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Homunculi are a type of artificial human connected to alchemy, from the Latin for "little man". Their traditional depiction is as tiny people grown in jars, but they tend to differ a lot in presentation. The singular is "homunculus".
Homunculus (masculine, Latin for "little human", plural: "homunculi"; from the diminutive of homo) is a term used, generally, in various fields of study to refer to any representation of a human being. Historically it referred specifically to the concept of a miniature though fully-formed human body, for example, in the studies of alchemy and preformationism. Currently, in scientific fields, a homunculus may refer to any scale model of the human body that, in some way, illustrates physiological, psychological, or other abstract human characteristics or functions.
Within the fantasy setting, a homunculus generally acts as a magician's assistant (a.k.a familiar), spy, messenger, or even assassin. They are capable of speech, though not always the case. If created correctly, they are loyal to a fault when it comes to their master.
Anime and Manga
- Fullmetal Alchemist has these as the main villains. They are artificial humans created by the Big Bad, Father, except for Wrath and the second Greed, both of whom were humans who ingested philosopher's stones. Father himself started out looking like the traditional version, a shadow in a jar, but uses Philosopher's Stones to create itself a human body identical to Hohenheim's.
- The "cyclops army", which appear late in the series, are artificial humans injected with the souls of human sacrifices. In effect, they act like flesh-eating zombies, though.
- In the 2003 anime version, however, homonculi are the product of 'successful' attempts to revive the dead using alchemy: their bodies consist of the body of the revivee, reinforced with incomplete Philosopher's Stones. Most of them have allied themselves with Big Bad Dante, who made several of them (Envy, the current Greed, Pride and most likely Gluttony) and is also implied to have given them their Seven Deadly Sins theme names.
- Busou Renkin also has homunculi as villains who typically eat people.
- Ennis of Baccano is a good homunculus who is presented as the Mad Scientist's Beautiful Daughter. The opening credits allude to the traditional version by showing her as the reflection in a bottle of chemicals her "father" was pouring.
- In the novels, several other homunculi, mostly created by Huey, appear. They have different properties and powers from Ennis due to the different resources and techniques used by their creator. We also learn that the demon of the Advena Avis originated as one of the traditional confined-to-a-bottle variety.
- They appear in Hell Teacher Nube.
- In The Slayers, homunculi (knows as copies) are supposedly just like normal humans in appearance, but have no will or memory of their own. Of course, the only two homunculi that have a larger part in the story are also the only known expections...
- Yu-Gi-Oh! GX: Judai's Double Agent mentor Daitokuji (Professor Banner in the dub) was an alchemist and transferred his soul to a homunculus when he came down with a fatal disease so he could continue his research... and later stop the funder of his research who found a secret to eternal youth through the Serious Business card game.
- In Rental Magica a homunculus is Cute Monster Girl.
- Humanoid Monster Bem had a brother sister pair that tried to extend their own lives by draining Bero's.
- In Hellboy, Roger the Homunculus is one of the main characters, being a humunculus the size of a tall human, having a large degree of intelligence, being incredibly strong and durable, and requiring a power source to be constantly hooked up to a plug in his chest in order to function (although he was once able to power himself using the power he absorbed from Liz after she placed her finger into the plug, though this would have eventually killed her). The fact that Roger is an unusually large and sentient homunculus is often referred to (and occasionally draws unwanted attention), and is put down to his creator being a genius alchemist who had a lifetime of experience and experimentation behind him when he created Roger.
- Roger actually fights his "brother", a less sophisticated homonculus, and his army of goblin-sized homonculi in Almost Colussus, and Nazi homunculi appear in Conqueror Worm
- In Finder, "Munky" is the mascot of a city-sized Disneyland-like amusement park. He's depicted as one of the neurological homunculi mentioned under Real Life below.
- The homunculus created by Prince Koura in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad. A small flying gargoyle: its master can use its senses.
- Bride of Frankenstein shows little people in a jar with different personalities (one likes the Devil). They aren't called homunculi, but are obviously supposed to be.
- The stitchpunks of Nine were created using techniques pioneered by Paracelsus, and are essentially robot homunculi.
- The Programs in Tron and Tron: Legacy are implied to be this, especially with Gibbs's rant in the first film about "our spirit remains in every program," and Word of God saying that the Programs retain emotional impressions, personality traits, and some memories from their Users.
- Anakin Skywalker of Star Wars could be considered a homunculus of sorts. While he was born naturally from his mother, it is strongly hinted in the prequel trilogy (and confirmed by Word of God) that he was artificially conceived through The Force by the Sith Lord, Darth Plagueis. The recent Expanded Universe novels about Darth Plagueis explain that the method by which he created Anakin was a branch of Sith alchemy.
