Kitaro Meets Nurarihyon

By Shigeru Mizuki. Released in Japan as “Gegege no Kitaro” by (among others) Kodansha, serialized in various magazines. Released in North America by Drawn & Quarterly. Translated by Zack Davisson.

It is interesting reading these old late 1960s Kitaro manga, showing off the wonders and terrors of yokai to a Japanese audience, now that we are in something of a yokai glut here in North America. Oh, yokai are never going to pass vampires, or even monster girls. But you get things like Kamisama Kiss, which puts yokai in a supernatural shoujo romance. And Natsume’s Book of Friends, almost a spiritual successor to Kitaro, as he walks around solving problems and getting involved despite himself. And of course there’s the Shonen Jump series Nurarihyon no Mago, which wasn’t a huge hit, but got over 20 volumes, so could be said to be a mild hit in Japan. It did alright here as well.


The Nurarihyon seen here on the cover is of the same type as Nura from the Jump manga (or, to be more accurate, Nura’s grandfather, who fits the stereotype better), but of course this Nurarihyon is not remotely a hero. He’s closer to the actual legend, an old man who walks into your house, drinks your tea, acts as if he owns the place, and leaves. Compared to the other yokai we see in this volume, he doesn’t have that many superpowers, but that just makes it all the more chilling when he gets rid of Kitaro and Nezumi Otoko so easily. Of course, Kitaro *is* the hero, so he manages to escape and trap Nurarihyon in a place he’s not going to be coming back from anytime soon. In fact, I would argue Kitaro’s solution is equally chilling.

These stories sometimes do feel their age, and not just due to the technology of the times. Kitaro is very much a morally ambiguous hero, getting involved when it looks as if humans are directly threatened with yokai but otherwise mostly getting pulled into things by the morally corrupt Nezumi Otoko, who even this early in the series has made his transition from rapscallion to scallywag, so to speak. He’s such a lovable creature you want to forgive him for being a greedy gluttonous and occasionally murderous swine. Oh yes, and somewhat sexist as well – one story has an old yokai try to seduce Nezumi Otoko merely as she’s watched a TV show with a May-December romance and wanted more fun in her life. Kitaro’s response amounts to “you are an ugly old woman, back where you came from!”, which left a sour taste in my mouth. Kitaro, at this point in the series, does not really reach for sentiment.

It does have plenty of creepy scares, though. The Wanyudo has always freaked me out a bit, and so seeing it in a story involving supposed lost diamonds made me shiver. And did I mention vampires earlier? Well, there’s one here, who’s employing Nezumi Otoko to find him fresh victims, but he runs afoul of a hair-based yokai who’s actually succeeded in possessing Kitaro (is this going to happen once a volume?). In essence, though, what we have here is Kitaro as he was at the height of his powers – warts and all. If you appreciate manga history, or just want a good spooky book for your kids, this is a great title to pick up.

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