Werewolves (12″x10″) is a watercolor based on the artwork of Francis Tsai
I love the writing of Patricia Briggs and lately I’ve been paying more attention to graphic novels as I’ve recently taken the plunge into manga. It only made sense that I pick up the graphic novel representations of Briggs’ Mercy Thompson and Alpha & Omega series. (I confused myself a fair amount on the first book by reading–or trying to read–it from right to left–it actually took me a couple pages of wondering at the incongruities before I could break free of my own idiocy. Baka!) Amongst the books, I immediately and strongly preferred Mercy Thompson Homecoming, the graphic novel of an original story, over the remakes of her regular novels. It’s hard not to compare two versions of the same story, and my love for the originals runs deep, so it would have really taken a lot to for a remake of any kind to shine nearly as bright. I also preferred the artwork of Homecoming, which was done by Francis Tsai and Amelia Woo. (The covers are by Dan Dos Santos. As I’ve mentioned before, I have a definite weakness for picking up books with covers by Dos Santos. I can’t quite seem to help it.)
I added glow around the wolves’ eyes. At first I didn’t want to go with the square teeth, but then I decided they added a bit more were to the wolf, so I kept them square. I kind of love that his ears are glowing even without obvious back light. Minor regret: I wish I’d angled the head to the side a bit more like Tsai had. Mine isn’t nearly as menacing. Note to self: there is much power in the angle of the head.
One of the most impressive things to me about comic art is how they work the perspective. The first two pages of Homecoming are really engaging. Page one shows several shots of open landscape in four thin panels. The bottom panel involves looking down at a chain link fence. Turn the page and you have a full spread that I attempted to remake in the image at the top. The biggest difference (besides skill level) is that Tsai was not using watercolors and achieved much darker images, the wolves coming at you in menacing black with the background all sketchy, blotchy fabulousness–and a smooth, glowing moon. I really like how his design achieves a sense of “Oh, shit!” because the monsters are on you NOW.
Full size, although the photo isn’t as clear as it could be. I like how splotchy his body turned out, but I don’t think I got the watercolor dark enough to merit the push off foot being the same shade as the fence pole. Ah, another regret.
Not until I looked at Tsai’s painting did I realize the true perspective potential of a chain link fence. Toss hundreds of pounds of werewolf on a fence, and it’s going to bend. Want some diagonal lines to indicate action? Want some odd perspective to make the viewer feel off balance? Use a chain link fence being vaulted across by werewolves! A little moonlight supplies a gleam to one side of the metal and suddenly with the simplest lines they’ve got clear depth and connectivity with the overall image. I have never felt so much warmth towards a chain link fence! I admit, I drew parts of it over and over. I decided to freehand it for irregularity in the smash up, but I wasn’t sure how best to bend it. I wanted it more bent up than the original, mostly just because it seemed fun, but then I decided to quit playing around before I messed up my paper.
I used a white gel pen to highlight over the watercolor. This one claimed to be a .4 but it was the same size as the .8 that I also picked out. Ah, well. Maybe I’ll get my hands on a thinner white next time. I really like how malformed the werewolf on the right is. He is an amalgam of man and wolf, distorted into the monster you see before you. The wolf to the left has a lovely coat of ivory black–warmer than the others–and his glowing eyes and wolf teeth both came out nicely.
I took longer on this project than average as I determined how I would try to do various things, but I liked seeing it on the easel. They look so fierce! I’d see them and go “Rarr!” which brought up a recurring discussion with my husband. He doesn’t think “Rarr!” is appropriate for werewolves. But I don’t think they’re in howl mode. They’re in eat-you mode. Rarr!
Night’s Edge by Barbara Hambly, Charlaine Harris, and Maggie Shayne: This cover really doesn’t do anything for me.
Night’s Edge is a collection of three novellas: Dancer in the Dark by Charlaine Harris, Her Best Enemy by Maggie Shayne, and Someone Else’s Shadow by Barbara Hambly. All three are paranormal, suspense romances, with an emphasis on paranormal suspense. If you’re wondering what I mean by novella, each story is about one hundred paperback pages long. Night’s Edge is well-themed reading for the spooky month of October.
