Nutcracker Part 3: Girl of Your Dreams.

Every culture seems to have a sense of danger about the feminine. I’m a mythology nut, and I don’t think there’s a culture without at least one monster of a seductress. Mayu taps into something deep and dark in the collective subconscious, which is probably part of why such a short-lived character made so great an impact. She’s the shadow woman incarnate – the she-devil that is after a man’s sexual potency, and truly has the ability to strip him of his power.

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This brings us to the most well-known femme fatale that somehow snuck her way into Nutcracker…

 

Oh. My gods. Yes. There is quite a bit of succubus in a Ghoul who not only managed pseudo-wings and a tail, but feeds on sexual fluids and haunts Shirazu in his dreams post-mortem. I feel like I should explain this for the (likely few) Tokyo Ghoul fans who have no idea what a succubus is.

A succubus, in a nutshell, is a female demon that feeds on sex. They often suck away pure life force during the act. Succubi technically predate the Bible with the Mesopotamian lilin, but came to take on traditional “demon” traits (horns, wings, hooves, tail, etc.) in most medieval and modern interpretations.

Succubi are frequently encountered either in the bedroom or in dreams. Our very first look at this Ghoul was in a lavish bedroom (possibly a love hotel), performing her usual CBT on a willing participant. She drugs her human merchandise with sleeping gas. She also appears in Shirazu’s dreams, which has not happened with any other character so far. (N.B. most of the hallucinations of Rize were anime-only, and none of them occurred in sleep.) She is also the only Ghoul thus far to feed on sexual fluids, adding to the image of a succubus specifically.

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Artist: Arsenal21

If you’re going to have a succubus in a realistic series (for anime) like Tokyo Ghoul, that’s how you do it: an attractive woman feeding off of sexual juices, wings and a tail, and appearing in dreams as someone else’s delusion. She also may have been a prostitute at one point, and definitely works in the sex industry selling “accessories.” The succubus trappings are there.

There’s also another female spirit associated with beauty and sleep: Undine.

SexyFishUndyne.png

First off, check your Undertale at the door. The term “undine” can be used to describe many water spirits, and is generally used that way in alchemy. “Undyne the Undying” has little in common with the mermaid-esque Undine/Ondine, who features in a love story with a human knight.

undineandhuldbrand

There are a few variations on the story of Undine. In its simplest form, Undine is a water spirit who marries a knight. Huldbrand or Hans are both common names for this guy, depending on your version, but whatever you call him, he happens upon Undine in a fisherman’s hut. Like many water fae (including mermaids), Undine doesn’t have a soul, which is why marrying a human and experiencing love is important to her. (To its credit, Undertale did get the “soul-hunting water spirit” right.) They hit it off and get married, even having a kid. Unfortunately, this comes at the cost of her immortality and eternal youth.

Almost immediately after bearing Huldbrand a child, Undine’s beauty starts to fade. The knight seeks other women. Because of his snoring, Undine catches him after the act with his former fiancee. She then curses him: if he falls asleep, he will no longer be able to breathe. There are a few variations on the exact conditions surrounding this, but the curse  of not being able to breathe remains the same.

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This may have originated from a real medical condition: central hypoventilation syndrome (CHS), also popularly called Ondine’s Curse. Basically, the subconscious control of breathing – something you don’t even think about doing until you’re drowning – is suddenly removed. Ondine’s Curse is usually fatal.

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Although Shirazu doesn’t have the precise conditions of Ondine’s Curse, one of the recurring themes in Shirazu’s hallucinations is asphyxiation. It’s hinted that Shirazu’s dad hung himself. Nutcracker strangles him in a hallucination. One could even argue that the relationship between the Empress and Hanged Man tarot cards adds to the theme of not being able to breathe. Again, Mayu’s not a shoe-in for Undine, but the parallels are uncanny.

There’s also something to be said for a possible human-Ghoul relationship. Many of the bikaku-types have interesting interactions with humanity. Nishio Nishiki had a perfectly stable relationship with a human girl, and Minami (a retconned bikaku) from Tokyo Ghoul: Jack wanted to be human, including getting into a relationship. Mayu clearly interacts with humans, albeit in dark, dirty, intimate ways, so she’s following this familiar pattern.

