Nathan (vovat) wrote,

Kappa Capers

This week's featured mythological figure is the kappa, a Japanese water spirit about the size of a child. I believe the most popular depiction of these creatures has them looking somewhat like turtles, although they're sometimes also shown with faces more like that of a monkey or a duck. A kappa has a water-filled hollow in the top of its head, and this water gives it supernatural strength and abilities. If a person can trick it into bowing (which, being well-versed in matters of etiquette, it will generally do), the water will spill out, leaving it very weak, and possibly even killing it. Why they don't think to wear something over top of the hollow is not clear, but that's an idea I'm thinking of incorporating into my own writing. Another known trait of kappa is that they smell really bad, something which is only augmented by their serious gas problems. Some people say that they've been known to fart out of three anuses at once. They're said to love cucumbers, which I guess could explain the flatulence, but they'll also eat human entrails. While often mischievous and malevolent, kappa can be tricked or shamed into helping humans, including teaching them from their vast store of medicinal knowledge.

Kappa seem to show up quite a bit in popular culture, or at least the small sliver of popular culture with which I am familiar. While I can't recall any of them actually appearing in the Harry Potter books, they did make it to the tie-in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Final Fantasy VI has a spell that will turn enemies into kappa, and apparently kappa without water on top of their heads, as they're quite weak. In the Super Nintendo version (haven't played any of the others yet), the creatures are usually just called "imps," but the one who teaches about Gau's monster-imitating techniques is identified as a kappa.

I've also seen some suggestions that Mario's enemies, the Koopas, have a name that's a play on "kappa." After all, they're also malevolent turtle-like animals. Actually, I understand that the more likely reference is to "kuppa," a kind of Korean soup, but maybe it's a play on both of them at once. Speaking of which, the Super Mario Bros. 3 referred to Kuribo's Shoe ("Kuribo" simply being the original Japanese name for a Goomba) as a Karubi Shoe. In the episode "Super Koopa," Bowser uses the shoe to try to crush the Mario Brothers, causing Mario to exclaim, "I don't believe it! Karubi Koopa!" And just today, I learned that karubi-kuppa is beef soup with rice, so what I thought was just sloppy writing might have actually been sloppy writing for the sake of a pun. Anyway, there is a clear reference to kappa in the Mario series, in Kappa Mountain on Yoshi's Island, given that name because the lake on the lower summit is similar to the water-filled hollow on a kappa's head.

By the way, thanks to vilajunkie for the link to the Obakemono Project, which provided a good source of information on kappa. Other sources consulted were Wikipedia and the Super Mario Wiki.
Tags: final fantasy, harry potter, mario, monsters, mythology, video games
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