In Japanese history, the postwar period consisted of economic and cultural recovery from the devastating effects of World War II. The victorious Allied forces installed a brief occupation government that controlled Japan between 1947 and 1952, with General Douglas MacArthur serving as the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP). With the position came an extensive reorganization of the country’s infrastructure and society. In Japanese history, the postwar period consisted of economic and cultural recovery from the devastating effects of World War II The victorious Allied forces installed a brief occupation government that controlled Japan between 1947 and 1952, with General Douglas MacArthur serving as the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP). With the position came an extensive reorganization of the country’s infrastructure and society.

During the occupation government’s existence, Japan’s constitution received a significant overhaul, with the Emperor’s power being legally restricted. Social reforms introduced included such policies as trade union laws and educational renovations to the country.

Japan ultimately recovered, and by the 1960s it enjoyed a period of economic prosperity known as the Golden Sixties. No longer restricted by the SCAP’s censorship bureau when the occupation dissolved in 1952, directors and television studios could finally start exploring their own country’s history and folklore again. One of the iconic manga to emerge from this period was GeGeGe no Kitarō, which was introduced in 1960 as an example of a “rental manga” (known as kashibon). Its author, Shigeru Mizuki, specialized in yōkai tales.

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Kitarō’s origin lays within the storytelling tradition of kamishibai. Between 1933 and 1935, a popular kamishibai storyteller named Masami Itō related the tale of Hakaba Kitarō, an adaptation of an old folktale featuring the kosodate yūrei (the spirit of a woman who died during childbirth). Itō’s depiction of Kitarō presented the protagonist as a fairly grotesque yōkai, an image that that the manga studio who hired Mizuki considered too frightening for children. When Mizuki adapted the story to manga form in 1960, it retained the image seen in the kamishibai performance. This would change by 1965, when Weekly Shōnen Magazine offered the author a contract. The manga received its more familiar title of GeGeGe no Kitarō in 1967, and its first anime adaptation appeared the following year.  In 2018, a sixth anime series based on the manga debuted on Fuji TV. Many of the characters return for this show, including feline half-yokai Neko Musume and the mischievous, money-grubbing Nezumi-Otoko.

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One of the key elements of GeGeGe no Kitarō is the idea of the hanyō.  The term, which  is used to describe characters with a half-yōkai, half-human heritage, was coined by Rumiko Takahashi in her work Inuyasha. The term itself, though, descended from the related word hanyōkai, which Shigeru Mizuki invented for Kitarō Mizuki’s usage of the term is meant to be derisive within the manga, as hanyōkai characters are generally seen as “inferior” in standing to full yōkai. Kitarō, himself, is generally shown to be a full-blooded yōkai, the son of Iwako and Medama-Oyaji.

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Gegege no Kitaro: Jigoku-hen (1996)

Only one anime adaptation, based on the Jigoku-hen chapters, makes him a hanyō as it altered his mother’s status to make her human. In the Jigoku-hen series, Kitaro’s adoptive father Mizuki raised him as a child after he encounters Kitaro’s parents at his home. Because of this, Kitaro exhibits gratitude towards Mizuki, wishing to become an ally of humanity to repay his kindness. This desire to help mankind informs the story.

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In the sixth anime series, Kitaro and his Ghost Tribe family must frequently deal with intrusive yōkai incidents that threaten to overtake the human world. The first episode, for example, involves a mysterious phenomenon where humans begin transforming into trees. Kitaro and his allies identify the culprit as a recently-unsealed spectral yōkai who transforms people into Vampire Trees without discretion.

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This incident helps to illustrate how yōkai can occasionally be malevolent. Kitaro represents the more sympathetic side, someone who recognizes the good in humanity, but other yōkai may not share his sentiments. Nezumi-Otoko, the rat hanyō, best helps demonstrate this dichotomy. He is a more opportunistic, unscrupulous character who is willing to try anything for money or fame. These schemes ultimately fail, though, and harm the yōkai involved. In the sixth season’s fifth episode, for example, Nezumi-Otoko’s disastrous attempt at forming an electric company results in the death of a reporter who discovered the company’s bribery and tax evasion.

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With this in mind, multiple episodes of the sixth season concern individual events that do not carry over to later episodes. That said, though, each episode focuses on the ways a particular conflict between yōkai and humans may arise out of misunderstandings, something Kitaro is often requested to intervene in. For example, episode six, The Misfortune of the Sunekosuri, involves a mysterious feline monster known as a sunekosuri that doesn’t realize it’s siphoning the life force from their owner. This particular yōkai is based on a folktale predecessor of the same name, which rubs against the legs of passersby, causing them to momentarily stumble. The episode illustrates  how, even outside of malicious intent, yōkai can inadvertently cause trouble for someone they love. They mean no harm, but something about these yōkai affects the people around them. It leads to a difficult decision, where the yōkai must choose whether to remain near those they love and cause further pain, or lose a beloved to leave them in peace .

