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The Birth of Kitaro by Shigeru Mizuki
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The Birth of Kitaro

by Shigeru Mizuki

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In 2013, comics publisher Drawn & Quarterly released Kitaro a volume collecting stories from Shigeru Mizuki's most well-known and beloved manga series GeGeGe no Kitaro. I absolutely loved the collection and so I was thrilled when Drawn & Quarterly announced that it would be publishing more of Mizuki's GeGeGe no Kitaro in English as part of its Enfant line of kids comics. The Birth of Kitaro, released in 2016, is the first of seven planned Kitaro volumes with stories selected, with input from Mizuki, by the manga's translator and yokai scholar Zack Davisson. The Birth of Kitaro collects seven stories originally published in Japan between 1966 and 1968, an essay about the history of Kitaro as well as an additional guide to yokai written by Davisson, and an utterly delightful section devoted to yokai-themed activities such as a word search, a maze, and several matching games among other fun challenges.

The tales in The Birth of Kitaro begin with the origin story of Kitaro, a powerful and mostly benevolent yokai boy. ("The Birth of Kitaro" also explains why his father, Medama Oyaji, is a disembodied/embodied eyeball.) The chapter was first published in the influential alternative manga magazine Garo. The other six stories chosen for the collection were created with a slightly younger audience in mind and were serialized in Shonen Weekly and as well as the magazine's special edition. The second chapter, "Nezumi Otoko versus Neko Musume," introduces one of the series' primary recurring characters. Nezumi Otoko, one of Kitaro's yokai friends even though he is a bit of jerk, tends to either cause trouble or get himself into trouble, needing to be chastised or rescued by Kitaro depending on the circumstances. The other stories included in The Birth of Kitaro are "Nopperabo," "Gyuki," "Yokai of the Mountain Pass," "Makura Gaeshi," and "Hideri Gami."

As much as I loved Drawn & Quarterly's original Kitaro collection, I think that I may love The Birth of Kitaro even more. All of the stories selected for the volume are a little bit creepy, a little bit scary, and a little bit gross, but they are also a great deal of fun and can be rather funny, too. I had actually forgotten just how amusing Mizuki's Kitaro manga could be; the mix of scariness and silliness in the series is marvelous. Mizuki has a terrific sense of humor and comedic timing, perfectly balancing the chuckles with the chills and thrills in the manga collected in The Birth of Kitaro. The horror and the humor work together to create an incredibly enjoyable read. It also doesn't hurt that Kitaro is a likeable lead to begin with, and that the supporting characters like Nezumi Otoko and Medama Oyaji, with their distinctive personalities and entertaining interactions, add a tremendous amount to enjoy in the series as well.

Mizuki's Kitaro manga is steeped in yokai lore which I love. Other readers picking up The Birth of Kitaro may not be as familiar with Japan's mysterious monsters and phenomena, but the volume is still very approachable and accessible. The stories themselves provide an entertaining introduction to yokai (from time to time even Kitaro must do a bit of research in order to effectively confront and deal with troublesome spirits) and for readers who are curious to learn more, Davisson's "Yokai Files" are an informative addition to the volume. The Birth of Kitaro is an excellent all-ages manga, suitable for younger readers who enjoy a bit of a scare and supernatural excitement while still being entertaining and appealing for adults. It's also a wonderful overall package, with fun and games, the manga itself, and background information all together in one place. The new Kitaro series in English is off to a fantastic start with The Birth of Kitaro; I can't wait for the next volume to be released.

Experiments in Manga ( )
  PhoenixTerran | Jun 7, 2016 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Shigeru Mizukiprimary authorall editionscalculated
Davisson, ZackTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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