~written by Hiroko Yoda and Matt Alt
~illustrated by Tatsuya Morino
I'm not sure why I passed over Yokai Attack!: The Japanese Monster Survival Guide when it was first published by Kodansha International in 2008. Perhaps it got lost in the slew of zombie materials coming out at the time. The book is written by the wife and husband team of Hiroko Yoda and Matt Alt, who have worked on several other projects together, and is illustrated by Tatsuya Morino. Fortunately, Yokai Attack! was recently brought to my attention again. And since I have become increasingly interested in Japanese folklore and legends, it made sense for me to pick up a copy. I'm particularly interested in yokai--traditional Japanese supernatural creatures--because I frequently come across references to them in the books and manga that I read, the videos I watch, the games I play, and even at my dōjō. Yokai seem to be everywhere. The information on yokai readily available in English is somewhat limited, and I believe Yokai Attack! may actually be one of the first guides of its kind.
Yokai Attack! provides detailed information about forty-six different yokai. However, there are only forty-two separate entries because closely related yokai are addressed together. Instead of being arranged alphabetically, the guide is arranged thematically, grouping the yokai into "Ferocious Fiends," "Gruesome Gourmets," "Annoying Neighbors," "The Sexy and Slimy," and "The Wimps." (There is also an alphabetical index of the yokai covered towards the end of the book.) Each entry provides brief details about a yokai's name, appearance, where it is likely to be found, and how prevalent the creature is. Each entry is also fully illustrated and many include reproductions of Sekien Toriyama's (1712-1788) traditional woodblock prints in addition to Morino's modern interpretations. More information is given in depth regarding a yokai's claim to fame, various stories and trivia, how a typical encounter plays out and how you might survive or at least minimize the damage incurred. Unfortunately, quite often the answer is "Sorry, you're screwed."
Although Yokai Attack! is extremely informative, it is not particularly academic or definitive, instead relaying facts and trivia about the various yokai that could be considered common knowledge in Japan. It is also presented in a very relaxed manner. The writing style is very informal and while some readers might find it annoying, overall it makes Yokai Attack! very approachable. The book's design and layout are colorful and include an eclectic mix of images and reproductions. Unfortunately, the color pages are abruptly dropped for the last quarter or so of the book. Personally, I would have preferred a consistent page design throughout and was sad to see the color pages go. But really, I was primarily reading Yokai Attack! for the information anyway; the entertaining layout was simply an added bonus.
I am very glad I finally go around to picking up Yokai Attack! I found it very informative and enjoyable to read. In addition to some of the yokai I was already vaguely familiar with--like the kitsune, tanuki, kappa, and tengu--Yokai Attack! also covers plenty of yokai that I had never even heard of before and many which I have seen references to elsewhere but knew very little about. Yoda and Alt also include more contemporary yokai in the book along with the more traditional ones. At the end of the book they have provided a section devoted to other yokai resources. They list films featuring yokai, note several online resources available, and include a bibliography of Japanese and English language print materials. Yokai Attack! really is a fantastic resource with a ton of great information presented in a very accessible way. It's certainly one of the best introductions to yokai that I've come across. While it may not be comprehensive, it is a wonderful place to start learning about yokai.