Dancer in the Dark connects with Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse series in that it features a pair of characters who appear on the sidelines of some of the Sookie novels. Layla Rue is a dancer looking for a higher paying job to cover her university expenses. The job she’s auditioning for would require performing with a vampire. At the end of the performance, the vampire would bite her. Sean O’Rourke, an older vampire known for his standoffish nature, becomes her dance partner and quickly realizes that there is something Layla is afraid of–and it isn’t him. As Layla’s past catches up with her, she discovers the person she trusts the most is a vampire.
Her Best Enemy by Maggie Shayne features Kiley Brigham, who has just bought a house that seems to be haunted. Since Kiley is renowned for her journalism work of denouncing paranormal charlatans, she initially believes someone is attempting revenge for one of her features, but the more it seems that her house might genuinely be spooked and dangerous, the more likely it becomes that Kiley will have to ask Jack McCain, the local psychic she’s been targeting for her next exposé, to come to her house and do some ghost busting. Jack believes helping Kiley out would get him off her radar; the complication is that if her house truly is haunted then Kiley could finally get the evidence she’s been looking for that Jack is absolutely the fake she’s accused him of being.
Someone Else’s Shadow by Barbara Hambly revolves around Maddie Laveau, a belly dancer and tarot reader, and the Glendower Building in New York City where she rents space to teach and where her young roommate, Tessa, practices ballet. When Tessa disappears one night from the dance studio, Maddie eventually finds her deeper in the building–along with the hostile voice of a man and later the appearance of Phil, a musician who is living in the practice space. As she struggles to pinpoint the danger, Maddie worries about Tessa and wonders whether Phil is a threat or a friend. Hambly cleverly builds the mystery so that the reader is guessing whether the story will reveal itself to be of a haunting or of a predatory supernatural creature. I won’t spoil it here.
I have long enjoyed the works of Harris and Hambly. This is the first story I’ve read by Shayne. Despite several clear exceptions, I’m not really a fan of the short story, so I wasn’t promptly taken by the notion of novellas, but my enjoyment of Hambly and Harris’s work in the past was enough for me to take this book home without much more thought than that. The plot of each of the stories leant itself well to the novella length.
Harris’s story could easily have been fleshed out into a novel filled with more interactions of the mysterious and romantic type as Layla and Sean built their understanding of each other, and Layla’s past became clear. The story felt quite a bit like Harris’ early book A Secret Rage, but in the style we’ve come to expect from her recent work. Despite being a dancer in poor circumstances, Layla comes across very much as a soft southern belle, and Dancer in the Dark leans more towards a gentle love story than a scintillating mystery, which is why I could easily see the story expanded to build it up more.
Her Best Enemy by Maggie Shayne felt just the right length. Kiley’s interactions with Jack smacked of hard-boiled crime fiction dialogue. While they were both more comfortable insulting each other than anything else, they were also very attracted to each other’s ideal bodies. I admit to wanting to grin and roll my eyes at the same time on a couple occasions. Their antics with each other worked to cancel out the horror elements, such as a message written in human blood on the bathroom mirror. Overall, this story felt the most like a traditional romance, albeit with horror and suspense aspects.
Someone Else’s Shadow by Barbara Hambly was my favorite of the trio. The characters felt the most real to me. Their background information served to add depth to their choices and reactions as well as keep the reader’s active mind wondering which, if any, of the background elements might tie into the current mystery. Another layer was added by the theme of people or situations being misunderstood or falling outside of popular expectations. The prolonged uncertainty behind the supernatural aspects of the story also created more possibility for genuine spookiness. Hambly writes a good story.
Sighted today on the beach: deep fog, ghostly strings of pelicans, and one pair of black bunnies. Tomorrow the rain starts.
When I got out of my car, which was parked next to the sand, the fog was too thick for me to see the ocean, but two black bunnies were munching off to the right, just behind the wind block of sea grass.
I wanted to try my hand at a more traditional tengu. This is the end result. I modeled my tengu after the work of Katsushika Hokusai, who is particularly famous for his “Great Wave Off of Kanagawa.”
The script in the top left says Tengu. I kept the kanji from Hokusai’s image and dropped the hiragana that he had also included. These are the very first kanji of my life. Special thanks to Jess Myers, who graciously answered my questions regarding the kanji in the picture and advised corrections with the aim of making my writing legible. Any end mistakes are, of course, my own.
