Reviewed by: Joe
Released by: Drawn & Quarterly
Publishing Country: USA
Author: Shigeru Mizuki
Age Rating: TBC
Page Count: 176
The Birth Of Kitaro collects seven of Shigeru Mizuki's early, and beloved, Kitaro stories, making them available for the first time in English, in an all-new, format. These stories are from the golden era of the late 1960s, when Gegege no Kitaro truly hit its stride as an all-ages supernatural series. Mizuki's Kitaro stories are both timelessly relevant and undeniably influential, inspiring a decades-long boom in stories about yokai, Japanese ghosts and monsters. Kitaro's Birthday reveals the origin story of the yokai boy Kitaro and his tiny eyeball father, Medama Oyaji. Neko Musume versus Nezumi Otoko is the first of Mizuki's stories to feature the popular recurring character Neko Musume, a little girl who transforms into a cat when she gets angry or hungry. Other stories in The Birth of Kitaro draw heavily from Japanese folklore, with Kitaro taking on legendary Japanese yokai like the Nopperabo and Makura Gaeshi, and fighting the monstrous recurring villain Gyuki. The Birth of Kitaro is the perfect introduction to award-winning author Shigeru Mizuki's most popular series, seminal comics that have won the hearts of Japanese children and adults for more than half a century.
The world of Yokai is a fascinating one. Part of Japanese folklore, Yokai are supernatural beings, ghosts, goblins, demons, monsters, spirits and other creatures. Some are born yokai, others become yokai. We've already enjoyed and reviewed Yokai Attack! and were looking forward to the classic offering from Shigeru Mizuki. The manga author passed away last year at the end of November 2015. For years he entertained readers with the adventures of Kitaro, a yokai boy in the modern world. The story started it's run in the 1960's frequently serialised in Shonen Weekly.
The Birth of Kitaro is a ghoulish origin story intended for younger readers. It charts Kitaro's birth and subsequent escape from a grave and moves on from there. After the origin story, each chapter is pretty much a standalone monster of the week affair.
Kitaro is kind of a hero on call, people can post him a letter using a yokai post box then later he'll turn up and save the day. He's got powers such as dart like hair that can lance enemies and yokai glasses to see hidden spirits. Often he'll get by on his cunning alone.
Accompanying the ghoulish boy is his Dad, an eyeball. Yes, you've read that right an eyeball. Once a member of the ghost tribe, while dying he was unwilling to leave the newborn Kitaro so returns as an eye from his rotting corpse.
Kitaro frequently gets into scrapes thanks to Nezumi Otoko, another yokai. He isn't really an antagonist, but is a greedy, scamming schemer. He's described as a frenemy on the back of the book and that's probably the best description. Sometimes Nezumi will come to Kitaro's rescue, even though it's often his fault they're in this mess to begin with!
At first glance Mizuki's artwork is deceptively simple. Then you start looking at the detail. The poses, the choice of composition and framing, his use of screen tone. The architecture and how some of the monsters are very detailed, you'll notice that this is a master class in how to draw manga.
I've actually read my copy several times over the course of a few weeks, once for the story and then again to re-review Mizuki's drawing techniques.
This book will appeal to different audiences for different reasons. Younger readers looking for something ghoulish will enjoy it as a timeless classic. An enjoyable romp if you will. Older readers will want to get this classic into their manga collection and aspiring (and established) artists should grab a copy to checkout Mizuki's work for inspiration.
At the back of the manga there's some new bonus material such as activities and puzzles too.
After reading this first volume, you might understand why Mizuki's home town Sakaiminato City has a street with 153 bronze statues of characters from the manga!
Drawn and Quarterly have other Kitaro Manga collections available soon, so we're eager to get our hands on them too.
The manga is unmirrored, in its original right to left Japanese format.
After reading the manga we wanted to know some more about the descicsions made during translation, so we got in touch with Series translator and editor Zack Davisson to ask him some questions:
Why was the extra content - puzzles etc, added to the end of the manga?
Zack Davisson: The idea came from Mizuki's books. He often puts things like that in his comics ... little extras like games and puzzles and ways to test your yokai knowledge. Sometimes they come with a grading system so you can see how you do, with the ultimate goal of becoming a Yokai Hakase--a Yokai Professor. You can even sit formal examinations to test yourself. Recently 5-year old Mana Umemoto became the youngest person to earn the rank of Yokai Professor.
I always loved them in Mizuki's work and pitched Drawn and Quarterly on the idea of making some, at least for this first volume. I personally love bonus content. I 'm the kind of person who watches every extra feature on DVDs and reads all the back matter in comics. So I like adding that kind of thing in when I can. But really, I didn't have much reason other than I think they are fun! We had a blast making them, and I hope readers have fun with them too!
Were there any challenges translating this classic title?
Zack Davisson: Nothing in particular. I am very familiar with Mizuki’s voice by now, and I can easily slip inside his world and I know how it should sound. There are a few bits that involve Japanese religion and history that can be hard to find the right English terms for, and still sound natural. But those are challenge of any manga.
I don’t really think of Kitaro in terms of "classic." The stories are as fresh and fun as when Mizuki wrote them almost 50 years ago. His characters and world are timeless, and his art style so unique that I don’t feel it is dated-like Charles Schultz and Peanuts or Charles Addams and The Addams Family, Mizuki’s art was never particularly "in style" so it can never go "out of style." It’s just ... Mizuki. That’s why I love it !