As an honorable mention, a few people have pointed out similarities to Fate Stay/Night‘s Rider in Nutcracker’s design. It’s mostly the eyes: like Rider, Mayu has odd eyes, usually hidden by a mask. Also, fanservice.

riderfate

Time for the Classical Studies degree to kick in.

There are actually two possible origins of Medusa. The first comes from Hesiod’s Theogony: Medusa and the other two Gorgons (Euryale and Stheno) were born of the sea deities Phorkys and Ceto (a sort of Tiamat/Echidna blend). Contrary to the popular image of Medusa as a sort of naga, these Gorgons were birdlike, sporting wings and brass talons as well as the signature snake hair. Of the three, Medusa was the only one that was killable. By the way, that was Perseus who killed her, and Medusa somehow yielded Pegasus and a warrior named Chrysaor from her severed neck. How? I have no idea.

The version of Medusa that most people know today is a sort of slippery slope of romanticization that culminated in this story, recorded by Ovid: Medusa started out as a ravishingly beautiful maiden. She had many suitors, including Poseidon, God of the Sea. Poseidon, for whatever reason, thought it would be a good idea to rape Medusa in Athena’s temple.

HOOOBOY, back to the sea and rape, aren’t we? Has anyone else ever noticed that water spirits get literally all the love? Anyways, rape in any temple isn’t cool, but Poseidon and Athena already had a sort of rivalry going. Medusa got transfigured into a snake-haired Gorgon so that the crime wouldn’t go unpunished. Yeah, that doesn’t sound fair to me, either.

Although one could extend Medusa formerly being beautiful into Mayu, it feels weaker than any other entry mentioned here. I understand where people are coming from. I may get into Medusa’s nature as a goddess at some point, but that’s another can of worms.

There’s one more entry before a conclusion. Okay, brain. There’s a good chance that The Empress will come up again on this blog, so we may as well cover that card and its meanings next.

P.S. – Happy Valentine’s Day.

Nutcracker Part 2 – Smiles, Scissors, and Snails.

Eto is the “close second” of my favorite characters. This is largely because I’m a writer-artist who happens to have a thing for monsters. Of course, I found her hybrid nature and massive, demonic mode attractive. Specifically, her monstrous kakuja takes the form of a one-eyed, goat-headed monster, thereby equating her with Satan. 

Satan is boring compared to the harem of female monsters embedded in Nutcracker/Mayu. (Nobody tries to make a Lilith parallel with Eto, either; there’s fodder for it, but that’s for another article.) Maybe I’m just bored of any Satan equivalents/parallels/”totally not Satan” demon bosses, but there’s a lot more to Nutcracker than just one female monster.

I mentioned youkai, the Japanese word for “phantom” and the basis for a million Pokemon, last entry. The plethora of female youkai probably merit their own entries/essays each. For now, we’re going to focus on the female spirits that somehow made it into one character without battling for space.

ohaguro-bettari_alien
(From Gantz, by the way.)

There are at least three different youkai embedded in Mayu’s design. One, the ohaguro-bettari, was pegged by the Wikia since day 1. These impish spirits usually take the form of a woman in a kimono, who, for whatever reason, has her head turned away. When she eventually turns around, victims are startled by her otherwise blank face and black-toothed smile. Some say she’s the ghost of a woman who never got married, or a shapeshifting youkai (fox, tanuki, badger, etc.) playing a prank. Nobody has ever been harmed by an ohaguro-bettari (or her relative, the noppera-bo – think “Japanese Slenderman”). Since the black teeth is one of the first traits we see with Mayu, and the ohaguro-bettari is a harmless youkai, this may be a reference to how Nuts was perceived as non-threatening at first. The youkai that went into this character get worse as we go down the list. 

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But what’s the deal with the black teeth, anyways? Ohaguro, the word for black tooth lacquer, was a way for a woman to show her loyalty and status. It was time-consuming to put the lacquer on; thus, only married women and women who had a lot of leisure time could afford to do it. Regular teeth were also thought of as looking like maggots or otherwise reminiscent of death, so the practice was seen as beautiful for that reason as well. The fashion has since died out in Japan. Vietnam and other parts of Asia still do it.

That’s not the youkai that hit me immediately upon seeing Mayu in full, though…

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“OHMYGODS CARVED! Tokyo Ghoul did the lady from Carved!”

