is coming from the sea.

The intriguing The Tsunami Callers is the only story that truly focuses on the Cat Eyed Boy as a character by disclosing what he is and why he is the way he is.

The One-Legged Monster of Oudai is a tale of two evils - a boy who finds thrills in remorselessly killing the insects of Mount Oudai, and the other the guardian of Mount Oudai who will do anything to punish those who wilfully hurt the creatures of the forest. This tale straddles the grey area between good and evil, leaving readers guessing as to who is the victim and who is the villain till the very end.

Taking the evil versus evil theme even further is The Band of One Hundred Monsters. Occupying about one third of the book, the epic finale continues in Vol.2. Nonetheless, the story is still captivating.

Appalled by the injustice caused by the human persecution of monsters, a large assembly of ghastly creatures forms a group to turn evil humans into horrendous creatures to show the world who the real monsters are.

The question is: are the actions of the band of one hundred monsters cruel, or do the humans they target deserve their fates? As Cat Eyed Boy tries to understand the monsters and their victims, he finds himself sinking deeper into the conflict.

It is undeniable that the series is old, and it shows. The classic art style uses lines to simulate shading, resulting in very detailed and atmospheric scenes. The effect is a more human-looking character, very different from the big-eyed and colourful-haired manga characters we are used to today. Even so, the ones that benefit the most out of this classic art style are the highly detailed and grotesque monsters dreamt up by the master himself.

The manga’s age shows up by its inconsistent translations, lapses in logic, and the manga’s very clear-cut title and the title of each story inside. Nevertheless, these faults do not tarnish the deep, engrossing story, which makes Cat Eyed Boy a true classic.

Every story is thoughtful, with multiple subplots, twists and mysteries. The horror-themed fare may not be suitable for everyone, however. Yet, if you can look past the scary stuff, the stories in Cat Eyed Boy will drive you to read through every page even though you know that there are terrors lurking within.

(Rating: 5)

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