Sunday, March 9, 2008

Hakaba Kitarou, episode 6

Based on a classic old manga about an amoral and somewhat grotesque boy (Kitaro) who is the last remaining descendant of the "Ghost Tribe" of yokai (aside from the spiritual remains of his father, who is just an eyeball with a little body), Hakaba Kitaro does an impressive job of capturing the old-school look with a modern polished sheen. Somewhat episodic, it generally revolves around a hapless human encountering a yokai or monster and suffering horribly or it - usually while Kitaro watches on, not bothering to help anyone unless its to his own benefit.

Kitaro is indeed a callous little brat and he lack of interest in saving anyone around him, no matter how undeserving their persecution at the hands of one or another disfigured monster, was rather surprising, as I was under the impression that Kitaro was a classic character who had always fought for peace between humans and yokai, rising above his own tragic origins. Instead, he openly wonders why he should bother saving any human and only gets motivated when its to his own benefit. The basic formula of the show is to have some human stumble into a monster and get cursed or attacked, with Kitaro taking action only when it affects him. If the human is saved (which is rare) then it's purely coincidental. All the while, the monster child is more than happy to sponge off a hapless man whose fate got wrapped up in his own.

Sharing an art director and animation style with Mononoke, Hakaba Kitaro is certainly visually impressive. The papered texture and patterns, combined with the retro character designs, create a strong feeling of age, fitting the venerable source material. It makes for a very odd mix impressions, seeming both modern and dated at the same time. The designs may well put off some viewers.

The aimless predictability of the show makes it hard to really get behind. A lot is said about Kitaro needing to survive, as he's the last of the Ghost Tribe, but it has little effect on the story. It's also difficult to empathize with him or find justification for his behavior - he certainly has a tragic backstory but it's delivered with just enough humor to diffuse any real gravitas (as are the rest of the horrific incidents humans suffer). It's not consistently funny enough to be a comedy, but neither is it really serious enough to be effective horror, despite the dark subject matter. That's a very tough line to walk, and I don't think that Hakaba Kitaro will be able to pull that off.
based on 6 episodes : ANN : Wikipedia : YouTube

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