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Kappa is a Greek letter. But this article isn't about that kind of kappa.
There are thousands of Youkai in Japanese mythology... but one of them is far more popular with the public than the others. The Kappa is a river-dwelling creature of Japanese folklore. It is often depicted in Anime and modern media as an anthropomorphic turtle with a domed head, parrot-like beak, and a ring of spikes sticking out from its head.
In Japanese myth, the kappa is a river-dwelling spirit who likes to eat human entrails and blood. It has a deep depression in its head that is full of water, which is the source of its power. That bowl is surrounded by scraggly hair (transformed into the "spikes" of the modern incarnations by the Anime Hair phenomenon). Those confronted with imminent devouring by a Kappa are advised to take two courses of action: The first, and most preferable, is to give the kappa a cucumber inscribed with one's name. The cucumber is the Trademark Favorite Food of the kappa, and a kappa so bribed will spare the giver. It may even befriend the human for the tasty gift. The other action: Bow to the kappa. Kappa are extremely polite, and will always bow too. Bowing will cause the water to fall out of their bowl, weakening them and allowing you to escape. (Don't bother trying to fight them, as they love sumo wrestling.)
In modern times, kappa have undergone a bit of Disneyfication that bowdlerizes most everything except their appearance and love of cucumbers. In Japan, kappas endure a surprising popularity that leads to them popping up in a lot of Japanese works. Even those that aren't explicitly mythological like to throw in a kappa or two. While they haven't reached the same level of popularity in the West, Popcultural Osmosis and the recent popularity of anime means that Western works sometimes feature a kappa or two.
Anime & Manga
- Like most other types of yōkai, kappa turn up occasionally in Inuyasha:
- Kagome's grandfather presents her with "the mummified hand of a kappa" as a birthday gift. Kagome, unimpressed, gives it to her cat before her grandfather can finish explaining the significance.
- When Kagome saves a boy from drowning early in the series, a villager impressed by her swimming skills takes it to mean she's a kappa.
- And an actual living kappa appears as a servant of Chokyukai the boar demon as part of a parody of the Journey to the West. The kappa looks roughly like a turtle that walks upright, and is introduced as Sa Gojyo, but has no lines and doesn't otherwise follow any of the traditional folklore associated with kappa.
- Inu Yasha once tried to get information from some kappa, but they turned out to be almost Too Dumb to Live.
- Karasuma from School Rumble once dressed up as a kappa. It's also a pun, since "kappa" is slang for "rain coat" (which is the exact function of said costume).
- Tenma mistakes Harima for a kappa after he saved her cat from drowning.
- In one episode of Pani Poni Dash!, the classes went camping and discovered some kappa building a rocket.
- In "Pia Lamp," a side story of the Emyulamp manga, Piari, a young witch-in-training, hears that in order to pass an upcoming test, all familiars have to speak human-language. So she takes her cat to drink from a spring that will grant him human speech, only to find it guarded by a kappa, who looks mostly like a bishounen with spotted skin who attacks people using the plate on his head.
- Kappa occasionally appears in anime as a Monster of the Week. Examples can be found in Blue Seed and Tokyo Mew Mew.
- Natsume Yuujinchou and its sequels - anytime Natsume is near a body of water a kappa is likely to surface and say hi.
- A kappa called Kappaeru is one of Enma's sidekicks in Dororon Enma-kun Meerameera. The name may = "erogappa" as he's a bit of a lech.
- The Mayor in Arakawa Under the Bridge is one - NO, FOR THE LAST TIME HE ISN'T JUST SOME MAN IN A ILL-FITTING RUBBER SUIT!
- Sha Gojyo in Saiyuki is supposedly one - Goku has been known to shout "Erogappa!" ('pervy kappa') at him in arguments. This is probably just a nod to the character in the original Journey to the West which Saiyuki was based on, since Gojyo has nothing in common with kappas in terms of looks nor behavior. (Since it's canon that Gojyo's father was a youkai, it was long assumed that he must have specifically been a kappa and that explained the nicknames; but this has been disavowed by Word of God.)
- In one episode of Axis Powers Hetalia, a kappa appears to England and laments how so few people believe in him nowadays.
- The Ludicolo family from Pokémon. It was originally found in only Sapphire version, while its Ruby counterpart was Shiftry, a Tengu. Golduck is stated to be like one, in its Pokédex entries.
- One of Detective Conan's mysteries featured a giant, murderous kappa it's just a guy whose hat, raincoat, and backpack made him look like one in the dark.
- In Yaiba the Orb of Darkness is inhabitated by two kappa. The first one, Kerokichi is a small, kind and nerdy Butt Monkey who provides expositions and want someone to play with. His brother Kerosuke it's apparently the son of a kappa and Godzilla. Not only he's Huge and Breathe Fire, but he's amazingly strong. Besides, his typical bald head is really hard.
