Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
GeGeGe no Kitarō
87 - 97 Streaming
Nurarihyon's plans have been slowly climbing towards fruition as he seeks to force his perceived yokai superiority on all of Japan, deliberately stoking the fires of prejudice and hatred. While there are still moments of calm for our heroes, nothing will stop Nurarihyon from reaching his goal, even if he has to work with the foreign yokai Backbeard to pull it off. Kitaro, Cat Girl, Mana, and the others are just as determined to stop his machinations, but in a world already brimming with hatred and distrust, is there any hope for two such different groups to even get along, much less coexist?
It is no secret that the creator of GeGeGe no Kitarō, Shigeru Mizuki, was not a fan of war. Drafted into the army during World War Two, he saw first-hand the atrocities that war brings, as well as his older brother executed as a war criminal. While he's written several historical/autobiographical pieces about this – including War and Japan in 1991, where he deliberately exposed the atrocities committed by Japan – his fictional works general kept their darkness to the confines of the horror genre. That has not been true of the 2018-2020 anime adaptation of his GeGeGe no Kitarō series; the show has gone out of its way to include elements of Mizuki's experiences during the war and themes pertaining to it, and the finale is no exception. Although it indulges in some fluffier episodes (which are frankly needed to balance things out), ultimately the message of the show is that hatred and pride bring us nothing but war, and that can only ever be a bad thing.
It's worth mentioning in conjunction with this that both Showa and War and Japan feature Rat Man as a narrator of events. As a character, Rat Man is both the most and least developed of this series, at times learning his lesson about greed and cruelty and at other times forgetting that there ever was a lesson at all. But the one truly consistent note in his character has been his attitude towards war: he's clearly terrified of it, making comments about not wanting to live through it again, striking out against perceived militaristic threats against the yokai specifically or Japan in general, and serving as the character whose memory may not be the longest but is certainly the clearest when it comes to that particular incident. In the final episodes of the show, when everything starts to look really, truly bad for Kitaro and his friends, Rat Man's first instinct is to run away – not because he's a coward (although he can be characterized as such in other ways), but because he emotionally cannot handle another war. Although he does change his mind in the end, this is the one decision no one faults him for, because as we saw back in episode twenty, Rat Man's not the only yokai who carries that burden of memory. He lives longer than most humans because of his half-human heritage, and that makes Rat Man in many ways the stand-in for the bulk of humanity in these situations: he's not necessarily who we want as the everyman character, but maybe that's because he's occasionally too close to reality for comfort, even if, when push comes to shove, he usually makes the right decision.
All of this makes three episodes – ninety-three, ninety-four, and ninety-seven - stand out more than they otherwise might have, although in all fairness, the bulk of these final ten are very powerful. In a very literal way, the final episode, ninety-seven, brings us back to the question of Rat Man's human half making him just different enough from the other yokai and how that might work: when Kitaro is mostly killed by a human and ends up in a strange limbo-like place, we see that his spirit has separated into two parts – his regular self and his despairing, scared self. Normally he's able to hold those two together, and even when he allows emotions to shine through, there's an inhuman logic to him, or at least a world-weariness. It takes being nearly dead to shock those two halves apart, making him more like Rat Man in that he very nearly gives in to his fear, anger, and sorrow. (It also serves to highlight Mana's strengths as a character – she's willing to sacrifice a lot, if not everything, to put things right and save her friends, which almost makes her less human in the context of the final episodes.) But it is episode ninety-three that is particularly striking in not only its storyline but in the actions of its main character that truly stands out.
Somewhat surprisingly for our current times, episode ninety-three basically deals with a global pandemic, although in the context of the show it's vampirism, not a novel coronavirus. It hits shortly after Valentine's Day, when Cat Girl final gets up the courage to confess her love to Kitaro. Her happy ending is anything but assured when even he falls prey to the scourge, and Daddy Eyeball reveals to her that the only way to put a stop to the pandemic is to take the Phantom Train back in time and try to figure out where things went wrong. (This is, for the record, an entirely different ghostly train than in episode seven.) As Cat Girl tries again and again, she finds that she can't stop the disaster…until she realizes that the one thing she hasn't done is not confess to Kitaro. Like Mana in the final episode, Cat Girl ultimately makes the call that the world is worth more than just her love for one person, and thus she swallows her pride and does what could be termed the right thing. It's painful to watch and even without the context of 2020, more than a little scary, but it ties in with the overall themes of the series in that it's about not being selfish and doing things for the wrong reasons, as we've seen over and over again in episodes about social media, the desperate drive for fame, and emotions that turn into curses. It foreshadows what Mana will do in episode ninety-seven, as well, which is not only a bit of follow-through but also in line with the characters themselves: Mana adores Cat Girl, so even if she doesn't know what Cat Girl did, she might reasonably be assumed to act in the same way her idol does, which also is a nice callback to when she dressed up as Cat Girl for Halloween.
GeGeGe no Kitarō keeps its title as one of the strongest family shows to come out in recent years. It's not only good on its own artist and storytelling merits, but it also opens the door for conversations between adults and children about what they've seen and why it happens. Even better, it provides food for thought no matter how old you are, trusting its audience to be willing and able to process the subject matter it offers. While it's a shame that it has ended, it should prove to be more than disposable entertainment, the sort of series you can go back to even if only for select episodes, or at least the kind of show that will pop into your thoughts every once in a while. The world you see, as the show tells us, isn't all that's there, so listen closely – maybe all of those folktales exist to open your eyes to what's really there.
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : A-
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : A-
+ Strong use of themes throughout, trusts its audience to handle them. Good character parallels and references to Mizuki's nonfiction work.
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