Kaibyo The Supernatural Cats of Japan Review

Kaibyo The Supernatural Cats of Japan Review

Author Zack Davisson
Release Date 2017
Publisher Chin Press Music
Sub Genre Yokai

Preface: Horror Japan received a copy of Kaibyo The Supernatural Cats of Japan for review by the publisher, Chin Music Press.

It’s hard to watch or read much of anything from Japan these days without a magical feline introducing itself. From Ghibli, to Sailor Moon to playing cupid in the j-drama Sumiko Sumire, these strange cats have acquired a prominence in popular media that has the kitsune and tanuki feeling jealous. But these lovable mogs of the present have a long, often more sinister history, as detailed in Kaibyo The Supernatural Cats of Japan.

A follow up of sorts to his previous book on Japanese folklore, Yurei: The Japanese Ghost, Zack Davisson’s Kaibyo The Supernatural Cats of Japan looks to dig to the folkloric roots of how this prominence came to be. While understandably less of a creepy read than Yurei, there’s a great variety of analysis and feline fiction to to dig your claws in to. Switching from analysis, to history, to stories, all accompanied by a wealth of illustrations the book keeps you well invested.

Kaibyo 怪猫, quite literally strange cat – using the same kanji present in yokai and kaiju – is a broader classification for a wider range of folkloric cats. From the corpse stealing Kasha, to the two tailed Nekomata, Davisson smartly organises his bestiary of tabbies by type, ensuring the reader is never lost or without a solid frame of reference for what’s being discussed. Because as is often the case with folklore, the boundaries separating these kaibyo from each other are sometimes fluid, but the Daivisson is always there to highlight when these irregularities in old tales occur.

Kaibyo The Supernatural Cats of Japan book

The Cat Witch of Okabe

In the West we’re often tangentially aware of Japanese folklore through its proliferation in modern media, but Davisson doesn’t take this for granted. If a painting is referenced in the text, it’s often there in the book. If a chapter is about Bakeneko 化け猫 for example, the chapter will end with a story about said Kaibyo. A minor, but equally valuable touch is how each chapter has a mini kanji breakdown for the kaibyo in question. It’s the little things that make it such a varied page turner.

Perhaps my favorite aspect of the book are the newly translated tales from centuries past detailing the actions of these yokai. Accompanying Davisson’s new translations are tales by A.B. Mitford, and my favourite, Lafcadio Hearn’s The Boy Who Drew Cats. While some of these stories wouldn’t necessarily entertain a modern audience if published alone, the accompanying text stating the historical and mythological significance of some of these stories helps tie everything together.

If I have any complaints, there instances in which, for example; reasons for commonalities between yokai, or conversely a lack of consistency in tales concerning types of kaibyo are noted, but brushed past too quickly. While I understand the book aspires not to be an anthropological thesis, setting sight on a wider audience than say Nazan U’s Asian Ethnology journal, I can sometimes feel the author holding back an extra 10-page essay that simply won’t fit. 

Even this complaint however serves to highlight how invaluable books like Kaibyo The Supernatural Cats of Japan are. While books of this sort are increasing in number, much of the information contained within would otherwise remain inaccessible for much of the target audience, with every chapter helping inform a generation raised on manga and anime. In providing and contextualizing the stories and beasts that have gone on to infiltrate mainstream, contemporary works, Kaibyo The Supernatural Cats of Japan’s biggest asset extends beyond its pages. It arms a fanbase with a greater, more accurate lens with which to view or reconsider the stories they love; provides a story behind the maneki neko on their desk, and will only draw readers in deeper to its world of yokai and folklore. 

 

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Craig Hatch
Craig Hatch 41 posts

<p>Horror Japan is Craig Hatch, a Brit currently living in Tokyo, Japan. Horror Japan is a project that aims to review and collate media from all aspects of Japanese horror culture.</p>

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Editor review

Rating
4.5/5

4.5

Good
4.5
Summary

Switching from analysis, to history, to stories, all accompanied by a wealth of illustrations the Kaibyo The Supernatural Cats of Japan draw readers in deep to its world of yokai and folklore.