Live Action TV
- The Canadian series Todd and the Book of Pure Evil featured a homunculus in the second episode. It was the manifestation of a nerdy girl's desires and thus resembled the main character, who she had a crush on. She created it with the intention of entering it in a science fair, but instead it just killed the local science teacher.
- Kamen Rider OOO has the Greeed, artifical life created from human desire and the attributes of animals combined into the Cell and Core Medals. They finally gained sentience when their tenth Core was destroyed, but then tried to eat the world. Though it turns out they were created by a greedy king who intended to absorb all their power to become a god. It didn't work out like he expected and seemingly killed him, imprisoning them in a stone box for 800 years.
- From The Other Wiki, The Homunculus, a novel by David Keller: The novel concerns Colonel Horatio Bumble who has retired to his ancestral home with his wife, Helen and their Pekingese, Lady. The Bumbles are childless. Colonel Bumble employs the siblings Pete and Sarah at his home. The Colonel is also attempting to create a baby through parthenogenesis. As a result of his experiments, the Colonel is kidnapped and Sarah rescues him by employing supernatural means.
- Also from The Other Wiki, Alraune, a 1911 German novel in which the eponymous character is a beautiful (but soulless and sexually perverse) woman created by artificial insemination. It was made into several films.
- A tiny woman was created via alchemy in Goblin Moon.
- The title creature in James Blaylock's Homunculus averted this trope by being a tiny alien rather than a synthetic creation.
- Vurdmeisters use homunculi to summon pit wyrms in The Night Angel Trilogy
- Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun has Dr. Talos as a homunculus of Baldanders.
- In The Monarchies of God fantasy series, Homonculi are familiars grown without Ur Blood; they mature faster than Imps, but they have bad eating habits and are Always Chaotic Evil.
- In The Alchemy of Stone, the protagonist uses old-fashioned grown-in-jars-with-alchemy homunculi to complete magical tasks important to the plot.
- In Mary Shelley's original novel the Frankenstein's monster was explicitly a homunculus created out of "filth" (i.e. dung and sperm), rather than corpses of the dead.
- Not quite true. Victor made at least one reference to visits to bonehouses specifically to gather materials to create his creature. While his creature wasn't made entirely out of corpses, they were still a vital part of the process.
- Specifically the dissecting room and the slaughter-house are said to furnish Victor with many of his materials, and he also dabbles in "the unhallowed damps of the grave." The implication is that the monster is formed at least partly out of human and animal remains, not merely "filth."
- In Cornelia Funke's Dragonrider, the character Twigleg is a homunculus created by an alchemist from a test tube. Apparently, the alchemist was not truly able to create life, but instead "borrowed" the life of another creature, such as a spider or beetle.
- In W. Somerset Maugham's novel The Magician, the magician Oliver Haddo (a non-subtle Expy/TakeThat against Aleister Crowley) tries to find the secret that would allow him to create his own homunculi. He dies, but not before reaching his goal. His homunculi, along with all his notes, are burned in his mansion at the end.
- In Tales of Kolmar there was once a man later called the Demonlord who magically removed his own heart and hid it away; when his body was killed his mind survived, because that's how the spell worked. Later a lesser summoner creates a body for him around that distant heart, dragon-shaped and made of rock and lava, able to fly through magic, and calls this a homunculus.
- Sperm were originally believed to contain miniature people, and the alchemical concept of homunculi were attempts at growing these little men without a female womb, which was expected to lead to a drastically different development.
- Some scholars took this concept even further; they believed that the tiny people in the sperm would have sperm of their own, with even tinier people in it, and so on. They deduced that if you could count them down all the way, you could deduce the approximate date of the Judgement Day from them.
- Graphic illustrations called "homunculi" are used by neurobiologists to illustrate how much of the brain's gray matter communicates with each of our body parts. As our hands, feet, and faces contain far more nerve endings, and individual motor units of muscles, than an equivalent volume of arm, leg, neck or torso, these homunculi have huge heads, feet and hands on little spindly bodies.
- The Homunculus, or Homonculous of Dungeons and Dragons. Similar to The Golden Voyage of Sinbad version, except that it has a poisoned bite that causes sleep. It's made by an expensive alchemical recipes from the wizard's own blood and is a living tool linked much like a Familiar.
- There is also the simulacrum, which is similar in basic theory to a homunculus but is a replica of the caster.
