GeGeGe no Kitarō
Episodes 1-3

by Rebecca Silverman,

How would you rate episode 1 of
GeGeGe no Kitarō (TV 2018) ?

How would you rate episode 2 of
GeGeGe no Kitarō (TV 2018) ?

How would you rate episode 3 of
GeGeGe no Kitarō (TV 2018) ?

Whether it's 1960 or 2018, our most basic fears don't change—only how we visualize them. That's part of what makes the 2018 incarnation of Shigeru Mizuki's classic children's horror manga so interesting; it features the same yokai and the same threats, but they're presented in a way that works for an audience with smartphones and the internet rather than the Cold War and television sets. The things the darkness hides are still out there, they just have different ways of getting to us.

Our doorway into this show (which is a really good idea to have, given that not everyone will have read the manga) is Mana, a girl in her early teens who sort of stumbles into the yokai world when people start mysteriously turning into trees in Tokyo, and her friends tell her about the urban myth of the yokai mailbox. Supposedly if you write a letter to “Kitaro” and put it in a creepy old mailbox, a yokai will come and help with your supernatural problems. Mana's pretty no-nonsense, so she's not sure she believes them, but everyone's freaked out enough that she agrees to give it a try—lo and behold, the next thing she knows, Kitaro's there.

These three episodes all tell stand-alone stories, but they also contribute to what looks like an overarching plot for the season—there's a mysterious being who wants to take out Kitaro. In episode one, he gets shot with an arrow that nearly kills him, which is seriously unusual for the last surviving member of the Ghost Tribe. Episode two reveals that the red pentagram drawn on the arrow gives it this power, and episode three shows us the creepy face of the black-cloaked figure behind it all. It isn't so much that each episode builds on the other as they're all clearly pointing us toward a specific goal; who Kitaro fights along the way thus far doesn't matter much.

What's more important is why Kitaro's been called back to the human realm: people are being stupid. In all three episodes, yokai incursions on the human world are caused by old seals being removed, thus freeing the monsters. In two cases, humans are directly to blame. Episode one's seal is broken by a YouTuber angling for views, and episode three's is just good old-fashioned corporate ignorance when a mountain gets cut into for concrete. The beast in episode two's seal is removed thanks to Kitaro's pseudo-nemesis Rat Man in a fit of his usual hubris; he decides to pee the seal off a rock. (And damn, he can piss like a racehorse.) That's very much in keeping with Rat Man as a character; his role is to get suckered into doing the bidding of Miage-Nyudo, a much smarter yokai, and he nearly destroys the world in the process.

In keeping with Rat Man being one of the series' goofier characters, his episode is the least scary. While Miage-Nyudo is creepy enough, and he is sending humans to the spirit realm, emptying out concert halls is much less frightening than people turning into trees or children being sucked into the pavement and used as stone pillars for a yokai castle. The trees from episode one are the scariest piece of the series thus far, in part because the visuals are so well-done, but also because we don't know exactly why it's happening until the last minute. Yes, the YouTuber broke the seal, but for most of the episode, it looks as if taking pictures of the trees with a smartphone is what triggers the reaction, when in truth the phones are simply a distraction from the vampiric yokai who's actually the problem. It's still making a statement about seeing the world solely through your phone, but the implication is that it's how technology captures our attention, not that the technology itself is bad.

That's also part of the message of episode three, where Mana realizes what's going on long before Kitaro does. She and Cat Girl (sorry, I can't call her “Cat Chick,” what were they thinking?) became texting buddies at the end of episode two, which allows her to bypass the yokai mailbox in a nice bit of modernization. Kitaro isn't thrilled with the budding friendship between the two girls, which at first seems to stem from a generalized dislike of humans, but as it turns out, it's because he likes Mana that he's trying to drive her away. When she becomes one of the pillars, he's forced to reconcile with the fact that he does need her help and he does care about her. While Eyeball Dad and Cat Girl seem to think that maybe it's not just friendship, at this point that doesn't matter—Kitaro and Mana have formed their own Scooby Squad going forward.

“Children's Horror” is a genre that some people have a hard time believing can be actually scary. Given the success of Shigeru Mizuki or some of his western equivalents like Mary Downing Hahn and Dan Poblocki, there's plenty of precedent for this to be a delightful creepy show, and thus far it is living up to its potential. While there are a few jokes for the older viewers (all of those “drain your battery” gags from episode two come to mind), this is largely focused on bringing Mizuki's brand of yokai horror to a new generation. Once you learn to see what's really there, things can take on a whole new meaning—from old seals on forgotten stones to the hollow clop-clop of wooden shoes in the night.

Rating: A-

GeGeGe no Kitarō is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


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