- Anime and Its Roots in Early Japanese Monster Art by Zilia Papp
Anime and Its Roots in Early Japanese Monster Art is a welcome addition to the growing body of academic writing in English on Japanese manga and anime. However, it suffers from a misleading title, which may alienate its target audience of Japanese scholars, because it implies an essentialist, totalizing, or even Orientalist perspective that treats all Japanese culture as unchanging and looks to ancient art or literature to explain modern culture. This book is not, as the title implies, an overview of classical sources of contemporary anime or a survey of Japanese cultural elements in anime as a whole. Papp’s focus is far more specific. She analyzes the work of author and artist Mizuki Shigeru (b. 1922) and his long-running manga Gegege no Kitarō (1959–1969) as well as its various offshoots, including an animated television show (1971–1972; 1985–1988; 1996–1998; 2008) and several live-action films. Papp catalogs the folklore that influenced Mizuki’s work and analyzes his creations in terms of the changing uses of folklore in the twentieth century.
Mizuki Shigeru first began writing about Kitarō, the one-eyed monster boy born in a graveyard, in the 1950s under the title Hakaba no Kitarō (Graveyard Kitarō) for kamishibai (paper theater) and kashihon (rental comic books), which were the forerunners of modern manga. In 1959 Mizuki retitled the story Gegege no Kitarō, turning his own childhood nickname into a nonsense word with a spooky sound. He also toned down some of the horror elements to create a more child-friendly version in manga format. Kitarō is the last descendant of a race of yōkai (supernatural beings, variously translated as spirits, demons, or monsters) whose serial adventures involve encounters with hundreds of different creatures, drawn from Japanese folklore. Gegege no Kitarō is largely unknown to Western audiences, even among fans of Japanese animation, because it has not been translated. Nevertheless, it is central to the development of manga and anime and remains tremendously popular in Japan. Papp’s book is the only book-length study of Gegege no Kitarō in English.
After a brief introduction, Papp begins with an overview of images of yōkai from prehistoric times to the present. She demonstrates how yōkai began as [End Page 342] the embodiment of common fears of death and disease in earliest written records through the medieval period and then changed in the Edo period (1600–1868) to represent outcasts and foreigners. With this change, yōkai became the subject of picture scrolls, chapbooks, and woodblock prints, giving them corporeal or anthropomorphic form for the first time. Papp discusses Edo period supernatural tales and ghost stories but in particular the encyclopedic codices that give the name, illustration, and features of hundreds of yōkai. Papp ends with a discussion of how yōkai became tools of imperial propaganda in the Meiji, Taishō, and early Shōwa periods (i.e., from the late nineteenth century through World War II) and then reemerged as entertainment for children in the 1950s and 1960s.
In the next brief chapter Papp gives a quick biography of Mizuki and examines folklore precedents for the main characters in Gegege no Kitarō. Papp draws most of her biographical details from accounts Mizuki has written of his own life; he describes himself as having been interested in folklore and art from an early age. His formative experiences, however, came as a soldier in World War II, when he was posted to New Guinea from 1943 to 1945. During his time there, he claims to have had supernatural experiences in the jungle. While recovering from the loss of his left arm in an air raid, he formed close friendships with local tribes and became fascinated with their folklore. Although Papp briefly mentions the influence of South Pacific masks on Mizuki’s art, she never traces New Guinean folklore in his work but concentrates almost exclusively on Japanese precedents. In the second half of the chapter Papp discusses some generalized precedents...