GeGeGe no Kitarō
by Rebecca Silverman,
How would you rate episode 4 of
GeGeGe no Kitarō (TV 2018) ?
One of the things I find particularly fascinating about GeGeGe no Kitarō's 2018 reboot is the way that it handles the updated world. This episode doesn't play with conventions of modern society like the previous three did, but instead focuses on what's been lost – belief in and knowledge of the yokai world. This is done through Yuta, the little boy who initially suggested that Mana contact Kitaro based on stories his grandmother told him. He was present when Mana mailed the letter, but she hasn't really told him anything since then, and he's determined to find out if she really met Kitaro, since he has reason to suspect after the whole people turning into trees thing got resolved. Mana knows she's not supposed to tell other humans about the yokai, but doesn't Yuta deserve to know?
This leads to Yuta going on an Alice's Adventures in Wonderland-style journey to the GeGeGe Forest. (Actually, it feels like a blend of Alice and My Neighbor Totoro, which is pretty cool and eminently appropriate.) Kitaro himself may not be thrilled that a human kid has found his way into the yokai realm, but the older yokai recognize this as a precious rarity: a modern child who is familiar with the old stories. That's why Eyeball Dad wants Kitaro to take him around, a point driven home when Yuta is eventually told to ask his grandmother if he wants to know more about the yokai – it is through the passing of folk knowledge from one generation to the next that stories like Kitaro's survive.
That's kind of metafictional, given that this story is likely being watched by the children and grandchildren of people who saw older incarnations of it. Essentially, Kitaro's franchise is surviving because people are passing it down from one generation to the next, and the late creator of the manga series would certainly have been aware of that based on his folkloric expertise. Younger viewers of this episode might not make the connection, but that doesn't mean it isn't there, and if it encourages kids to ask someone older about the folklore of their youth, the message has been relayed.
As far as the main action of the episode, it's not quite as exciting as some of the threats Mana and Kitaro have faced, but it's still got some scary moments – Yama Jijii is frankly terrifying in appearance, even in his smaller and presumably less creepy form. He stands out among the other yokai Yuta meets because of this – even though one of them wants to eat him, he's not particularly creepy in appearance, and most of the yokai just look exaggerated rather than genuinely scary. That really works in the plot's favor, since Yuta has demonstrated that he could have known better than to pick the fruit, when he steps aside for the invisible monster following him and proves his Granny's knowledge of yokai etiquette. It also seems likely that the fruit was somehow enchanted to make Yuta desire it – he should have suspected that taking anything from the land of the otherworldly people would be a mistake, plus he's been told explicitly by Kitaro not to touch anything. I'd blame Rat Man (because let's be honest, it's usually his fault), but we see that he's caught up in Yama Jijii's anger as well, so maybe it's just the fruit itself.
Whatever the reason, this is one of the better uses of the “but it was just a dream (right?)” trope that I've seen in recent memory. That's partly due to the visual and narrative shout-outs to both Alice and Totoro, but also because it delivers a heartening message to not forget the old stories. I really hope we get to meet Yuta's grandmother at some point and learn her history, but in the meantime, it looks like next week we'll get to actually blame Rat Man for the troubles to be visited upon the human world.
GeGeGe no Kitarō is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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