Saturday, March 3, 2018

Oni 鬼

In Japanese, or, rather, in Japan's culture, an oni 鬼 is a kind of "supernatural being," youkai 妖怪 often translated to English as "ogre" or "troll," although those are technically different things. Generally speaking, an oni in anime is a big, strong, scary, evil, rugged, powerful humanoid monster, who has one or two horns on its head, fangs, and the like, but designs may vary.

Oni Gouki from the anime Yuu Yuu Hakusho

Nowadays, oni are normally portrayed featuring colored skin, specially red and blue, just like the modern day ogre is usually green. In anime, oni characters can usually talk and have some sort of connection with the demon world, afterlife, hell, or something supernatural like that.

Apparently, the word oni would mean it's an invisible spirit, originally, but that's rarely the case in modern fiction.

Human-like Oni

Although oni originally refers to a monster-like creature, in anime it's often the case a more human-like character is classified as an oni. When this happen, the only consistent feature they get is one or two horns on top of their head and nothing else.

Backstory, alignment, etc. does not matter. Just the oni horns is enough to call a character an oni.

Lum, her brother, and her father. Oni characters from the anime Urusei Yatsura うる星やつら.

Oni Girls

Those big, evil, scary, oni have been moefied into cute girls in anime, as one would expect. So it's no wonder there are terms to refer to them, too, as the oni girls are legitimately one of the countless types of girls you can find in anime.

In English, sometimes the word "oni" alone refers to such oni girls. Like this: she's an "oni." In Japanese, the following terms are used to refer to them:
  • onimusume 鬼娘
  • onikko 鬼っ娘

I haven't been able to find the male equivalent for some reason, but there's a child equivalent:
  • onikko 鬼っ子
    Oni child. A kid character who's an oni.
    (for example, the fire-breathing little brother of the oni girl.)

Such oni girls count as "monster girls," by the way, jingai-musume 人外娘.

Girls With Horns

Although oni girls usually do have horns, it'd be wrong to say a girl with horns is automatically an oni girl. That'd be like judging someone by their appearance. You can't say someone is American just because they're obese, in the same way, you can't say a character is an oni just because they have horns.

For example, demon characters usually have horns of one sort or another, but they're demons, not oni, even though both are kinds of supernatural beings. The horned dragons in Maidragon aren't oni either, they're dragons.

But the fact they do have horns doesn't change, so the following terms also exist:
  • tsuno
    (note: the word kaku 角, written with the same kanji, means "angle," and there's also kado 角, which means "corner," and is part of the name of an ultra shit anime you really don't want to ever watch in your life, because if you do, you'll regret wasting hours of your time in such an immense, never-stopping disaster.)
  • hayasu 生やす
    To make sprout. (plant, beard, but may be a horn too. Think FLCL.)
  • tsuno-musume 角娘
    tsunokko 角っ娘
    Horn-y girl. Girl with horns.

That said, a girl with horns is usually also an oni girl. For example, you could say Zero-Two from FranXX is just a girl with horns, and not an oni, since she's not a spirit in connection with the other side or something occult like that. But her code, 02, practically spells oni, so yeah, maybe she's an oni.

Another hint is that oni characters are usually associated with brutes, like cavemen, living the caves, of mountains, carrying bludgeoning weapons, wearing pelts, etc. This is a stereotype that serves as basis of many oni character designs. These features aren't necessary, but they're recurrent.


For reference, some oni illustrations.

Triangle Horns

Skin Horns


Red Oni, Blue Oni

Despite the fact you could make an oni any color if you wanted, the colors red and blue are specially common. In which case, it's also common to make the red oni have two horns and the blue oni have a single horn.

Blue oni and red oni from hell talking to Goku in the anime Dragon Ball Z.

There probably isn't any deeper meaning to this, but in some cases it's a reference to a certain tale told to children about friendship.


The Japanese Wikipedia has a version of the story (泣いた赤鬼) I'll talk about here. There are multiple variations of the tale, but the gist of it is usually the same.


In the story, a red oni tries to become friends with humans, but oni, being scary, scare humans away, so not a single human comes by to play with him. He then asks his friend, the blue oni, for help. The blue oni comes up with a plan: he'd attack the human village, play the evil oni, and then red oni would fend him off, saving the humans, and becoming acknowledged as a hero oni. Doing this, the red oni becomes friends with humans, and plays with them every day. But for some reason his old friend, the blue oni, doesn't show up to play with him any more. Later he gets a letter from the blue oni, which tells if he came to play the humans would think they're friends, and then the whole plan would fall apart, so he wouldn't come play anymore. The story ends with the red oni crying for having lost his old friend.


If I had to guess the moral, I'd say it is: do not lose your current friends to get new friends. Which is a common theme in fiction, and in anime, where you have characters who cut ties with their old friends of infancy in order to start hanging with the cool kids group, often regrettably.


toaru yama no naka ni, hitori no aka oni ga sundeita. aka oni wa zutto ningen to nakayoku naritai to omotteita.
Inside a certain mountain, one red oni lived. The red oni had always felt he wanted to become friends with humans.

soko de, "kokoro no yasashii oni no uchi desu. donata demo oidekudasai. oishii okashi ga gozaimasu. ocha mo wakashite gozaimasu."
Given that, "Home of an oni of gentle heart. Anyone is welcome. [I] have tasty sweets. And [am] boiling tea."

touiu tatefuda wo kaki, ie no mae ni tatete oita.
Such signpost [he] wrote, and put [it] in front of [his] house.

shikashi, ningen-tachi wa utagai, dare hitori toshite aka oni no ie ni asobi ni kuru koto wa nakatta.
However, the humans doubted, not a single one came play at the red oni's house.

