Japan's Must-Read Magazine

Poor Little Ghost Boy

Life is hard when your father is an eyeball. Bad enough being picked on at school if you are a little on the pudgy side, or if you have a jutting overbite and atrocious acne. But try coming in for parent’s day and having a wise-cracking eyeball pop out of your hair, blabbing away at your teacher. I mean, you tried your best to cover up your gaping eye socket with your fringe, and that ancient chan-chan-ko coat stitched from the hair of dead relatives isn’t winning you any friends, but the talking eyeball is really hard to ignore. Seems that’s what you get when you are the last surviving member of the y?rei zoku ghost tribe. That’s what you get when you are Ge ge ge no Kitaro.

Ge ge ge no Kitaro is one of those mega-hits from Japan that never made the jump overseas, never escaped the cultural boundries from which it sprang. Possibly because of it’s distinct lack of panty-flashing school girls in mini skirts and cool dudes with giant swords, but more likely because it is so damn weird.

Let’s start with the back story. An employee at a blood bank gets sent out to investigate some tainted blood, only to find that it was sold by a pair of y?rei zoku (monsters basically) who needed some quick cash to buy frog’s eyes for dinner. The poor creatures are a dying breed, and they beg Mr. Blood Bank for help. Both die soon afterward, but their new child, Kitaro, digs himself up out of the grave where he was born, and starts wailing. Mr. Blood Bank feels sorry for the ugly child, naked and bald and having only one eye, and takes him back to his house to raise him. However he is followed by Father Monster’s eyeball, which came rolling out of his decomposing corpse and sprouted new arms and legs, strolling merrily along after his new kid. Unable to deal with his new little monster and the talking eyeball, Mr. Blood Bank soon gives them the boot, and Kitaro and Daddy Eyeball head out on the road for a life of adventure, matching skills and wits with a host of creatures from Japanese folklore.

Can you see the marketing potential? Is it any surprise this series has never gotten an English translation? But this is Japan, land of ghosts and monsters, or y?rei and y?kai as they are more properly called, and the grewsome twosome have been familiar characters since the comic first appeared in 1959.

Series creator Mizuki Shigeru is a bit of a y?kai himself. Having only one arm, the other having been blown off in WWII, his attraction to weird and mis-shapen characters seems obvious. He likes the macabre too, and in the right mood will wax nostalgic about watching maggots eating away at what remained of his left arm following a US airstrike. But his fascination with the weird and mysterious underbelly of Japanese folklore started much earlier, when a local wise woman called NonnonBa would spin him tails of bizzarre beasts like the Akaname, which would come into your house and lick your bathtub if it wasn’t properly cleaned, or the BetoBetosan, which sneaks up behind lonely travelers in the night and whispers in their ears. Such stories stuck with Mizuki as he learned them as actual facts rather than just spooky stories.

After returning from the war, Mizuki kicked around for a little while trying to figure out what to do with his life. His brother had been prosecuted as a Class B war criminal, which hampered his search for work. Eventually, he began working as a kami-shibai – a sort of itinerant storyteller who uses picture-cards to enhance his show. This was when Kitaro was born, created as part of Mizuki’s NonnonBa-inspired act. When demand for the kami-shibai dropped off, Mizuki turned his hand to the new medium of manga, creating “Hakuba no Kitaro” (Graveyard Kitaro) for the rental-manga system. Popularity for his creation got him noticed by the various boy’s magazines, who hired him to write the character for a wider audience under the newly christened title of Ge Ge Ge no Kitaro. (Ge ge ge is the noise made by a group of insects who follow Kitaro around).

The manga is more than a manga; it is an intense course in Japanese ghostly folklore, of which Mizuki is the acknowledged master. Mizuki takes his y?kai seriously, and has written several scholarly books on the topic alongside his popular manga. All of the monsters in Ge ge ge no Kitaro are authentic characters from Japanese folklore, with the exception of Kitaro and his father Medama Oyaji, know in English as Daddy Eyeball. A firm believer in the y?kai, he feels that the harsh light of electricity has sent them scurring into the dark corners. But Mizuki isn’t going to let them be forgotten.

Cast of Characters

Kitaro – Last survivor of the y?rei zoku, he is packed with super powers. His hair can be fired off like arrows, and he has remote control geta and a detachable hand. He is also pretty much indestructible, having been reduced to a bucket of bodily fluids on more than one occasion, happily ressurecting himself.

Medama Oyaji – Kitaro’s father has an encyclopeadic knowledge of y?rei and y?kai and is quite hearty for a talking eyeball. Sometimes rides around in Kitaro’s empty eyesocket.

Nezumi Otoko – A real rat of a man whose loyalties can be easily bought and sold. He hasn’t bathed for over 300 years.

Neko Musume – A cute little girl who turns into a raving monster at the sight of fish. Official y?kai type is a bakeneko, a breed of magical cats.

Sunakake Baba – An odd y?kai from Nara-Ken, she carries sand in her hair which she flings at enemies to blind them. She also runs the y?kai apartment building.

Konaki Jiji – From Tokushima Prefecture, he is a big crying baby that can increase his weight, crushing anyone who picks him up.

Itta Momen – A flying strip of cloth from Kagoshima prefecture, Itta Momen wraps around peoples heads when attacking. Fears scissors.