Young Fox Spirit from InuYasha (Manga and Anime)

Note: This character's name is correctly transliterated with a long 'o': Shippō (the pronunciation of this vowel sound is lengthened). For ease of searching, I have opted to use the (already existing) node without the diacritical mark. The name is occasionally transliterated 'shippou' or 'shippoo'—both of which can lead to the unfortunate pronunciation 'ship-poo'.

Rumiko Takahashi, creator of Ranma 1/2 and Urusei Yatsura, is no stranger to extraordinary characters—monsters, aliens and immortals, she writes them all very well. Ms. Takahashi develops these strange characters alongside the more mundane ones, and we begin to regard them as we would anyone else in a story. The tale of InuYasha and his companions takes place in a medieval Japan populated by a fascinating array of magical creatures. These odd beings—animistic spirits, ghosts, gods, shape-changing animals and more—live with the humans, usually in reasonable harmony. The story pits the loyalty and friendship of our heroes against the colossal evil of a diabolic spirit called Naraku.

Name

"Sometimes I feel like I have to be the grownup around here."

Shippō (Japanese 七宝—'Seven Treasures,*' also a punning association** with shippo—'tail') is a young fox-trickster spirit, the English language translations call him a 'demon' but 'sprite' would be a little bit closer than that religiously loaded word (think faerie fox and you are pretty close). Foxes are noted tricksters in tales around the world. In many Japanese stories, fox-spirits (kitsune), like Shippō and his father, have amazing powers to create illusions and change their own size and shape.

Appearance

"Just apologize, even if you don't mean it. Inuyasha can be really childish sometimes."

Shippō looks like a red-haired, green-eyed human child of around seven years in age. He has several features that are specifically indicative of his vulpine nature: pointed ears, fangs, a bushy red tail and fox paws instead of feet. The overall effect, combining the best features of a fox cub and a little boy, is almost overpoweringly cute!

Powers

"Foxfire saves the day!"

Despite his youth, Shippō has several supernatural powers appropriate to a trickster child: he can change shape to appear as another person, even to the extent of changing his voice, but the illusion does not hold up very well under close scrutiny, as he retains his characteristic foxy tail. He can also become a big balloon-type fox and float through the air, even carrying others for short distances. This latter power seems to require quite a lot of effort on his part, however.

In folklore, it is claimed that fox-spirits can cast fiery plumes as an attack, defense or to mischievously misguide travellers or wanderers. These flames, called foxfire (Japanese: kitsunibi狐火) are equivalent to the faerie lights or will-o-wisps of European folklore. Shippō uses foxfire to great effect—he can launch ghostly blue-green flames at an enemy or make something appear to catch fire (a foe's head, for example). His foxfire looks real, and it can set flammable objects on fire, but it lacks the power to do much real damage. Still, it is a useful diversion.

Many of Shippō's magical powers are toy-based (which seems appropriate, given his relative age). He can spin a toy top and cause it to appear to become gigantic, landing on the heads of his foes (like foxfire, however, it is easily dispelled by the simple realization that it is an illusion). He also has a miniature toy hobbyhorse which he can make into a bigger, flying hobbyhorse for riding or carrying friends away from danger. Shippō can also use special magical leaves to make illusionary duplicates of himself. These images are unstable and easily dispelled by hitting them, but they have saved his tail when he was under attack.

Shippō can also summon largish mushrooms or acorns which will make crying sounds—they can be used as an alarm, to mark a trail, signal to his friends or he can just launch them at an enemy to confuse and confound! (One correspondent tells me that the mushrooms cry and the acorns scream, but whatever the case, this is a severly wacky power!)

Relationships

"Inuyasha! You're supposed to be rescuing Kagome! Now you've been captured and we've got to rescue you! I let you out of my sight and look what happens!"

The heroine of the gang, Kagome has adopted the boy as a sort of little brother figure, and she adores and dotes on him. Meanwhile, InuYasha treats him much as a bullyish big brother might treat his younger sibling—stealing his food, playing tricks on him and generally annoying Shippō. In InuYasha's defense, the little fox goads, tricks and teases his 'big brother' at every chance. Still, when the chips are really down, the two can show a little bit of affection.

The other members of their little fellowship get on well with the boy. Sango, tough-as nails demon-hunter, acts a bit like another big sister, although she seems to have a harder time expressing her affection (likely due to the death and subsequent zombie-enslavement of her own little brother as part of one of Naraku's evil plots). Sango's animal companion, a cat-spirit named Kilala (Kirara), enjoys the company of the little fox-boy and these two spend a great deal of time together.

Miroku, the group's exorcist, Buddhist monk and womanizer, has occasionally tried to drag Shippō along to try to aid in picking up women. The lad quickly cops to these plots and wants no part of them!

Role

"And that's why Kagome sent me, so that I could protect you from being protected by Miroku."

As a member of the group, Shippō acts as a sort of conscience for them when moral dilemmas present themselves (with the sort of self-righteousness that only a child can get away with). As an orphan (interestingly, almost all the good guys in this story are orphans), Shippo has a soft spot for kids in trouble and he will go out of his way to help other children, especially orphans.

In much fiction, children seem to exist mainly to get into trouble and be rescued by the heroes (this unfortunately has been a traditional role for women as well). Shippō manages to save the day and stand up to danger quite often, even saving the lives of his little band of comrades-in-arms a couple of times. Still, he is a little kid with limited magical abilities, and often flees from danger. The little fox also has a trickster child's bad tendency to get himself into a jam.

Shippō can also sometimes be comic relief (another traditional role for kids in fiction), particularly given his mischievous nature, and he usually figures heavily into any humorous misadventure that his gang finds themselves involved in. Despite this fact, he has developed as a genuinely interesting and likeable character complete with complex positive and negative traits (his childlike loyalty and bravery versus his hotheadedness and impatience, for example). The reader quickly comes to like and cheer for Shippō.

His Story

"If InuYasha is suddenly a useless mortal...Then I, as the sole demon, must defend us all! I shall be brave."

Shippō's father became interested in collecting shards of the Shikon Jewel (Shikon no Tama—'Jewel of Four Souls'), a powerful artifact which had recently been shattered. The magic of the Jewel was such that even a small sliver could increase the powers of magical beings many-fold.

When we first meet Shippō in the story of InuYasha, he is hoping to avenge his father, who was murdered by the brutal Thunder Brothers, two particularly vicious and vile magical beings. The brothers killed Shippō's father and stole his shards of the Shikon Jewel, then used the shards thus obtained to increase their demonic powers to a terrifying degree. It took all the combined might of our heroes to take down the evil brothers, with a timely assist by the ghost of Shippō's father. The boy now travels with InuYasha and company, aiding in their adventures.


*Apparently, the seven treasures are gold, silver, pearls, agate, crystal, coral, and lapis lazuli. Seems like a pretty nice name for a little kid, but I'm not quite sure what the cultural significance here is!
**Ms. Takahashi is a notorious punster, so much so that watching this show and reading the manga has had the positive effect of convincing this author to significantly increase his familiarity with the Japanese language!


References:
My eternal gratitude to TenMinJoe for inspiring this writeup with his really great InuYasha and Miroku writeups
...and to JohnnyGoodyear for a wee bit o' editorial advice
Japan 101-information resource: http://www.japan-101.com/anime/shippo.htm
Wikipedia article on Shippō http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shippo
InuYasha dreamersite: http://inuyasha.neko-simba.net/quotes.php

Ship*po" (?), n. [Jap. shippO seven precious things; Chin. ts'ih seven + pao gem.] (Japanese Art)

Cloisonné enamel on a background of metal or porcelain.

 

© Webster 1913

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