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Shigeru Mizuki's Kitaro's Yokai Battles Manga Review

Shigeru Mizuki's Kitaro's Yokai Battles Manga Review

-Written by: Will

GeGeGe No Kitaro is probably the biggest Japanese franchise you’ve never heard of. It tells the adventures of Kitaro, a yokai child who helps humans with supernatural problems. Starting as a manga in 1960, the all-ages horror series has become a cultural touchstone in Japan. It sparked the country’s obsession with yokai, which can be seen in things from Mushi-shi to Yokai Watch. Much like Astro Boy, Kitaro also gets a new anime series every decade, with the latest currently airing. It’s an underrated show, and it got me interested in checking out the original manga. Good thing Drawn & Quarterly gave us a review copy!

One thing you should know is that this is part 6 of Drawn & Quarterly’s release of Kitaro, so don't be surprised when the book opens with Nezumi (better known as Ratman) knocking Kitaro unconscious and proclaiming himself the star of the comic. Luckily, there’s a written introduction about the history of Kitaro that tells you what was going on with author Shigeru Mizuki when these stories were written. It’s very insightful and really placed me in the mindset of the author. It also sets up this collection as a classical work, something that elevates this book.

One of the reasons Kitaro has such a staying power is the magnificent art. While the characters are cartoony, the backgrounds are realistic and help ground the stories. But people come for the monster designs, and I can tell you they are as creepy as ever. There's this mix between more clasiccal style and cartoon that give off a disturbing feeling. The characters are a lot fo fun to read. Nezumi in particular gets to be both good and evil; it's always fun to see what he does next. The satire and commentary in this book are also spot-on, often taking shots at the Japanese military and, in one story, the author himself. The stories themselves are creative and fun for all ages but… not great.

Story is the book’s main weakness. It seems that Mizuki was either short on time and/or page count (the introduction mentioned he often suffered burnout) as the stories are very rushed. One panel Kitaro is in the forest facing a problem and the next he’s at a military base with the solution. They’re jarring transitions that don’t do anything except make the ending come faster. Often times there are panels that are just words describing the action. These are often during major sequences that hampen the tension. But considering the crunch Mizuki was under, I'm surpised they are as good as they are.

Are you interested in this to see the impressive art and learn more about this cultural landmark? Then by all means, grab this book or go back and read the first book, The Birth Of Kitaro. While the stories aren’t anything to write home about, the art and characters help cement this series as a Japanese pop culture classic. Also, watch the anime!

Shigeru Mizuki's Kitaro's Yokai Battles Manga

The seven stories in this 150+ page volume are collected from the late-60's golden age of Gegege no Kitaro. The stories appear in English for the first time in a kid-friendly edition; uncut and unedited, with translations by Mizuki-scholar Zack Davisson. In addition to all these pages of fun, there are bonus features like “Yokai Files,” which introduces the folklore of Japan’s monsters; and the sixth installment of the “History of Kitaro” essay by series translator Zack Davisson. Kitaro’s Yokai Battles is the perfect blend of humor and horror!

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