Carved is a movie centered around the urban legend of “kuchisake-onna.” The kuchisake-onna, literally “slit-mouthed woman,” is another female youkai that conceals her mouth. This is usually done using a surgical or face mask (the latter a common sight in Japan when someone’s sick). Mayu has one such mask over her black teeth in one of her early appearances. Cool syncretization. 

Legend has it that, in the Edo Period (1603-1868), a samurai caught his pretty, vain wife cheating on him. As punishment, he slit her mouth from ear-to-ear, saying, “who will think you are beautiful now?!” Since then, her ghost has wandered the East, asking people if they think she is pretty, then cutting their mouths exactly like hers if they answer incorrectly.

By the way, both “yes” and “no” are incorrect answers that result in death or mutilation. In the event that you encounter a kuchisake-onna, the best answers are to say she looks average, flip questions towards her, or throw candy at her as a distraction. There’s your cheat sheet – use it well. 

Despite a supposed origin in the time of samurai, kuchisake-onna didn’t really hit the public eye until the 1970’s. In 1979, a kuchisake-onna scare in Nagasaki Prefecture was so big that children weren’t allowed to walk home alone. Another woman with scissors and a red mask who chased children appeared in South Korea in 2004. Did I mention this woman usually goes after kids? She does.

Oh, and she may have been inspired by a real woman who was killed in a car crash with her mouth cut ear-to-ear. Sleep well.

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Kuchisake-onna is the original “see these scars? Wanna know how I got ’em?” character. Even though we don’t see Mayu using scissors, one of her female victims in Ch.23 dies by getting her face bitten off, and the obsession with beauty is telling. In Carved, the kuchisake-onna makes a play on words between “am I beautiful?” and “cut off my head” during her “death” scene; the timing is similar to Mayu’s beauty obsession only coming to the fore as she’s dying. Just like with ohaguro-bettari, there was definitely some inspiration drawn from the slit-mouthed woman legend – even if it’s not 100%.

There is a youkai that definitely fueled Mayu’s character more than either of those two, though: 

sekien_sazae-oni
Sazae-oni by Sekien, 1788.

For those of you not as deep into Tokyo Ghoul, know that a lot of characters have “spirit animals” – that is, many of them use an animal as their “mask,” with usually a reference in the name and/or character design. (This aspect is worth a collage.) Although I thought the image of a testicle-eating squirrel was one of the cutest ideas for the series ever, I wound up kicking myself for thinking that a reference to a Japanese legend about a snail was just a nod.

Crash course: almost anything can become a youkai. Usually, the age at which something (animal, vegetable, or mineral) becomes a youkai is 100 years old, with a HUGE power boost at around 1,000 years old. Got it? Good.

Turban snails are among the things capable of becoming youkai. If a turban snail reaches 30 years old, it can become a shape-shifting youkai. (There’s a sort of morbid zig-zag in that a drowning woman can become a turban snail, then become a snail youkai that can turn into a human woman.) These youkai, called sazae-oni, usually prefer to take the form of beautiful ladies.

The most famous legend about the sazae-oni centers around one who pretended to be a drowning woman. Some pirates came and picked her up, unaware of her true nature, and had their way with her. During the night, she bit off their testicles one by one. When they demanded their balls, she wouldn’t give them back until they gave her all of their treasure. Thus, they traded gold for their golden balls. Sounds like something from last entry, yes? 

Still not convinced? I didn’t notice this until I went on a Google run, but Mayu’s tail looks almost exactly like the shell of a brown turban snail:

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The pieces of tail she cuts off also look like spiraling shells:

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Her other kagune is a koukaku– literally “red shell.” This one speaks for itself, even if her claws don’t look anything like a snail shell in particular.

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By the way, that kiss she gave Mutsuki was slimy:

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Finally, she’s obsessed with money and balls- hello, kintama joke. We looked at you last entry, too! (By the way, this won’t come up next section.)

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As a final note, sazae-oni usually aren’t drawn pretty. Mayu is one of the more aesthetically-pleasing representations of this particular monster. Toukiden‘s “Viper Queen,” a sort of blend of snail and snake, not only looks decent, but has the ability to put people to sleep.  This may not seem like much, and I don’t think it’s canon to the original (don’t quote me on this), but it’s an uncommon ability. It also conveniently leads us directly to a certain Western she-devil…but more on that next entry.

