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Yōsei-ō: Jack Oshinumi and Puck
Source: OVA
Layers: 1
Sketches: 1
Cel Number: A3
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Added 5/22/2012
Updated 5/23/2018
Here Jack is gathering his determination after a difficult confrontation with the evil Queen Mab. Drops of sweat dot his cheek and forehead, yet there is a thin, grim smile on his face. He knows now that victory is in his hands, yet his friend, the shapeshifting fairy Puck seems not so sure. Jack rises slowly from the ground while his friend looks anxiously at his wry expression.



This single-episode 1988 Madhouse OVA was based on a manga by Ryōko Yamagishi that had appeared a decade earlier. At that time, the series made only a modest impression, but Yamagishi’s next effort, Hi Izuru Tokoro no Tenshi [Heaven’s Son in the land of the Rising Sun](1980-84), a revisionist historical romance with a strong shōnen-ai theme, was a huge success. (See Fredrick Schodt’s Dreamland Japan, pp. 182-86 for an appreciation of this work in English.) She became even more celebrated after 2001 with the appearance of her Terpsicore series. In 2007 she received the prestigious Tezuka Cultural Award Grand Prize for this manga.

The anime adaptation of Yōsei-ō was directed by Katsuhisa Yamada, who worked widely in the 80s and early 90s on series ranging from Legend of the Galactic Heroes to the American-produced animated versions of The Hobbit and The Last Unicorn. Character design and animation direction were courtesy of Takuo Noda, an even wider-ranging animator whose credits range from the 1970s (Microid S to the 2011 Madhouse anime version of X-men. Like Yamada, he worked on Legend of the Galactic Heroes as a character designer and animation director, and also did key animation for the second CCS movie.

Neither the manga nor the OVA has been translated or fansubbed in North America; however, a version in raw Japanese has recently appeared on YouTube. The story makes inventive use of Irish folklore and mythology, relocated in wild and mysterious Hokkaidō (not coincidentally Yamagishi’s homeland). And a useful English summary of the manga plot has been published online by one of Yamagishi’s fans, and while the OVA took a very complex plot and condensed it drastically (as the Wikipedia Japan entry on the series frankly admits), the gist of the plot can be reconstructed.

The protagonist is Jack Oshinumi [忍海 爵 “Oshinumi Jakku”( but I can’t help thinking of him as O’Shinumy, a real Irish laddie somehow shanghaied as a wee babe and marooned in the exotic East). He has been taken from Tokyo to a remote region of Hokkaidō to recover from a mysterious wasting illness. There he meets a strangely familiar gothy bishōnen, who presents him with a pendant in the shape of a miniature bugle. (That’s the object seen around Jack’s neck in the cel). When the handsome bishie visits Jack that night, he realizes that his new acquaintance is the mythological Irish hero Cúchulainn [クーフーリン, “Kūfūrin”]. Like Yamagishi’s next manga, the plot develops in a strong shōnen-ai fashion, with Jack and the Irish hero impetuously drawn to each other. (But, begorrah, what proper offspring of the Ould Sod would not be thrilled to his masculine core by the chance to meet the legendary Cúchulainn face to face and even get to ride his magic horse Kelpie?)


Cúchulainn on Kelpie, Puck (with antlers), and Lucifer, from Yamigishi’s manga

Cúchulainn shows him how to enter Nymphidia, the land of the fairies. There he meets and befriends Puck [プック, “Pukku”] and attends the Midsummer Night’s moot where the new fairy king [妖精王, “Yōsei-ō “] will be proclaimed. The event is interrupted by the evil Queen Mab [クィーン・マブ, “Queen Mabu”aka Medb or Maeve, Cúchulainn’s arch-enemy in the ancient Irish sagas]. She tells the gathering that she, the leader of the dark elves, intends to become their monarch. But when Jack touches the bugle pendant, it grows to normal size; he blows it, and Mab is chased away by its magical power. The fairies then proclaim Jack their new king.


Cúchulainn proclaims Jack the new Yōsei-ō as Puck watches on (DVD cover art, but based on an image from Yamagishi’s manga)

Needless to say, Mab does not give up her ambition to control Nymphidia easily. The rest of the plot involves the sorceress’s efforts to kill Jack while he carries out a quest to recover a magic ring that will destroy her power and restore order to the realm. The cel appears in the YouTube version toward the end of the episode, at 48:20, and shows Jack rising to his feet with the magic ring safe in his hand, ready now to destroy the defeated Queen's kingdom forever.

