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:
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
it makes me so sad that it will be our great-grandchildren who get to see equality in their story telling, if it happens at all
— Marguerite Bennett (@EvilMarguerite) April 17, 2016
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
Q: As an artist, what can I consider if I want to de-objectify & add power to female characters? Tips in this thread pic.twitter.com/DEKF1p6YFd
— Renae De Liz (@RenaeDeLiz) July 20, 2016
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):
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Fairly straightforward, but a functional superhero pose is a different stance and attitude to posing.
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?
Top five insights into Secret Six #4:
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 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
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
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”.