Tengu prior to inking
Here’s the tengu with several watercolor washes. I initially tried to finish him off with watercolor outlines, but the lines simply weren’t bold enough, so I aimed for the scratchiest pen I had on hand and finished him with the ink, as shown in the top image.
Tengu are mythological creatures of Japan known for their tricks and swordsmanship. As one of the earliest documented magical creatures of Japan, they have gone through multiple transitions regarding their nature, appearance, and skills. For this reason, it’s easy to find seemingly contradictory information about the mysterious creatures, which are also sometimes referred to as minor deities.
Tengu are bird men and often depicted as more bird than man. They have wings and usually beaks. Tengu live in evergreen trees in the mountains. They’re organized within tight communities ruled over by a dominant tengu. Tengu receive credit for having taught worthy Japanese warriors martial arts.
One tengu variation states that tengu are excellent shapechangers. However, they are unable to alter their shadows, so their true identity is revealed within their shadows. Today’s painting came from this story. Several images of fantastic medieval artwork is available on this website. Don’t miss them–they’re awesome.
Miketsukami Tears, watercolor and graphite of anime Miketsukami; Soushi was easily overcome by tears at the slightest kindness from Ririchiyo
Soushi Miketsukami is a kitsune in Inu X Boku SS, a manga and anime by Cocoa Fujiwara. The story brings together several magical creatures from Japanese folklore who have been born into very wealthy human families. They live in Maison de Ayakashi, a special apartment complex that acts as a sanctuary for the mythical residents in the midst of modern day Japan. Each of the few residents staying at the Maison has his or her own secret service agent who is to protect them mentally and physically. All of the residents, agents, and employees of the Maison are different kinds of yokai. The most interesting new creature for me was Sorinozuka, an ittanmomen. The handy translation notes in the manga informed me that ittan-momen means a bolt of cotton. The folkloric version flies about at night, smothering people in a fold of fabric. Sorinozuka seems a much friendlier sort of fabric roll. I admit that I initially mistook him for a flying carpet in the anime, and then I wondered if he was paper scroll–his actual identity remained obscure until I read the manga. Back to Inu X Boku SS: the story is a comedy, romance, mystery. The anime contains a fair number of sexual jokes, such as one episode that revolved continually around a character promptly labeling every person and object he saw as either sadists or masochists. At one time the group was at a Chinese restaurant and the character identified the central spinning section of the family-style table as a masochist that wanted to be spun; he then proceeded to stand there and spin it for quite a while, regularly asking the table if it liked that. In contrast to the s&m jokes, Soushi’s love interest, Ririchiyo, as well as the fabric bolt, Sorinozuka, and another resident of the Maison are all high school students, so I’m guessing the intended audience age is older teens or youthful adults. Much of the mystery involves the characters’ histories and their unique positions as reincarnated yokai within otherwise human families–I’ll avoid spoilers.
Soushi is a nine-tailed fox who works as a secret service agent for the woman he is enamored with. Soushi appears as a light-haired (sometimes white-haired) young man with one blue eye and one yellow eye. He wears a suit with curious black gloves that cover only half of his hands. When Soushi goes into attack mode he partially transforms, gaining white fox ears and nine white fox tails. His clothes also change to a kimono that is open at the chest.
I managed to snap my yellow pencil in half while doing the background. Oops.
Soushi claims he wishes to be Ririchiyo’s dog and his behavior is correspondingly subservient. Ririchiyo has her own problem to overcome, which is a protective habit she has developed of lashing out sarcastically at everyone she interacts with. However, she finds it impossible to be mean to a man who is so wholeheartedly obsequious. As a romantic comedy, their extreme attitudes mesh well. Soushi makes declarations which have obvious sexual overtones, such as, while cleaning, that he is willing to do anything dirty for her. Other instances, such as his desperate loneliness when Ririchiyo is not by his side, come across as more pitiable than anything else. However, Soushi’s meekness works double-time as his strength. His polite responses or statement affirmations tend to manipulate situations better than the bolder methods of some of his comrades. Still, at times there is some mystery as to whether select actions of Soushi’s are of his own accord or because of his tendency towards submission. While the mystery of his background eventually reveals his position fairly directly, the impression from the start is that Soushi is very strong.
quick sketch of manga Soushi sparkling; I love it when they sparkle.
