Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
GeGeGe no Kitarō
Episodes 52-61 streaming
Although Nanashi has at last been dealt with and Backbeard seems to have been vanquished, there's still no shortage of problems for Kitaro and his friends to solve – or cause, if the friend in question is Rat Man. Human/yokai relations are never easy, and with confidence tricksters, money-hungry businessmen, and teenage boys who really ought to know better, Kitaro, Mana, and Cat Girl all have their hands full. And that's not even mentioning Rei, the boy who can absorb yokai into his body and use their powers – he's hovering in the background right now, but that can only last for so long.
GeGeGe no Kitarō marked its first year of revival by introducing a new villain and a bad bargain for Kitaro – and there's a very good chance that those two things will eventually come together in ways that are dangerous for not only the humans but also the yokai of Japan, not the least reason for it being that Kitaro's deal is with none other than Enma-O, the ruler of Hell. These threats, however, have largely taken a back seat since their introduction in episodes fifty and fifty-one, making for a stretch of stories that bear more resemblance to the initial run of the 2018 reboot – tales dealing with specific yokai and their interactions with the humans they encounter. The primary difference is that now Kitaro has come to accept Mana's presence as a human and to respect, if not even like, her, and that gives him more of an emotional stake in his work helping humans.
That's not, however, to say that he isn't still conflicted. In fact, if anything, he appears to be more so. While he certainly understands that Mana was not acting under her own power (or with her own will) when she killed Cat Girl at the end of the previous season, he's also encountering some yokai who have legitimate problems with humanity in general or specific humans. The two episodes that perhaps best show this are those dealing with the Dorotabo and Ushirogami, episodes fifty-four and fifty-nine respectively. Dorotabo's story is the most traditional in the way that it uses its yokai – in folklore, they're the ghosts of old farmers who are angry that their fields have been left fallow or destroyed by future generations, with the folkloric implication being that their descendants are lazy. In a more modern context, however, it's easy to make the change from “lazy farmers” to “environmental depredations,” which is what episode fifty-four does. The goal of the Dorotabo is to encourage the sale of the land to someone who will farm it (and thereby take care of it) properly, so it feels safe to say that they'd be even more enraged by fields and gravesites being torn up for non-farming purposes, e.g. development. While the mythical Dorotabo limits himself to moaning “Give me back my fields!” in the night, the version in the show is much more destructive, making his displeasure known by actively harming the humans who are causing the perceived destruction. Again, this escalation makes sense with a modern reading of the yokai, and this explains why Kitaro himself seems so uncertain of what he wants to do about it. While he does ultimately do his job, he doesn't take any feelings of satisfaction from it, and the episode leaves it ambiguous as to whether or not he did the right thing. Metaphorically we can see the story as questioning the value of completely abandoning the old ways for modernity – and since Kitaro himself is very much of those old folkways, it should make us wonder if he's thinking about the implications for himself and his forest as well.
The issue raised in episode fifty-nine, which centers on the yokai Ushirogami, is a rather different one. Ushirogami is a fear yokai, specifically haunting cowardly people by showing up behind them and frightening them. (The name translates to “behind god.”) In the case of GeGeGe no Kitarō, that's more of a prophecy than a statement of purpose – the Ushirogami in the episode doesn't start out that way, but absolutely ends by fulfilling her name. (Folkloric Ushirogami are genderless, but the show makes theirs female.) She's taken on human form to better cope with a changing world – making her the Dorotabo's opposite – and becomes prey for a conman who goes after lonely young women and robs them of their savings. Being naïve about such human behaviors, Ushirogami believes that the man really loved her and will come back, and so she begins to feed people she believes are in the way of that to her yokai cactus until Kitaro, Cat Girl, and Mana stop her and convince her of the truth. The fact that she ends up haunting the man who broke her heart is a nice callback to her origins as a yokai; he's ultimately a coward, and she'll be behind him for the rest of his life. Interestingly she's the first of two fear-based yokai to show up in this set of episodes, with Buruburu, a yokai who embodies the onomatopoeia for “shiver” in Japanese, showing up in episode sixty.
Ushirogami's episode has some interesting implications about Rat Man, Kitaro's fair-weather friend, in her innocence about humanity's ability to lie and scam. Although other yokai like the vampires and Han-Gyojin are also capable of scheming for their own purposes, no one is as committed to it as Rat Man. While this is often the cause of his own downfall (and at times Kitaro's near-death, as we see at least twice in these episodes), it's also perhaps indicative of his half-human heritage. Mana, it would seem to imply, is the exception rather than the rule when it comes to humans, a theory borne out in episode sixty-one when idol Kana thinks that she needs to outdo her bandmates in order to be truly successful rather than contribute to their success as a unit. Kana, with the help of Tofu-Kozo, does come to realize that there are better things than personal fame, but it takes the whole episode to get there, while Tofu-Kozo never questions his own validity as a yokai, even if his role is simply to walk around carrying a block of tofu. Yokai, the subtext seems to read, understand who they are and are happy with that – not unambitious (just look at Sand Witch's savings!), but also not needing fame to salve their pride. It's humans who can't find contentment as they are.
While there are obviously exceptions on both sides, this point may turn out to be central to both of the plot threads introduced in the two episodes previous to this set, Rei and Kitaro's deal with Enma-O. With Backbeard perhaps not as gone as we might hope he was (and certainly the two vampire episodes would seem to confirm that) and Rei's angst and anger brewing inside of him, it's a concept that needs to be watched as the story moves forward. GeGeGe no Kitarō isn't a show to shy away from difficult subjects, whether those be growing up and the resentment thereof, angry environmental spirits, or humanity's overwhelming need to meddle in that which they really should leave alone – or even the “rewards” that come to the undeserving. Rei's almost certainly in for a hard lesson down the road. We'll just have to hope that Kitaro doesn't join him in learning the dangers of a bad bargain.
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : A-
Animation : B+
Art : A-
Music : B+
+ Thoughtful family show that doesn't talk down to its audience, good use of old stories reworked for modern audiences
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