Let’s dive into some figures of Japanese folklore and their representation in anime. Today I would like to focus on kodama, Japanese spirits that inhabit trees. Japanese dryads, if you will.
Up until a short time ago, the word kodama immediately made me think of the Ghibli rendering—glow-in-the-dark bobbleheads with wonky heads from Princess Mononoke.
Then I watched Hoozuki no Reitetsu and saw a totally different kodama.
Instead of tiny toy-like figures with asymmetrical faces, I was met with a child-sized spirit with an apron over a kimono and leaves sticking out everywhere. Now, they are both cute, but otherwise rather different. That made me think, what about other depictions of kodama in anime?
From a historical point of view, kodama have been around for at least a thousand years. They are said to drift around forests or dwell in old trees. As time progressed, their classification has changed from forest gods to one of Japanese youkai. Their outer appearance is that of a tree, but the spirit can leave their tree and shapeshift into all kinds of beings, humans included. Therefore any shape, that the anime studios give it, is viable.
As for kodama’s personality, they seem to be peaceful beings as long as they’re not mistreated. For example, cutting down an old tree, in which a kodama resides, can anger it and cause it to curse the woodcutters/villagers.
I’ve found three more kodama through aniDB. Firstly, there was this much more dangerous-looking one from the seventeenth episode of Mokke, a series about two sensitive sisters. The older can see youkai, while the younger tends to get possessed by spirits, like kodama. This one is the size of a fox.
Another kodama is in Yuuki Yuuna wa Yuusha de Aru (the first episodes of which I watched just for this and then wrote a blog post about). It’s a tiny green fluffball, that helps out the youngest of the team, Itsuki-chan.
There might be a kodama in Dog Days’, but I don’t have the meticulousness (and time) to watch 24 episodes for a single line in this post. So let me know if Irekaekodama is in any way a kodama, please!