After returning from WWII, Shigeru Mizuki began re-adapting the Hakaba Kitaro stories popularized in 1920s Japan through the art of paper theatre. Kitaro and his cloaked companion Nezumi Otoko embark on wild adventures plagued by yokai, mysterious beings which appear in the form of animals, spirits or apparitions. A real-life ghost-hunter and explorer, Mizuki introduced darker themes and characters into his narratives, revolutionizing contemporary manga and inspiring dozens of film, TV and video game adaptations.
The seven stories collected here, originally published between 1967 and 1968, present some truly unpredictable twists, employing time travel, slapstick and strange bodily functions with equal gusto. Kitaro’s travels take him to the depths of the ocean, over mountains and even to the brink of hell itself. The yokai found in these places are at times adorable, pathetic and terrifying, preying on travellers who wander off the beaten path. As engaging as the stories are, it is Mizuki’s artistic ability which sets this series apart; even a single panel can often contain a wide range of styles and pen strokes, with crude and clumsy characters tumbling through lush, intricately detailed backgrounds. The last story, Odoro Odoro vs. Vampire, is chock full of stylistic homages to Golden-Age American horror comics.
Since releasing their first book of Kitaro stories in 2013, Drawn and Quarterly have been in the process of releasing 7 more volumes, of which this is the second. These elegant and affordable collections also include historical information on the Kitaro legacy and Mizuki’s life, as well as supplementary information on yokai folklore. This series will no doubt stand now as a fitting tribute to the manga mastermind who passed away in November of 2015 (Ben O’Neil).