Soushi’s mystery and double nature of seeming to be both submissive and in control simultaneously reflect upon his kitsune heritage. We know he is sly like a fox. In folklore, the number of tails a fox has reveals its power, which is often equated with its age. Nine is the maximum number attainable. While Soushi is a young man, he and the other tenants of the Maison are all meant to be reincarnations, so the nine tails could directly refer to his longevity. Within the anime, of which there is currently only one season available, Soushi doesn’t demonstrate the level of power I would associate with a kitsune at his maximum capacity. Soushi shows highly developed reflexes and fights with a katana, but we don’t see much in the way of fox magic. At one point he stops a bullet with his hand. He bleeds, but takes no notice of the wound. We are told that the yokai within the story heal rapidly, but how rapidly isn’t shown. Additionally, Soushi’s role as romantic hero connects him with the kitsune lovers of folklore and is very important in that Soushi and Ririchiyo’s ability to honestly share their feelings and backgrounds works as a measurement of their success in coming to terms with themselves and their positions in the world as a whole. However, the primary importance within the story of Soushi’s kitsune nature is the mystery it casts on the sincerity of his loyalty, leaving the audience searching for confirmation as to whether Soushi is a loyal fox lover or a clever fox trickster. Perhaps he is both.
Kamisama Kiss by Julietta Suzuki; Cover art by Julietta Suzuki; Nanami the human kami is on the left, and Tomoe the kitsune is on the right
Tomoe is a kitsune in Kamisama Kiss (or Kamisama Hagimemashita), a manga and anime by Julietta Suzuki built on the premise of a teenage girl, Nanami, being given kami (land god) status and needing to learn about her new powers while balancing her life as a kami with her life as a teen. Tomoe is not only a kitsune, but also the familiar of the previous kami. At the start of Kamisama Kiss, Tomoe has been maintaining the kami’s shrine for twenty years while the kami was absent. When Nanami appears as the new land god, Tomoe feels betrayed and does not immediately accept her.
Tomoe’s character is aloof and arrogant. He wears fine kimonos, moves elegantly, and sports white fox ears and a white fox tail on his otherwise human body. His history is slowly revealed as the story progresses with elements of his past bearing strong importance on the plot. Tomoe is hundreds of years old, but does not appear to age. He has shown himself to be incredibly loyal to a select few individuals. For example, even after the previous kami’s disappearance, Tomoe continued to faithfully tend the shrine for twenty years as he waited for the kami’s return. Tomoe strongly disdains weakness. His problem with the new kami is that she is a powerless human girl. Tomoe sees no strength in humans and believes yokai (a variety of magical creatures) and humans should not mingle. The title of the story, Kamisama Kiss, refers to the binding of the familiar to the kami with a kiss. Much of the initial conflict in the story arises from Nanami binding Tomoe to her, which doubles as the beginning of a slow romantic story arc.
Avoiding story spoilers, Tomoe went from a warmongering kitsune famed for his casual brutality and sweeping destruction to a kami’s familiar because of a story twist that involved Tomoe’s near death and a human. Tomoe’s dark past adds depth to his character and works in sharp contrast to his modern self. An implication is made at the start of the story that foxes are highly non-traditional as familiars. The kami prior to Nanami required Tomoe to soften his attitude and change his ways in order to complete his new duties. Despite centuries of service as a familiar, yokai regularly refer to Tomoe as having once been a wild fox. Even with Tomoe’s acknowledged power, many yokai seem to feel that the position of a familiar is too high for a wild fox. Other than Tomoe’s bursts of anger, particularly regarding the treatment by others of his human kami, he appears suave and collected, perfectly suited to working as the familiar of a kami and the caretaker of a shrine.
The romantic angle of the story revolves mainly around Nanami becoming aware of her feelings towards Tomoe. Despite his longevity, Tomoe is fairly clueless about many aspects of the human world and does not understand Nanami or her actions. Initially he uses his role to try and cloister Nanami away from portions of her new position that he deems difficult. He does this while meticulously learning to cook human food and caring for Nanami as best as he can. He naively makes statements as her familiar which have different meaning from a human standpoint. This creates an off-balance dynamic ideal for the romantic comedy side of the story. Of course, Tomoe’s feelings towards Nanami change dramatically from those he felt at their initial meeting. He proves himself loyal to his new kami and the end result of their relationship is still in the writing as the series is still being written.