The crisis resolved, Jack returns to his own world, his illness miraculously cured. As usual with adventures in the fairy realm, he discovers that a surprising amount of time has passed since his “disappearance” from human society.


SENSEI CHECK!

The “magical horn” motif is widespread in Western fairy folklore, particularly as part of the widespread “Sleeping Warriors” legend. Here an ordinary person somehow finds a doorway into a subterranean chamber, where he finds the court of a mythological hero (usually King Arthur) placed in a supernatural sleep. On a table are three articles, including a bugle or horn, which if blown by the right person in the right way will awaken the ancient heroes. The legends all end badly, as the adventurer inevitably violates some taboo or does the wrong thing, and so the mythological heroes sleep on. In the Yōsei-ō OVA, by contrast, Jack O’Shinumy is the right person and does the right thing. But the situation is reversed: in the legends, a mythic hero like Cúchulainn might be waiting to come rescue Ireland from its peril, while here it is the ostensibly normal human Jack who is drawn to the magical world to rescue Cúchulainn and his fairy followers from their ancient enemy.

Puck is, of course, familiar from Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, where he plays the supernatural trickster responsible for complicating and resolving the topsy-turvy plot. However, fairylore was a popular topic among the playwright’s contemporaries, and Yamagishi’s picture of the fairy world also draws from Michael Drayton’s mock-epic poem Nimphidia: The Court of Faery (published 1627 but evidently written earlier).

In this poem, Puck (as well as Queen Mab) takes a prominent role. Both Shakespeare and Drayton describe him as a shapeshifter, able to appear as an animal (typically a horse) as well as a humanoid elf. Many legends describe him as a kind of “will-o-the-wisp” who tempts travelers from the safe path and gets them hopelessly lost in the countryside. Drayton says,

This Puck seems but a dreaming dolt,
Still walking like a ragged colt,
And oft out of a bush doth bolt,
Of purpose to deceive us;
And leading us makes us to stray,
Long winter's nights, out of the way;
And when we stick in mire and clay,
Hob doth with laughter leave us.

[“Hob-goblin” is Puck’s other common name, the poem tells us.]

In Yōsei-ō, Puck is presented as a shapeshifter, part human and part animal. At one point he changes into a stag, as seen by the antlers he has in the cel seen above. But in his early appearances he does not have these antlers, and his overall shaggy appearance makes him seem more of a faun than a fairy.


Jack meeting Puck (no antlers) in the manga

This connection between deer and fairies is not common in Western fairylore, but does make one appearance. Medieval Scots literature tells the story of Thomas of Ercildoune, also known as Thomas the Rhymer, who spent time in the fairy world and gained supernatural powers to compose poetry spontaneously and predict the future. He was said to have been the lover of the Queen of Faerie. One day word came to him that a hind deer, along with a young doe, had mysteriously come from the woods to the castle. Thomas at once arose, went outside, and followed the two animals into the woods, and was never seen again on earth, though visitors to the fairy world sometimes reported seeing him there, reunited with the queen and his half-faerie daughter.


SENSEI CHECK EXTRA!

The name “Puck” has an interesting background. Originally it was not a personal name but a common noun, pronounced “pook,” and meaning something like “uncanny spirit.” As P ↔ B and K ↔ G in various dialects, the word shows up in several variant forms, including “bogle,” “bogey,” “boggart,” “boogieman,” “booger,” and even “bug,” since pesky insects were originally thought to be the familiar spirits sent by witches to afflict the righteous. The colloquial “bugaboo” or “object of terror” actually combines two dialect forms of the “puck” word.

In medieval times, the term often referred to a demon, and “Puck’s pinfold” was a euphemism for “hell.” In fact, the Slavic word “бог” [pronounced bog, bock, or bogh] is yet another variation on the “Puck” word. Early records left by missionaries record that Slavs believed in “Zherneboh,” or “spirit of darkness,” literally “the black god.” Stories like these, amplified by legends and folktales, inspired the Russian composer Mussorgsky to include a “Glorification of Chornobog” in two of his operatic works. After his death, his friend Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov reworked these scenes into an orchestral piece, titled “A Night on the Bare (or Bald) Mountain,” which quickly became a staple of Russian classical music. In 1940 Leopold Stokowski produced an abridged version of this tone poem for use in the Walt Disney animated film Fantasia, in which “Chernabog” [sic] is presented as a Satanic demon with gigantic horns.

Nevertheless, “Бoг” became and still remains the normal name for the Christian God-the-Father in all Slavic languages. A shapeshifter indeed, the magical Puck!


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