What’s it about? When an unknown force starts turning people into trees, timid Yuta insists it’s because of a yokai and that they need to call on the mythic “Kitaro” to defeat it. His friend Mana agrees to send a letter via Yokai Mail—but she never expected Kitaro to actually respond to it!
We included GeGeGe no Kitaro on our premiere list with the understanding that, if it was a kids’ show, we wouldn’t actually cover it. After watching it, I’d say it’s probably closer to “kids’ show” than “not a kids’ show”… but y’know what? It’s right on the edge, it’s pretty fun, and I’m trapped inside of my apartment because ice is falling from the sky in April. So screw it! Let’s do the dang thing!
Since I led with that “kids’ show” comment, let me clarify that Kitaro is not a little kids’ show. While you always get the sense that things will work out okay (and they do), the bits with the yokai can be genuinely spooky, and there’s some supernatural violence that’s bloodless but still fairly intense. It’s the kind of show that would fit in a Saturday Morning Cartoon bloc, but probably not something you’d show to a toddler.
The good news is, if you do watch it with a kid, you’ll likely have a fun time with it yourself. This premiere has strong energy and pacing, establishing its characters while still keeping the central ghost story moving forward. It also really bears repeating that the creepy bits are quite well done. There’s an eyeball yokai that toes the line between amusing and uncanny, along with multiple scenes of people getting turned into trees that are both fluid and unnerving—solid “Y7-rated” body horror.
In addition to being enjoyably creepy, Kitaro has an understated sense of humor that keeps things from getting too dreary. There’s a joke about one of the characters having “coincidental power”—causing fortuitous accidents to occur—that I dearly hope is a running gag, and any series where the female protagonist’s response to seeing a talking eyeball is “Let’s poke it!” gets automatic points from me.
There’s also some underlying social commentary that’s crystal clear without feeling too in-your-face. Modern technology plays a major role in the story, both as a helpful device and a force for self-centered destruction. In a fairly brilliant narrative twist, it turns out the real villain isn’t the evil yokai, but an Asshole YouTuber who unleashed the yokai by smashing its seal in a viral “prank” video. (And while I can’t prove that a kids’ anime just extended its middle finger to Logan Paul specifically, the thought that it might have fills me with immense joy).
It speaks to the show’s willingness to not just be a fun ghost story, but to use its horror elements to engage with modern cultural concerns. This looks to be an ongoing element of the series, too, given that the next episode preview features an idol concert. The idea that “modern society has lost its understanding of and respect for the spiritual” is fairly pervasive in this premiere, and while that could start to feel a little Old Man Yells At Cloud if they aren’t careful, I thought this episode at least was balanced and clever in its handling of its themes.
Still, though, probably my favorite thing about this premiere was its female protagonist. Kitaro himself is more a force of nature than a character at this point, so the series relies on its “normal human” perspective-character, Mana, to carry the emotional weight of the story.
Simply put, Mana is great. She’s courageous and kind, standing up for and supporting the younger, more timid Yuta when he tells them about Kitaro even though she doesn’t believe in yokai herself. She’s the only one brave enough to drop the letter into the spooky Yokai Mailbox; and when Kitaro does show up, her male friend flees in terror while she stands her ground and investigates, even going so far as to join Kitaro in his yokai hunt.
Her role in the hunt itself is a bit less positive: she makes a nearly fatal error early on and contributes to the final fight solely via that “coincidental power” I mentioned. She helps Kitaro, but it’s entirely on accident. Mostly she just spends her time getting in his way or standing there while he flips around shooting finger guns and hair needles.
Since this is just the premiere, I don’t mind her being the “spunky but clumsy human in over her head” character (in some ways she reminds me of Hiyori from Noragami, whom I very much love), but only if the series gives her room to grow, learn, and actively contribute in future episodes. If it falls into a pattern of sidelining or damseling her, Gegege no Kitaro will get real old, real fast.
Kitaro‘s staying power will likely be determined by three things: How engaging it can make its yokai-of-the-week stories, how well it handles its social commentary, and how much agency and power it gives Mana as new characters get introduced and the yokai undoubtedly become stronger. As of this first episode, though, Kitaro is a pleasant surprise, and one with far more potential than I’d expected. I can’t guarantee I’ll come back to it (this is looking to be a real packed season), but I certainly wouldn’t mind doing so.