By Sullivan Wallace
A lot of Dragon Ball Super fans were upset when they found out that the series was ending, only to be replaced with…Gegege no WHAT!?
Once again, we’ve hit one of those old series that I love, but hasn’t really hit its stride in the West. So what exactly is this Gegege whatever about?
The one-eyed ghost boy Kitaro lives in a graveyard with his father, a tiny humanoid eye named Daddy Eyeball, (yes, really), his best-frenemy, Rat-man, and a host of other yokai, or otherworldly monsters from Japanese folklore. Kitaro often finds himself having to help humans who find themselves in danger after meddling in the affairs of yokai, often acting as an arbiter between the two worlds.
Its earliest incarnations began as a kamishibai (paper theater) story written by Masami Itou under the title Hakaba Kitaro and later Hakaba no Kitaro (or, Graveyard Kitaro and Kitaro of the Graveyard, respectively). It was loosely inspired by the traditional Japanese ghost story of the Kosodate Yurei, the Ghost Who Raised a Child, in which a shop clerk follows a mysterious woman who frequents his stall back to the graveyard, where he finds her corpse with a live child.
In 1954, manga artist Shigeru Mizuki was asked to create a short series of manga based on the original stories by Itou for the kashi-hon market, traveling booklenders who traded in cheap magazines, paperbacks, and manga. However, these early stories featured a much more grotesque Kitaro, and was deemed too horrific for children.
Mizuki toned the art and story down significantly, and in 1967 it was published under its most familiar name, GeGeGe no Kitaro.
What does “GeGeGe” mean, you ask? Well, there isn’t a hard and fast answer. Some sources claim it’s from Mizuki’s childhood mispronunciation of his own name, Shigeru, as “Gegeru”. The fact that it is sung by frogs in most versions of the opening usually associates it with the onomatopoeia “gerogero” used to describe a frog’s croak. Other’s claim it’s just a general, untranslatable “spooky” word that fits with the tone of the story.
It’s had no less than six anime adaptations, from the original 1968 anime to 2018’s reboot, (currently streaming on Crunchyroll!). Kitaro and the gang have even teamed up with the cast of Yokai Watch for a movie! It’s also been made into a live action film twice! Of course, this is only scratching the surface (or rather, digging a shallow grave) of what the franchise has to offer.
Mizuki’s stories of Kitaro and friends are just one of many ways he earned status as one of Japan’s finest folklorists, writing extensively on yokai and yurei and bringing them back into the popular consciousness. Inspiring a wave of art, literature, and media celebrating the ghost stories of Japan.
GeGeGe no Kitaro has a delightful mix of merry and macabre. The character designs and artwork, both in the original manga and the anime, have a charming goth sensibility, not unlike Charles Addams original Addams Family cartoons for The New Yorker. So far, this new iteration of Gegege no Kitaro has gotten good reviews. Give it a try if you’re in the mood for a new look at a wonderfully ghoulish classic!
“Everybody sing along! Gegege no ge!~”
Sully can be found digging his own grave on Twitter @calva_kun