GeGeGe no Kitarō
by Rebecca Silverman,
How would you rate episode 33 of
GeGeGe no Kitarō (TV 2018) ?
This week's episode of GeGeGe no Kitaro plays with a lot of themes, both in folkloric terms and those of the overall series. The story is about how Kitaro, Catgirl, Eyeball Dad, and the uninvited Rat Man and Agnes, all travel to a distant manor to save a young woman from having to marry Hakusanbo, a supposedly man-eating yokai. As it turns out, Yayoi is not only in love with someone else, but she also can't get out of the marriage because for all of her dad's complaints, he's the one who arranged it in the first place. When he was about to commit suicide, Hakusanbo appeared and offered him a life of restored wealth in exchange for his daughter's hand in marriage. Kitaro essentially pulls a line out of The Frog King and tells Yayoi and her dad that they're stuck – what has been promised must be fulfilled.
What's folklorically interesting about this is that typically the father pulls these stunts to teach his daughter a lesson – in the aforementioned Frog King story, the princess is a total brat who needs to learn graciousness, and in King Thrushbeard the situation is similar. In cases like Beauty and the Beast, there's more of a bride test element, but also a much more willing daughter – Beauty offers to go to the Beast to save her father's life. Probably the closest well-known fairy tale that relates to this episode is Rumpelstiltskin, where it's Dad's bragging that lands his daughter in a mess. This episode seems to draw from all of these sources equally, and it's worth mentioning that Animal Bridegroom stories are fairly prevalent in East Asian mythologies. Kitaro's hands are basically tied because the story has to progress the way it is told; bargains must be honored in the supernatural world, and there's nothing anyone can do about that.
Of course, nothing can be quite that simple. Agnes quickly notes that Yayoi is currently housing the Ring of Arcana in her body, which is a little weird, but allows the story to introduce the creepiest Western yokai to date: Buer. Buer is played as a mad doctor (yes, more than Victor Frankenstein), and it's scary enough when he's got Yayoi tied to the rusty operating table. But his demon form, as seen in the 16th century bestiary where he originates, is basically a hairy face surrounded by goat legs that he can rotate like spokes on a wheel. Some folklorists do tie him to the Japanese yokai Wanyudo (the flaming cartwheel), and it isn't hard to see why – it's just that the goat legs are about ten times more disturbing than fire as far as “things that poke out from your head” go.
The root of the story is a return to the overarching theme of how humans and yokai can coexist. Hakusanbo of course turns out to be the yokai Yayoi has been in love with since he saved her from drowning (and apparently he can take a more humanoid form than we see for most of the episode), and things end with her leaving to marry him. The Sand Witch points out to Kitaro that kitsune marry humans rather often, and that those marriages seem to work out just fine. And really, at this point the bigger issue seems to be whether Eastern and Western supernatural beings can get along more than whether or not humans and yokai can. Adele is easily able to bypass Sand Witch's yokai-proof barrier to kidnap Yayoi, and Agnes' different attitude towards interpersonal relationships has consistently been shown with her wanting to do things solo rather than cooperating. This week we see her gripe at Yayoi about how she's always putting herself down and ignoring what she herself wants, both of which visibly surprise not just Yayoi, but Kitaro's crew as well.
All of this is likely lead up for Backbeard's more dangerous invasion next week. In the meantime, keep an eye out for a sunshower – when rain falls even though the sun is shining. According to a few different East Asian folklores, when that happens, it means that a fox is getting married.
GeGeGe no Kitarō is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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