GeGeGe no Kitarō
by Rebecca Silverman,
How would you rate episode 31 of
GeGeGe no Kitarō (TV 2018) ?
As the times change, so do the fads. You need look no further than Alice's Adventures in Wonderland to see how the pop culture of a bygone age reads as incomprehensible to modern audiences and spawns bizarre theories of what the story means, and that applies to food trends as well. In the US at least, that mostly means that we don't eat Jell-O salads or salmon loaf anymore (or less, at least), but for some yokai associated with traditional foods that are being replaced by trendy Western ones, it can be a matter of relevance or death. That's the theme for this week's episode of GeGeGe no Kitarō, which follows a trio of azuki bean-themed yokai who have largely fallen out of the popular imagination.
In mythology, Azuki-Arai, Azuki-Babaa, and Azuki-Hakari are all variants on the same theme. Azuki-Arai is “the bean washer,” and can be heard washing azuki beans by the riverside. He's largely harmless and very shy, similar to Azuki-Hakari (the bean counter), who scatters beans in attics and other empty rooms. Azuki-Babaa (the bean hag) is a much more sinister figure – not only can she be heard washing the beans, but she also sings her ghastly song in the mist by the river; if you hear it and keep going, she'll eat you. This episode of Kitaro makes the trio much more harmless, possibly in a nod to the fact that they've largely been forgotten by people who eschew azuki-filled pastry for custard and cream. (Incidentally, combining custard, cream, and azuki in a pastry is delicious.) The opening scene of a man and his son walking by the river both today and in the past shows that very clearly: in the past, both father and son are alarmed by the sound of the bean washing; in the present, they're too involved in their phones to really notice.
This would be depressing for anyone, but for yokai whose entire existence is based around people hearing them washing azuki beans, it's catastrophic, at least emotionally. Regretfully this makes them perfect targets for Rat Man, who's out looking for “chumps” to use in his latest dumb scheme to become an Oo-Tube producer. He lures in the hapless trio by promising that their fame will eventually allow them to promote azuki beans, but you and I know that he's very likely got no such altruistic intentions. Remember, kids – nothing good ever comes of hitching your wagon to Rat Man.
What follows is basically a story about how change can't be stopped, but you can work with it. The azuki yokai do manage to become Oo-Tube stars (via vague humiliation), but that doesn't do much for their eventual goal. At one point Azuki-Babaa breaks off and becomes Azuki Grandma, a “singing” sensation, and that does work a bit better – not only does it appeal to the constant need for novelty and entertainment (and an old lady idol is definitely that), but it also ties in to Azuki-Babaa's own myth, where her singing is what lures people in and makes them her prey. In this case, they're her prey in a marketing sense: she uses her popularity to see azuki sweets.
Azuki-Arai, however, can't quite bring himself to work within modern standards. In what I hope isn't a nod to that really gross and upsetting Skittles commercial where the guy gets “Skittles pox,” he begins causing people to break out in azuki beans. Not only does this get Kitaro's attention, but it also speaks to Azuki-Arai's frustration – he can't reach people, so he'll punish them instead for not understanding him. His friends do eventually talk him down (and who knew Azuki-Babaa could say anything besides “azuki?”), and in the end they do find a way to make what they truly love doing – washing beans – work for them in the modern world. But underneath this story is a tale about how the world changes, and that's not always easy for people to accept. Things have changed very quickly in the last fifty-odd years, and while that can sometimes lead to stories like we've seen in earlier episodes about humans forgetting the power of the supernatural world, it can also cause the supernatural world its own torment. We're all in this together, the azuki yokai story tells us, and even if the solution to making that work isn't perfect, it is one worth finding.
GeGeGe no Kitarō is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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