GeGeGe no Kitarō
by Rebecca Silverman,
How would you rate episode 26 of
GeGeGe no Kitarō (TV 2018) ?
This feels like one of GeGeGe no Kitaro's timelier episodes, although I doubt anyone expected current American political events to be quite as close to some of Yuna's mother's comments as they are. Specifically, I'm speaking about one of the more disturbing moments of the episode, when Yuna's mother bawls her daughter out for having been forcefully kissed by her childhood friend. In her mom's crazed eyes, Yuna was a willing participant in the kiss, when the reality is that she repeatedly told her friend to stop and then ran away in tears. To then be blamed for his actions and further told that she is now “filthy” because a boy she trusted kissed her without her consent hits a little close to home.
While the yokai this week is Gahi, a Chinese monster who eats human souls, the theme is really that because Yuna has no support, she's at the mercy of almost anyone who comes along. Her mother, deeply wounded by her husband's desertion when Yuna was a little girl, has decreed that Yuna may not interact with boys, much less do anything “dirty” with them in a Mother Gothel-like bid to keep her daughter locked in the tower of their homelife. Yuna's childhood friend claims to be in love with her and no longer able to control his feelings, thinking that he's saving her from her mother's over-strict rules, forcing unwanted physical contact on Yuna. And finally, Gahi himself finds Yuna ripe for the picking when he realizes what a vulnerable state she's in between her friend's betrayal and her mother's anger, so he uses her as a means of getting free from his scroll and then as a springboard to the all souls smorgasboard that her town becomes. No matter which situation Yuna finds herself in, she's never the one in control of her own life.
What's particularly nice about this episode is that Kitaro doesn't give her that control, nor does her friend, her mother, or Gahi – Yuna has to learn to stand up and take it for herself. While it might not feel heartening to see her forgive the mother whose fear made Yuna's life difficult (and there's a good possibility that Mom gave in to her co-worker simply because he's plain and therefore not at risk of being stolen away rather than because she recognized her errors), she is still a teenager and she does need her mother. I do count it as a win that we don't see her forgive the friend immediately, because whatever you think of his actions, the fact of the matter is that Yuna hasn't had any opportunities to decide if she wants to pursue romance immediately if at all – it's more important for her as a person to take steps towards living her own life on her own terms.
All of this makes it feel almost as if Gahi and the rest of the yokai are ancillary to what the story wants to say. Typically the yokai represent human fears, and Gahi is scary, no matter how much he sounds like Hikaru Midorikawa. We could read his feast of human souls as representative of Yuna's own state of being; he never goes after her soul because her mother already owns it and therefore he cannot take it. It's only when Yuna reclaims her spirit and runs to save her mother that he turns on her and tries to consume her soul. But really, Yuna's battle is within herself, and the yokai are just the window dressing to the story of a girl and her mother working out their issues.
I mentioned Rapunzel above with its villain (Mother Gothel) who locks the heroine away in a tower. Typically we look at that as Gothel sealing the girl away from the world for her own nefarious purposes, but there's another reading – she did it for Rapunzel's own protection. After all, the girl's biological parents did trade their kid for a salad; perhaps in Gothel's eyes, that's not the kind of world that a child should have to grow up in. But in the end Rapunzel has her prince, flees the tower, and gives birth to twins while Gothel, unlike most fairy tale villains, simply fades from the story with no real punishment. Yuna and her mother never let it get that far, and that seems like a much happier ending for everyone.
GeGeGe no Kitarō is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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