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  • The Werewolf in the Crested Kimono:The Wolf-Human Dynamic in Anime and Manga
  • Antonia Levi (bio)

Two years ago, when I taught a class in horror anime at Portland State University, a student asked me why the werewolf in Vampire Hunter D was so "lame." I replied that because the Japanese have no werewolf tradition, this werewolf and the few other examples we might see were simply included as a nod to Western vampire legends and movies. I commented briefly on the difference between Japan's animistic and Buddhist traditions and Judeo-Christian ideas regarding the human soul, sin, and sexuality that underlie the werewolf concept. And then, I dropped the topic. I owe that student an apology.

Since that class, I have reconsidered the matter and have concluded that my definition of werewolf was too narrow and too Eurocentric. If we define werewolf more generally as any fictional wolf-human (and/or sometimes dog-human) dynamic that is used to frame discussions about the nature of humanity, humanity and nature, humanity and the social order, human sexuality, and gender roles (all themes traditionally addressed in Western werewolf stories), then it becomes apparent that anime and manga feature a wide variety of such creatures that are used to address similar concerns, although how those concerns are addressed is strikingly different and, in some cases, diametrically opposite. In anime and manga, werewolves and other animal-human shape-shifters [End Page 145] are seldom depicted as the stuff of horror, and their wolf or dog form is often more benevolent and admirable than the human form.

These Japanese "werewolves" actually provide far richer and more complex metaphors for exploring such contemporary issues as humanity's connection to nature and other animals, conformity and pariahs, and gender roles. Japanese mangaka (manga author-artists) routinely use shape-shifters of all sorts to explore these issues, while American authors, cartoonists, screenwriters, and game programmers struggle to create a more flexible view of the human-animal relationship, often drawing on Native American traditions and occasionally on Japanese examples.

In this chapter, I consider the representation of werewolves, or at least wolf-human hybrids, in Tezuka Osamu's 1986 Hinotori: Taiyôhen (Phoenix: The Sun),1 Miyazaki Hayao's 2000 Mononoke-hime (Princess Mononoke), Nobumoto Keiko's 2005 Wolf's Rain, and Takahashi Rumiko's 2004 InuYasha. It should be noted that these are very different types of works. Hinotori and Mononoke-hime are considered classics and works of art; InuYasha and Wolf's Rain fall more into the category of light entertainment. Mononoke-hime is a feature film. Hinotori is a single story within a thirteen-volume manga series, which contains many stories embodying the same themes of karma and re incarnation.2Wolf's Rain is a short television series (30 episodes) and a tragedy; InuYasha is a long television series (167 episodes) and a romantic adventure. Nonetheless, all deal with wolf-human hybrids, werewolves, as metaphors to discuss the individual and society, sexuality and gender roles, and humanity's relationship with nature.

It should also be noted that these representations do not always use the word wolf. Rather, they describe the creatures involved as mountain dogs (yama no inu), dog gods (inugami), or dog demons (inuyasha), only rarely employing the more specific designation of wolves (ôkami). Nonetheless, the illustrations leave no doubt that they are, in fact, wolves.

Sources of Anime and Manga Werewolf Traditions

The wolves in the anime and manga described above are mostly uninfluenced by Hollywood or other Western traditions. Wolf's Rain and InuYasha do incorporate [End Page 146] one aspect of Western werewolf mythology, in that both assign great importance to the moon. The boy-wolves of Wolf's Rain are energized by the full moon and drawn to the scent of the lunar flower maiden. The half-human title character, Inuyasha, is deeply ashamed of the fact that when the moon is full, he transforms into a fully human boy. Clearly, Japanese mangaka are aware of, and see the connection of their work to, the West's werewolf traditions. This limited use of Western werewolf traditions suggests that these traditions simply are not as suitable for the...


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