Yokai in Kubo and the Two Strings

This summary contains spoilers – character and story details for Kubo and the Two Strings – if you must blink, do it now.

The new stop-motion fantasy film from Laika travels through a ancient Japan inspired by mythology such as The Bomboo cutter and mythology surrounding the moon diety Tsukuyomi.

It also calls out to various strange creatures called “yokai”.

But what are these things?

They’re not just a ghost or a spirit, according to the Nintendo game and anime Yokai Watch.

They are their own class of fairytale characters. And fairytales are often cautionary tales.

Even if the creators at Laika did not explicitly consult these specific spirits from Japan’s folklore and yokai history in depth, the cultural symbols, creatures, and ideas are still invoke and resemble yokai.

Kubo and the Two Strings brings to life some of these obscure monsters. Sometimes the resemblance is comic, and even a bit hazy. The movie narrative still has elements that are in harmony with the folklore and folk knowledge that surrounds these yokai. The cautionary aspect of some of these creatures remains.

Here are some that I spotted:

When telling an enthralling tale about Hanzo and the Moon King to his friends and neighbours, Kubo folds a giant spider from paper. This is a Tsuchigumo.

The Tsuchigumo appear early on, when Kubo begins telling a tale of Hanzo and the Moon King. His tiny, paper hero dispatches an enormous paper spider. While the legend of the Tsuchigumo (which translates as “ground-spider”) is from centuries before Kubo was born, They’re a fearsome opponent for him to pit against his hero hanzo.

Kubo’s elderly friend Kameyo demands a “fire breathing chicken” appear in the paper samurai story. Kubo obliges with a yellow, red-confetti spewing monster, which resembles the Basan.

A fire breathing chicken is a Basan. Kameyo asked for it because it sounded funny to her. The folklore behind the bird is a bit comedic – its fire does not burn anything, and produces no heat. That’s just like the ineffectual paper confetti Kubo crafted for Kameyo.

A Bakekujira is a ghost whale, that resembles a skeleton, and is said to bring bad luck and misfortune to anyone who sees it. Kubo and Monkey sought refuge from a snowstorm inside a frozen, dead whale.

The whale itself was frozen, and long since dead, however there was something eerie about the ocean giant frozen and lying in the ice. After staying inside it for shelter, misfortune did find Kubo as the story progressed. Arguably, this had nothing to do with the whale from earlier in the film, but the connection can’t be ignored completely. However, this may be just a case of folklore correlation, and not causation.

Mischievous, supernatural sparrow yokai do exist – the Yosuzume. Kubo encounters a sparrow, and creates his own flock of the tiny birds with blue paper of various shades

Kubo is tired and frustrated after meeting his bossy, monkey companion. Naturally, he feels like letting out some of the frustration. That’s when he sees a sparrow, and inspiration strikes. Kubo himself is the bringer of misfortune here. He sends one of his birds after monkey, who does not appreciate the ninja-like stab from behind. The folklore surrounding the Yosuzume in particular is associated with bad luck – it’s recommended not to let these birds fly up a shirt sleeve, anywhere near your body.

The giant skeleton – the O-Dokuro or Gashadokuro – has been covered expertly on tumblr by GloriousPancakes

The giant skeleton has several folktales surrounding it. The film even references the famous print by Utagawa Kuniyoshi “Mitsukuni defying the giant skeleton spectre”.


As depicted in the film, the Gashadokuro is capable of disassembling itself to fit into small spaces.

At an emotional high-point in the film, Kubo’s Shamisen breaks, losing its strings. A broken Shamisen left in disrepair can shift into a yokai classed as Tsukumo-gami.

A Tsukumo-gami (translates to “haunted relics”) are sufficiently aged antiques that gain a life of their own if they are loved, and then left behind. Usually, and completely understandably, they are remorseful, but in the case of the Shamisen-choro the instrument was so well loved in life, a shade of the master musician’s spirit remains with the instrument. Thankfully, Kubo finds a novel (and powerful) solution to repair his shamisen. No guitars were harmed, or left to gently weep, in the making of this film.

Those where my thoughts, but did you spot any yokai hiding in the film? Let me know in the comments.


  • http://yokai.com/ (2016) Matthew Meyer.
  • Yokai Attack! The Japanese Monster Survival Guide (2012) Hiroko Yoda, Matt Alt, Tatsuya Morino.


How to draw empowered female characters: 7 steps from artist Renae De Liz

A language and content warning for this post – Warning, this post discusses artistic depictions of the human body, and some swears. Proceed with caution if needed.

Marguerite Bennet sent out this tweet in April this year. It’s already August, soon to be September, but it’s important to stop and take a deep breath.

Equality in story telling will emerge when more stories are published that show equality in their visual design.

Art that captures diverse personality, genders, and body shapes, for instance helps build equality. Representation is important.

Here’s another tweet, this one from artist Renae De Liz

De Liz published a set of neat tweets that explain how to de-objectify and empower female characters in comic artwork. I’m no artist, but these tweets show clear steps toward more equal representations in comics (in Superhero comics specifically):

1 – Distinct facial features promote personality.

