Kitaro: Kitaro’s Yokai Battles

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

This is not the first time that we’ve seen Shigeru Mizuki write himself and his family into a manga. Heck, it’s not even the first time he’s been in Kitaro. But the story “Oboro Guruma”, which is the highlight of this volume, really takes it further and involves Mizuki in the most metatextual way possible. At a coffeeshop he’s going to to avoid work and family (remember, no one puts himself down quite like Mizuki does), he runs afoul of the yakuza, but is saved by… Kitaro and Nezumi Otoko, who are in the same coffeeshop. He brings them home and lets them stay with his family, and they start to bond with the local neighbors. But then the entire town is covered in a strange gas, isolating it from the rest of Japan. The story alternates between what’s actually happening (it’s a yokai – try to contain your shock) and how Mizuki is dealing with it (by being somewhat weak and lazy – again, try to contain your shock).

Every single review of these titles I seem to talk about Nezumi Otoko, so I will confine myself this time to noting that the volume opens with him seeing Kitaro on a horse, hitting him over the head with a club, dope slapping him, and stealing the horse. It’s so beautifully in character I wanted to cry. Instead, though, I will talk about Kitaro, who actually isn’t at his best here. Kitaro tends to be a cypher at the best of times, and while he can sometimes be pretty righteous for the most part he tends to go with the flow in a stoic sort of way. The usual Kitaro way of fighting is to somehow get killed/beaten up, come back in a weird supernatural way, and then find a way to defeat the yokai that did him harm. In this volume, though, he really seems to be put through the wringer, and there’s less of him being clever.

Kitaro as a manga tends to be somewhat silly, particularly in the resolutions, and this one tops itself quite a bit. I was highly amused at Kitaro almost getting killed by having teeth spit at him, and the poop gags that tend to be rife in shonen manga of this period are here as well, as at one point the victims of a yokai are excreted. Topping them all, though, is Kitaro getting the crap kicked out of him, to the point where his head is covered in bumps (cartoon-style)… and then having those bumps launch as missiles to counterattack. It’s so incredibly silly, and yet it also shows off the sheer brilliance of Mizuki’s imagination. He may confine himself to yokai here, but you see why – despite telling essentially the same story over and over (a yokai is doing bad things, Kitaro stops it), the series is never boring.

I believe that the next volume, out early next year, will be the final one in these omnibus collections. They’re all worth picking up. Kitaro is a style of manga that is both very reminiscent of the late 60s manga style and yet also timeless. It’s also very re-readable. Highly recommended.

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