The Hidden Background of Nutcracker

Anyone who talks to me enough knows that I love Tokyo Ghoul. Like, really, really love it. I draw kagune for fun, have a few OC’s, and do Ghoul biology essays on a semi-regular basis. My weapon of choice is a set of super-powered tentacles that grant me an extreme healing factor and can crush things to death. That is all.

And yet, when push came to shove, I wound up picking my token “side-character I like to an absurd degree” as my absolute favorite:

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She was introduced as “Nutcracker,” a Ghoul with a penchant for eating men’s genitals. The first we heard of her (TG:re Ch.9) was as such, possibly linked with a human trafficking ring. The investigation was one of the best of the entire series, starting with all the men needing to crossdress out of fear for their junk:

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(Credit to the now-defunct ImperialScans)

Unfortunately, she didn’t get much screen-time (page-time?).  The CCG (basically the Men in Black/cops for Ghoul-related crimes) already had vital info such as her face, residence, and Rc Type (well, one of them). Her testicle-eating habit and black teeth were both well-known. Despite being part of a human trafficking ring, she wasn’t deemed a threat. There may be a reason for these bits of information; I suspect that some people at the CCG have very kinky leanings indeed, and that one unfortunate soul experienced her ball torture first-hand.

We didn’t get to see her in action until Ch.23 of Tokyo Ghoul:re (“Perry”). This involved infiltrating a human auction with some of Nutcracker’s acquisitions (including one of the aforementioned agents in drag). Then, shit hit the fan so hard and fast that it was nothing but a glorious stream of Nutcracker skewering people with tail mines, revealing a hidden second kagune, eating a young lady’s face off, and generally giving the CCG hell. Oh, and one guy got his testicles trampled on, and we saw Nuts slurping the fluids:

nutcracker_doinherthing

Did I mention that a lot of the people she axed were fans who had submitted their resumes into a job search contest? “Got balls cracked by a Ghoul dominatrix” is the most interesting, yet WTF qualification that might get someone hired.

After the roller coaster of “HOLY SNAAAAP!” that Ch.23 was, she didn’t have much time left at all. She died in Ch.28 after being worn-down, cornered, and impaled. Her dying words? “I want to be beautiful.”

I knew that Sui would pull a heel-face-turn at the last second with Nuts. He’s done it before – Tokyo Ghoul as a whole is very much about putting the shoe on the other foot, and Nuts had so few redeeming qualities that Sui was bound to add something. Alas, what we got of Nuts’s backstory wasn’t much; we saw how her obsessions with beauty and money stemmed from an impoverished life, but we don’t know exactly what happened between the time she got kidnapped and the ohaguro-sporting Ghoul we see in TG:re. Something, anything, would have been nice there. My brain went into overdrive, trying to puzzle out the missing part. A lot of people wanted to see more of her; as a recent S-rate, however, she would not have been allowed to survive.

She wasn’t done yet.

Shirazu, the CCG agent who killed her, was a sensitive guy. His bed-ridden sister had also wanted to be pretty. Nutcracker appeared as a zombie in his sleep, and as a multi-eyed specter as the result of PTSD. (I SWEAR I will bring up all of these later – sit tight). In a do-or-die situation, however, he managed to man up and handle the most unique weapon in the entire series:

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This quinque would have worked wonders on anybody but Noro, a character who turned out to be a mass of cells after the dagger-bomb hit him. Not many things can handle being exploded from the inside-out otherwise. This was the last we saw of her in the manga.

The next cameo she had was on the 2016 Tokyo Ghoul flip calendar. Along with one image of her and Shirazu, we basically got Sui’s character reference sheet for her. From this, we got the name “Mayu,” her birthday (Jan. 6), that she was 21 years old, and that was about it. There was more there that didn’t get translated. Why? I don’t really know.

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Then, in December of 2016, this calendar page was translated. Now that we have a translated stat sheet, we can start looking at Mayu in more depth than ever before.

What’s in a Name? 

The “Mayu” written in kanji means “hemp” or “flax.” Names with a similar sound, but different meaning, can mean things like “gentle truth.”(I could have sworn I found one meaning “chrysalis,” but upon digging again, nothing.)  The particular kanji used for Mayu’s name is very rare in this context, but used in other things. If translated to Hindi, “mayu”is  a homonym for “magician.” Considering how tricky she was? Fitting.

