GeGeGe no Kitarō
by Rebecca Silverman,
How would you rate episode 44 of
GeGeGe no Kitarō (TV 2018) ?
This week's episode of GeGeGe no Kitarō has a message that's ageless, as in it's one that people of all ages could probably stand to be reminded of: the real you is worthwhile. Because it's this show that message is happily delivered without excessive cheesiness and a dollop of yokai danger – Atsushi, who has loved hero shows (specifically Go Go Man) since he was a kid, has ended up as part of a very manufactured pop idol duo. He's required to play the part of a goofy playboy, but that's completely at odds with who he really is, and after doing it for some time, he's begun to wonder if he's even “Atsushi” any more. His one consolation is his RAIN (presumably LINE) pal No No-kun, a fellow Go Go Man enthusiast…and a nopperabo Atsushi used to play with when he was little.
The nopperabo, or faceless yokai, is a perfect fit for the story. Faces are symbolically linked with identity (as well as in a very real sense), so Nopperabo's lack thereof makes him a good foil for Atsushi's own crisis. The difference is that despite not having facial features, he's got his own personality and concerns, while Atsushi feels like his (public) face has become a mask robbing him of those real-life things. As the two reforge their off-line friendship, Atsushi has to realize that the face he presents to the world doesn't have to cloak who he truly is, because Nopperabo's blank face certainly doesn't prevent him from being a good person no matter how many people are afraid of him. What the world sees doesn't have to dictate who you are.
Balancing this out is the fact that Atsushi's idol partner, Yu, is showing a handsome face when he's in fact the yokai known as Oshiroi Babaa. Again, this is a very apt choice for the message presented in the episode. Her name translates to “face powder hag,” and while she's not generally an evil yokai (in fact, in some regional legends she brings cold travelers hot sake), her name carries the implication of disguising one's true appearance with cosmetics. Add to this the fact that many white face powders were at one point made with either arsenic or lead (or both!) and the way that she uses poisons against Atsushi and Nopperabo makes a lot of sense, as does the fact that she preys primarily on young women, the typical target of cosmetics. Her disguise as Yu plays into this as well, because the idea that women need cosmetically-enhanced good looks to attract a handsome celebrity is well entrenched in many, if not most, cultures.
While there's definitely a little contradiction in the fact that Oshiroi Babaa has to disguise herself as Yu to get what she wants, the fact that what she wants is “human lives to eat” also drives home the point that Atsushi and Nopperabo liking things that adults aren't supposed to or looking a little scary aren't things to be ashamed of, because ultimately they don't cause anyone any harm. Just because society dictates that Atsushi should be over his Go Go Man obsession or that Nopperabo is weird and creepy doesn't mean that either of those things are true. When Atsushi embraces both himself and Nopperabo, he becomes a happier person, and so does Nopperabo, who regains the friend he thought he'd lost. The only ones who lose are those who can't accept things outside of their own worldview, and honestly, I think that's sadder for them than for Atsushi and his faceless friend.
Being true to yourself is both important and good, this episode says, especially if you're not trying to, you know, eat people. That's a message worth hearing no matter who you are – adult, child, adult who feels like a child, or Cat Girl, trying desperately to get Kitaro to notice that she likes him.
GeGeGe no Kitarō is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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