Tomoe’s kitsune powers are very strong. He can use his foxfire in battle and one historical reference clarified his ability to create a sea of flames, killing vast quantities of yokai at once. His foxfire can also be used as a light. As an added touch to a shrine festival, Tomoe lit the area with foxfire. On at least one occasion, he sent several small flames out on an information gathering mission. The flames flew around town searching and were able to speak briefly to Tomoe of their findings. Tomoe can also shape-shift both himself and others. A simple shift involves removing his fox ears and tail in order to walk with Nanami in the human world. On an occasion when Nanami was ill and it was decided that she should not miss too much school, Tomoe changed into a replica of Nanami and attended school for her. An example of him changing another person arrived when a yokai asked Nanami to facilitate her love affair with a human. Tomoe transformed the fish yokai into human form so that she could meet with the human she loved. This transformation had the power to last for as long as the yokai did not use her own magic. Besides foxfire and shape changing, Tomoe used his powers to maintain the shrine. This ability became most clear at a point when Tomoe was not available and the meticulous shrine suddenly appeared neglected and in need of major repairs.
Tomoe’s wild fox reputation ties in with the tradition of the kitsune as an irrepressible trickster. Tomoe, however, does not play tricks. The romantic angle of the story, which seems to promise that Tomoe and the kami will end up together, links Tomoe with the tales of kitsune as lovers and mates. Kamisama Kiss appears to be intended for adolescent girls, and Tomoe’s primary role as man and kitsune seems to be that of a sigh-worthy love interest. I have found the story light and comedic.
Julietta Suzuki’s Kamisama Kiss manga volumes 4, 8-14 (English translation)
Shippo in watercolor and graphite. The leaves on his top reference his connection with nature and his use of leaves to shape change.
Last year I wrote a short entry on kitsune, the Japanese fox tricksters, because I had been reading Royall Tyler’s Japanese Tales. From ancient and medieval folklore, a picture of kitsune emerged as shape changers who were often up to small mischief and sometimes much worse. There were also a number of stories of kitsune using their shape changing abilities to have human mates or spouses. Foxes’ abilities, power levels, and nature varied immensely from tale to tale.
Recently I have been watching anime and reading manga. Manga is a brand new thing for me and anime is fairly new (with the exception of Dragonball and Dragonball Z, both of which my husband has exposed me to). I found myself noting the kitsune characters within the anime, watching for insight into the creatures themselves and how they are perceived in modern folklore. This started with InuYasha, a story I’ve posted on previously. Watching the first anime episode, I was certain the title character was a fox because of his ears and tail, and I found the dog references (inu means dog) bewildering. As the show continued, it became clear that InuYasha was half dog-demon. However, a secondary character, Shippo, was introduced as a kitsune kit, so I watched Shippo as representative of kitsune. After Shippo, I met other kitsune characters within other stories. Like the kitsune from ancient and medieval folklore, these characters represented a variety of kitsune possibilities all within modern outlets of art and entertainment. This post I’ll focus on Shippo.
Shippo has an overall good nature with a strong mischievous streak and a variety of minor magical abilities. Within InuYasha, Shippo is classified as a small demon. At first I felt this referenced either his age or size. Shippo is a child who joins the main characters after they help him avenge his father’s recent murder. Shippo is also tiny and regularly rides on a shoulder of one of the adult characters. As the story continued, it seemed that the description of small demon did not reference size, but categorized Shippo and all kitsune as having only small powers compared to other demonic (the term is used very loosely in Japanese folklore) characters with major powers.
Shippo sketch based on the manga by Rumiko Takahashi. (I would pause in my reading to quickly sketch images. There is a definite beauty in the minimal line usage of manga.)