- The Basic/Expert/etc D&D system introduced the "magen", a type of human-like magical creatures grown in vats, combining advantages of homunculi and simulacra, but more expensive. On the other hand, they aren't as strong or invulnerable as golems, but cheaper and smarter. They came in several types, most with weird powers. In AD&D2 era Mystara they are formed from gelatin-like mix in molds and brought to life by lightning bolt spells.
- Mystara also has Manikin -- little constructs made of mandragora root and a bit of the master's lifeforce.
- Van Richten's Arsenal, a 3E Ravenloft book from Arthaus, tells how to craft "alchemical children": sentient, organic constructs that can pass for human if desired.
- Dragon (magazine) has "The Wizard's Companion: The Care and Feeding of Homonculi" article with details and 8 variant homunculi.
- Eberron's artificer class has the ability to create homunculi sooner than most casters. The setting also introduces a number of specialised homunculi, including arbalesters (self-firing crossbows), dedicated wrights (dwarf-like homunculi which can craft items on their master's behalf), expeditious messengers (fast winged lemurs which their master's can speak through), furtive filchers (tiny shadowy figures adept at stealing), iron defenders (mechanical dogs made for combat), packmates (Chest Monster caddies) and persistent harriers (spiky humanoids used for combat support).
- One of the biggest changes in the New World of Darkness is the addition of Promethean: The Created, which lets players role-play as homunculi (though they don't use the word) based on Frankenstein's monster, Galatea, Osiris, the Golem, Orpheus, and nuclear-powered supermen. They use alchemy-based superpowers to fight Pandorans - botched homunculi and attempt to become human.
- Geist: The Sin Eaters allows a Sin-Eater possessing the Elemental Marionette to craft a homunculus from a representation of said element. The creation of the homunculus requires the Sin-Eater to sacrifice some of their will to create an egg; if this egg is captured by another Sin-Eater, then they gain control of the homunculus. The homunculus also gains powers depending on which Elemental Key was used to forge it -- a Cold-Wind Homunculus can fly rather fast, while a Pyre-Flame homunculus is immune to fire.
- Homunculi in GURPS: Magic must live in bottles because they are so ridiculously vulnerable that they can be killed by harsh light.
- Homunculi were among the many alchemically-created life forms that could be concocted by player characters in The Atlantean Trilogy small-press RPG.
- In Warhammer 40000, Dark Eldar Haemonculi use the term, but they are the mad alchemists who do the constructing rather than the constructs, those are Grotesques and Mandrakes. Possibly a Double Subversion as most Haemonculi are likely to manipulate their own bodies into something completely new at some point in their careers.
- In Part Two of Goethe's Faust duology, the title character's student Wagner creates a homunculus who goes on to accompany Faust and Mephistopheles on their time travel adventure in Ancient Greece.
- Valkyrie Profile also features homunculi (or at least similar creatures called chimera), mostly created by the twinked-out multiclass Alchemist/Necromancer/Runemaster/Sorcerer, Lezard Valeth. The first one seen is basically just a big, stupid, frankensteinian monster, but his best creations are basically enhanced human bodies worthy of a goddess. Which makes sense, seeing as he'd planned to use them to incarnate the Valkyrie with.
- Homunculi have appeared as an enemy in one of Castlevania games, where they appear as a humanoid connected to the wall by an umbilical cord in underwater areas.
- Homunculi are just items in the Persona series of games. They will take an instant death effect for the player so you don't get a game over.
- There are monsters called homunculus in World of Warcraft. They appear in at least 2 instances: the Sunken Temple and Karazan, and are white imp-like demons.
- They appear in Shadow of Destiny.
- This is an especially interesting case. In it, Homunculus is infact a djinn-like being, who is contained in the philosopher's stone. The process of "creation" infact only releases him.
- In Grim Grimoire, any creature available to the 'Alchemy' school of magic counts under this trope (though it's less clear with Golems and Gargoyles, who might be highly advanced machines or primitive mechanical lifeforms); it's the only school of magic that creates its creatures on the spot rather than summoning them from another plane of existence. However, the second-tier unit of the school is actually called Homunculi: They look like cats with normal-size heads, thin and tiny bodies, and spider-like legs. Except for their legs, they are entirely bottled up inside clear glass beakers filled with chemicals absolutely necessary to keep their imperfect biology alive (in contrast, the ultimate creature, Chimera, has no such bottle and is constantly losing HP until it dies); smashing the bottle will kill a homunculus, and they cannot survive outside of them. Understandably, they don't move fast, they don't take much damage to kill, and they have no basic attack. What they DO have are heightened psychic abilities, which starts them with the ability to clairvoyantly spy on distant places, a power that can be also be used their immediate vicinity to make immaterial spirits vulnerable to physical attacks. They can also learn an Astral Storm area-of-effect power which causes considerable damage-over-time to enemy creature units, even spirits.
