Thursday, June 21, 2012

Kitaro Collection, vol. 1

And we're back with another Mizuki book.  At this point, I'm tempted to create a Mizuki Database, to go along with the Akira Toriyama, Geobreeders and Moyashimon Databases.  However, I don't quite have enough material to work with yet.  On the other hand, it may be time to discuss a bit of history.

(Shigeru, early photo.)

Taken from the wiki entry, Shigeru Mizuki was born on the west coast of Japan, in Sakaiminato, on Mar. 8, 1922 (the cover flap of this book says "1924").  The second of three sons, he grew up listening to ghost stories from a local woman he nicknamed "Nononba" ("ba" meaning old woman).  In 1942, he was drafted into the Imperial Army and stationed on New Britain Island in Papua New Guinea.  He lost his left arm in an explosion during an air raid, and was captured and held as a POW.  After the war, he worked until 1956 as a movie theater operator, as well as making kamishibai illustrations.  He debuted in 1957 as a professional manga artist with Rocketman, and followed this with Hakaba Kitaro in 1959. Hakaba was originally a fairly gruesome kamishibai story, and the Kitaro character was rather unlikable, but it did make for a really good ghost story for adults.  Garo Magazine started in 1964, and Shigeru had a story in issue 1 (Furou Fushi no Jutsu). He ran various Hakaba stories in Garo until 1968, as well as some gag pieces. Then he took a break and came back in 1970 with Man Who Seized the Star (about members of the Shinsengumi). In 1966, Shigeru redesigned the characters and brought out Kitaro simultaneously in Shonen Magazine as Gegege no Kitaro. It's this version that was first animated in 1968 on Fuji TV by Toei Studios, and this is the one that most people think of when they hear the name "Kitaro".  I did a comparison of the first volumes of Hakaba and Gegege back in 2010. At age 90, he's still working, with the autobiographical Gegege no Kakeibo, running in Big Comic.

The publishing company Chikuma Bunko (now Chikuma Shobo) released a line of books focusing on Shigeru's works on youkai, including Nezumi Otoko's Adventures, Youkai Stories, Let's Go to Illusion World and then 2 volumes of Kitaro stories. Volume 1 of the Kitaro stories was actually the 4th book released in the collection, which is why the cover has the number "4" on it.

(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)

Gegege no Kitaro, by Shigeru Mizuki, Grade B+
This little 343-page book contains 13 stories, plus a 5-page afterward by actress Eriko Watanabe (in the Japanese wiki, she's listed as having been involved in "Gegege no Ge" in some way, but she's not included in any of the wiki anime cast lists).

These stories are all pure Kitaro. In general, they start out with someone getting into trouble with youkai (ghosts or monsters), and someone else sending a letter via youkai post to Kitaro to ask for help.  There then follows some mystery solving and a battle, with Kitaro often apparently losing before resurfacing to gain victory.  Most of the youkai are Shigeru's own inventions, but some, like "sara-kozou" (plate boy, or kappa) and "Noppera Bou" (No Face) are reworkings of traditional folklore.  The artwork is very consistent throughout, with detailed backgrounds and cartoony characters.  The stories do have a tendency to wander aimlessly a little too often, with the endings unrelated to the beginning (which is why I downgraded the rating above). And, Shigeru occasionally recycles his stories with slight twist endings. There's also a moral to a number of the stories, such as "don't act spoiled" or "if the sign says 'keep out', then KEEP OUT".  Don't get me wrong, though, these are great stories, and there's nothing like them in western media.

(Yokai Castle.)

Of the 13, there's only one I've seen before - the ever popular "Obake Nighter", where a young boy finds Kitaro's "never miss" baseball bat and refuses to return it, so the boy's team is forced to play a night game against a squad of unbeatable monsters with their souls on the line.

(Kitaro sets Otoko Nezumi up on a blind date with Neko Musume.)

The stories are:
地獄流し (Hell Cruise): A pair of yakuza break into Kitaro's house and find themselves stranded in hell.

だるま (Daruma): A daruma-like monster tries to set up an office, disrupting the landlord's regular tenants.

妖怪城 (Youkai Castle): Nezumi Otoko accidentally unseals a Youkai Castle and children start disappearing.

