Kitaro: The Trial of Kitaro

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 the final volume of D&Q’s Kitaro collections, and, while Kitaro has never really been serialized in a plot or characterization way, it picks an apt final story to end on. The largest story in the book is the titular Trial, where Kitaro is brought up against the Yokai Supreme Court and charged with helping humans at the cost of yokai. Which, admittedly, there’s a grain of truth to. A number of Kitaro’s adventures have featured him helping hapless humans who are being used and/or outright tortured by yokai – indeed, we’ll see some later in this collection. That said, no surprises for guessing who’s really gotten Kitaro into this mess. After much foofaraw, the trial ends with Kitaro agreeing that he will not only help innocent humans beset by yokai, but also the reverse – such as not helping the shady TV producers who are manipulated by Nezumi Otoko into the documentary stat starts this all off.

As this is the final Kitaro review I’m writing up (presumably), I’d like to expound once again on Nezumi Otoko, the Donald Duck to Kitaro’s Mickey Mouse. The trial story features perhaps Nezumi Otoko at his most iconic – setting up the entire situation in the first place for cash, teaming up with an even worse yokai, framing Kitaro and testifying against him, and then quickly rolling over when things turn against him. Of all the many and varied yokai we’ve seen over the course of the series, Nezumi Otoko’s actions are perhaps the most jaw-dropping – even the evil yokai are more consistent in what they do day to day. But of course Kitaro gives the reason why Nezumi Otoko is who he is – he’s half human, and it’s the humanity in him that makes him crafty and a bit of a complete snake. That said, for Kitaro to continually hang out with him after everything shows he has the patience of a saint… or that Nezumi Otoko has the love of the author.

The rest of the stories in the volume are more typical, featuring the classic Kitaro way of doing things… get devoured and killed by the enemy, then come back and do something about it. The most interesting story other than the trial episode has to deal with a cursed toilet in the middle of the woods (yes, really) and Kitaro also losing all his hair… which, as is pointed out by Nezumi Otoko, is one of the sources of his strength. Honestly, without it he’s almost unrecognizable. I also liked the story of the merman who blackmails/tortures Kitaro into getting him fish, and actually ends up living in a mansion as a human. This leads to the dark punchline where Kitaro agrees to turn him INTO a human, and then the merman finding out that life as a human is not all that greater after all. Also, watch out for the cute maid working in the merman’s mansion who walks off with Kitaro in the end – Mizuki rarely drew cute girls in this series.

The seven volumes of Kitaro released over here, as well as the compilation that came first, do so much to show off the strengths of Shigeru Mizumi as an artist and storyteller. They’re a must for any library. Ge! Ge! Ge-ge-ge-no-geeeeee…

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.

Kitaro: Kitaro the Vampire Slayer

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.

I’m sure that if I looked at my previous reviews of Kitaro they would find me saying the same thing as I’m about to say here, so I apologize for the repetition, but I love Nezumi Otoko. He is the number one reason to read this series, even more than the cool adventure plots of the weird, goody and terrifying yokai. And that is simply because he is SO TERRIBLE. He is just the worst. When Mizuki wrote his Hitler book, and needed a narrator who could enchant the reader while still being able to get away with throwing his arms around Hitler as if they’re buddies, there was only one real choice. This volume shows Mezumi Otoko getting in a fight with Kitaro (meaning he slaps him across the chops – his signature move), team up with the titular vampire, sell out his friend and have Kitaro reduced to a skull, etc. Even when he is supposedly on the side of our hero, you’re reminded that his stench is repellent and his farts are lethal. He’s so much fun.

In non-Nezumi Otoko discussion of this new volume of Kitaro, I admit that when I saw the cover, I was expecting more of a Beatles parody than I actually got. Sure the vampire has a Beatle haircut, and carries a guitar with tempting music, but otherwise he’s just a garden-variety Mizuki villain. Not that this is entirely a bad thing, as Mizuki’s yokai can be real pieces of work – Kitaro needs a lot of help to triumph here. There’s also a second vampire story in the book involving, of all things, a vampire Marilyn Monroe. Kitaro needs a lot of help here as well – in fact, in this book, his eyeball father may get more heroic things to do than he does. But sadly, such is the way of adventure thrillers, where the new villain has to be shown to be impressive by making mincemeat of the hero – at first.

The last two stories in the book feature Kitaro in a bit more of a heroic mode. All the stories, however, are exemplary in their economy. The non-yokai cast may be a bit bland – honestly, between the dialogue and the hangdog expressions he gives everyone you’d be forgiven for thinking that all the humans in Kitaro’s universe speak in a monotone – but there’s something happening on every page, and we rarely get too many subplots or sidesteps, even in the longer tales such as the title one. These stories are not really here to make people debate backstory or create Kitaro High School AU fanfiction, like other, more modern manga. They tell a story well, fast, and then move on to the next story. As such, Kitaro should be a lot of fun to anyone who enjoys reading a good story. And, as previously stated, they have Nezumi Otoko. Who is just awful. Seriously.