Saturday 17 November 2018

Furui Hanmā: The Kappa Sha Wujing Side Trek

This step in our ongoing series exploring the Far Eastern lands of Warhammer, is a bit of a departure, as it's not really about any form of Warhammer at all.  What it is about is Nippon TVs 1978 adaptation of Wu Ch'eng-en great Chinese story Monkey one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese Literature.

Sha Wujing or Sandy as he is known in the TV series. Here's a quick sketch of Sandy, I've added a backpack, pouch and gourd to make him look a little more like a typical overburdened Dungeons & Dragons adventurer.

Sha Wujing / Sandy Rough Sketch [ZHU]18
For those unfamiliar with the story of Monkey, Sha Wujing or "Sandy" was one of the Heavenly court who was thrown out of heaven for breaking the Emperors Jade Cup, which like opening Pandoras box, unleashed all the troubles into the world.  As punishment, Sandy was sent to earth to live as a canibalistic water spirit (he wears the skulls of nine buddhist monks he has eaten around his neck) and eventually he  joins the holy prilgrim Tripitaka on his quest to retrieve the scrolls of Buddism from India to teach Buddism to the Chinese and releave them all from suffering of the world. One of the main themes of Sandy is the tension between action and inaction, of interfering in the world and philosophically nullifying ones existance through over-thinking, option paralysis and apathy. Of course, he isn't entirely overcome by his overly-pretentious philosophical moods and also carries a Monks (or Shaolin) Spade, with it's broad axe head, and crecent moon - supposedly used for dog-handling, which he uses to bash the various  demon-monster-spirits determined to prevent Tripitaka from completing his quest.

It should be clear that Sandy is a monster, a cannibal, who nontheless becomes a hero in the story by trying to overcome his monstrous nature, as is true of the other pilgrims - Monkey, Pigsy and Tripitaka (although his monstrous adherence to principle over practicality, is not so easy to discern). It is also easily observed that most of the demon-monster-spirits that Tripitaka and his entourage encounter are aspects of human nature exaggerated to monstrous, demonic form, but who nonetheless, are all souls on the path of Karma heading towards enlightenment. The lazily simplistic 'good vs. evil' or 'us-vs-them' tropes found in modern western fantasy depictions of monsters such as Orcs and Chaos Ratmen as Other (often based on historical cultural racism and bigotry) in  media are quite absent, and there is something to be learned there, not only in dealing with some of the more problematic ideas in Western Fantasy, but also in structuring an approach to Oriental Adventures that doesn't simply reproduce the tropes of Western Fantasy in Oriental drag.

Anyway, let's have a look at how Sha Wujing is traditionally portrayed:

Sha Wujing | Bejing Opera
Sha Wujing | Beijing Opera Mask

Sha Wujing | Bejing Opera Maks | Cigarette Card

Sha Wujing in Xiyou yuanzhi (西遊原旨) 1819.

Sha Wujing, a blue faced, heavily bearded monk. Here's a friendly reminder of how Sha Wujing as Sandy is portrayed in Monkey.

Sha Wujing | Sandy |  Shiro Kishibe
It should be reasonably obvious that the 1970s Nippon TV character design of Sandy bears very little to no resemblance to traditional Chinese depictions of Sha Wujing, and most of Sandys notable features, such as the peaked hair-style and hat have no basis in traditional Chinese imagery at all. So what is going on here, why is the Nippon TV character nothing like the traditional version od Sha Wujing?

Well, I think the answer appears to be in the Japanese Oni known as Kappa.

Japanese Kappa with a cucumber
Kappa from
Gazu Hyakki Yagyō ("The Illustrated Night Parade of a Hundred Demons") by Toriyama Sekien
Kappa Kappa

These mysterious and strange turtle-people are, like Sandy, canibalistic water creatures.

  • the over-all dark green colour, 
  • the fringe creating a visual 'beak' 
  • bald head, which is covered with a dish-hat 

Kappas head-bowl must contain water, and if it dries out they die. In the TV series Monkey very often the four Pilgrims run out of water, and Sandy, rather than drinking it, takes his bowl-hat off and splashes it on his bald pate, much to the comedic annoyance of his brethren.

Kappa are known to lead horses to drown, indeed one of the many names of the Kappa is Komahiki or "steed-puller". If so,  this is played up as something of a joke in Monkey - Sandy is most often the one seen leading Horse by the reigns - who is herself (or himself, in the second series of Monkey ) is actually a water-dragon, a river-spirit transformed into a Horse.

Kappa pull ones shiridama (or bum-ball, an imaginary internal organ) out of peoples bum-holes. This doesn't seem to have influenced Sandy, but maybe there are some bum jokes I missed. Also, on the subject, Arthur Waley's abridged translation of Wu Cheng'ens  Monkey, does contain much of the crude, frenetic energy and boisterous humour of Monkey, it's a folk-tale infused with humour culture and philosophy, not a dry studious work. Unfortunately Sandy isn't in it much, which probably suits him quite well.

