GeGeGe no Kitarō is a classic manga with a long history of different adaptations, but this newest series is surprisingly relevant to the modern day. This week, Nick and Steve explain why you should check out this unusually biting kids' horror anthology.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network. Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead. Not Safe For Work warning for language.
You can read our weekly coverage of GeGeGe no Kitarō here!
Hey Nick, there happens to be something strange going on in my neighborhood. I feel like I should know who to call, but it's not coming to mind. Any ideas?
Well, my first instinct would be Yusuke Urameshi, but I do have a good backup in case he's busy.
It's everyone's favorite diminutive one-eyed yokai lad, Kitaro! And he's back with a brand new anime! Or at least he was 11 weeks ago, so I don't know how "new" you'd call that. We're finally getting around to talking about it, is what I'm saying.
I think it's still fair to call this incarnation new. It seems just about every decade we get a new Kitaro anime, but this time it's finally available in English legally, free to spook new audiences along with old fans.
And spook it does because, and I was rather surprised to learn this considering the kids-show time slot, Gegege no Kitaro goes hard as fuck.
It gets gnarly. And while I only had a passing knowledge of Kitaro and the gang when I started, the show acclimates you to the strange world of yokai pretty quickly. It more or less follows a monster of the week format, with each episode introducing a new yokai that somebody manages to disturb, leaving it up to Kitaro to try and restore balance. But this format belies some surprisingly frank and pointed episodes filled with genuinely scary monsters and relevant social commentary. It's a kids show, but it's a really darn good kids show.
Production schedules being what they are, this might not have been a direct reference, but I certainly admire Kitaro's prescience in understanding that dumbass social media influencers doing dumb shit for clicks is one of the modern world's unique evils. In fact, the way this new anime adapts the classic yokai staples to a distinctly modern setting is one of its most interesting aspects. I'm used to legacy projects like this just slapping a new coat of paint on iconic characters and calling it a day (lookin at you, Cutie Honey Universe), but Kitaro actively engages with how the world has changed since the manga first came out.
Yeah! It takes a measured look at how the yokai of folklore would interact with the modern world, and not just in a "what are these smartphone things?" kind of way.
(tho there is still some of that)
But in the screenshots you posted above, that yokai used to haunt people to make them busy to the point where they would ignore their family and friends. But now he doesn't go outside anymore, because the world is already full of people who overwork themselves willingly at the expense of the rest of their lives. It's a really smart take on modern corporate culture by way of a cautionary tale.
It's also a key part of an episode about a corrupt office manager exploiting yokai labor, which is not something I expected from Japanese Scooby Doo.
I'm just glad at least one show is telling kids to watch out for the evils of late-stage kappatalism.
But for me, the most entertaining part of Kitaro is just how much ground it covers with its episodic structure, taking nearly every episode as a chance to tackle a new type of conflict or even genre.
Like in that episode, you get something silly like disenfranchised kappas trying to take over the world by stealing everyone's souls out of their butts.
But then another is an eerie horror story about an abusive boss being literally dragged to hell by the vengeful spirits of the employees he drove to suicide.
YEAH. THAT HAPPENS.
And it somehow pulls off both tones seamlessly, balancing humor and horror better than most anime in recent memory.
Kitaro may be a show for kids, but its gloves are off more often than not. And I have a lot of respect for a story that respects its audience. It doesn't sugarcoat the severity of really harmful stuff like bullying, and Kitaro hammers this point home by telling a girl at the end of the that episode that if she keeps bullying her classmate, she'll suffer the same fate as the abusive boss did.
It's not subtle, but it's necessarily effective.
It's exactly my kind of shit too: moral parables mired in horror imagery and some genuinely unsettling direction and sound design. The best part is that episodes are entirely standalone, so even if folks don't want to devote themselves to following a 50+ episode series you can still get everything out of a weekly adventure.
Yeah, not every story is a slam dunk, but when it's good it's good. And overall, it maintains a really nice aesthetic with some occasionally cool storyboarding. There's a lot of talent working on this one, and it shows.
I was also surprised by how good it looks. Maybe I'm just used to all kids anime being cheap toy commercials, but Kitaro
features a ton of great direction and some excellent animation cuts in nearly every episode.
You can't underestimate kids anime! Lots of talented animators and directors got their start working on kids shows, from Kunihiko Ikuhara to Rie Matsumoto. Also, regardless of the intended audience, the story about Shiro was one of the saddest episodes of this entire anime season.
For real, the last thing I expected from the spoopy ghost-fighting show was an emotionally devastating story about broken families and the desperation of loneliness to just show up and kick my teeth in.
I blame whatever sadistic monster made Shiro
so god damn cute.
It's a really sweet and sad story that touches on some real issues facing modern Japan. In this case, it's an aging population and the decline of small towns that led to Shiro unwittingly becoming a harmful yokai.
And if Golden Kamuy left you wanting for some good 2D animated wolf vs. bear action, GeGeGe no Kitaro has got your back there too.
It's heartwrenching, thoughtful, and left me in pieces after watching it. Even if the rest of Kitaro doesn't interest you, it's worth checking out as one of the best episodes of anything I've seen all year.
In the abstract, it's about recognizing that it's okay and even necessary to respect people who are different from you. It might seem kind of trite, but it's a super important message all the same!
Whether you're human or yokai, we can always find common ground. Like how no matter what, there's always at least one tsundere in your friend group.
One tsundere, one small eyeball man, one giant wall, one long strip of cloth, and Me:
Okay if I may take a moment to ask what's up with some of the localization though. Like granted, these are all super-literal descriptor names, but there had to be a better way to translate Nekomusume, right?
From what I understand, that's the translation they went with for the manga and I guess they wanted to stay consistent for the anime? But it also sucks and I absolutely refuse to call her that when there's zero reason why "Cat Girl" wouldn't work.
like if you called her "Catchick" to her face you'd probably get a faceful of this
And don't even get me started on Ratfuck here
Rat Man gonna Rat Man!
I also love that, if you look at the old anime from the '60s, Cat Girl got a major glow-up while Rat Man looks exactly the same.
Absolutely nobody likes Rat Man and I am here for it. Also kudos to Catchick-nee-san for telling him and
another stalker to piss off in no uncertain terms.
It's certainly something when an anime for children has a more no-nonsense stance on stalking and handling rejection than most media (anime or otherwise) for grown-ass adults.
It's just another one of those things I did not expect, but I'm so glad we got it. Kitaro has managed to surprise me in some way nearly every week, including the latest episode where they just decide to jump from yokai fables to a god damn kaiju movie.
a Godzilla movie except it also has militant gangster tanuki, so it's even better imo.
And in case that gif didn't make it clear: people died. A lot of people died and that's not even the first casualties from yokai shenanigans in this show. I'm just so used to kid-oriented horror being sanitized and low-stakes that I was not ready to see an elder god wipe out a significant chunk of Tokyo.
Look, I know a family-aimed anime with a silly refrain in its OP, based on a manga that's over half a century old, is hardly what the average Western anime fan is going to gravitate towards. BUT I highly encourage everyone to check it out. It's smart, it's scary, it's badass, it's kindhearted, and it's delightfully weird. Give it a shot!
Who could say no to this smile?