Meet Kitaro. He’s just like any other boy, except for a few small differences: he only has one eye, his hair is an antenna that senses paranormal activity, his geta sandals are jet-powered, and he can blend into his surroundings like a chameleon. Oh, and he’s a three-hundred-and-fifty-year-old yokai (spirit monster). With all the offbeat humor of an Addams Family story, Kitaro is a lighthearted romp in which the bad guys always get what’s coming to them. Kitaro is bestselling manga-ka Shigeru Mizuki’s most famous creation. The Kitaro series was inspired by a kamishibai, or storycard theater, entitled Kitaro of the Graveyard. Mizuki began work on his interpretation of Kitaro in 1959. Originally the series was intended for boys, but once it was picked up by the influential Shonen magazine it quickly became a cultural landmark for young and old alike. Kitaro inspired half a dozen TV shows, plus numerous video games and films, and his cultural importance cannot be overstated. Presented to North American audiences for the first time in this lavish format, Mizuki’s photo-realist landscapes and cartoony characters blend the eerie with the comic. -
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Kitaro Review

Field of Interest/Specialty: Work Projects
Posted On: 01/12/2015

Earlier in June, I had started reading the only credible English translation of mangaka Shigeru Mizuki’s greatest and most famous work, Gegege no Kitaro. Kitaro may look like a child, but he is a three hundred year old Japanese yōkai, a monster. Referred to in earlier times as mononoke, ghosts, or bakemono, which is the literal word for monster in Japanese, yōkai are creatures and ghosts with ambiguous motives and even more ambiguous origins. Keeping well within the Japanese sensibility of a spirit that seems morally ambiguous, Kitaro acts as he sees fit, protecting the humans of Japan and working alongside them, harboring no ill will towards them. However, when humans or spirits have wronged him, he will go to what seem to be extreme lengths to right a wrong done to him. Kitaro’s fellow yōkai may seem harmless, mostly wanting to live in peace, but they also seem to suffer from nonsensical drives of vengeance and hatred against the human race. Where other yōkai want to plant the seeds of destruction, Kitaro works for the good of both communities, ultimately winning the day.
Mizuki, through Kitaro, was able to bring about a resurgence in the Japanese fascination of yōkai was able to accomplish with Kitaro bring yōkai back into the forefront of Japanese pop culture during a time when children lived in densely populated urban areas, away from the traditional rural settings where yōkai stories were passed down for generations. This is important for numerous reasons, and I am more than likely still ignorant of a lot of those reasons. One of the more important reasons I can tell you why Mizuki’s work is important is because yōkai were essentially stamped out of the Japanese imagination until Dr. Inoue Enryo came along. Known as “Dr. Yōkai,” he made it his life’s work in the late 19th century to catalog sightings and information about yōkai, mostly for the sake of debunking them as myth. The ironic thing is that his work eventually helped rekindle an interest in yōkai, and because Dr. Enryo had created the largest catalog of yōkai information in Japan, the yōkai hunters could rejoice in the fact that their search was easier than ever before. But the cost would be that most Japanese did not believe in the reality of yōkai any longer, so they faded from the minds of Japanese adults who did not pass the stories on to their children. Mizuki would have to create a bigger splash with how he portrayed yōkai.
Forty years or so after Dr. Enryo’s death in 1919, his work would lead not to a definitive classification and demystification of yōkai, but an eventual resurgence in their popularity. Dr. Enryo had no direct influence on Mizuki, with Mizuki’s interest in monsters being fostered by his elderly neighbor, NonNonBa. However, there is a correlationg between their interests. Where before yōkai were fading from the public eye, Dr. Enryo and Mizuki created a space, whether in academia or manga, for yōkai to once again be a part of the Japanese world and be included in the stories of the modern historical narrative. Mizuki not only out yokai in the forefront of his stories and therefore in the forefront of young imaginations, but he made them visible and relevant once again to a Japanese society that was getting farther away from its roots by moving to the city. Kitaro is important not only because they are good and fascinating stories that have importance within the history of manga, but because it is the continuing of a folk traditions of Japanese culture that were almost lost to history. Kitaro is not only a comic, but a record of Japanese mythology and imagination.