Japan is a monster country. While other countries may have their vampires and wolfmen, their unseelie courts and ogres and giants, Japan is home to a traditional eight million different varieties of spooks and lurkers in the dark. Japanese children obsess on them and memorize them the way American children do dinosaurs, and you would be hard-pressed to find a child without at least one of the ubiquitous tomes detailing their haunting places and special attributes.
"Yokai Attack! The Japanese Monster Survival Guide" (subtitled "A Survival Guide for Foreigners," although this is only written in Japanese), is one of the few English-language books available on this traditional aspect of Japanese culture. Emulating such books as The Zombie Survival Guide, it takes a tongue-in-cheek approach to Japan's bizarre menagerie. The book acts like a video game guide, giving statistics such as height, weight, favorite food, method of attack, surviving an encounter, etc ... A total of forty-nine yokai get the treatment, from the famous beasties like the kappa and tengu, to the lesser-knowns like the dorotabo and the hashi hime.
This is a re-issue of "Yokai Attack!" from a new publisher. There are a few new monsters added, and the book is finally in full-color. The previous edition from Kodansha USA switched to black-and-white illustrations for the final third of the book, almost as if they had run out of money for color printing (which they very may well have, considering Kodansha USA's final fate). Tuttle publishing corrects that, and it looks great. The authors have continued the series with Ninja Attack! and Yurei Attack! in a similar style.
"Yokai Attack!" is very much a "flipping book." You can read it cover-to-cover, but it's more fun going through and checking out whatever yokai that catches your eye. Every entry is accompanied by an illustration by Morino Tatsuya. Morino was an assistant to the yokai-master Mizuki Shigeru, and while his ability is not at Mizuki's level he does a good job with the style. The illustrations are often accompanied by older artwork such as ukiyo-e prints and toys featuring the various yokai, or photos of famous places.
Even thought I am not a huge fan of the "survival guide" style, I give full props to Hiroko Yoda and Matt Alt for writing "Yokai Attack!" Until recently, English-language books about yokai have been few and far between, and limited to academic books like Pandemonium and Parade: Japanese Monsters and the Culture of Yokai. There wasn't anything available for casual fans who wanted to learn a bit more about the various beasties that pop up so often in Japanese video games, comics, and animation. This book is fun and easy-to-read.
Since it was originally published, a few more English-language yokai books have popped up, like The Great Yokai Encyclopaedia and The Night Parade of One Hundred Demons: a Field Guide to Japanese Yokai. Those books are less tongue-in-check, and edge slightly more towards the academic than the playful. They are good continuations for those who want to dive a little deeper into yoikai. In a perfect world, all of Mizuki Shigeru's beautiful and authentic yokai encyclopedias would be available in English translations. But they aren't. So until thin, "Yokai Attack!" is a great introduction for casual readers who want a window into Japan's monster culture.