Magical Mondays: Teen Wolf Does Kitsune

About two months ago, I took a closer look at one of the non-werewolf supernatural species, the banshee, in my beloved Teen Wolf. To sum that post up, in the creation of the banshee for Teen Wolf, consistency, continuity, and logic had clearly gone out the window. Did the show do any better introducing later creatures? After the Celtic Druids (who sometimes brought up Norse gods) in Season 3A, Jeff Davis expanded beyond just a Euro-centric mythos and looked a little further east for inspiration in 3B. The viewers met a new brand of being: the kitsune. While the new characters brought girl power and much needed Asian representation to Beacon Hills (and TV in general), did they bring any more consistency and logic than the banshees? Not so much.

Please, no "foxy lady" jokes.

Please, no “foxy lady” jokes.

Big ol’ spoilers for Seasons 3B and 4 of Teen Wolf.

Kira Yukimura is a new student at Beacon Hills High, beginning at the start of Season 3B. She is, unbeknownst to the others or even herself, also a kitsune, a Japanese fox spirit. While at first glance, the canine nature of a kitsune seems to fit in with a show about werewolves, the fact is: kitsune are nothing like werewolves. “Werewolf” implies a crossing back and forth between human and wolf (the name literally means “man-wolf”, with “were” being an archaic Germanic word for man), and in the standard werewolf mythos, the creature is first and foremost a human, who has the ability, through curse or spell or innate gift, to become a wolf. Kitsune work exactly the opposite way; they are foxes who have achieved supernatural abilities, including, but not limited to, shapeshifting into human form—in fact, “kitsune” is merely the Japanese word for fox.

This kitsune aura is awkward and barely vulpine. Just have her turn into a fox!

This kitsune aura is awkward and barely vulpine. Just have her turn into a fox!

The show completely glosses over what it apparently sees as a minor technicality, when in fact it is a huge difference. I would think the question of whether a person is fundamentally a fox or a human would be a concern that comes up with the characters. Kira does in some ways question her humanity when she first discovers she is supernatural (though she doesn’t yet know what she is)—she at first perceives her kitsune aura, which Scott sees as fox-shaped, as demonic, but she never questions whether she is primarily a fox or a human. While never explicitly stated, kitsune on Teen Wolf seem to be neither primarily fox or human; one could say they are instead human-shaped supernatural beings with a vague connection to foxes. Maybe the show sidesteps the specifics as it could lead to some murky territory: for example, if a human (even a lycanthropic human) wouldn’t date/be intimate with a regular fox, would they take issue with dating a human-shaped being who is by nature actually a fox? After all, kitsune as mythological beasts are set apart because of their magical powers, but according to Japanese mythology, all foxes are capable of developing these powers with age, thus not making “kitsune” some kind of separate species; remember, “kitsune” is simply the word for fox.

This was the first time Kira used her powers, and I had such high hopes for their development.

This was the first time Kira used her powers, and I had such high hopes for their development.

Aside from the ambiguous nature of what exactly kitsune are on Teen Wolf, ambiguity also reigns in respect to what exactly kitsune can do. It’s explained that there are several different kinds of kitsune, including Thunder (that’s what Kira is) and Void (the Big Bad for Season 3B). The writers have an abysmal time trying to keep a clear picture of Kira’s powers; while she obviously has some electricity-related powers, it’s anyone’s guess what their limits are. She seems particularly adept at absorbing electricity, but to what extent can she manipulate it or create it? I wish I knew! She can light up a room of lightbulbs, but when fighting a berserker in “A Promise to the Dead”, she used a chain as a weapon without once using it as a conduit for an electricity attack, something that seemed like an incredibly obvious opportunity. It makes the writers look like they don’t remember or know what Kira can do, and it also makes Kira look like she keeps forgetting she has electricity powers. In lieu of these thunder kitsune abilities, we much more often see her use Magical Asian Fighting Skills, such as an innate ability to wield a katana. I don’t think I need to elaborate on how Orientalist, offensive, and plain dumb that is. Finally, we have had no indication that she is capable of changing shape at all, one of the formative parts of the kitsune myth.


But they focused on this instead. Sigh…

Much like when other banshees were introduced, introducing more kitsune merely served to make things more confusing rather than clarifying existing characters and their powers. The evil void kitsune, or nogitsune, doesn’t seem to have much in common with Kira at all. For starters, he doesn’t even seem corporeal, he needs a host body to interact with the physical plane. If one wanted to re-interpret kitsune as purely spiritual creatures that might work, but we’ve already seen Kira being very much corporeal. The nogitsune also has powers of mind control and illusion used to cause chaos and confusion which does fit in the idea of kitsune as trickster beings, but this train of thought, while important to the Japanese mythology, is otherwise absent from the show. We also find out before long that Kira’s mother, Noshiko, is also a kitsune, but we have no clue what kind she is, other than not thunder (and presumably not void). Her primary abilities as seen on screen are also Magical Asian Fighting Skills.

Remember Ninetales? Totally a kitsune. With real tails and everything!

Remember Ninetales? Totally a kitsune. With real tails and everything!

I would be remiss if I ended this post without bringing up the matter of the tails. Having multiple tails, the most common variant being nine, is an extremely classic characteristic for kitsune and other similar fox beings in Asian mythology, like the Chinese huli jing and the Korean kumiho. Since the kitsune on Teen Wolf don’t seem to have any fox physical form (much less having one as their primary natural form), it might have been best to just not include this aspect from folklore. But oh no, they did, and it might be the thing that makes the least sense on the whole show. Kira’s mother has a collection of nine kaiken, or daggers, that are referred to as her “tails”; by breaking them, she is able to summon and control the oni, supernatural warrior beings. This has nothing to do with tails! Tails on a kitsune are merely a physical characteristic, the general rule of thumb being that more tales are acquired with age, often one for every 100 years of life. Noshiko’s “tails” have no place being called tails, and are really more akin to hoshi no tama, mystical spheres or jewels that hold a kitsune’s powers according to some Japanese legends. Season 4’s finale sees Kira gain the first of her “tails”, a shuriken made from obsidian Kira used to trigger her self-healing ability. Still not a tail.

In summation, I find myself asking yet once again, “What have you done, Jeff Davis?” He probably should’ve checked out this awesome site about fox beings in Asian mythology, maybe paying special attention to the misconceptions page. The kitsune as seen on Teen Wolf are humanoids that are hardly canine and have no shapeshifting powers to speak of, leading me to question their nomenclature. If they could at least transform into foxes, it would make them (a) more awesome and (b) more in line with other were-beasties of the show. Foxes are freaking adorable, who wouldn’t want to see more of them?! I guess this shouldn’t come as such a huge surprise from the show that brought us a totally random Aztec twist to the Nordic myth of berserkers. While I am overall a fan of an expansive mythos, I worry Teen Wolf may be stretching itself a bit thin; werewolves, druids, banshees, kanimas, kitsune, nahuals, berserkers, and now wendigos and whatever else may be in the secret “monster jail” we found out is hidden in Eichen House, not to mention whatever Deputy Parrish is! If the writers can’t manage to work out reasonable and consistent specifics for each creature, particularly while being culturally sensitive to the myth’s origins and not veering off into racist tropes, they may be better off scaling back a bit.

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