A common expression in comics is to have lidded eyes, and a pout. While promoting a sensuous character, the side effect is lessening personality. Place personality and uniqueness first. Consider what your character is thinking about when drawing them in a scene, or in a single image.

2 – Commonly, breasts are drawn to outline and accent their shape, and as fully separated circles. What’s realistic for a hero is major support.

Athletes wear sports bras and apparel designed for support. These often have a specific look. Consider that many super hero profiles list characters as having olympic level fitness. It follows they would dress to match their athletic ability.

3 – Give her muscles! If a Superhero you’re creating or drawing from has super strength, or strength best fits her hero persona, you can depict that in her arms.

Arm length and size differs widely, but heroes who can lift a Renault Van, if they are male, have bicep and tricep measurements of around 19 to 22 cm. Powerlifters who are women are more than capable of matching that arm and strength capacity. It all depends how a person trains, moves, and interacts with their environment, or how their abilities have impacted their lives.

4 – Hands are set in a way to promote strength

Hands set in a softer way can reduce the sense of strenght about a character. Set hands in a way to promote strength and accentuate power.

5 – The “arch and twist” accentuates a “boob and butt perk”. Stick to what can realistically be done, using arches without the sexualised intent

The muscular-skeletal system is flexible, especially when trained to be. Consider a circus performer who practices stretches daily. It’s not realistic to flex the spine in such a wound up twist.

6 – Poses overall should be more functional versus simply being for sex appeal

Fairly straightforward, but a functional superhero pose is a different stance and attitude to posing.

7 – On heels. Modern heels amplify stance, but are not too realistic

There is a scene in the Young Justice animated series where Zatanna transforms her heels into comfortable flats. She couldn’t run across a rooftop in heels.

Consider what your character would choose as footwear. Consider low heels, or no heels.

To wrap up, the intent here is to help those who want to promote change in their work, and not to shame those who choose otherwise in their artwork. And for more about De Liz you can read her website . If you liked this post, or you are an artist who can give some more insight, why not leave a comment below?

Secret Six #4

Top five insights into Secret Six #4:

  • New diversity in its cast of characters – introducing Porcelain as a non-binary gendered character
  • Dark storytelling, but strong comedy from the Ventriloquist and a veteran, returning character – Ragdoll
  • The return of veteran Secret Six characters Ragdoll, Jeanette, and Scandal Savage
  • Artwork showing an excellent and carefully planned action scene
  • A theme of animal welfare – characters safeguard small animals from harm

Conflict in this issue falls between Mockingbird’s mercenaries, who are three familiar characters, and the Secret Six. Comic relief balances out the darker parts of the conflict

Reintroducing Ragdoll, Jeanette, and Scandal brings to light the role of a character already seen in past issues. A red haired woman, who helped capture Catman back in Secret Six #1, is seen to be working with
Mockingbird – the mastermind who is hunting the Secret Six. Mockingbird wants the Secret Six captured and punished for their past crimes. This mystery mastermind is ruthless, holding a hostage to force Scandal, to work for him.

That’s the key conflict in the story. Half of the original Secret Six combat with the new team. Veteran Secret Six fans will no doubt enjoy seeing Ragdoll’s unusual, comic relief dialogue return to the issue. Ventriloquist has provided excellent comic relief so far in Secret Six. Both Ventriloquist and Ragdoll making clever quips adds to the issues sense of comedy.

Porcelain shows trust in the team, revealing more of her personality. Big Shot is accepting, while Strix collects a Lawn Gnome

Porcelain shows more layers, as she shares her non-binary perspective with her new team. Porcelain identifies as a woman sometimes, and as a man sometimes. She expresses her identity through her
dress choices. Wearing masculine gendered clothing, she tells Catman, Big Shot, Strix, and the ventriloquist about her identity as a non-binary person. Initially, it seems Big Shot has an
issue with her gender fluidity. He gives her a masculine, grey hat to wear. He says: “a fella’s got to look sharp”, showing acceptance.

Strix deciding to adopt a lawn gnome she finds in the front yard, and sampling a cookie rather than joining Catman in a scuffle against Ragdoll also add some great humor to the comic that plays out expertly through the artwork

Several romantic connections build romance as a theme here, while several other characters protect small animals from harm, which adds an animal welfare theme

Romance is important in Secret Six #4. Big Shot is very careful about a vase that his wife made for him. He pauses his battle with Jeanette the banshee to carefully place the vase out of harms way. Jeanette says she thinks it is a romantic gesture. Scandal Savage is working for Mockingbird because the mastermind has captured her partner. While they are not named, she goes to great lengths to rescue them
from Mockingbird.

Care for small animals is also brought up twice. Jeanette and Scandal will not allow Ragdoll to hurt squirrels and other woodland creatures. Catman also claims that Scandal brought him a pet cat while he
was in captivity earlier in his career. He says that this gesture “saved everything”.

Secret Six #4 is published by DC comics July 15 2015. Writer – Gail Simone. Artists – Ken Lashley & Tom Derenick. Colours – Jason Wright. Letters – Travis Lanham. ($2.99 USD).