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Episode eight, Menace! Kagami-jiji’s Plot, focuses on another misunderstanding. The episode features the kagami-jijii, a “mirror geezer” whom people believe to be behind a rash of attacks on humans, which left the victims dazed and listless. Kitaro and company rush in to investigate the cause when their human friend Mana disappears. One thing leads to another, as they  piece together the truth and discover the truth behind the sudden assaults. It turns out that Kagami-jiji is innocent. Rather, one of Mana’s classmates accidentally knocked over a gravestone while cleaning an old house as part of their field trip, unleashing a large skeletal yōkai known as a gashadokuro.  In folklore, the gashadokuro is a yōkai formed through the fusion of the accumulated bones of unburied starvation victims. Unlike the sunekosuri of episode 6, the “starving skeleton” is a clearly malevolent being who attacks Kitaro and friends. The kagami-jijii, who was thought to have turned toward the darkness, defends Mana from the skeleton’s rampage and assists Kitaro in containing the yōkai.

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The following episode shines a light on a more topical issue. The installment, titled The Kappas’ Work Reform, features a kappa community, which was “hired” by Nezumi-Otoko to work for an IT company on the promise of three cucumbers per day. The sheer number of kappa pulled in to work  disrupts the country’s supply of cucumbers. Meanwhile, two of the kappa express concern over being forced into working without any interruptions for the sake of a cheap commodity. The kappa eventually revolt against their employer when he refuses to observe occupation laws. They rampage through the streets, attacking humans and yōkai indiscriminately over their former boss’ transgressions.

Such episodes as those mentioned above illustrate how most conflicts in the series are resolved fairly quickly, within the episode. Each chapter focuses on a single, self-contained event, with the next one focusing on another incident.

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That said, though, one instance exists in which the central conflict spans eleven episodes. Episodes 27 through 37 make up a story arc that revolves around the theft of a Western yōkai artifact known as the Ring of Arcana: a mystical ring that would bring about the Brigadoon Project, which in turn would turn humans into yokai. Backbeard, the main antagonist,, pursues a witch into Japan to recover the artifact, and Kitaro and his allies must repel the invasion. In a twist of fate, Backbeard is the most powerful of the western yōkai. He’s, a prideful being who is condescending toward Japan’s yōkai population

Backbeard believes the strong should exert their authority over the weak, and expects  complete obedience from his followers. He thus represents the more wicked, tyrannical side of monster communities. He is primarily motivated by a desire for control over subservient minions, while Kitaro wishes for humans and yokai to share the planet peacefully. Kitaro’s encounters with both communities reinforce the multifaceted nature of both groups. Most simply want to co-exist alongside each other without any violent discontent, but a few arrogant members exert themselves as beings willing to disrupt the social order to become the most powerful leaders in the world.

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it’s through this lens that GeGeGe no Kitarō illustrates the potential for two distinct societies to cooperate for the common good, as well as the potential for great harm from disruptive entities within each group. Yōkai and humans both desire social cohesion, supporting members of the community altruistically and punishing those who go against that desire. Kitaro exemplifies the positive side. He wants his brethren and humans to have a peaceful coexistence, and if yōkai threaten that solidarity, he will punish them through his authority as a leader. He leads by example; he doesn’t expect his allies to subordinate themselves to him, but rather respect each other as members of a cohesive group. This distinguishes Kitaro from Nezumi-Otoko, who emphasizes his own selfish interests over respecting his colleagues; Nezumi-Otoko’s desire for material and financial gain influences his actions, and he is punished accordingly.Gegege no Kitaro (2018) Anime StillGegege no Kitaro (2018) Anime Still

Individual episodes of the Gegege no Kitarō anime demonstrate the difficult nature of social interactions between yōkai and humans. From a sunekosuri who regrets the pain they inadvertently caused to a human they love and respect, to a mysterious “ghost train” that punishes a man who denies the existence of monsters, such episodes explore the complexities of life for both yōkai and human societies. Working alongside each other to promote social cohesion is a goal for both communities. They both see how society can be thrown into disorder thanks to the selfish actions of a few unscrupulous individuals, and cooperate to avoid causing any damage