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branchandroot: oak against sky (Default)

First the caveats: I don’t read even modern Japanese, far less 7th C Japanese, far less ancient Chinese, so my sources are all at one remove. I have tried to find ones that are not obviously biased in their translations and interpretations. Since this is a web essay, I have also tried to refer to web-sources, where I could find ones that seem reputable or are backed up from reputable paper sources. Nevertheless, this is a bit of a jigsaw puzzle, and there are places where I had to make assumptions and guesses. Do not take this essay’s conclusion as an attested source, because it isn’t.

Summary

The Twelve Divine Commanders (Juuni Shinshou) who appear as the shikigami of Abe no Seimei and his alternates in current popular literature such as Yami no Matsuei and Shounen Onmyouji seem to have started life as a group of tutelary deities or personifications in the five element system, settling into twelve figures with elemental powers based on the ten heavenly stems and the twelve earthly branches.

Read the full account )

branchandroot: oak against sky (Default)

I just recently watched this, having heard of it here and there for a while, and it’s delightful. I heartily recommend it. It has good ink and good music and a charming story which sometimes rips out your heart and stomps on it.

SO is the tale of a boy and his demon shikigami. Masahiro, the boy in question, is the grandson of Abe no Seimei, the greatest onmyouji of all time, so a major theme is, of course, his attempt to make his way out of his grandfather’s shadow and stand on his own merits. It helps that he’s a gutsy kid who has what it takes. Once he steps up to his destiny, though, he immediately has to deal with all sorts of Things That Go Bump In The Night, and the (very Heian) history and politics surrounding that make up the major plot. In doing so he has the occasional help of his grandfather’s twelve shikigami, and the constant help of one, in particular.

This one is a total angst-bunny with a Dark Past, and he’s a grumpy woobie to boot. Also darn hot and very devoted to Masahiro. Slashers rejoice, because this almost doesn’t qualify as sub-text. I mean, seriously, during the intro they reach out to each other and lace fingers. (For those who do not follow these things, laced fingers = sex. It’s one of the most unmistakable visual metaphors there is, right up there, for recognizability, with pinky fingers connected by a red thread.) His interactions with Masahiro are the cutest thing in the history of cute.

Het shippers should also rejoice, however, because Masahiro has a het love interest, who is also young and gutsy, if not always sensible. She is, in her person, a locus of politics, which adds interest, because normally Masahiro would be too low in rank to ever marry her. This does not stop them from being amazingly cute, too. She has her own independent interactions with family and shikigami and is actually her own character, which is refreshing.

Seiyuu spotters will also enjoy an all-star cast. Masahiro is voiced by Kaida Yuki, and his pet demon shiki by Konishi Katsuyuki. The young Seimei is done by Ishida Akira. The shikigami seiyuu include Minagawa Junko and Morikawa Toshiyuki. Suwabe Junichi voices one of the villains, and Seki Toshihiko one of the frequent side characters.

The original story is told in a series of light novels, eighteen to date. The anime covers the first two major arcs, which is the first handful of novels. Radio dramas have carried on to cover later arcs, and we can, perhaps, hope for those to be animated eventually.

There were licensing issues with this show, early on, since Genon took it and then tanked, and the conscientious subbers and fans who stopped for the license were left dangling for months and months. In the end, the subbers chose to finish the series, and all twenty-six episodes are available now. I suggest going to isohunt.com and getting the Yoroshiku torrent while we wait to find out whether Funimation will really take over the license and release it officially as has been rumored.

branchandroot: oak against sky (Default)

(Note: this is a preliminary skim of the subject.  For the full account, after research, see this entry.)

This will make more sense later, after I post an actual review of Shounen Onmyouji, which everyone, incidentally, should go watch. Right now.

For now, though, research results and links (which may help for YnM, too).

The Juuni Shinshou (Twelve Heavenly Generals) are Buddhist and come to Japan from India via China. They are, variously, known as yaksha (nature spirits), devas (warrior spirits/gods-of-a-minor-sort), and tenbu (Japanese take on Devas). They are initially associated with Yakushi Nyorai, the Medicine Buddha, and healing.

However, twelve being a popular number in Buddhism, they have become associated and overlapped with the twelve cycles of time (hours of the day, years in a cycle, etc.) and the twelve animals associated therewith. These are the animals commonly known in the West as the Chinese zodiac (see also Fruits Basket). (Maybe. See eta.)

Because the animals have elemental associations from the Taoist system (which is different from the Buddhist elements but quite similar to Shinto, oh god don’t get me started on the elements), the twelve generals have picked up elemental associations to go with their animal associations.

Important! These associations are variable! There are several variations on which animals go with which generals. Which elements go with which animals varies on a larger cycle of years as well as each having a fixed element and a base association with yin or yang, and, when filtered through the creative license of anime/manga, the whole thing gets… complicated.

In any case, it appears that the zodiac filter is how the yaksha Sanchira, for example, becomes the Serpent of Destructive Fire. Certainly the personalities given to the characters in both SO and YnM have some good matches with the zodiac personality readings.

Where the particular names come from, apart from the elemental constellation names given to the strongest animal in each element (Dragon becomes Seiryuu, Horse becomes Suzaku, etc.), I’m still trying to figure out. Similarly how the notion was arrived at that Abe no Seimei’s generic plethora of shikigami should correlate with the Juuni Shinshou in particular. I have, as yet, found no source explaining that that is not clearly contaminated.

ETA: I have also come across some indications that the twelve guardians of the Medicine Buddha and the twelve elemental/time figures are, in fact, separate groups that have been confused because of the similar translation of their titles: 神 in the first place and 天 in the second, so that it might be more precise to say the Twelve Divine Generals and the Twelve Heavenly Generals, respectively. Results of this line of inquiry will appear in a later post, if it comes to anything.

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