GeGeGe no Kitarō
by Rebecca Silverman,
How would you rate episode 15 of
GeGeGe no Kitarō (TV 2018) ?
As usual, there's a good message hiding in this week's episode of GeGeGe no Kitaro, but this time they aren't doing a particularly subtle or smooth job of getting it across. That's a shame in more than just a decline of the series' usual good storytelling; the story this week is about the price women pay for beauty and how cruel the world can be to someone who doesn't fit within whatever narrow definition is being sold at the moment. Kirara is the girl at the center of all of this – she's not only unattractive, she's so unattractive that grown men recoil at the sight of her. (Somewhat ironically, she looks more like an original Shigeru Mizuki character than anyone else in the show.) Her anger and self-loathing garner the attention of Zabura, a noppera-bo or faceless person, who offers her a tempura-fried human soul and the face of a beautiful dead girl to wear as her own.
No, you didn't just wander into Game of Thrones, although such methods aren't usually part of the noppera-bo's mythology. Rather it feels as if the show is combining the noppera-bo stories with that of a vengeful spirit, although Zabura claims not to want anything in return for her “help.” Instead she seems to be evil in the sense that she's helping to perpetuate a culture of beauty that is far too exclusive for most to ever join it. In some ways, she's like a yokai version of Andersen's Snow Queen, a comparison borne out by the fact that when Kirara's mirror begins to come back together, at least one piece is conspicuously missing – in the Andersen tale, it would be in Kirara's own eye, making her unable to see happiness or warmth.
What the episode wants us to ask ourselves is who is really to blame for all of this. Is it Zabura, who offers easily achieved impossible beauty? Is it Kirara, who can't see past her mirror, even when a popular idol declares that he likes her for who she is not what she looks like? Or is it a society that condones the casual cruelties Kirara faced every single day of her life – the kids who change her last name to include the word for “ugly,” the people who taunted her until she felt that she was the one at fault for something she couldn't help? The real answer is some combination of at least two of them (and I don't think we can blame Kirara; that's just victim blaming), but the implication at the end, when we see that, despite Mana, Kitaro, and Cat Girl's efforts, Kirara has gone back to Zabura and gotten a new, conventionally pretty face, is that she was so poisoned by the people around her that she felt she had no chance as herself.
There's also a much more sinister implication lurking here – Kirara's figure has changed, too, so that she now looks more like Zabura, who we are told died of drinking mercury after obsessing over her own beauty. Is that what happened to Kirara as well? If that's the case, that could mean that Kirara did try to make it work with her own face, but the bullying got to be too much. Hopefully that's not what's going on here, because that's dark even for Kitaro, but it does feel like a possibility.
Whatever the case, Kitaro and Co. are basically just props for this episode. That may be part of why it doesn't quite work, but the larger issue does seem to be that the basic message isn't quite carried through. It tries, but for a change the show isn't trusting its audience enough to really pull this off. It's a decent effort, but we know that it's capable of much better.
GeGeGe no Kitarō is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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