In addition to being a WWII Veteran, Shigeru Mizuki is a manga superstar and a cultural icon. The Japanese illustrator, who passed away last November at the age of 93, is often credited with single-handedly rescuing pre-19th Century folklore. After a period of cultural purging when “foolish popular beliefs” were eradicated from mainstream consciousness, Mizuki documented hundreds of mythical creatures known as “yokai”. These bizarre and sometimes scary characters had been staples of Japanese oral tradition, stories Mizuki remembered hearing during his upbringing in the rural countryside.
He’s most famous for his manga GeGeGe no Kitar? (which began in the 1960’s and remains alive in various iterations to this day), a series that was deemed too intense for children. But it’s a set of anatomically notated illustrations of various yokai that proves exceptionally cold—almost morbid. These works were perhaps influenced by the traumas Mizuki endured in WWII, including the amputation of his own mangled arm—without anesthesia!
Going below the surface adds realism to these illustrations, but it also invites a darker mood; it’s the transcendence flat ink into a physical world of science, blood, and viscera. Not only does it make these fantastic yokai seem materially tangible, this technique forces viewers to contemplate mortality and the fleeting nature of life itself. Even semi-immortal monsters can one day end up on a steel slab, the subject of emotionless, academic dissection. Which isn’t to suggest that Mizuki’s work is devoid of inspiration and whimsy; this series is somehow both mesmerizing and macabre, undeniably imaginative.
Meet some of Mizuki’s most unique and haunting yokai below.
“Doro-ta-b?” aka “muddy rice field man” can be found protruding from the muck. He draws nutrients directly from the earth through his “mud sack” and can even breathe while completely buried. Looks like a sloth and a grizzly bear had a baby!
“Makura-gaeshi” aka “the pillow mover” is a soul stealer who can only be seen by children. He’s definitely an exemplar of monsters that hide under beds. Looks feisty, doesn’t he?
This chilling hag, “Yanagi-baba” aka “the willow witch” lives in a rotted out tree trunk and absorbs nutrients through its roots. She’s over 1,000 years old, so she actually looks pretty good for her age.
This alien-looking pod-creature is “Bisha-ga-tsuku”, another soul stealer. The brain emits a fear-inducing toxin before his feelers literally inhale human souls. His body resonates with the sound of a beating heart. Definitely one of the most unnerving of all the yokai.
This gigantic monkey-cat beast is “Kasha” aka “the messenger of hell”, and he’s notorious for bringing typhoons down on funeral processions. What a jerk! His lungs can produce gale-force winds strong enough to blow an occupied coffin into the stratosphere.
This Gollum-esque fiend is “Hy?sube”, a river-dwelling beastie know to hide in underwater caves. His internal coiled bones can transmit a fatal bacterium, so steer clear!
Watch out for “Mannen-dake”, a 10,000-year old bamboo colossus. He uses syringe-like fingers to stab his victims while simultaneously sucking out their souls. Soul-stealing seems to be a definite theme among Mizuki’s yokai.
Perhaps an early iteration of Pokemon, “Kijimunaa” is a relatively friendly creature found in the branches of banyan trees. His humungous eyes can rotate freely and independently on sets of internal ball-bearings.
This well-endowed fella is “Fukuro-sage” a type of “tanuki” or “raccoon dog”. Unique for his shape-shifting abilities, his stomach turns food into sake. Neat trick! But before you invite him in for a drink, be warned: He also sports an internal poison sack.
All of these illustrations, and many more, can be found in Mizuki’s 2004 book release, Yo?kai Daizukai.
Are you a fan of Shigeru Mizuki? What do you think of his anatomically notated yokai? Sound off in the Comments section!
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