おばけナイター (Obake Nighter): Human kids versus monsters baseball game.

見上げ入道 (Miage Priest): Misbehaving children get abducted and stuck in a classroom run by the monster Miage.

猫娘とねずみ男 (Cat Girl and Mouse Guy): Nezumi Otoku bilks ill people, and Neko Musume is asked to help punish him.

さら小僧 (Plate Boy): A jazz band tries making a kappa's song part of their regular set and are kidnapped and locked up in a cage because kappas don't like to share.

天邪鬼 (Ama no Jaku): A mean old man takes up partnership with a mean old demon named Ama no Jaku.

おりたたみ入道 (Folding Paper Priest): A fox spirit looking like Nezumi Otoko steals children's New Years gift money.

悪魔ベリアル (Evil Berial): A Portuguese demon that came to Japan 100 years ago punishes the youkai that sealed his powers. Kotaro has to save the youkai and defeat the demon.

のっぺらぼう (No-Face): A stranger in a graveyard steals Nezumi Otoko's face.

おべべ沼の妖怪 (The Obebe Swamp Monster): A were-otter plays tricks on nearby villagers, but befriends Nezumi Otoko.

(Monster Judgment. Almost every youkai from this book shows up in this scene, plus a few from other stories. In panel 2, from right: Momonjijii, Sara Kozou, Miage Priest, Ama no Jaku,, unnamed, unnamed.  In panel 3; from right: Sand-Throwing Woman and Kitaro's father - Old Man Eyeball. Panel 4: Dai Enma.)

妖怪大裁判 (The Big Monster Judgement)
Ok, this last story is 60 pages, and is much more convoluted.  Initially, Nezumi Otoko visits a TV station that is having difficulty coming up with new show ideas.  He pitches the possibility of having Kitaro come on camera, and manages to walk away with 500,000 yen (close to $1,000 USD at that exchange rate) for the scam. A weird youkai named Momonjijii (100-100 old man) shows up and demonstrates the ability to shoot needle-like nose hairs (thus killing a tree) and suggests a way for Nezumi to make even more money.  He takes half of the TV stake and forges a letter to all of the youkai that have a grudge against Kitaro to invite them to a party "Kitaro's" hosting.  Momonjijii then sends another forged letter to the TV station telling them to bring their cameras to a certain hidden spot.  The crew captures the youkai group dancing and the show is a big hit on TV.  This enrages the disgruntled youkai, and they go to Dai Enma (Great Gate Keeper God) to file a complaint.  Enma orders Kitaro arrested and to stand trial.  Of course, Momonjijii and Nezumi rig the evidence and Kitaro is sent to prison for 500 years.  Once there, he easily escapes and teams up with his father and friends.  Meanwhile, Momonjijii takes the rest of Nezumi's TV stake money and throws him out on his ear.  Kitaro finds Nezumi, and the rat divulges Momon's tricks - the spear-like nose hairs, and snot bubble gases that make the victim hallucinate the presence of 100 Momons.  Thus prepared, Kitaro easily defeats Momonjijii and forces him to confess in front of Enma.  Momonjijii is sentenced to 3 years in prison, and Nezumi to 1 year.  Kitaro walks off into the sunset and considers giving himself a party.

Summary: This collection of Kitaro stories spans the range of the "Gegege" series, And offers a good selection of unique monsters and spirits.  It's by no means definitive, but if you want an introduction to Mizuki's most famous creation, this is as good a place to start as any.  Recommended.


Santi said...

Hi! I've just discovered your blog, a few days ago, and now I love it. I find it very interesting and useful.
Also, thanks for uploading some issues of the Garo magazine, which I love and that are very difficult to find.
Today, I see your new post about this genius called Shigeru Mizuki, and I wonder if you may have already uploaded his "Youkai book of Monsters", imposible to find even "physically", or if you knew some accesible link to download it.
In any case, thank you very much. And congrats because of your blog!

TSOTE said...

Hi Santi. Thanks for visiting. I haven't seen the Youkai book of Monsters yet. The book reviewed above was found by someone else at Book Off (a used book store). When I can start getting outside more, I'll try looking at Book Off myself to see what they have.