Perhaps more interesting is that Mayu doesn’t have a last name. This hints that “Mayu” might be an alias, or that her parents were so far from the Japanese family registry that they simply didn’t bother with a family name. It makes her more of a stray, at any rate. She doesn’t have a family name because she doesn’t have a family.

She Works at a Sex Shop? 

Pretty much, yeah. I realize a lot of teenagers who read Tokyo Ghoul probably haven’t been in BDSM shops. They sell…implements, to put it nicely. This includes lube, whips, chastity belts, the works. It’s a good idea: there are people who like being tortured, and “cock and ball torture (CBT)” gets Nuts what she wants, along with likely releasing some stress. This was honestly a relief to see, because I expected so, so much worse.

Again, it bugs me that we don’t get what happened between Point A and Point B from her flashback; rape, prostitution, and human trafficking are all likely. I have reasons to suspect all of the above, but lack of confirmation from the author will probably bug me to the grave. Once more, I had a feeling of, “that’s it?”

In other words, even if she doesn’t like that she isn’t particularly smart, her job choice was a pretty clever move. It still doesn’t fill in that gap, but it’s a good hunting strategy. Well-played.

Since When is Visual Acuity Important? 

I’m going to run myself in circles figuring out whether or not this stat matters. Be right back.

The answer: it doesn’t matter that much; acuity of 8 is just a touch higher than normal on most eye charts. Sui might have noted it to explain one feature that always grabbed me about Nuts: she has interesting eyes.

For someone in Tokyo Ghoul with a lot of traditional Japanese features, Mayu has very light eyes with almost catlike pupils. They aren’t just her kakugan, either; in an official Ishida drawing, her irises look gray. Another drawing has her with the usual red kakugan common to all ghouls. Although the gray irises are usual, it’s interesting that there are a few panels where her eyes are darker. I have to wonder if that was intentional or not; since Sui is usually a mangaka who explains things, what’s the explanation for the sudden change in eye color?

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What’s with the balls? 

In Nutcracker’s bio sheet, it’s stated that her reason for eating balls is that she thought it would bring her money. This, at first, struck me as incongruous with something we saw in the story: at one point in TG:re Ch.23, she states that balls are “good for the waistline.” While these reasons don’t fly against each other, they seem unrelated…right?

Yes and no. It’s more like one of those points is superstition and the other is legit science.

The relationship between testicles and money is lost in translation. In Japanese, the word for “testicles” is “kintama” – literally, “golden balls.” The same kanji for the “gold” in “kintama” is used for money (but pronounced “kane“).  In English, we have something similar with the idea of “family jewels.” Thus, balls are associated with money in Japanese culture (more on this point later). It makes sense that such a superstition would arise in the man-eating Ghoul world.

The diet food point, however, is legitimate. I crunched a few numbers using the nutritional facts of known animal testicles. Generally speaking, balls are high in cholesterol and protein, with a few odd trace elements like selenium, and very low in fat. Compared to other meats, testicles are most similar to rabbit – a meat so lean that, if a human tries to live on it, they get something called “rabbit starvation.” This isn’t the case for true carnivores, who can live comfortably on such lean meat. I can only presume Ghouls are included in that bunch; a diet that would kill an omnivorous human is probably fine for a Ghoul, which is an obligate carnivore (Ghouls can only eat human flesh). Even by Ghoul standards, however, this is Atkins-tier extreme.

(Disclaimer: Mayu’s nut-busting habit was described as a “hobby,” so she may be eating other body parts as well.)

Nutcracker’s preference for balls is an acquired taste, and both reasons make sense, even if they don’t seem to gel at first. It makes sense for a concern about cholesterol content to lead to the discovery of testicles as a potential diet product. We don’t know exactly how we got from Point A to Point B on this, but can kind of figure out the roadmap. Cool.

So, what if I told you that the basis for this character is largely Japanese, and has hints of not one, but several mythological monsters/figures? That’s why you’re here and you know it. However, your eyes probably need a break after all that, so onto the next post!

The Namesake Venus – God Eater

As someone with a degree in Classical Studies, and a particular interest in the mythology, I’m always on the lookout for Greco-Roman myth references in media. (Hell, I’m into virtually every mythology out there, and catch things whenever I can, but that’s beside the point.) Thus far, one of the best places to find unique takes on the classical gods is video games.