- Karas's first episode pits the titular protagonist against a gigantic cyborg kappa capable of summoning the spirits of its many victims to aid it in battle. And no, cucumber bribes are not a deterrent, as a gimmicky TV crew finds out the hard way.
- Puni Puni Poemi has a blink-and-you'll-miss-it appearance by a kappa as the thief of Poemi's scooter. He shows up a few minutes later sporting a banner that reads "Water Sprites Are #1!"
- Kappa no coo to Natsuyasumi tells a story of a boy who befriends a kappa.
- Kappa no kaitaka tells the story of a man who tries to raise one as a pet.
- Nagasarete Airantou has Tohno. The cute, cartoonish variety. Her presence never fails to point out the gaps in the main character's Weirdness Censor.
- Two Keronians in Keroro Gunsou are mistaken for Kappa - Dororo, when he is found stuck in a boar-trap, and an early Keronian soldier, who befriended Omiyo the Ghost Girl nearly a hundred years ago.
- Gawappamon and Shawujingmon from Digimon, as well as Shawujingmon's Expy, Sagomon.
- Also one is found in Nurarihyon no Mago, as part of the main characters, it displays power to create links between water bodies transporting between lakes.
- The Nura clan's Kappa is not the only one. The second arc introduces the youkai of Tohno which includes the swamp kappa Amezou and the village leader Aka-gappa (literally Red Kappa) who is of a third, unspecified type of Kappa.
- In Kappa No Kaikata the protagonist tries to raise a pet kappa.
- In Inukami! episode 14, Keita gives a cucumber to a kappa, asking it to return the favor -- right now, if possible.
- An episode of Crayon Shin-chan has Shin's friends arguing whether the kappa is real or not, while they're standing by a body of water. Boo ends up dressing up like a kappa at one point.
- An episode of the Urusei Yatsura anime has Ataru being taken down to a Ryugujo inhabited entirely by kappa.
- In Gintama, an Amanto lives in a lake which he refuses to leave until a promise to teach an Ill Girl to swim once she gets better is kept.
- One of the first creatures encountered by Hell Teacher Nube is a kappa. (In the author's notes, he posits that the myth may have been inspired by Jesuit priests, who have a similar hairstyle and a penchant for "drowning" people via baptism).
- In the new Pet Shop of Horrors, one episode revolves around D looking for kappas.
- An early issue of Usagi Yojimbo featured a story called simply "Kappa" , which referenced most of the distinct aspects of the legend.
- A very strange variation in the French comic Papyrus, set in Ancient Egypt. The hero encounters aggressive desert-dwelling creatures with bowl shaped heads. When bowed to, they respond in kind, the liquid spills out, and they lose their aggressiveness (and intelligence and ability to speak). Turns out they were under a curse from Sobek, which is lifted from them in the end. Not once is their similarity to kappas explained or mentioned.
- Sakuya Yōkaiden (live action) has the heroine raise a kappa's child after killing one. The one she kills looks like a normal kappa and the child is a human with a plate on the top of his head.
- A kappa is one of the star characters in Takashi Miike's live-action Great Yokai War. It's played for a lot of comic relief, and complains that ugly youkai deserve as much love as beautiful or cute ones.
- Akira Kurosawa's Rhapsody In August has a grandmother who claims her slightly touched-in-the-head brother swore he saw a kappa at the waterfall by their house. That night, a kappa makes mischief it's just the boys using green paint and leaves to scare the girls.
- The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are mistaken for these in the third movie, where they are transported to Feudal Japan by means of a magical scepter.
- The kappa movie to end all kappa movies has got to be Tomo'o Haraguchi's Death Kappa, in which the title character begins the film as the friendly guardian of a village shrine, befriends a a girl who becomes a national singing star, runs afoul of Nazi super-science baddies and ends up as a Godzilla-sized rampaging monster who can only be tamed by the village girl singing his favorite tune. - I wish I was making this up.
- A Japanese novel called Kappa by Akutagawa Ryūnosuke features a man who, Gulliver-like, finds himself in the kappas' pythonesque world. Some of the weird things in kappa culture include the females' ardent persuit of males and having to convince babies to be born into this corrupt world, and they're already intelligent enough to make a convincing argument why it's better not being born (the author admitted this novel was "born in a very dark place").
- Kappa were among the monsters introduced in Lupin's Defense Against the Dark Arts class in Harry Potter. (Snape later tests them on this knowledge as a substitute and inaccurately states that they're Mongolian.) Kappas also have an entry in the spin-off book Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which correctly identifies it as Japanese, followed by Ron's sidenote remarking that Snape never really bothered to read the book.
