GeGeGe no Kitarō
by Rebecca Silverman,
How would you rate episode 34 of
GeGeGe no Kitarō (TV 2018) ?
Remember, everyone: your flatulence is a weapon, and one you must take great care not to misuse. It can't all be farts saving butterflies and stopping bank robbers, after all. It's also kind of an odd moral to this otherwise serious episode of GeGeGe no Kitarō, and one I assume was thrown in to make some of the more difficult subject matter a little less harsh for the audience, because although the show has touched on bullying and anti-immigrant sentiment before, Rat Man's storyline this time might hit kids a little closer to home. It's time for the annual yokai retreat, and the other yokai tell Rat Man that he's not welcome this year, due to his totally gross gaseous emissions in the hot spring last year, which effectively ruined things for everyone else. Rat Man doesn't appear to understand that he did anything wrong until the trip gets cancelled entirely and he's told to stop complaining about it because he wasn't going to be allowed to go anyway. That hits Rat Man hard – he's even got a bag packed for the trip, so he clearly didn't expect that his bad behavior would have any effect. And in all fairness, it isn't necessarily something that he could control, as anyone with a gastrointestinal disorder can tell you. But he's hurt and angry and he needs someone to blame who isn't himself, and conveniently for him, there's an easy person available: Agnes.
As an outsider, and one who some of the Japanese yokai see as having brought trouble to their shores, the witch is the perfect person for Rat Man to blame. With a little help from Carmilla (who, yes, he should never have trusted, but she fed him), Rat Man helps to orchestrate a yokai rebellion, handing Kitaro an ultimatum: Agnes must go. From an adult perspective, or that of a child who currently has reason to be afraid, this looks very much like political commentary. Much like the episode about the Middle Eastern refugees, GeGeGe no Kitarō mines current events and uses the supernatural elements of the show to frame them in a way kids can understand. Agnes is “from away” and “not one of us,” therefore, she doesn't deserve the protection afforded to Japanese yokai.
Taken differently, this can also be read as a way to interpret the social waters of the average middle school. Rat Man feels excluded from what he saw as his group, thrown over for someone new and different. While he may understand that he did something wrong, he can't grasp why it was bad, and that leaves him with frustration, anger, and sadness, which in turn leads him to make some very bad decisions. That he's ultimately able to save the day, to enable Kitaro to break Backbeard's hold on Agnes (literally, since she's trapped behind the lens of his gargantuan eye) is his redemption both in his own eyes and in those of his friend group – sure, he's gross, but he's a gross that ultimately belongs to them.
It's too bad that the rest of the episode's events, primarily Backbeard kidnapping and turning Kitaro's friends against him, isn't handled quite as well. That's not to say that it's not good; it just doesn't quite flow with the rest of the narrative. None of the yokai Backbeard takes seem to have any strong feelings towards Agnes either way, and while Sand Witch is perhaps the most beloved by the other yokai, there's not a ton of rhyme or reason other than recognizability on our part. Of course, what he's really interested in doing is appealing to Agnes herself; he knows that she's basically kind-hearted, and he wants to her to see her new protectors' in-fighting as her fault. This is where he figures without Agnes' own strength of character, however – the minute she sees that Kitaro is willing to call her a friend and fight for her, Backbeard has lost any fear he might hold over her.
That's also behind her decision to finally tell Kitaro what's going on next week. It's clear from the end of this episode that Backbeard has major plans for Agnes, plans she's been keeping to herself. Now that she feels she can trust Kitaro, I fully expect her to try to leave and the rest of the gang to keep her right where she is, but we'll have to wait and see. At least now we know that they can always have Rat Man fart on someone to save the day.
GeGeGe no Kitarō is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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