GeGeGe no Kitarō
by Rebecca Silverman,
How would you rate episode 19 of
GeGeGe no Kitarō (TV 2018) ?
It says something about the overall quality of GeGeGe no Kitaro that its overarching plot can take a vacation for months at a time and the show doesn't lose its interest. All it takes is an episode like this week's to remind us that there's a reason behind the increased anti-human yokai activity in this story. That's basically the point here – to let us know that Nanashi-sama (meaning “nameless”) is lurking in the background and is manipulating events for his own mysterious ends.
In fact, he's the entire reason there is a story: this episode reveals that Daddy Eyeball has traced the increase in malicious yokai activities to the moment when Kitaro took that arrow to the chest. This implies that Nanashi-sama not only has an end game, one that likely involves yokai supremacy over humans, but also that he's somehow reducing Kitaro's efficacy, or at least trying to. The ghost school plotline of this specific episode also reveals that he can bring yokai whose physical bodies Kitaro has destroyed back to “life” (yokai don't die; they simply take on spirit form until a new body grows), which could be a major issue going forward. He's also, more ominously, got it in for Mana – he deliberately goes after her this week. Just before he floats through her, we see the kanji for “wood” on her body, which presumably indicates that she's under Kitaro's protection. Whether that means that Nanashi-sama can't hurt her or not remains to be seen, but the vision of what may be his past that we see is likely to prove important – both to understanding him and possibly to Mana's role in the overall series.
In the meantime, Nanashi-sama seems fairly content to bide his time and tease Kitaro. That's what his ghost school setup seems to be about, because up until the final moments, it doesn't feel particularly cruel. In fact, it could be a statement about the Japanese school system, which is highly competitive and structured. Education philosophy and best practices have evolved even over my relatively short ten-year teaching career, and while they will always be up for debate, the idea that everyone learns the exact same way is one that most American schools have discarded. That does not seem to be the case in at least anime depictions of the Japanese school system (which is what's most relevant here), and the various yokai's teaching approaches are more geared towards kinetic learners (doing rather than watching or reading) or just gentler than we typically see. The so-called ghost school of this episode feels like a fancy alternative private school, where kids are taught to their strengths. Given that the yokai are just running it to turn the kids into actual ghosts and that Kitaro breaks the school up in the end, this may not actually be a critique of the Japanese school system, because the ending would seem to imply that silly ghost schools aren't needed, but it's still an interesting difference to think about.
School criticism and Nanashi-sama aside, this episode has some of the series' lighter moments and uses humor to good effect. Kitaro's “disguise” of just putting on a pair of big round sunglasses actually working is very funny, especially the look Mana gives Cat Girl when she's fooled by it, and as a repeating gag it works well. Souma reciting the opening theme to Mana at the beginning of the episode when the ghost school is first brought up is also a fun little bit of humor, and on the whole this feels like a surprisingly light episode. In part this may be because there's never any question of Mana or the other kids really being in danger – Kitaro's defeated all of these yokai before, so there's no doubt that he can do so again. Nanashi-sama is an unknown quantity, but he's also proven willing to bide his time, so again, it doesn't seem that Kitaro's in any major danger – and since he didn't kill Mana when he had the chance, we can assume he's still playing the long game.
What that game is is the big question. He's definitely messing with humans to further whatever his plans are, as we saw in the very creepy opening where his long, frog-like tongue reached out to the boy texting his friends about killing his teacher (probably the scariest part of the whole episode), and it's all probably rooted in his tragic past. We'll probably have to wait another handful of weeks for the next part of his plans though, because next week it looks like an environmental fable episode. That gives us plenty of time to stew over what his next move will be – and that may be precisely what he wants us to do. Fear can only strengthen his hold on humanity.
GeGeGe no Kitarō is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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