Kitaro: Strange Fun for Everyone, by celebrated Japanese manga writer, Shigeru Mizuki, is a reprint of one of his stories for Halloween Comicfest‘s free comics. Published by Drawn & Quarterly, their seven volume collection of Kitaro with translator, Zack Davisson, has brought portions of the series into English for the first time. This isn’t issue one, which could be a deal breaker for those who prefer to start at the beginning. I’m usually one of those people and this isn’t a story where jumping in goes unnoticed. Context clues and acceptance of the established elsewhere will suffice, but Google searches will be necessary to appreciate cultural references, down to the fact that the main characters, including Kitaro, are yōkai, who come in a hodgepodge of peculiar appearances, from wigged judge to tooth to piece of toast (my descriptions, not there’s).
The matter-of-factness of information, like Kitaro’s dad is an eyeball, comes with its own enjoyments. The tale tells a complete episode from beginning to end. What removed my hesitation to pick up this issue blind was the summary, which promised exactly what the title says. Yōkai everywhere are receiving model airplanes in the mail that fly when put together but are commandeered to steer towards the same destination, a deserted island. Who is behind this, and why? Kitaro means to find out, as does Nezumi Otoko, who I’m not actually sure who he is but gets accepted as the somewhat bumbling, unofficial detective trying to find the missing yōkai.
The dialogue is straightforward and often related to what’s happening. Same with the art, that uses a lot of white space. The plot brings more than enough unusualness, for flashy writing and drawings to be unnecessary and likely distracting. When a simile does get thrown in, like twice in different contexts to a straw, it’s memorable, and the ‘broom effect’ is a genius name for what it describes.
Reviewer quotes from an ad in the issue refer to the series’ darkness but this didn’t register until the end. The villain is an abusive dad who looks like spaghetti, or one of those dogs with mops for hair in front of their eyes, and events turn dark fast. There’s a definite after kick to Kitaro that could raise eyebrows but I enjoyed. Even if this isn’t the issue you want to start with, it does sell the world effectively. Kitaro is worth exploring if you enjoy quality fantasy, Studio Ghibli films like Spirited Away, or want to learn more about Japanese folklore.
Halloween Comicfest took place on October 29th.