Having watched anime for a lot of years now its become fairly clear I love yokai in anime. Whenever a new story begins and I find out its featuring yokai of more or less any sort I eagerly jump right in. While at times this leaves me feeling a little frustrated or disappointed when an anime fails to pan out (Elegant Yokai Apartment Life) for the most part I end up finding another cast of characters to love and adore and to fill my desktop background with for a time. So what is it that appeals to me about yokai anime?
And no, it isn’t just the very attractive looking fox boys oozing sex appeal that these sorts of stories pull out again and again. Whether it is Kamisama Kiss, Kakuriyo no Yadomeshi, Inu x Boku or any of the other pointy eared males who’ve made me screen cap like crazy, they aren’t the entire appeal of these shows. After all, Natsume Yuujinchou remains my favourite yokai themed anime and there isn’t a single hot fox boy to drool over in sight. Though, there is the single cutest little fox character but that’s a whole different appeal.
After thinking about this for awhile I’ve come to the conclusion that yokai stories remind me very much of my childhood and fairy tales. Where sometimes characters travel to other worlds where fantastic things happen (such as the Underworld in the Morose Mononokean) or strange things are occur in the mundane world but only some people can see them (Natsume Yuujinchou). These stories can be sweet or a little bit scary but ultimately they bring about a sense of childlike wonder and recapturing that feeling is amazing. It is no surprise that so many of these anime leave me with a warm and fuzzy feeling.
It also helps that each one of these stories takes their own approach to exploring yokai characters and worlds. Where some are more human and concerned with more ordinary matters such as attending school (Inu X Boku) others, despite being set in the human world are more action focused and have fantastical powers and battles (Nurarihyon). Some are coming of age stories about finding yourself (Natsume Yuujinchou) or are just about the daily lives of supernatural creatures trying to amuse themselves (The Eccentric Family). They all have their own feel and tone which means despite saying I like yokai anime, each one is very distinct.
However, one commonality that I’ve noticed from time to time (and it isn’t across all yokai stories) is that the yokai are typically depicted as more beautiful or colourful and striking than humans in the stories they are a part of. There features are regularly striking and a little bit disconcerting. At a glance you can tell that the character is something different or other.
While some stories delve into the darker side of yokai and the character designs reflect that, even then the characters are quite clearly distinguished from the human characters through the use of colour and movement.
It is that aspect of The Morose Mononkean that I have come to really love. While the human world is fairly ordinary outside of the occasional yokai Hanae and Abeno encounter, the Underworld is a rich and vibrant setting teeming with life and colour. While many of the yokai they encounter are not human-like in appearance, each one manages to be expressive. Given one of my favourite parts of the anime is the appearance of Fuzzy, a character who does not speak at all, they have managed to convey so much of what Fuzzy is feeling or thinking through his appearance and actions and honestly I just love him.
However, the contrast is clear when looking at scenes in the human world compared to the Underworld in The Morose Mononkean. In the human world the colours, outside of the yokai and the two main characters, are all fairly muted. The sky is blue and the grass is green, but they are pastel and pale versions of the colours. Seeing the characters under the sky in the Underworld and looking at the buildings, the colour palette is far bolder and more striking creating a rich contrast between our reality and the world the yokai inhabit.
Natsume Yuujinchou takes a similar approach in that Natsume’s mundane human life and friends are fairly colourless. The school uniform is perhaps one of the least striking anime uniforms ever and the buildings are all very simple and for the most part unadorned. It is only really when Natsume is out in nature or with the yokai that scenes spring into a far wider array of colours, sounds and movement.
From a darker perspective, Nurarihyon did a similar thing with Rikuo’s character design. In his human form he was quite ordinary and dull in his design but as a yokai he was a fairly impressive sight to behold. Even Rikuo’s school with his human friends was very grey in tone whereas his house, full of yokai, always seemed to have a sense of energy and was surrounded by colourful characters and the garden.
While I don’t really know why yokai in so many stories are depicted in this brighter and larger than life style, but I imagine it is similar to why fairies in western stories are usually in some kind bright and sparkling colour flittering about scattering glitter and the likes. If you are going to imagine a world beyond what we can see, surely you’d want it to all feel more alive. Or maybe I’m still just that little kid playing in the garden and checking under the leaves for fairy houses.
Watching yokai anime awakens that child in me and opens my imagination up. For a short while the practical realist in me gets laid aside and I get swept up in stories about ‘what if’. While a story doesn’t necessarily need a supernatural creature in it to have that affect, there’s definitely something nostalgic and wonderful about returning to these kinds of stories. Hopefully there will continue to be more of these to enjoy, hopefully they will each bring their own flavour to the table, and hopefully they will continue to rekindle the child in me.
Do you like yokai anime? Which ones have you seen and enjoyed?
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