Hakaba Kitarō (墓場鬼太郎, Kitarō of the Graveyard) began life as a manga written between 1960 to 1964 by Shigeru Mizuki. Originally published as a series of rental books, interest in the series allowed it to be picked up as a serialized manga (under the slightly changed name Hakaba no Kitarō) in Weekly Shonen Magazine in 1965. This revival would see wider release in 1967 under the name of GeGeGe no Kitarō, as the word 'Hakaba' (graveyard) was considered too dark for audiences at the time. Since then, the series has been adapted for television a total of six times, not counting live-action works, all carrying the GeGeGe name. The manga would not be directly adapted into anime until the release of a 13 episode series in 2008, nearly 50 years later, which was animated by Toei Animation like the rest of the GeGeGe adaptations and ran as the late-night counterpart to its 5th series on noitaminA.
Like much of Mizuki's work, this tale was based on a local kamishibai — told by by Masami Ito and Keiyo Tatsumi, their version of Hakaba Kitarō (墓場奇太郎, "The Strange Boy of the Graveyard") was adapted from similar folktales, while parts of the character's origin came from the legend of the Kosodate Yurei (childrearing ghost). Mizuki put his own spin on the story, as follows:
1950's Japan. A time of change but also of great inequality. In this era lives Mizuki, a man of modest means. His life changes for good when two members of the Yurei tribe move in next door. The couple is elderly, and hopes to live to see the birth of their son because they are the last of their kind. Unfortunately, the couple dies before this joyous occasion and Mizuki buries the mother.
Out from the grave crawls a boy, Kitaro. Mizuki originally intends to kill him, but cannot bring himself to do so. He adopts the boy, much to the joy of Kitaro's father, who has revived as a walking eyeball.
Kitaro is a strange child whom his classmates jeer at for his deformity (his missing left eye) and anti-social tendencies. Mizuki's mother cannot bear him because he seems to talk to himself.
Kitaro's sole joy is Neko, a girl who turns into a cat when she smells or sees rats and fish. She has a beautiful singing voice which lands her a place on a local talent show when Kitaro suggests she become a singer.
This joy is short-lived. Through a series of tragic events, Kitaro finds himself heartbroken, homeless, and broke.
This only serves to fuel his bad behavior...
Tropes exhibited by this series include:
- Afterlife Express: Played with. The train is a hallucination that Kitaro creates to mess with Nezumi Otoko and the werewolf.
- Anti-Hero: Kitaro's main distinction between himself in this series, and his more heroic counterpart in Gegege, is this. The Kitaro most know protects humans, or at worst plays scary pranks on the more foolish ones. Kitaro in Hakaba however drives a couple to hang themselves, presumably out of madness. A detail in the manga that's somewhat glossed over in the animation, however, is that these two were serial killers. Kitaro doesn't seem to go after the innocent at all, and even spares a manga artist's life in the aforementioned hanging episode, as he wasn't guilty of anything. He can however, play cruel jokes with an equally cruel twist of fate on the foolishly greedy or arrogant. He does show occasional concern or altruism for certain characters as well, although this dissipates as the series progresses or in other cases is backed by an ulterior motive.
- Anyone Can Die: Including some very surprising characters of note for anyone used to Gegege no Kitaro.
- Aroused by Their Voice: The sound of Miss Toad's zipper mouth has this effect on Nezumi Otoko.
- Author Avatar: There are no less than 3 different men with the name Mizuki in this series, one of them being Shigeru Mizuki. None of them, however, have one arm; a quality Kitaro's creator is somewhat famous for.
- Bittersweet Ending: It seems years later (or possibly another reality, if you look at it from a metaphysical perspective) after the anime's 10th episode. It's implied that Kitaro has had a sort of falling out with his father, as he addresses him dismissively, Oyaji expresses both concern and disappointment in regards to his son in turn, and the two are never seen on screen together for the duration of the episode. Kitaro himself, presumably adapting to an increasingly modernized world, is now as manipulative and ambitious as Nezumi Otoko, running an afterlife insurance scam on naive humans. On top of that, a metaphysical monologue is formed around those who foolishly threw their lives away to this scam, and reflect in hell with Oyaji about how life is squandered, and the whole thing becomes a statement about how human life is more frightening than anything the Youkai come up with. But hey, at least Kitaro and Nezumi still have their unusual friendship.
- Breaking Old Trends: The 2008 anime is the only Kitaro adaptation that completely lacks "GeGeGe no Kitaro" as an opening theme, instead using "Mononoke Dance" by Denki Groove.
- Came Back Wrong: Medama-Oji. See the other article about Kitaro.
- Celestial Bureaucracy: Kitaro mentions King Enma in the anime's last episode.
- Costume Copycat: The fake Kitaro, although he accuses the real one of copying him.
- Creepy Child: Kitaro.
- Darker and Edgier: Very much, compared to the other Kitaro anime.
- Early-Installment Weirdness: This Kitaro, and the Gegege No Kitaro that most know, share a similar grisly origin, background, and a few quirks but the similarities really end there. Whereas the Kitaro most know is generally benevolent and stands up for what's right, this Kitaro is sardonic and lackadaisical. While Gegege no Kitaro is a powerful fighter, using an array of often bizarre abilities, Hakaba Kitaro is more of a trickster, relying on illusions and cunning to defend himself...but he's otherwise not too tough. Gegege no Kitaro and his father don't feel the need to pursue money (although the temptation pricks at him every now and then.), but Hakaba Kitaro downright loves money and spends a good portion of the series trying to make a coin or two. Standard Kitaro treats Neko Musume like a sister and is oblivious to her advances, while Hakaba Kitaro is downright infatuated with her predecessor Neko in a total role reversal.
- Evil Debt Collector: Kitaro tries, and fails, to collect debts for a loanshark in "The Water God."
- Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: The original rental books prefixed each chapter title with "Kitaro's Night Tales [X]" (鬼太郎夜話, Kitaro Yobanashi/Kitaro Yawa), which was also later reused as a tile for a collection.
- Last of His Kind: Kitaro is the last surviving member of the Ghost Tribe, not counting his father.
- Living Forever Is Awesome: Possibly. Kitaro seems to not care much about his immortality either way. It does seem to play a role in his general detachment from the world around him, leading to his more mischievous ways.
- Physical God: The Water God.
- Too Dumb to Live: Neko doesn't realize the real Kitaro has only one good eye before following the fake Kitaro!
- Truer to the Text: The 2008 anime is a straightforward adaptation of the original manga, and uses its title, rather than an entry in GeGeGe no Kitarō.
- Uncleanliness Is Next to Ungodliness: Half and half with Nezumi Otoko, who serves as an antagonist sometimes, but eventually becomes a strange source of consistency for the increasingly outcast Kitaro through the changing times. He's nonetheless, however, legendary for his filth; a trait that he can even defend himself with!
- Youkai: Obviously.