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“Father Trout and Wave Lad Prepare to Battle the Sea Wraiths”

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Shigeru Mizuki (1922-2015) is considered one of Japan’s most important manga artists. Fascinated by folktales and legends as a child, he gained fame in the early 1960s with graphic adventures featuring characters based on yōkai, or paranormal creatures. The most lasting was Gegege no Kitarō [roughly, “Spooky Kitaro], a series of legend-inspired stories based around a mysterious undead little boy. It was adapted into anime beginning in 1968 and, and series based on Mizuki’s characters have been produced continuously since then to the present.

The fifth anime series was produced by Toei, one of Japan’s largest and most influential studios, and ran in 100 episodes from 2007 to 2009. Its premise was the search for the 47 “Chosen Yōkai Warriors,” a supernatural all-star team of Japanese legendary figures, one from each one of Japan’s far-flung prefectures. This sketch features two such yokai warriors, Iwama Bōzu (or “Father Trout”) and Nami Kozō (“Wave Lad”). The two are the subjects of traditional Japanese yōkai legends, one from the inland prefecture of Gifu, the other from the coastal region of Shizuoka.

Paradoxically, in oral tradition the two legends have nothing in common: Father Trout is a spiritually ascended fish who lives in a freshwater river, while Wave Lad is an amphibious creature that lives in the surf of famous bathing and surfing beaches. So the two would never, ever come in contact with each other — except in the whimsical world of a Kitarō adventure, where Wave Lad travels far from his home to enter Father Trout’s Buddhist monastery to gain the spiritual power to defeat a powerful yōkai nemesis. It helps that “Bōzu” properly means an ordained monk, while “Kozō” can refer to a novice undergoing self-discipline training.

And so a new legend is born.

For more on the larger role of the yōkai world and particularly on Mizuki’s impact on contemporary Japanese culture, see Michael Dylan Foster, Pandemonium and Parade (California, 2009).

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