Welcome to Monster Mondays, a new bi-weekly column about youkai (Japanese folk creatures), ghosts and other things that go bump in the night, as well as common stories from Japanese mythology. And of course, we’ll showcase plenty of anime and manga the monster or myth appears in.
Let’s begin this inaugural edition with everybody’s favorite aquatic misfit: the Kappa!
If you’ve been watching anime for more than five minutes, you’ve surely seen this fellow around, whether it’s from the above, Kappa-themed Kappa no Kaitata, or as a one-off monster in a series about Japanese folklore. The Kappa is the one of the most famous youkai in Japan, and certainly one of the more recognizable ones in the West.
Bowls of water. Beaks. Battlestar Galactica.
Kappa most closely resemble an oh-so-cute or oh-so-scary turtle man. They’re generally the size of a child, with a turtle shell and beak, webbed hands and feet and a human-like face.
One of their more notable features is a flat, hairless section on the top of their head that must always be wet when they’re away from water. It’s the source of their power, and also their weakness - if you encounter one of these beasts, bow deeply and hope that it reciprocates the gesture, thus spilling their bowl of water onto the ground.
You may have also seen what appears to be a hairy Kappa - these are called Hyousube.
Kappa love cucumbers. Whenever you see these youkai in anime, there’s likely to be a cucumber nearby.
For example, in episode 23 of Urusei Yatsura, the Kappa in an underwater kingdom serve Ataru a feast of cucumber-themed dishes.
Or on the darker side, in Karas, two reporters try to lure out a legendary Kappa in a Shinjuku train station bathroom with some cucumbers, leading to deadly consequences.
As a fun piece of trivia, how many of you have ordered a kappa maki (cucumber roll) at your favorite sushi restaurant? While you might have assumed that “kappa” means “cucumber”, the roll is actually named after the Kappa and its love for the vegetable.
Sounds cute and endearing so far, amirite? But there’s one more culinary entree that we need to discuss - something the Kappa enjoy devouring almost as much as the cucumber. It’s called the shirikodama, a small ball that Japanese folklore states contains the human soul. The Kappa love to consume this tiny treat, there’s just one problem…
It’s all about the anus… and other fun facts
You see, the shirikodama resides in the anus, up in the intestines. Kappa are known for some pretty gruesome eating habits, specifically tearing out the anus or intestines from unfortunate people with their bare hands. Makes you think twice about this cuddly, lovable guy, right? XD
Kattan, lover of cucumbers and devourer of bowels?!
Luckily, in Kappa no Kaikata, they feed the youkai tiny shirikodama candies. So cute!
If you’d like to see an in-person version of a Kappa eating a shirikodama, check out Tsujikawayama Park (辻川山公園) in the town of Fukusaki, where a large, red, nightmare-fuel mechanical Kappa rises out of the water to terrify onlookers.
HUG ME <3
But wait, there’s more! In addition to being intestinal gourmands, Kappa are fabled to be very stinky creatures that possess not one, not two, but THREE anuses.
Finishing off this trail of terror is the fact that Kappa are said to be notorious creepos who hide in toilets and rape women. Plus the fact that they drag their victims to a watery grave in lakes, rivers and other bodies of water where they reside - of course, mining for shirikodama at the same time.
It’s these facts that illustrate the stark difference between the old legends and how Kappa are portrayed in modern anime and manga, as today’s cute, cuddly creatures are of no comparison to the terrifying monsters of the ancient myths. But a similar comparison can be seen with Western fairy tales, such as The Little Mermaid, whose source material was considerably more dark and disturbing than the Disney adaptation.
But lest we end the column on a negative note, the Kappa does have some positive qualities - for example, they’re known to be polite and honorable, and can be incredibly loyal given the right circumstances.
Kappa in anime and manga
Now that we’ve gone over all things Kappa, let’s take a look at Kappa characters in anime and manga. And if you can think of others that were missed, reply with info in the comments!
Kappa no Kaikata
Kappa no Kaikata is an adorable anime about a man who decides to raise a Kappa. There’s plenty of pint-sized youkai in the series; here’s a few notable characters:
Karas is an action-heavy, sci fi anime that's an equal combination of Batman, youkai and strange machine hybrid monsters, one of which is a Kappa named Suiko that masquerades as a wrestler (though in reality it's a cyborg robot Kappa).
A Kappa Amanto creature called Ebina has a 2-episode arc in Gintama.
Pani Poni Dash
A Kappa makes a brief cameo in episodes 5 and 9 of Paniponi Dash.
Papuwa is one of the more bizarre and random comedies that I've seen, but I love it all the same. There's a scene where everything gets turned into a zombie, including this poor Kappa Zombie that rises from the earth:
In episode 100 of Inazuma Eleven, Yuuya and Hiroto are lost, and a mysterious person named Kappa Kamezaki brings them to a soccer field, where they have a 2 on 2 match. Afterwards, they're told to 'follow the trail of cucumbers' to find their way out of the forest.
While the two aren't explicitly called out as being Kappa, it's a pretty obvious reference. Not only do they have shells and beaks, but they have cucumbers for eyebrows (what is this I don't even), and the two Kappa mysteriously vanish, showing bubbles below the surface of a nearby pond.
Folktales from Japan has several episodes with Kappa characters, plus plenty of other tidbits of Japanese mythology that we'll cover in future articles.
Youkai Watch is sort of like the youkai version of Pokemon. In episode 33, Keita is given an assignment to learn about the Kappa, so he goes to ask Nogappa about himself. However, they then encounter a real Kappa, who challenges Nogappa to a contest to prove that he's a real Kappa.
He's a demonic doll that loves slicing the clothes off of any unsuspecting woman around him.
Kappa Love Story (manga)
Kappa Love Story is a short one shot about a Kappa that's in love with a woman peeking from behind a fence; a romance comedy with a fun twist.
And if you really need a Kappa fix and have managed to watch all of the above, there’s always the live-action, terribad-looking Death Kappa. This image says it all.
If any of you have managed to see this already, do share your opinion below.
And that's a wrap! Hopefully you've learned something about the Kappa this week, and if we've missed any appearances that you can think of, let us know in the comments.
Check out future editions of Monster Mondays for info about other youkai, monsters and myths that appear in anime and manga. And if you have a favorite youkai or topic you'd like to see covered, just say the word!