Kitaro Meets Nurarihyon by Sigeru Mizuki, published by Drawn & Quarterly, is a classic comic of monster hunting. Long before Sam and Dean Winchester followed in their father’s footsteps, before Agents Mulder and Scully began taking cases, even before Kolchack stalked the night for news, Mizuki drew his manga about Kitaro, a young yokai hunting other yokai.
Kitaro Meets Nurarihyon serves as the second volume of Kitaro stories, but new readers can quickly pick up anywhere thanks to Mizuki’s clear storytelling in each of the short stories and go back to Kitaro’s birth for more. The premise is straightforward and engaging: Kitaro is a young boy yokai with sharp wits and stupendous strength. He seeks to do good, and his adventures pit him against nefarious yokai that would doom mortal humans and even capture their souls.
Kitaro’s world is filled with fascinating characters. Kitaro’s father is an eyeball fitted on a tiny body, and his best frenemy is the smelly, greedy, vain, rascally yokai Nezumi Otoko who may not ever have washed his cloak but is generally benevolent. In each story of the collection, Kitaro is pitted against a villain, with first being “one of the worst” yokai, Nurarihyon. Posing as an old man wandering train stations with a book under his arm, Nurarihyon is responsible for calamitous explosions as well as following travelers home, consuming all their best food and tea, and then vanishing, leaving victims bewildered.
Nurarihyon is just one of many of the bad yokai Kitaro fights against. As translator Zack Davisson notes in his appendix, “Yokai Files,” the term is difficult to translate. Often it is said to be “ghost” or “demon,” but the yokai are far more varied than Western tradition as they also include magical animals, shape-changers and goblins, giants, cursed humans, and even new ones created by science. Many yokai have powers such as turning trespassers into diamonds or casting illusions, or they may simply be average people trying to get along in a supernatural world.
Mizuki builds his stories from the expansive mythology of Japan, bringing in classics like the giant Umi Zato, who appear as lute-players at sea and overturn ships. He also borrows from abroad, such as the Chinese witch Jakotsu Baba and Dracula IV, who arrives from Hungary on a false passport. Upon this foundation, Mizuki builds modern stories mixing cityscapes with abandoned huts and temples, often adding a flair for science fiction with rogue machines and remote-controlled aircraft.
Even beyond the entertaining stories, Kitaro Meets Nurarihyon is a work of art thanks to Mizuki’s captivating style. In his drawings, the typical manga style is followed with cartoony figures featuring big heads and eyes. Yet Mizuki uses near-photorealism in his establishing panels and backgrounds, which in a way departs from the funny spookiness of the yokai into something more real and terrifying. Mizuki’s strong use of hatching and heavy inks give depth and shadow to the more monstrous images, but readers should not fear: Kitaro is just around the corner to save the day.