- The story features a unique and highly advanced homunclus whom was created around an angel, who serves as the creature's soul. As per Valkyrie Profile above, this basically incarnated the angel as a physical being, but in this case the purpose was just to create a homunclus who could freely leave its life-sustaining bottle, save for periodic rests. The homunculus is as intelligent as any human and seems to have the ability to use Alchemy like a human magician (and was likely taught such by the alchemist who created her), but doesn't have any memories of being an angel. Her bottle apparently does more than simply perform periodic maintenance on her incomplete body, as shattering it will cause an immediate Critical Existence Failure that manifests as a glorious lightshow as the angel within emerges and then returns to heaven. Even aside from the bottle, however, this homunculus has a nigh-physical need for even just one other person to love her, as her artificially created form is not part of God's design and thus "is not connected to God's love". The exact form of love offered doesn't matter as long as it is genuine; a father, friend or lover are all just as good.
- Homunculi are one of the weakest types of demon in Nethack. It, again, has a sleep-inducing bite.
- A Homunculus is a familiar for Beastmasters in Final Fantasy XI, a play on the meaning of the word(Little Man). It is also possible to buy artificial nerves to make parts for a Puppetmaster's Robot Buddy.
- Safiya of Mask of the Betrayer creates these to act as scouts and servants. Her most advanced one, Kaji, serves as her familiar and a partial rogue for the team.
- In Ragnarok Online, homunculi are somewhat like pets, except they can fight for their owners, level up, and gain skills. The only humanoid ones (Lif) are cute monster girls, while the other options are birds (Filir), blobs (Vanilmirth), sheep (Amistr), or monkeys (Amistr's other version).
- Haunting Ground offers an especially disturbing view of Homunculi. Every character but the protagonist and the Big Bad are Artificial Humans, including the protagonists's father. (He and The Dragon are clones.) Debilitas and Daniella seem to be two successful creations, to say nothing of the rambling failures and Fetus Terrible Mooks. Daniella mentions being unable to experience taste, pleasure or pain. There is no given reason for their creation except as cheap labor and For Science!.
- Rudy of Wild ARMs is an Artificial Human called a "holmcross," which is pretty clearly a transliteration of "Homunculus." He's said to be made of living metal.
- In Super Robot Wars R, Duminuss creat trio of homunculi. They look like cute children but much stronger than human and pilot weird looking Humongous Mecha. Duminuss and the homunculi return in Original Generation Gaiden, one of them make Heel Face Turn this time.
- Ilya in Fate/stay night. Homunculi here have extraordinary magical ability and some can even potentially live forever and are 'technically' unkillable, though presumably not destroyable. Too bad Ilya and her mother Irisviel aren't that kind. Sure, it makes them much more human than their counterparts... but Ilya dies a year or so after the end of any route she survives in and is twice as old as she looks, which is ten. Sucks, huh?
- There's also Mordred, who's basically an alchemic clone of her "father", Saber.
- In Fate/Extra, Rani VIII is a homunculus from the Atlas Institute, and will be your sidekick if you choose to save her instead of Rin Tohsaka at a critical moment.
- Referenced in the blurb for the technology "Industrial Nanorobotics" in Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri, delivered quite passionately by Sister Miriam of the Believers:
Already we have turned all of our critical industries, all of our material resources, over to these...things...these lumps of silver and paste we call nanorobots. And now we propose to teach them intelligence? What, pray tell, will we do when these little homunculi awaken one day and announce that they have no further need of us?—Sister Miriam Godwinson, "We Must Dissent"
- There's one in Edelweiss. And it's not Natsume.
- Ivy from the Soul Series became a Homunculus when she was forced to replace her soul (stolen by her undead father Cervantes) with an artificial one. As a result, she now has an unaging body, which is why she still looks as good at age 49 in Soul Calibur V as she did in the previous games.
- It's not yet been completely explained what exactly homunculi are in Mabinogi, but Eabha is one.
- In Girl Genius, Sparks make all sorts of crazy stuff, so artificial life isn't something unusual, though most of it ends up eating wanderers in sewers or wastelands. As the Castle informed Agatha that once her ancestress sent two hundred warrior homunculi in a little invasion... just to get acquainted with a prospective fiance.