Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Kitaro the Vampire Slayer
Kitaro finally meets his match in this fifth collection of curated stories from the 1960s and 70s: vampires! As a variety of vampiric creatures from different folkloric traditions infiltrate Japan, Kitaro finds that he's more likely to be turned than to prevail. The unlikely hero? Nezumi Otoko, whose off-again-on-again relationship with Kitaro makes him both friend and enemy in this volume.
It had to happen sometime: the great yokai Kitaro would eventually meet someone he couldn't easily defeat. As it turns out, that's an entire race of yokai – vampires. Perhaps it's his more human attributes, or simply his relative youth, but Kitaro goes up against a variety of bloodsuckers in this fifth curated volume of stories and comes out distinctly lacking. That's an interesting reversal of the usual role he plays in these tales, and it gives both Medama Oyaji and Nezumi Otoko a chance to shine.
With Nezumi Otoko, that's something he badly needs. While he hasn't been strictly a villain in the stories released thus far, he's also been more against Kitaro than with him, at least in terms of being on the side of good. That's a basic part of his character – like the rat whose name he bears, Nezumi Otoko is all about ensuring his own survival and best interests, and if that means he has to eat from the garbage in a figurative sense, then that's what he'll do. He's a survivor first and last. What that means for him in this volume, specifically in the first, and longest, story in the book The Vampire Eryt from 1967, is that he has to switch sides, at times playing a back-and-forth game with his allegiances. Eryt initially seems like the safer bet, but when he almost succeeds in extinguishing Kitaro, Nezumi Otoko has to seriously rethink which side is the one more likely to win. Ultimately he does always choose the one we're meant to see as “right,” but even here he's just as likely to be the one to facilitate the problem in the first place. Vampires, certain lore says, have to be invited in, and in the case of Eryt and Kitaro, Nezumi Otoko has definitely done the inviting.
For his part, Kitaro does try. In the Eryt story, he's meant to be guarding the Minister of Defense from the vampire when Nezumi Otoko suggests that Eryt take Kitaro out instead. This leads to Kitaro's near-death, taking him out of the fight relatively early on. In the Phantom Train story (not to be confused with the ghost train of the 2018 anime's seventh episode), Kitaro is quickly turned into a vampire and Medama Oyaji has to figure out how to save both him and Japan from a group of vampires, including a Marilyn Monroe lookalike and an Eastern vampire known as Pii. He fares better against the Ubume (the only non-vampiric yokai in the book) and the Ushiro Gami, but the implication is that when faced with a creature from an Occidental mythology, Kitaro struggles a bit more than with yokai he's more familiar with.
The Eryt story also has some interesting political undercurrents that may have some bearing on Kitaro's ineffectiveness against him. When the story opens, Nezumi Otoko has found a ten-yen coin on the ground, only to discover that everything now costs fifteen yen, much to his annoyance. That's fairly typical for Nezumi Otoko, but shortly thereafter he runs into Kitaro, who is scavenging through the garbage in order to find food. When the Minister of Defense offers Kitaro a job protecting him from Eryt, Kitaro just wants to be paid in food to alleviate his starvation. More interestingly is the fact that the Minister specifically, and at more than one point, offers Kitaro full Japanese citizenship as a reward for his work. This implication that yokai are somehow not Japanese citizens is an interesting one, because they've been living in Japan since before humans arrived. It smacks of a form of colonialism, where the yokai are the indigenous people and the humans the colonizers, and it also may speak to the global culture of the late 1960s. Either way, it's a disturbing thought and an idea worth paying attention to, because it says a lot about the relationship between Kitaro and the humans he helps.
While there are plenty of goofier aspects in this volume, such as Medama Oyaji getting flushed into a sewer filled with human waste and a little boy calling Kitaro because he's been wetting the bed, the stories feel a little more serious than in the previous graphic novel. Possibly this is simply because Kitaro is less successful than usual, but from Eryt's mind-controlling music (those darn kids and their rock-and-roll!) to the Ubume swallowing and kidnapping children, there's a darker tone to the book overall. This is to a degree reflected in Mizuki's art, primarily of Eryt's Gothic manse, but by far the most interesting artistic detail, apart from Pii's entire design, is the fact that vampires don't have two sharp fangs, but mouths full of shark teeth. This gives a whole meaning to the way these vampires ingest blood.
Kitaro the Vampire Slayer not only gives Kitaro a foe he can't easily face, but it also brings a Mizuki twist to a well-known supernatural creature. Both are reasons to read the book, and the long Eryt story makes the volume feel less episodic in nature. Even when Kitaro isn't able to save the day, reading about his adventures is a good time.
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : A-
+ Interesting vampire imagery, Pii's character design is fascinating, Nezumi Otoko gets to play a different role
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