aka oni wa hijouni kanashimi, shin'you shite moraenai koto wo kuyashigari, tsuini hara wo tate, sekkaku tateta tatefuda wo hikinuite shimatta.
The red oni was extremely saddened, frustrated for not being trusted, finally he lost [his] temper, and removed the signpost [he went through the effort of placing.]

hitori kanashimi ni kureteita koro, tomodachi no ao oni ga aka oni no moto wo otozureru. aka oni no hanashi wo kiita ao oni wa aru koto wo kangaeta.
By the time [he] was overcome with lone sadness, the friend blue oni came visit the red oni. Having heard the red oni story the blue oni thought of one thing.

sore wa, "ao oni ga ningen no mura e dekakete ooabare wo suru. soko e aka oni ga detekite, ao oni wo korashimeru.
That was, "the blue oni departs to the human village and goes berserk. There the red oni shows up, and punishes the blue oni."

sou sureba ningen-tachi nimo aka oni ga yasashii oni da toiu koto ga wakaru darou" touiu saku de atta.
Doing that the humans too will understand the red oni is a gentle oni, [I think.]" such plan.

shikashi, kore de ao oni ga moushiwakenai to omou aka oni dattaga, ao oni ga gouin ni aka oni wo tsure, ningen-tachi ga sumu mura e mukau no datta.
However, with this [it'd be something] inexcusable to the blue oni thought the red oni, but the blue oni brought along the red oni forcefully, aiming for the village the humans lived in.

soshite tsuini sakusen wa jikkou sareta. ao oni ga mura no kodomo-tachi wo osoi, aka oni ga kenmei ni fusegitasukeru.
And then at last the plan was realized. The blue oni attacked the village children, the red oni earnestly protected and rescued them.

sakusen wa seikou shi, okage de aka oni wa ningen to nakayoku nari, murabito-tachi wa aka oni no ie ni asobi ni kuru you ni natta.
The plan succeeded, thanks to that the red oni became friends with the humans, the villages started coming play to the red oni's house.

ningen no tomodachi ga dekita aka oni wa mai nichi mai nichi asobi tsuduke, juujitsu shita mai nichi wo okuru.
Having made human friends the red oni kept playing every single day, living everyday fully.

daga, aka oni wa hitotsu ki ni naru koto ga atta. sore wa, shin'yuu de aru ao oni ga are kara ichido mo asobi konai koto de atta.
But, the red oni wondered about one thing. That was, [his best] friend the blue oni hadn't come play a single time ever since that.

ima murabito to nakayoku kuraseteiru no wa ao oni no okage de aru node, aka oni wa kinkyou houkoku mo kaneteao oni no ie wo tazuneru koto ni shita.
[The reason he is] now living being friends with the villagers is thanks to the blue oni, the red oni also having not able to report the present situation decided to visit the blue oni's home.

shikashi, ao oni no ie no to wa kataku shimatteori, to no waki ni harigami ga hatte atta.
However, the blue oni's house door was shut tightly, besides the door a paper was sticker.

sore wa "aka oni-kun, ningen-tachi to nakayoku shite, tanoshikute kurashite kudasai. moshi, boku ga, kono mama kimi to tsukiatteiru to, kimi ga warui oni dato omowareru kamoshiremasen. sore de, boku wa, tabi ni deru keredomo, itsu mademo kimi wo wasuremasen. sayounara, karada wo daiji ni shite kudasai. boku wa doko mademo kimi no tomodachi desu"
That was "Red oni-kun, please become friends with humans, live having fun. If, I, kept your company like this, you too would be assumed to be an evil oni. That's why, I, will depart on a journey but, I'll never forget you. Good-bye, please take care of your health. I'm your friend no matter what happens."

touiu ao oni kara okitegami de atta.
Such farewell letter left by the blue oni.

aka oni wa damatte sore wo nidomo sandomo yomiage, namida wo nagashita.
The red stayed silent read it two, three times, and shed tears.


BLUE ONIIIIIIiiiiiiiii!!!! orz


y u do this 2 me

What did I do to deserve getting feels over a Japanese children's tale I was translating for a post that's mostly about horny girls?!?!?!


Figurative Usage

Sometimes the word oni is used figuratively, or idiomatically, or in some way that doesn't literally refer to an actual oni. Here are some examples:

Merciless Person

Someone may get called an oni 鬼 for being "merciless," kichiku 鬼畜. For example, if they give too much work to someone, or give too many orders, or, well, really seem to have no mercy, they may be get called oni as you'd call someone a "fiend" or something of the sort.


In games of tag and hide-and-seek, the "it" may be called the oni in Japanese.

The term oni-gokko 鬼ごっこ even means "game of tag."

Weird Children

Sometimes, the term onigo 鬼子, or onikko 鬼っ子, may be used toward children. Here there's two different meanings.

First a child that's a "demon," that is, a child that's too misbehaved.

Second a child that doesn't resemble the parents. This has the implication that the child isn't actually a human child but some sort of spirit that took the shape of a baby or something. In the same vein, the term also applies to children born with teeth.

What's Gonna Happen?!?!

There's a Japanese idiom that contains the word oni 鬼 which's worth knowing about. It comes in two versions:
  1. oni ga deru ka ja ga deku ka 鬼が出るか蛇が出るか
  2. oni ga deru ka hotoke ga deru ka 鬼が出るか仏が出るか

In both cases, what's being literally said is if "an oni will come out" or will something else. What this idiom means in practice is that you don't know what will come out. "You don't know what's going to happen." And it's used in a situation where the outcome of something is unforeseeable.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Leave your komento コメント in this posuto ポスト of this burogu ブログ with your questions about Japanese, doubts or whatever!