One of the most recognizable characters in Japan finally makes his US debut in Kitaro, a collection of stories from Shigeru Mizuki’s classicGeGeGe no Kitaro series! Originally created in 1967, Mizuki based the character of Kitaro and his adventures upon stories he heard as a child from both his grandmother, and from a popular form of entertainment at the time known as kamishibai. Drawing upon these sources he’d give life to Kitaro, a young boy who straddled the line between the yokai world and the human world, acting as a guardian, mediator, doctor and more for both sides as the situation dictates.
While it may be full of monsters, ghosts and more the tone of Kitaro is lighter than one might expect and often times feels like more of a comedy series than a horror series. The stories often follow the formula of someone coming to Kitaro with a yokai related problem, which he then goes on to solve. These can range from unraveling plots and invasions of foreign monsters such as Dracula and Frankenstein, to curing supernatural related illnesses, interspecies baseball games and more. While it’s generally not an action series, instead focusing on Kitaro conning evildoers to their doom, he does at times take a more direct and physical role in things. Such is the case when he aids in the investigation of a prehistoric monster, something that, oddly enough, leads to a kaiju vs. giant robot battle! Despite the horror or the monsters involved though, there’s a strong thread of humor throughout the various stories. Thankfully the humor flows naturally from the story’s events and from Shigeru Mizuku’s own cartoonish style. As a result the visual gags and other humorous elements never really feel forced, and never really detract from the story being told. In fact they often blend together well with the creepier aspects, helping to give Kitaro much of its charm.
Shigeru Mizuki’s artwork is really something to behold. It’s absolutely gorgeous with lush, heavily detailed backgrounds that do a fantastic job at enforcing the spooky nature and tone of the stories. This is contrasted by the more stripped down and cartoonish appearance of Kitaro and the other characters. Mizuki’s characters’ designs are simple and lovely, and their slightly cartoonish nature allows him to utilize a wide variety of body designs, silhouettes and more, making each of the characters instantly recognizable and distinguishable from one another. Whether it’s the short, dumpy looking Kitaro with his signature vest and shorts, or the cloaked, thin, conman like Nezumi Otoko, Mizuki’s does an amazing job at imbuing the personalities of his characters into their physical appearance.
Kitaro’s an incredibly fun read and I’m glad to have finally had a chance to read it. The volume itself is a fairly large book, clocking in at 400 pages, and comes complete with an introduction by Matt Alt, co-author of several illustrated guides to both yokai and yurei (Japanese ghosts), annotation, and a yokai guide giving more information on the creatures that appear in the stories. This single volume collection of short stories serves as a tantalizing introduction to Kitaro’s character and his world and one can only hope it does well enough to allow Drawn and Quarterly to delve deeper in the world of Shigeru Mizuki’s GeGeGe no Kitaro in the future.