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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.