Image source: 「妖怪人間ベム」50周年プロジェクト公式 on Twitter

The new short form anime Oretacha Yōkai Ningen is based on the classic anime Yōkai Ningen Bem. But, what exactly is Yōkai Ningen Bem about?

Originally aired in 1968, Yōkai Ningen Bem follows three humanoid monsters: the large male and leader named Bem, the female named Bera, and the small child-like monster named Bero. The three travel the world wishing to become true humans. And Bem believes this can be achieved if they protect humans from supernatural beings and wash the souls of wicked humans. But, their appearance often brings them scorn. So, they hide in the shadows, helping when they can and hoping one day their good deeds will turn them into humans.

A remake of the series was made in 2006 called Humanoid Monster Bem. It follows the same three monsters. But, rather than traveling across the world, they find themselves in a coastal city filled with an evil atmosphere. They soon find the city is overrun by the supernatural and stay to protect the humans. Unfortunately, the humans often treat the three with disdain. Nonetheless, the three help when they can in the hopes one day they, too, will become humans.

When we look at both of the Yōkai Ningen Bem series, they have a similar narrative design. The story follows the characters Bem, Bera, and Bero in an episodic format where they fight different monsters. It’s what the characters face that gives each series its narrative structure, though. Although both are episodic series, the monsters Bem, Bera, and Bero face are vastly different. The 1968 series has the characters facing an assortment of supernatural and human monsters. It’s very interesting because it creates the idea monsters are all around us, from things we don’t understand to the people around us.

Image source: 「妖怪人間ベム」50周年プロジェクト公式 on Twitter

For instance, in the third episode of the 1968 series, Bem, Bera, and Bero find themselves in a town where each month a child is taken from his or her home. What we find out is the mothers are possessed by a vengeful spirit every full moon. This spirit then forces the mothers to go on a killing spree. So, it’s up to the heroes to stop the spirit.

Yet, only two episodes later, the monster the three characters defeat is none other than a human mob boss. What this mob boss wants is for a mannequin maker to return to the crime world. However, the mannequin maker doesn’t want to for the sake of his daughter. So, Bem, Bera, and Bero step in and punish the mob boss. This lends the series to having some intriguing villains and creates the idea even humans can be like the monsters we can’t see.

When we jump to the 2006 series, though, Bem, Bera, and Bero end up defeating some sort of supernatural monster in every episode. It’s a stark contrast to the original series but gives the 2006 series its own charm. Essentially, the series is an episodic supernatural thriller like The X-Files. That doesn’t mean the Bem, Bera, and Bero don’t interact with humans. They, in fact, befriend a few human children and many of those children’s parents and other adults become caught up in the machinations of different supernatural beings. So, while Bem, Bera, and Bero are fighting supernatural beings, on occasion, they have to punish a human or two.

While there are some broad narrative differences between the 1968 and 2006 series, the underlying theme of Bem, Bera, and Bero wanting to become humans remains. It’s a very good concept because it forces us to ask what it truly means to be human. This is both in the physical and philosophical sense. Consider, Bem, Bera, and Bero hide their true monstrous from with illusory magic. But, even then, the three characters look off-putting. For instance, their skin is different and they have pointed ears, fangs, and—depending on which series you’re watching—three fingers. They’re nowhere near humans in the physical sense.

Image source: 「妖怪人間ベム」50周年プロジェクト公式 on Twitter

However, becoming physically humans isn’t what Bem, Bera, and Bero are striving for. What’s more important to them is becoming humans in a philosophical sense. This has a lot of different connotations to it. However, for the three characters, it’s doing good deeds and saving humans. And we see this in every episode of both series. Granted, what a good deed entails varies from episode to episode. But, for the most part, it’s either saving humans from monsters or cleansing humans of their wicked ways. Unfortunately, because Bem, Bera, and Bero’s outer appearance is so different, many of the humans they encounter can’t accept them as humans. That doesn’t mean that every human fears or despises them. Those moments are few and far between, but they become touching because we find Bem, Bera, and Bero are one step closer to their goal.

Here’s what’s interesting about the goal of becoming humans: Bem, Bera, and Bero all have their own opinions on if they can truly achieve it. Because Bero is the youngest and wants friends his age, we actually see him desire to become a human the most. And he firmly believes that one day he’ll become one. It’s his optimism that’s beautiful to watch and makes us want to cheer the three on. In the same vein, Bem believes in his heart of hearts the three of them can become humans if they help humans in need. However, he’s more stoic in his optimism and recognizes they have long road ahead of them.

Image source: 「妖怪人間ベム」50周年プロジェクト公式 on Twitter

Bera, on the other hand, is far more skeptical of the idea they’ll become humans. It’s not to throw a wet blanket on their hopes, but rather comes from her strong sense of justice and the fact she’s blunt with her words. Think of it in these terms: Bera believes in Bem’s cause of saving humans to become humans themselves. However, she also sees the prejudice they face no matter where they go. So, if only few humans are willing to accept them for their efforts, is it still worth helping humans? It’s a good question and forces us to think about this as well. Thus, we get put in a fascinating bind where we want to see Bem, Bera, and Bero become humans, but wonder if the route they’re taking is the correct one. With an idea like that, it’s almost no wonder the franchise has endured.

Yōkai Ningen Bem is heading into its 50th anniversary with a new series. And with a small understating of the franchise we can appreciate Bem, Bera, and Bero’s current journey to become humans in Oretacha Yōkai Ningen.

Yōkai Ningen Bem (1968) is available used on Blu-ray and laserdisc on Amazon. Humanoid Monster Bem (2006) is unavailable outside of Japan.

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