Sandy | Jamie Hewlett

Of course, Sandy isn't by any means the only example of japanocentric re-visioning of other cultures. We can think of Akira Kurosawa's Throne of Blood (1957) - a retelling of William Shakespeare's McBeth transporting it to feudal Japan.

And we can also see below a illustration of George Washington fighting the British by Utagawa Yoshitora. While George himself is rendered as a Japanese gentleman with 19th Century western clothing and armaments,  probably the most striking element is that the British are dark skinned. Perhaps based on the illustrator hearing some anecdotes of Black British fighting in the American Civil War on the English side, but more likely to represent the British as Oni - a mythological rendering of that signifies sympathy with Washingtons cause than his adversaries. Putting aside the problematic Japano-African racism that gets thrown here, a mainly folk-mythological reading is supported not only by the large number of mythological and folkloric figures - dragons, giant eagles, that Washington fights off - but also apparently by the British Officer being named Asura - the sanskrit name for the buddhist-hindu kind of stubborn wicked demon-monster-spirits who will not change their ways...

George Washington fighting the British | Utagawa Yoshitora | 1861| via
To return to Sha Wujeng - what we're seeing in NHK/Nippon TV series is a Classical Chinese work and filtered it through Japanese folkloric as a kind of "Interpretatio Graeca" - the ancient Greek practice of polytheistic syncretism - seeing other pagan gods as the same your own (so Amon / Zeus / Odin for example) - which when recognising the different tropes, underpins thinking of comparative mythology and in its creative expression - as we see with Monkey - keeps  a living, mythology that grows and adapts as it encounters other cultures, rather than a static text bound to a specific time and place.  When considering Orientalism in the context of fantasy. there is a strong case for rejecting of the idea of a strict, po-faced idea of 'cultural authenticity' as being less actually authentic to the creative practices of Oriental cultures, than a strategy that embraces complexity and cultural interchange in a more playful, emphatic way.

Wednesday 7 November 2018

Greatest Battle Report 2018: Nominations Open

Welcome back to the second annual Greatest Battle Report Awards!

The Greatest Battle Report 2018

After the success of the first Greatest Battle Report Award in 2017, I've decided to organise another one for this year. The format is much the same, but have introduced a few innovations in the process that I hope will encourage more entries and more visibility for the Nominations.

Stage 1: Nominations

Nominate a Battle Report - for any tabletop, miniatures gaming system, as the Greatest Battle Report of 2018. We're looking for anything and everything great in the world of Wargaming and Tabletop Miniatures, perhaps it has a great narrative, perhaps the table layout and photography was stunning, perhaps the models were just really cool, perhaps the improvisation and counts-as thinking reached genius level, or maybe everyone playing had a really great time and the love for The Hobby™ shines through. Whatever you think makes for a Great Battle Report - that's what we want to see nominated.

If you want some idea of the amazing efforts gamers go to in creating their Battle Reports, feel free to view last years nominations, and last years glorious winner  Pitch Invasion by Nico.

You can easily nominate a Battle Report by a number of ways of doing that:
  • Post a link on twitter using the hashtag #BatRep18 
  • Post on the thread on The Oldhammer Forum
  • Leave a comment to this blogpost
  • Email  Zhu with the subject line "BatRep18 Nomination"
The Battle Report must be publicly accessible. Nominations for Battle Reports behind paywalls, on register-to-view sites or published in magazines or commercial wargaming companies websites will be discarded. The Battle Report must have been published in 2018. All nominated entries will be listed in a blogpost on this website.

Self-nominations are allowed, and in fact encouraged! If you nominate a third party Battle Report, and not your own, please notify the author in some way (comment on the blogpost) that they have been nominated for The Greatest Battle Report of 2018. Feel free to link to this post by way of explanation, but it is by no means a requirement.

In 2017 we had 10 Nominations, which was a great response and an easy number to deal with.  Should we have more than 12 Battle Reports Nominated in 2018, these will be shortlisted to a maximum of 12, on a first-come, first served basis. The closing date for Nominations will be  30th November 2018, so get your nominations in quick!

Stage 2: Voting

Voting will probably be by SurveyMonkey, starting around 1st of December, running to 31st December 2018.

The aim of the Greatest Battle Report is to spread the word, and get more people to read the many great Battle Reports that are out there, so once Voting is under way, it is critical to get as many people to vote as possible, motivate your base and mobilise your clamouring cult of followers to vote for you.

Stage 3: The Award

The Greatest Battle Report remains a stubbornly fannish affair, curated and voted for by the community. Everybody wins because everybody gets to read great Battle Reports they might have otherwise overlooked.

The reward for coming first place and being crowned The Greatest Battle Report 2018 is to bask in the admiration of your peers, and know that your creative endeavours have been recognised as a example of hobby gaming. You can also display "The Greatest Battle Report 2018" banner alongside your blog to honour the recognition your Battle Report has received - although of course this is entirely optional.

Let the well documented, entertainingly written and presented battle commence!