The 2018 anime Gegege no Kitaro, the latest in a long line of adaptations of the classic occult manga by the same name, features a certain character who stands out from the rest. Tall, leggy, and full of attitude, Nekomusume (“Catchick” in the Crunchyroll translation) is the biggest departure from Mizuki Shigeru’s original designs out of everyone in this new series. While this might have once been considered uncharacteristic of Gegege no Kitaro, it’s an unsurprising development based on what started 11 years ago.
In 2007, the image of Gegege no Kitaro was changed forever—by moe. Nekomusume, once as strange and bizarre as every other creature in the series, was suddenly…cute. And not just prettied up a little, either. Nekomusume went from being ostensibly a catgirl (the literal meaning of her name) to being practically exemplar for the character archetype.
The fanartists noticed. Oh, did they ever. Seemingly overnight, she was one of the most popular subjects around. Some artists, previously known for their sheer variety of subject matter, suddenly had a noticeable Nekomusume bias. And as was inevitable, a good amount of it was varying degrees of lewd. This was the general direction of Nekomusume in the online fandom, right through to 2018.
While going back to the designs of iterations past would’ve been a respectable decision, the current Nekomusume takes the opposite route, pushing the sex appeal up by five notches. Whereas the 2007 version could be considered cuteness made hot by the fans, this current character is built to be hot from the ground up, and in a more contemporary way as well. She’s a combination of snobbery, ferocity, and tsundere attitude—just one of many elements in an anime that asks, “How does the Showa-era franchise stay relevant in modern times?”
Nekomusume, despite towering over Kitaro and being clearly designed to appeal to a contemporary audience, actually doesn’t feel too blatantly pandering or forced. It’s an overall strength of the series, actually, that an updated series doesn’t come across like an old man in a cane asking, “What’s the haps, fellow kids?” The show also lets her face turn grossly demonic when she fights, so she’s not perfectly beautiful all the time. And if people are gonna look at Nekomusume though perv glasses, at least this one is designed with more adult proportions.
That does make me wonder if any of the diehard fans of the 2007 Nekomusume rejected this version. Which will ultimately be the most enduring design? I look forward to seeing the results in another 11 years.