Hi there! It’s Mokugyo, the manga-and-anime-loving writer from MANGA.TOKYO! I visited Shigeru Mizuki Retrospective: The Life of GeGeGe, an exhibition displaying manga works and illustrations of the late Shigeru Mizuki, who was one of the most influential manga artists in Japan. The venue in Tokyo was filled with all kinds of viewers from children to elderly people, which demonstrates that his popularity stands the test of time.
I’m going to write about this legendary manga artist, Shigeru Mizuki, and examine the reasons why the Japanese love him so much, and what impact he made on the next generation of manga and anime works.
Who was Shigeru Mizuki?
A portrait of Shigeru Mizuki at the exhibition.
Shigeru Mizuki was a leading manga artist of Japan. He was born in 1922 and passed away in 2015 at the age of 93.
He was one of the most well-renowned manga artist in Japan. So much so that a story of his fake autographs floating around on auction sites on the internet hit the headlines recently.
His iconic work, GeGeGe no Kitaro, in which many yokai, monster-like creatures from Japanese folklore, appear. Five TV anime adaptation series of the manga were broadcast between 1968 and 2007. Live-action movie adaptations were also created.
Another masterpiece of his is Akuma-kun, which revolves around a genius devil boy who summons his fellow devils to fight against the villain devils. The manga was also adapted into TV anime series and a live-action movie.
Shigeru Mizuki was renowned for his many works of yokai stories. He was also recognized as a researcher of yokai, who read numerous documents from many areas and time periods. He collected and then studied stories of yokai, monsters, ghosts and other mysterious creatures in Japan and overseas.
Mizuki was a surviving veteran of World War II and lost his left arm during the war. His autobiographical manga Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths which depicts his experiences in the war is also highly acclaimed.
TV Drama Series Depicting the Life of Mizuki
Mizuki’s wife published her autobiography titled The Wife of GeGeGe in 2008. It received a favorable reception and was adapted into a TV drama series. It’s a touching story of a married couple, Mizuki and his wife, who resiliently lived through the poverty-stricken post-World War II period. A movie and a theater play based on the book were also created and Mizuki’s life came to be known by many Japanese.
GeGeGe no Kitaro: Overwhelmingly Popular, Mizuki’s Magnum Opus
A photo set at the exhibition. Nezumi Otoko on the left and Kitaro on the right.
GeGeGe no Kitaro has a long history. It was originally created in 1954 for kamishibai, a street performance of storytelling for children with illustrated boards. It was called Hakaba Kitaro (Kitaro of the Graveyard) and the story, which was much darker and more frightening than its manga version, revolved around a boy who is half-human and half-yokai. Kitaro didn’t help people in this tale, which contained some brilliant black humor. In 2008, an anime based on the kamisibai was created and aired in the midnight anime slot Noitamina.
Hakaba Kitaro changed its title to GeGeGe no Kitaro in 1967 with a change in the storyline, in which Kitaro was depicted as a kind boy who fights against evil yokai in order to help people. Its first anime series adaptation was aired in 1968 and became hugely popular. Its popularity has never died down and a TV anime series has been created at least once each decade: in the 70s, the 80s, the 90s, and the 2000’s. Most Japanese people associate the name of Kitaro to a boy fighting against yokai, who was renowned by people of all ages. Masako Nozawa, who is famous for voicing Goku in Dragon Ball, played the role of Kitaro in the first and second season, as well as in Hakaba no Kitaro. It’s surprising that she has been voicing a young boy since the 60s!
What fascinates us most in GeGeGe no Kitaro is the many yokai who appear in the story. For instance, Kitaro’s father, Medama Oyaji, is an eyeball with fragile limbs. He is a much-loved character who gives a variety of advice to Kitaro with a high-pitched voice. All Kitaro’s buddies are unique and interesting, including Nurikabe, a wall-shaped yokai; Ittan Momen, a flying yokai who looks like a strip of white cloth; and Sunakake Babaa, an old lady who throws sand into the eyes of enemies.
Before GeGeGe no Kitaro became famous, the word ‘yokai’ was not heard much in Japan. Nowadays, ‘yokai’ is a familiar word to everyone and many manga and anime featuring yokai have been produced.
For those who wondering what the ‘GeGeGe’ in the title means, it derives from how the author called himself when he was very young. He called himself ‘Gegeru’ or ‘GeGe’, as he struggled to pronounce ‘Shigeru.’ Mizuki added one more ‘Ge’ in order to create rhythm and a unique sound, which made the title memorable. Furthermore, ‘Ge!’ or ‘GeGe!’ is the sound Japanese people utter when they are surprised. The title is implying the astonishment of people when they meet yokai face to face.
The Influence on the Next Generation of Manga Artists
Mizuki had a significant impact on many manga artists. There are numerous manga featuring yokai, however ‘yokai’ wouldn’t have been such a common word had Mizuki not existed.
One famous manga featuring yokai is Inuyasha, written and illustrated by Rumiko Takahashi, in which a half-yokai half-human protagonist, Inuyasha, travels around with a human girl named Kagome, encountering various yokai.
Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan (Nurarihyon no Mago) written and illustrated by Hiroshi Shiibashi is another manga in which many yokai appear. The main character, Rikuo, is a grandson of the head of yokai clan and he leads them to battle against their enemies.
Nura is derived from Nurarihyon, the head of all yokai, who appeared in GeGeGe no Kitaro in the 80s as an old man who comes to other people’s houses and eat their food. As the Japanese title Nurarihyon no Mago (lit. Grandson of Nurarihyon) suggests, the image of the yokai Nurarihyon is heavily influenced by GeGeGe no Kitaro.
Nurarihyon also appears in the recent anime GANTZ-0. GANTZ is an action manga series in which humans battle against aliens, and GANTZ-0 is a CGI movie based on the Osaka Arc of the manga series. Many aliens that appear in the movie, including Nurarihyon, are based on yokai. The influence from Mizuki is also evident in this movie.
Yokai depicted by Mizuki are unique existences that are scary as well as comical. He created a one-of-a-kind world by which many people are enchanted. He was also recognized globally and received various awards overseas. I’d like more people to know about him and his works.