Shippo uses his powers primarily to fight in the many battles that occur during the progression of the story. Shippo’s foxfire is short-lived and more flash than flame. The foxfire does not actually burn. On one occasion Shippo’s foxfire works as a barrier within a true fire to protect those trapped from the genuine flames. This barrier proves that the foxfire is not simply illusion. Much of Shippo’s magic tricks seem to be just that–tricks. The kitsune keeps several small toys on his person at all times and for brief spans he can amplify those toys by using illusion into seemingly powerful or frightening weapons. For instance, he has a spinning top that he can blow up to tremendous size so that it appears an enormous drill. Shippo would spin his top on an enemy’s head where the top would expand, the enemy would react, and Shippo would most often take advantage of the time till the enemy realized he wasn’t actually getting hurt or the toy returned to its normal size to flee. Another toy in Shippo’s arsenal is a wooden snake that could appear to be a giant serpent. He also has a hobby horse that he can make carry a single person for quite a distance. Aside from his toys, Shippo has a couple multiplying illusions that he uses. One is the crying mushrooms. If he is in trouble, Shippo flings out a trail of mushrooms. After sprouting, each mushroom sobs loudly, creating a signal to bring help.
Shippo can also shape change, but he has trouble holding the change for long, and he tends to have some give-away error in his transformation, such as his bushy fox tail remaining visible. Shippo tends to place a leaf on his forehead prior to changing shape. While shape-changing into other people helps Shippo enter or escape enemy territory, it is most often used for minor mischief or pranks. On a couple of occasions Shippo is able to transform into a much needed object, such as a bow. Shippo’s most used transformation, however, is that of a floating pink bubble that can transport a couple of his friends out of danger in a crisis. This bubble makes Shippo look particularly comical and ridiculous, emphasizing his comparative weakness when contrasted with the rest of his team. While Shippo often needs the aid of his more powerful companions, his pink bubble allows him to provide invaluable help to his group on their mission to ultimately save the world.
InuYasha could make Shippo cry, but the one time he really got to bawling was when he thought his friends had died while in his care. Even then, he did not break down till someone else had come to take over his watch.
Shippo is generally good natured and sweet, showing an enduring loyalty to his companions even after he has been sorely tried. However, the primary hero of the story tends to (hilariously) bully Shippo, so their relationship is one of frequent arguments, Shippo getting pounded on, and occasionally Shippo playing revenge jokes on the hero. In one story Shippo finds himself taking the fox exams in which he gains points every time he is able to trick anyone not taking the exams. This light-hearted side story allows Shippo to vent his frustration at InuYasha in a series of crafty fox jokes. Other kitsune appear in this storyline, revealing a different brand of logic as several of the other foxes take advantage of their ability to trick humans and demons with the types of illusions that those individuals most want to see–for some characters, the fact that it is fox magic rather than reality simply doesn’t matter.
Shippo also has a tendency to have realizations and say them when the socially acceptable behavior is to remain quiet. For instance, Shippo speaks his revelations about other characters’ feelings or relationships, unaware that he is making the situation worse. While this could simply be an expression of Shippo’s young age and naiveté, Shippo’s honesty could also reflect the natural directness of the animal world in contrast to human nature.
Rumiko Takahashi’s InuYasha manga volumes 1-56 (English translation)
Western influence has resulted in ningyo seen as attractive, dark-haired mermaids with golden scales.
The Japanese ningyo, which translates as “human fish,” is a monstrous and magical equivalent to the Western mermaid. The ningyo’s first written account appears in a 7th century chronicle, The Nihongi. In folk tradition, the nature and appearance of the ningyo have changed over the years. Some descriptions involve an enormous fish with a hideous human face or head, while others include more human attributes, such as arms and fingers. Golden scales, a monkey mouth, and pointed teeth appear in many descriptions. Western influence has even led to a variation of the ningyo which looks like a seductive, dark-haired female from the waist up and a fish from the waist down. Generally, ningyos can not speak, but they can make beautiful, birdlike sounds.
Ningyos’ great fame lies in the magical powers of their bodies. Ningyo blood heals wounds. Eating ningyo meat grants immortality and youth. Whether this blood or flesh is offered willingly or taken by force dramatically changes the nature of the story.
A famous folktale, “Yao Bikuni,” involves a fisherman who brought home mermaid meat. As his companions guess the source, they avoid eating it, but by chance–in one version it is offered as a gift to a fisherman’s daughter and in another she takes it from the trash to avoid wasting food–a young girl eats the meat. In some versions she is a teen and ages no more, and in others she is a child and continues aging until she grows to about 15. The girl became a wandering nun and lived over 800 years. She was known as the 800 nun or the white nun–the second name was derived either from her white skin or her white hair. There are shrines around Japan honoring her.
