Featured photo credit: http://www.infogranny.com/gegege-no-kitaro-anime-2018/
Gegege no Kitaro was originally a series of comics created by Shigeru Mizuki in the 1960’s. It follows the half-human half-yokai (monster/spirit from Japanese folklore) boy, Kitaro, as he helps humans that are being hurt or haunted by various yokai.
Since its original release, the story has been adapted for both live action movies and animated TV shows. The most recent adaptation is the ongoing 2018 animated series, Gegege no Kitaro 6.
Kitaro’s story is an old favorite of mine because I absolutely love stories about yokai. This most recent adaptation of the series, however, is too good not to recommend for more than one reason.
Like many kids shows, the episodes often switch narrative styles between episodes centering on Kitaro and some plot, and filler episodes that show some extra adventures without advancing a plot.
Usually, I don’t care for filler episodes, but the fillers in Gegege no Kitaro 6 have actually been some of my favorite episodes.
Aside from being a good way to learn a little bit about Japanese folklore, this show, and many of the filler episodes released so far, are packed with social commentary that I’ve rarely seen in kids’ shows today. Moreover, the show presents these commentaries in ways that I’ve never seen a kids’ show deal with issues before. These episodes are memorable, engaging, and most importantly, they’re relevant.
For example, episode 7 was one of the scariest, most intense, most profound episodes I’ve ever seen in a kids’ show.
The main lesson of this episode is, “What goes around, comes around.” The story arc follows the boss of a small company and one of his employees making their way home after a night out eating and drinking. Very early on, it’s established that this boss is a terrible person. He cares little to nothing for his employees outside of what they can do for him, and even kicks Kitaro into a row of trash cans, saying that he looks at home with all the trash. By the way, although Kitaro is half yokai, he looks like a human child, and this boss we’re following throughout the episode doesn’t believe in yokai, so this scene establishes that this boss not above harassing a child he doesn’t even know. Anyway, after a warning from Kitaro that a person’s karma always comes back to them sooner or later, the boss and his employee arrive at the train station to find that there’s only one train left running for the night. Having no other choice, they board the train, and quickly realize they haven’t boarded an ordinary train.
SPOILER ALERT FOR THE END OF EPISODE 7 UNTIL THE END OF THE NEXT PARAGRAPH
The main lesson of the episode comes full circle when it’s revealed that, in truth, the boss and his employee have boarded a train to hell. It turns out that the boss of this company is such an abusive person, that he’s caused multiple employees of his to commit suicide…including the employee that’s been following him around all night. In fact, both the boss and the employee that we meet at the beginning of this episode have been dead for some time. The employee died from his suicide, and the boss died because the souls of everyone he tormented came back and pushed him into the path of a train. Now, the boss’s actions have come back to haunt him, and the people whose suicides he caused will take him to hell on this train.
END OF SPOILER ALERT
I was completely floored by the end of this episode and how they brought about the main lesson. It took a completely different turn than I was expecting, and, at least for me, was incredibly effective at getting me to think about everything I’ve done in my life and how one thing or another might have harmed someone else. Rather than presenting a simple resolution, the story in this filler episode gives you a painfully blunt consequence in order to make sure you understand the gravity of what it’s trying to say: if you’re not careful, your actions and lifestyle can literally mean the difference between life and death for some people.
I just realized another layer of genius episode 7 uses to drive its point. Before you meet the boss and his employee, you meet a young girl who, along with her friends, has been bullying a classmate. The story of the boss and his employee ends up being a cautionary tale to this girl about what she might be doing to her classmate, and what might ultimately happen to her if she doesn’t change her actions. I love that the writers of Gegege no Kitaro 6 included this, because it removes distance and age barriers from the episode’s message. It isn’t just abusive bosses who need to seriously think about how they treat others, but maybe also the young people who are watching this show every week.
When I was in elementary school and middle school, being bullied was part of a normal week for me and many of my friends. The most frustrating thing about this situation, though, was that the teachers at my schools seemed to have no idea how to talk to us about what consequences bullying can actually have. I distinctly remember having an assembly where one of the teachers stood in front of us and said, “We’ve gotten the impression that you all aren’t treating each other respectfully,” and I thought, “No duh.” It wasn’t until high school that we touched on what abuse or bullying can do to a person, but even then, the conversations were pretty glossed over. It hasn’t been until recently that I’ve developed a vocabulary and knowledge to talk to people about why the way we treat others matters, but I don’t think I could have put it as clearly as episode 7 did.
Not all episodes of Gegege no Kitaro 6 deal with topics this intense. Some are exactly what you would think a monster of the week show would be. Some focus specifically on Kitaro and his growing friendship with different humans. Others, though, go a little bit further than that and test the waters of what a kids’ show can actually do. Episode 6 touched on Japan’s problem of rural towns slowly being abandoned by younger generations, and episode 1 took jabs at vloggers who do stupid things for views on their channel (the most impressive thing about this episode was that it criticized misuse of technology without saying technology is inherently bad). It’s a combination of all these different kinds of stories that make Gegege no Kitaro 6 so compelling for me, and if you decide to give the anime a try, I hope you enjoy it too.
Side note, apparently Shigeru Mizuki grew up in Sakaiminato, a tiny coastal town not too far from where I live. The street in front of the train station is dedicated to the show, and they even have a museum. I’m absolutely stopping by Sakaiminato soon!
If you want to hear a bit more about the social commentary in episode 1 of the newest adaptation of Gegege no Kitaro, Gaijin Goombah over on YouTube has a great episode on the subject.
Thanks for reading this recommendation! I hope I’ve gotten you interested!