GeGeGe no Kitarō
by Rebecca Silverman,
How would you rate episode 16 of
GeGeGe no Kitarō (TV 2018) ?
Local lore has it that the islands where I grew up each had their own special stitches used to knit lobstermen's mittens. It wasn't any form of local pride; it was so that if someone was drowned at sea and their body washed up disfigured by the tides, at least islanders would know which town to return the body to. That's not precisely the mythology at play in this week's episode of GeGeGe no Kitaro, but it feels like it would be right at home in the story of funa-yurei and umizato preying upon the fishermen of Sakaiminato, Kitaro creator Shigeru Mizuki's hometown.
In the story, it's also the hometown of Mana's parents, or at least her father, and she's excited to go spend part of her summer vacation there with her aunt and uncle. Things take a sour turn, however, when the fishing vessel her uncle is on is lost at sea—and when Mana goes out with the search party to look for him, she's the only survivor. Before she's thrown into the ocean, she thinks she sees her uncle's face under the long hair of the drowned ghost invading the boat, and that turns out to be unfortunately true: a specific biwa-playing ocean spirit, Umizato, has turned all of the locals on the water into funa-yurei, a specific type of ghost (it translates to boat ghost) who sink ships and turn the people aboard them into more boat ghosts, sort of like less sexy rusalka. And who is more likely to have inadvertently triggered their rise than our friend Rat Man?
Seriously, if there's something that people in this show need to learn, it's not to open random sealed jars/doors/rocks/whatevers. That's gotten more malevolent yokai released than any number of disturbed memorials or graves, and this is at least the second time Rat Man has been the direct cause of it. (At least he didn't pee this one off.) But unlike before, this time Rat Man is more than willing to help rectify his mistake, something which adds to the overarching theme of the episode, which is that everyone is capable of getting along. Because that's the other issue that's causing problems in Sakaiminato: locals and transplants are quarreling over how to handle the local festival, with the new people thinking it needs an update and the locals insisting that everything is fine the way it's always been. Like the island-specific stiches, this once again feels like it would be very much at home where I'm from, but also in any community where new people are beginning to change the population. The two groups assume that no one on the other side can see sense and have essentially made up their minds against each other without realizing that they're cutting off their noses to spite their faces – because no festival is absolutely not victory for anyone and could hurt the town in the long run.
This brings us back to the very beginning of the series, when Kitaro didn't want to become friends with Mana. His reasoning was that humans and yokai shouldn't mix and are better off remaining separate. Cat Girl did eventually help to bring him around and he now has genuine affection for Mana as a friend, but it's really this week that solidifies that. While he's at sea trying to stop Umizato, Rat Man and Mana organize not only the two warring town factions into helping to save the men who have become boat ghosts, but also secure the help of the other yokai – Rollo Cloth, Sand Witch, Old Man Crybaby, Cat Girl, and Wally Wall all show up to help. (Given that they end up playing tug'o'war, I suspect just Wally would have been fine…) Everyone works together, human and yokai, local and newcomer, to help bring the sailors home.
And then they all get to enjoy the festival together, which may be the best part – from the random guys rubbing Old Man Crybaby's head to Rat Man listening to Uncle Shoji's endless stories of his high school glory days to kids drawing on Wally Wall with chalk (something I didn't know was missing from my life until I saw it), they're breaking the boundaries between human and yokai that Kitaro was so certain existed, while also showing how things have changed since Mizuki penned the “Eryt the Vampire” story in 1967 where yokai weren't considered Japanese citizens. But the best part is that when Mana comments that she wishes the moment of watching fireworks with Kitaro and Cat Girl could last forever, we can see that Kitaro likely feels the same.
GeGeGe no Kitarō is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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