Sunday, August 11, 2013

Spooks A'Poppin

Haints and ghostlies abound in Drawn And Quarterly’s new gigantic volume of Kitaro, the seminal yokai-busting horror-fantasy-folklore-adventure-comedy manga  by Japan’s one-armed manga master Shigeru Mizuki.  Kitaro started out as “Graveyard Kitaro”, but it wasn’t until a slight retooling as the less scary, more funny “Ge Ge Ge no Kitaro” that the series took off with a ten-year run in Weekly Shonen and five separate TV animated shows spread out over five decades, leaving an indelible mark on Japan’s popular culture landscape.  Supposedly manga-crazy North Americans spent most of the “manga boom” here in the West ignoring the hell out of Mizuki’s work – it’s more comforting to believe Japanese comics are nothing but high-tech adventures of sexy schoolgirl ninjas – but even the ignorance of Americans is no match for the spiritual power of Kitaro.

D+Q’s Kitaro collection is a big brick of  60s manga, nearly 400 pages of the best of Kitaro stories from 1967-69, with an enlightening introduction by yokai scholar Matt Alt, wonderful jacket design, and large pages - nearly twice the size of typical manga tankubon – to bring every bit of Mizuki’s yokai terror to life.

Kitaro, the mysterious one-eyed boy with the striped vest, comes out of nowhere to serve as diplomat between the human and the spirit world. When ignorant people tamper with forbidden mystical secrets, when yokai cross the line and menace humanity, Kitaro will keep the peace by any supernatural means necessary, whether it’s using his hair as yokai-detecting antennae, battling an army of possessed cats, or freezing himself to deal with the water monster lodged in his belly. Just wait ‘til you see how he deals with being turned into a tree! At first Kitaro wanders the earth dispensing lone justice, but bit by bit his world is fleshed out with supporting characters like the disreputable Nezumi Otoko and Kitaro’s eyeball father.  When you get to the part where Kitaro is injected with monster blood and becomes an enormous, hairy, Godzilla-sized whale monster that lumbers through Tokyo destroying landmarks, to be confronted by – what else?  - a giant robot, the off-kilter logic of Mizuki’s yokai world starts to make sense in its dreamlike matter-of-factness.

 Mizuki’s pen work combines the mundane and the terrifying with his technique – eerie pointillist dots bring glowing spirit meteors to life and an almost inhuman mastery of cross-hatching showcases every wrinkle and hair and giant eyeball of his more repulsive monsters. The overgrown mountains and creaky, crumbling shacks of rural Japan are the background for his cartoony, sketchy characters, whose comical simplicity highlights our insignificance in the face of ultimate cosmic horror.
Kitaro’s mid 60s success echoed the monster boom that had the United States in its grasp, and while we had the Munsters, Weird-Oh kits and decals, Ghoulardi and Famous Monsters magazines to satisfy our lust for weird horror heroes, single-handedly brought Japan’s folkloric terror titans out of the musty past and into modern Japan, starting a yokai boom that’s still reverberating throughout the nation. Rightly regarded as one of Japan’s masters of comic art, it is high time the Western world got its chance to go monster crazy for Shigeru Mizuki and Kitaro; the thanks of the manga-reading world, as well as the spirit realms, go to D+Q for making this possible.

everything is sprouting hair.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

actually Kitaro, Lupin, Harlock, Devilman, and now recently Sabu & Ichi (thanks Nanto for hooking me on another one LOL) are my favorite shows, i have been a fan of kitaro for some time now, just wish i could get more of them.