Japanese Demon Lore: Oni from Ancient Times to the Present, by Noriko T. Reider. I’m going to give this one 3.5 out of 5 stars. It’s a decently written academic work, but for someone who wants oni lore along the lines of “where do they live and what do they do?” instead of a literary analysis of “what does the oni mean in this story?” it’s mostly fail.
And by “mostly fail” I mean I have about a page of potentially useful notes. Out of a book that took me 3 afternoons to get through. And a fair bit of that is “stuff listed in the bibliography that might be more useful”. Siiiiigh.
If you do want a work on “how does the oni portray the Other?” in stories and other media, this book would be of use to you. It does, indeed, range from some of the earliest written tales we have that mention oni up to the present at the time the book was written. More on that later.
Bits that are interesting for someone looking for folklore: The etymology and analysis of the 4 streams of potential oni idea origins (Japanese, Chinese, Buddhist, and onmyudo). The short section on characteristics, which includes an association with prosperity I hadn’t run into before. Shuten Douji, and how the warrior class taking over in the Tokugawa era led to people not being nearly as afraid of oni (who might kill you in a thunderstorm) as samurai (who definitely did exist and were trouble at all hours). The various ways people might be transformed into oni, before and after death, and how it differed for men and women. The fact that anyone who “goes against the will of the emperor” could be defined as an oni, supernatural or not.
But the book is mainly a reworking of several already-published journal articles the author wrote on various facets of the oni phenomenon, and it shows. Mainly in the way the author tends to have just three or four examples of what she’s talking about in each chapter of analysis, and it feels… skimmed over. Which is what you have to do to fit articles in a journal publication, you have page and word limits, but in a book there should have been more stuff.
I admit to being particularly cranky about the manga and anime chapter, where of the six examples she used, two of them are from Rumiko Takihashi – Inuyasha and Urusei Yatsura – and two more are from Nagai Go. So there are only four different writers analyzed. One of the other two is Akira Kurosawa, who has been analyzed to death in just about anything related to movies, and the other is Miyazaki’s Spirited Away.
Is there anyone analyzing manga/anime today who hasn’t done a section on Spirited Away? Anyone?
Yeah. I really, really would have liked more variety in “how have various writers treated oni”, particularly of some less well known stuff.
On a minor cranky note, the names and terms in Appendix B are too small to read without seriously adjusting the print font on a Kindle.
So. If you want to write some kind of formal report on Japanese folklore and literary analysis, this would be a useful book. If you’re looking for the real oni of lore… well, the book does include a good translation of Shuten Douji. With some very interesting details on what warriors were permitted to do to get close enough to an oni to kill him. It’ll raise the hairs on the back of your neck if you think about it.
All told – if you’re going to get this, I advise getting it on Kindle to lower the price, and read Appendix B on your computer so you can get it readable.
Grump. Grump grump grump….