GeGeGe no Kitarō
by Rebecca Silverman,
How would you rate episode 23 of
GeGeGe no Kitarō (TV 2018) ?
We can always count on GeGeGe no Kitaro to take the basics and do something unexpected (and probably poignant) with them. That's the case again with this week's outwardly simple haunted apartment building story. At first blush, this is just another variation on an apartment that can't keep tenants because of yokai activity, and by 2018, the owner of the building is ready to call it quits and tear the old place down. Much to her surprise, when she's about to leave for the last time, she gets some visitors: Kitaro and Sand Witch. The two of them ask if they can tell her the history of the building, beginning in 1968 (year of the first Kitaro TV series!), when her grandparents initially purchased it. While they were at first surprised (and upset) by the resident yokai, they did, with Kitaro's help, decide to stick to their initial landlord creed, that everyone who lives under their roof is family – yokai included. The yokai agreed to stop haunting the tenants, and later, in 1985, they helped save the building from yakuza landsharks. The only problem is that they never told their granddaughter (at least, not when she was old enough to really listen) and now she's going to put those yokai family members out of a home.
This episode returns us to another of the series' favorite themes: the troubled relations between humans and yokai. Kitaro himself has been very conflicted about this, especially as Mana has become more and more a part of his group, and in cases like with Shiro we saw the heartbreaking ways things could go wrong. But the Sokai Lively Apartments is a chance for humans and yokai to peacefully coexist, and even to help each other when they need to. That's why Kitaro intervenes this time; the yokai saved the apartment in 1985, so now in 2018, it's time for the favor to be repaid by the humans.
The trouble is, of course, that she's already made up her mind that she's marrying her fiancé and tearing this building down. Plus she's not sure she believes in yokai, and Kitaro and Sand Witch are human-enough looking that she's not certain she buys what they're selling. Daddy Eyeball popping out of Kitaro's hair is a good fix for that (marking the first person to actually freak out when they see him), but the yokai at the house are a little less cuddly-looking than a giant eyeball on a tiny doll-like body. (Kudos to Shigeru Mizuki for making an eyeball on a doll-like body cute.) They're an interesting bunch, a group we don't often see together in folklore – a rokuro-kubi, an akaname, and the good old karakasa, the cyclops umbrella who hops around on one (very buff) leg. (There's some folkloric debate as to whether he's a yokai or a tsukumogami, an object that gains a spirit after 100 years.)
It seems likely that this odd assortment is symbolic of the way that the humans and yokai coexist within the apartment building. Rokuro-kubi, a woman who can stretch out her snake-like neck impressively, is usually read as being representative of wandering thoughts or feelings, although stories can also bear resemblance to the vampiric Malay myths of the penanggalan. Akaname, on the other hand, is a creature who lurks in old bathhouses (or possibly college bathrooms today) and licks the grime from the tub, so more of a place-specific creature. That she and Rokuro-kubi and Karakasa are all together at the apartment building is unusual to say the least, but the three of them have clearly bonded and become a family of sorts. Once the original owners of the building accept them as well, they become bonded to the human family, like house spirits helping to take care of people and property they care about, as we see in British Brownies or Russian Domovoi.
This bond is something that the granddaughter of the original couple, the last surviving member of the family, must learn to accept and honor. She's scared at first, and angry, because why should something she thought was fictional have to impact her life? It's like what the police told her grandfather back in 1968: in this time when we can go to the moon and buy pre-made instant curry, why should we believe in ghosts?
Kitaro would say because they're really there. But maybe it's also because we need to. In the case of Natsumi, she's all alone after she discovers the truth about her fiancé. Her parents and grandparents are dead, and she thinks she has no family. But she does, as it turns out – they just aren't who or what she was expecting. That she can accept them in the end and understand what made her family and their home so special is the real beauty of this episode – and in terms of a message, it teaches its child viewers that friends and family don't all have to look like you or be just like you. As far as lessons go, that's one that deserves to keep being taught.
GeGeGe no Kitarō is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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