Kemono Jihen ‒ Episode 7

5 days ago 8

I'm sure we're all left with the same very important question after this week's episode of Kemono Jihen: what the hell is Inari having Nobimaru do that he instantly recognizes an artificial insemination syringe? Supernatural being or not, that's a weird (and mildly worrying) thing for a thirteen-year-old kid to recognize right off the bat. We knew Inari wasn't a great guardian from poor Kon, but this is a whole new realm of weirdness in terms of her parenting skills.

That aside, this seventh episode is the show at its most folklorically sound – or at least recognizable – so far. It follows up on Shiki's decision that he'd actually like to know what happened to his parents, and part of the reveal is that the region of Japan he's from has a local legend that's a variant of the fairy tale classified as ATU400 – The Swan Maiden. You've probably encountered at least one version of the tale type over the course of your reading/viewing life, either as a selkie (seal fairy from Celtic lore), a celestial maiden with a feather robe, or as a crane disguised as a woman who plucks her own feathers to weave fine cloth for her husband to sell. Despite Yuu Watase's Ceres: Celestial Legend being based on the heavenly maiden version of the story, “The Crane Wife” is probably the best known when it comes to Japanese folklore, partially because of a popular English-language picture book a lot of us read in childhood. In the story (also known as “The Grateful Crane”), a man saves an injured crane. Later a beautiful woman comes to his home to marry him, and she tells her husband that she can weave a miraculous cloth, but he must never come into the room where she is weaving. Eventually he does, and when he opens the door, he sees the crane he rescued plucking the feathers from her breast to make the cloth. Because he has broken her trust, the crane wife then leaves her husband and returns to the wild.

The in-world story known as “Nishikigumo” in Kemono Jihen replaces the crane with a spider. She's rescued by a poor man who offers the hungry creature some of his meager food supply, and in return she weaves him spider webs of pure gold, which he is able to sell. There's no mention of the man marrying the spider, either of her will or by tricking her (which sadly is more common in ATU400), which links the story to ATU779 – Star Money. Although the best-known version of that tale type is “Star Money,” the Russian variant “Gold Coin Soup” is closest to what happens here; in that story a poor woman makes soup for a beggar and doesn't skimp on the butter, and when she comes back into the kitchen after leaving for a moment, the beggar is gone and the bowl is full of gold coins, one for each circle of butter on the surface of the soup. (Her neighbor tries as well, but rushes and cheaps out, resulting in only one coin for the single butter circle.) These two tale types directly influence the actions of Shiki's uncle, the man who raised him before Inugami took him in – and it definitely looks like going with Inugami was a good plan.

Shiki's uncle is, for all intents and purposes, merely playing at being the Grateful Crane's husband, and it seems that his father may have been as well. After discovering Kumi, Shiki's mother, in the forest, the brothers figured that the local legend may have been fact, and they began trying to figure out how to create the mutation in a kemono necessary to spin golden spider webs, which aren't only worth a lot because they're gold, but also because they can be used to heal and recreate human organs. When baby Shiki got sick, his uncle made a deal with his mother: they could raise Shiki as human if Kumi helped him figure out how to breed a kemono who could spin gold…by becoming his brood mare. Shiki walked in on that one day, which is where his trauma originates, but the horror that his uncle used his mother that way is traumatic all on its own. He's closer to the men who stole the celestial robes or sealskins in order to force supernatural women to live with them than the man who married the Grateful Crane – he's using Kumi as if she were less than human and possibly holding her son's well-being over her as a bargaining chip. To call it disgusting doesn't even begin to cover it, and it could be even worse when we factor in the little girl we see twice in this episode, who is almost certainly Shiki's half-sister…or maybe his half-sister AND cousin.

But it does make for an interesting use of both tale types, especially when Shiki's reaction after learning the truth is that his uncle deserves to die, because the other way to describe ATU779 is “Divine Rewards and Punishment.”

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Kemono Jihen is currently streaming on FUNimation Entertainment.

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