- In Hiromi Goto's magical-realism novel The Kappa Child, a girl believes that she's been impregnated by a kappa. It gives her, among other things, some strange dreams and a tremendous craving for Japanese cucumbers.
- Sunny Seki's The Last Kappa of Old Japan has a little boy befriending a young kappa which years later returns the favor by saving his little daughter from drowning. It's also got an environmental message that would do Miyazaki proud.
- Sword of the Samurai has a few kappa encountered as enemies on one route. They can be easily defeated by knocking them off balance, causing the water on their heads to fall out.
- The usual Japanese interpretation of the character of Sha Wujing (though they call him Sa Gojyo) from Journey to the West is that he's a kappa, or at least something very similar to one.
Live Action TV
- In the 1970s Japanese live-action TV series adaptation of Journey to the West, the river monster Sa Gojō was depicted with kappa-like traits (domed head, etc.).
- One showed at as the problem fae of the episode in Lost Girl.
- The Animal Planet series River Monsters presents the theory that the legend of the Kappa originated from the Japanese Giant Salamander, one of the largest amphibians in the world capable of easily growing to the size and weight of an average 12 year old boy. The animal has strong clenching jaws and a bite like a snapping turtle, with more than enough strength to grab a small child by the leg and drag them under. Japanese parents had good reason to tell their kids they might get eaten if they go down to a river by themselves.
- Kappa appear as monsters in the 1st Edition Dungeons and Dragons supplement Oriental Adventures, and a number of adventures in the setting included them as opponents.
- There's a Magic: The Gathering card titled "Shell of the Last Kappa".
- The akki are also based on kappa.
- Disney-produced game Spectrobes has a monster based on the kappa. It makes the spikes literal, not just an artistic represensation of hair.
- Kapp'n from Animal Crossing is a kappa. While Cultural Translation dubs him a turtle, his love of cucumbers makes it obvious what he really is. His name is also an obvious pun.
- Magicians Quest Mysterious Times has one sidequest where you befriend a kappa. No bowing or cucumbers necessary--he wants to go on a tour of your school.
- Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town has a kappa who lives in the lake. If you throw in several Cucumbers, he'll give you an item that lets you work in the rain. In the girl version, you can marry him.
- A good number of HM's have Kappas.
- There's an enemy based on the Kappa in the Kirby games. It throws its ring of spikes at you.
- The Goemon video game series used these as frequent enemies in Goemons Great Adventure, often they were the Goddamn Bats.
- The Koopas from the Super Mario Bros. series are somewhat based on kappas.
- Being transformed into one is a Standard Status Effect in Final Fantasy VI. It got Americanized into "Imping".
- The Pokémon Golduck is based on the kappa. As are Lotad and Lombre.
- The videogame Sengoku has Kappa as enemies.
- There are some kappa in the game Katamari Damacy.
- Nitori Kawashiro of Touhou is a Cute Monster Girl Kappa. She uses optic camouflage and missiles in a low tech magic world.
- The first Star Gladiator game has a secret fighter called Kappah Nosuke - and yes, he is exactly what his name suggests, except he's an alien, not a mythological creature.
- Kappa are an early enemy in the MMORPG La Tale. Like nearly all the enemies in the game, they are almost unbearably cute.
- Kappa appears as an enemy in Jackie Chans Action Kung Fu.
- Appear as enemy spell-casters in Guild Wars: Factions.
- These appear in water based environments of Muramasa: The Demon Blade. If the battle wears on too long, they will dry out and become inactive.
- Appears as a unit of the Sanctuary faction in Heroes of Might and Magic VI. They're surprisingly lethal compared to their usual portrayal in media, which is lampshaded slightly by the unit's description. They also seem to be based more on toads than turtles, able to make huge leaps across the battlefield.
- In Sengoku Rance, the Big Bad is a demonic fire kappa.
- This (broken link) Touhou parody (here's the original) has a cute, chibified kappa becomes something more traditional... and frightening.
- Pet Society has a few Kappa-related items - a poster with small amount of info on Kappa, a Kappa plushie, and a Kappa mask.
- Nini the Cute Kappa
- Kappa Mikey not only takes his name from the creature, but it's also a pun on "kappamaki," a type of sushi. Kappa also appear in one episode of the show, they LOVED Kappa Mikey, they just didn't care for the man under the costume.
- The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles tend to be confused with Kappa whenever they visit Japan. The second animated series also featured turtle-like demons identified as kappa, despite the lack of water-filled depression.
- In Hellboy: Sword of Storms Hellboy fights a Kappa that has been preying on a nearby village. A villager who had been bribing the kappa with cucumbers tells Hellboy to beat the Kappa by spilling its water.
- Two kappas show up in one episode of Arthur.