I had on my radar for awhile to read Shigeru Mizuki’s Kitaro. Sadly, planning to read it this December ended up being timely, as Mr. Mizuki died earlier this month on December 2.
Mizuki is hugely important to Japanese culture. His depictions of yokai – folklore demons/ghouls/otherworld creatures formed how Japanese people think about and picture them, in the same way that Walt Disney changed how we picture Snow White or Cinderella.
A unique aspect of Mizuki’s work was the way he combined contemporary culture, technology and fighting robots with very traditional Japanese folk tales. Despite each episode or chapter of Kitaro’s story having him fighting or facing off against some demon to save humanity, his stories had the reoccurring message that violence does not solve problems.
I like to draw parallels between him and Kurt Vonnegut. Vonnegut was also a contemporary surreal writer who drew on mythology. Both Vonnegut and Mizuki were soldiers during World War II.
Vonnegut survived the air raids by his own military during the fire-bombing of Dresden (he was a POW interned in Dresden at the time). On the other side of the war (both geographically and politically) Mizuki lost his dominant left hand in an explosion during an allied air raid in Papua New Guinea. After the war, he taught himself to draw with his right hand and began his work in comics.
After the war, Mizuki taught himself to draw with his right hand and began his work in comics.
So yes, all of Kitaro was drawn with his non-dominant hand. When I found this out, my appreciation of Mizuki jumped sky-high.
At first, after the war, he struggled to make a living as an artist, until there was a jump in the demand for serialized manga stories.
The serialized comics required an incredibly quick turnaround. Not a lot of artists could keep up with the production demand. Mizuki could.
Kitaro is like Grimm’s fairy tales meets Kurt Vonnegut in 50s Japan.
Sometimes there are quick deus ex machina plot twists to move the story along and huge action sequences that only fill a few panels. That’s easily forgiven given the format’s publishing constraints of time and space.
This particular book is just a selection of some of the ‘favourite ‘Kitaro episodes. Like a ‘best of’. Much like Calvin and Hobbes in North America, Kitaro and his friends have had enough adventures to fill books and books. There’s even a TV show.
I’m glad to have finally gotten a taste of this classic Japanese character.