Saint Seiya aside, Japan loves making what TVTropes calls “Olympus Mons.” The Greek gods are in Digimon, Puzzle and Dragons, Shin Megami Tensei (which PREDATES Pokemon, by the way), and, let’s cut to the chase, God Eater.

God Eater is what I call a “big game hunter” (“BGH”) game. The first well-known entry into the genre was Monster Hunter (first released in 2004 for the PS2), which featured giant dragons and dinosaurs as Cabela’s-style hunting targets.  Common features of BGH’s include a high degree of character customization, breaking certain parts on bosses for extra drops, mission-based plots, and really cool armor and weapons.

I’m a late adopter. Only recently did I get anything relating to the PlayStation network. The anime was also okay (glorious to look at, with things like a boring lead holding it back). It nonetheless got me immensely curious about the Aragami designs, including their version of Venus:

godeatervenus

In-game lore has it that this Aragami wants to be beautiful. Using methods unknown, (we’ll see one possibility later), she’s assimilated various parts from lesser monsters in order to modify her appearance. As per BGH logic, she gets weaker based on what chimeric parts you break.

For the uninformed: Venus is the Roman equivalent of the Greek goddess of love, beauty, and sex, Aphrodite. While there are slight differences in character when you dig deep into their respective literatures, the general idea of the goddess of lurve stays the same. Don’t worry; Aphrodite and Venus will get like 7 entries unto herself, with smaller, shorter ones as they surface.

At first I found myself puzzled by this Venus’s design. After mulling it for a minute, I went, “actually, that kinda works. Given some of the stuff I’m into, I have no right to judge your sense of beauty, do I?” I’ve also had constant issues sticking with a persona almost anywhere, so why not use a beautiful, nigh-godly monster that seems just as indecisive?

The more I looked into GE, the more I realized that Venus was also unusually intelligent for an Aragami – if a little touched in the head. After all, art is largely a human thing. It takes intelligence to appreciate beauty in the same way that humans do.

Recently, my suspicions about Venus being special were confirmed by a years-old theory thread. According to an unknown (i.e. only debatably credible) source, Venus does not die when she is killed, and was human at one point:

“Well, according to a Japanese magazine, Venus is sorta a “Legendary Aragami”. Rumor between God Eaters says she used to be a beautiful Fenrir East Branch God Eater, obsessed with her beauty; she became infected by aragami cells and started rampaging as “you-know-who”, eating other aragami to survive. She became crazy, and became even more obsessed with her beauty, trying to become the perfect, ultimate being. Thats why she laughs so much, screams, grabs her head and move like a possessed, because she’s just a crazy lady who is bound to live like that forever, only to devour and become “perfect”.

<_< And that only means you can take her down but not actually kill her since you would need to use her own God Ark.”
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That’s a really cool spin on an ancient goddess! Dark, yet surprisingly fitting. Since Aphrodite/Venus is one of the most terrifying gods in the Greco-Roman pantheon (again, we’ll get to it), it’s good to see a version that’s genuinely chilling. The more you look at her, the more entrancing she gets – even if it’s a sort of “what IS that part?” trance. I keep seeing new things about the topics on this blog every time I look, and I hope my readers get that feeling as well.

 

 

Introductions et al.

Hello, all! I’m Kuro, and this is “Twisted Venus” – a one-stop repository for my essays on women, goddesses, and she-monsters who strike fear in the hearts (and loins) of men. This delves into ancient mythology, anthropology, popular culture, and even some biology. Fancy that.

That said, a warning: yes, there will be mild adult content on this blog. Most of it will be centered around the symbolism of such things. Succubi, my favorite monsters in existence, feed on sexual energy; you cannot truly talk about succubi if you take that aspect away. Aphrodite was created from Uranus’s severed genitals falling into the ocean, who is incidentally another guy. Korean vixens eat a guy’s liver after seducing him, and sometimes prepare illusion-colored feasts of flesh and maggots. It’s hard to get more adult than that. Mythology is like that. Deal with it.

Some of these entries will be potential fodder for a future book on the topic. Others will be pop culture commentary that focus on mythology, biology, or both. I’m a crazypants who dips her toes, and then swims around, in anything that isn’t history or math. That said, any math or history in here is fueled by pure passion.

Hm. Now where do I start? How about…the reason for this blog’s name?