Otaku USA Magazine
Cat Eyed Boy, Volume 1 and 2

Kazuo Umezu, in all his striped-sweatered glory, has been getting some more action in the US thanks to Viz Media and their Signature line of manga titles. Much to the delight of long-time fans, the two-volume release of his classic series Cat Eyed Boy (Nekome Kozo) is practically a love letter in design, with striking cover graphics, a fantastic translation by JN Productions, and enough putrid pages between the two to whittle away the twilight hours in the way only Kazz is able.

The inside cover moans loudly like an old issue of Creepy Magazine, “Shocking! Even your blood will freeze!” That’s an appropriately pulp-horror boast, because the manga begins in a way that makes it seem like the entrance to a horror anthology with very loosely connected stories. The thread that ties these tales is the presence of the eponymous youth, peering through windows, keyholes and attic floors; serving as the reader’s eyes while fixated on horrifying situations of death and deformity.

In other words, classic Umezu. I’d be perfectly satisfied with the Cat Eyed Boy being my very own Cryptkeeper in this world, but starting with the third story-an incredible multi-parter called “The Tsunami Summoners” that might just be the best serial of the lot-the boy is given ample backstory and is from that point on incorporated pretty substantially into each tale of terror. It shows his birth among countless yokai, his outcast status in normal society, and his frequent and unsuccessful attempts to warn the village of the impending threat of demonic, anthropomorphic rocks with one goal: summoning a tsunami and wiping out those below.

Kazuo Umezu, for those that have yet to read any of his comics, has an uncanny graphic storytelling ability. His work can be childishly irreverent, heartwarming, and grotesque, sometimes all at once on the same page. He’s the master of shocker splashes, and you never know what you might see when you flip to the next page. There’s a wonderful and unashamed corniness to a lot of it, as well. One story, “The Ugly Demon,” showcases the transformative powers of the aptly named Professor Monster, and rest assured that his experimental assistance comes at a hefty price.

There is a mixture of straight-up horror riffs and chapters that hold grave lessons for the humans involved. We see the cracked side of vanity, greed, irresponsibility and revenge. No matter how silly individual moments may be, the work of Umezu isn’t a thoughtless freakshow, and Cat Eyed Boy shows us this through his eyes without hesitating to turn the mirror on himself and reflect on the monster within. You’ll find a lot of this is crucial to classic horror, and these themes are frequently revisited throughout all of Umezu’s work.

The final story of volume one, “The Band of One Hundred Monsters,” continues in the second collection, and both volumes total to over a thousand pages of legendary Japanese yokai, hideously mangled faces and the natural curiosity of a very strange cat eyed boy. Originally released over the summer, it’s never too late to support impeccable releases such as these, and of all the classic manga published over here in 2008, this comes among the most highly recommended.

Publisher: Viz
Story & Art: Kazuo Umezu
Rating: T+

©2006 Kazuo UMEZU / Shogakukan Inc.