Ningyos are also associated with the weather and fortune. Some stories say that if a fisherman catches a ningyo it will bring on terrible storms and misfortune, but if he throws her back he will be safe. Story variations include the devastation of entire communities due to ningyo transgressions. Similarly, taking the healing blood or meat of a mermaid by force also will bring devastating disasters. For these reasons, ningyos are to be utterly avoided.
One modern variation of this tale can be found in Rumiko Takahashi’s Mermaid Saga, which is available as manga and anime. Yuta is a fisherman from the 1400s who ate mermaid meat and became an unaging immortal. His companions who also ate the meat transformed into deformed ones. Yuta’s dear ones are frightened by his lack of aging. He discovers that when he dies he is miraculously reanimated. Yuta learns that his immortality is a curse rather than a blessing. He travels constantly, searching for a mermaid who might be able to make him human again. After 500 years he meets a woman who has eaten mermaid flesh and survived. Together they continue to search for a method that would allow them to grow old and die. Mermaid Saga is more horror than fairy tale, as monstrous humans and ningyos vie for youth and immortality. If you decide to seek out the story, check a source such as the Rumic World website to help you sort out the various versions of anime available. I found a copy of the out-of-print OVAs through rentanime.com.
Interestingly, contradictory evidence from some sources suggests that encountering an elusive ningyo would mean good fortune. In these sources the ningyo is described as helpful to man, protecting him from harm and offering beneficial magic freely. The ningyo is contrasted with water creatures from other cultures that seek to harm humans. These descriptions, however, are only found in encyclopedic sources non-specific to Japanese folklore and mythology.
“InuYasha and Kagome with Cherry Blossoms,” 9″ x 12″ watercolor on hot pressed Acquarello
The cherry blossom is the national flower of Japan and has a long history of representing life and death or the transience of life. Flowers are the reproductive part of plants, firmly equating them with life. Folklore associated the cherry trees with mountain deities. Folk religions held that the mountain deities would drift down to the populated regions on the falling petals, ensuring the rice crops, which further linked the trees with life. Cherry blooms are famously short-lived, providing an ephemeral burst of fragile beauty. Rather than wilting and dropping with decay, the blooms are lifted on the wind and float to the ground in the prime of their beauty, dying at their most glorious moment of life. The death of the blooms at the height of their blossoming power led to the symbolic connection between cherry blossoms and dying warriors. The medieval samurai claimed the cherry blooms as representative of their way of life. Cherry blossoms became traditional decorations of samurai accoutrement. Anthropologist Ohnuki-Tierney explains that the cherry blossom was further embraced by the Japanese emperor in the 19th century as a meditation of fearlessness in battle. Soldiers were told, “You shall die like beautiful falling cherry petals for the emperor.” Kamikaze pilots of World War II also accepted the symbolism of the cherry blossom. Photos reveal kamikaze pilots’ planes with cherry blossoms painted on the sides and the pilots posing while holding branches heavy with cherry blossoms. Warriors’ long held connection with cherry blossoms has not stopped them from being beloved by people of all backgrounds who gather beneath the falling petals of the trees to celebrate life.
detail of InuYasha with Cherry Blossoms
Rumiko Takahashi’s InuYasha focuses a great deal on life and death, with Japan’s Muromachi period serving as a backdrop of warring discord. The long lives of yokai are contrasted with the short lives of humans. Select characters are brought back from the dead via mystical powers. Rather than falling into a category of the undead, these people serve to represent both life and death in their tenacity to continue living and their status as having already died. The drifting petals of the cherry blossom recur to highlight impermanence and beauty.
Thanks to Glynis Irwin for pointing me towards samurai.
Rolfes, Ellen. “For Hundreds of Years, Cherry Blossoms Are Matter of Life and Death.” PBS. Apr. 12, 2013. <http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/for-more-than-1000-years-cherry-blossoms-move-world-to-emotion/>.
Takahashi, Rumiko. InuYasha. Trans. Gerard Jones. San Francisco, Viz: 2004.