Christmas—or rather, Friday, November 5—came early yesterday when the long-awaited version 2.0 update to Animal Crossing: New Horizons was surprisingly released more than a full day ahead of schedule.
While much of the early hype surrounding the purportedly last major free content update focused on the return of Brewster and his café, much of the post-Direct hype focused on the return of Kapp’n and his boat.… Well, at least in this writer’s household.
And so, we were glad to see the same old Kapp’n again yesterday after such a long absence, but we were also delighted to notice a few small changes, inspiring us to share a couple of fun facts and fan theories about our personal favorite NPC from the Japanese side of Animal Crossing fandom—or, should we say, Dōbutsu no Mori fandom. That’s right, we’ve played over 500 hours (and counting) of both Tobi-Mori (Animal Crossing: New Leaf) and Atsu-Mori (ACNH) so you don’t have to!
Although you will, of course.
Unless you have a better-than-passing familiarity with Japanese culture, you can be forgiven for mistaking Kapp’n for a sea turtle when in fact he’s a kappa, a sometimes mischievous and other times malevolent creature from Japanese folklore.
Physically, kappa are often depicted as half-human, half-reptilian creatures of diminutive stature who possess tortoise-like carapaces on their backs and Friar Tuck-like bald spots on top of their heads. Indeed, if you doubt us about Kapp’n and his kin on Tortimer Island, the bald spots you can invariably find on top of their heads are a dead giveaway. Called sara (literally, “dishes” or “plates”), these bald spots are actually concave and hold small pools of water said to be the source of a kappa’s supernatural power.
Kappa are also said to haunt the streams and ponds (and even toilets) of Japan, where they either harmlessly prank or viciously attack their hapless victims. Conceivably, the legends about kappa could have served to scare children from playing near dangerous waters, but perhaps other aspects of their mythology are better left unexplained. More relevant to Kapp’n, however, kappa are reportedly fond of cucumbers and apparently associated with flatulence, which would go a long way toward explaining why Kapp’n so often sings about cucumbers and breaks wind mid-tune in Dōbutsu no Mori.
And as you have surely noticed by now, the name Kapp’n itself is a play on the word kappa. Well, the same holds true for his original moniker in Japanese, Kappei.
Many Dōbutsu no Mori fans have drawn comparisons between Kappei and at least two celebrities, leading to speculation his character was inspired by one, the other, or perhaps an amalgamation of both.
First, some have noticed similarities between the sea shanties that Kappei sings and the songs that Yūzō Kayama crooned, especially his smash hit “Kimi to Itsumademo” (unofficially, “Forever with You”, above). Yūzō Kayama is a celebrated musician and actor whose dual career in music and film was roughly analogous to Elvis Presley’s, and although our household swears that his songs were the inspiration behind Kappei’s sea shanties, we’ll let your ears be the judge of that one.
Second, others have noticed similarities between Kappei in both dialect and name and an Aomori-based TV personality known professionally as Ina Kappei. The choice to crib Springfield’s Captain McCallister when localizing Kappei for the West was an inspired one, but in his native Japan, he speaks less like a seafaring pirate and more like a country bumpkin. In fact, Ina Kappei’s stage name itself is a play on inakappei, a slur that can translate as bumpkin or yokel.
In Tobi-Mori (ACNL), Kappei’s flag sported a boat’s wheel in white set against a simple checkered pattern in blue and red—a symbol as fitting as any for our beloved ferryman. In Atsu-Mori (ACNH), however, Kappei is now sporting a brand new flag on his boat.
At first glance, it appears as if Kappei’s new red and white flag depicts a mountain with the Sun. To be sure, the flag is bound to remind even some Western players of Hokusai’s Thirty-Six Views of Mt. Fuji, especially considering its most famous print can be donated to the museum within the game itself.
Nevertheless, if you’ve studied even a little Japanese, you’ll instantly recognize Kappei’s new flag not only as a volcanic mountain resembling Mt. Fuji but also as a clever rendition of a phonetic letter from one of two syllabaries used in the Japanese writing system—namely, the hiragana letter pe. Why the hiragana letter pe, you might reasonably ask? Well, because Kappei spells his name in hiragana, which finally brings us to our own personal fan theory….
Like most characters from Dōbutsu no Mori, Kappei’s name is a kind of wordplay, and it works on more than one level. On the first level, as we touched on above, Kappei is a combination of kappa and the masculine name ending -hei or -pei (as in the common names Kōhei or Junpei), giving us Kappei. On the second level, as we also alluded to above, Kappei might be a homage to Ina Kappei considering the dialect and name they both share. On the third level, Kappei might be a subtle fart joke as well. Try and bare with us for a spell.
it sounds reasonable that the same phonological process that transforms buu into puu could also transform hei into pei, making Kappei work as a combination of kappa and a wettish poot
When rendered as sound effects in manga, the more forceful buu or the softer (and possibly wetter) puu are the onomatopoeia of choice for conveying flatulence to the reader. These can appear arbitrarily elongated (as in buuuuuu) or in staccato bursts (as in puppuppu), and spelled in either hiragana or katakana for emphasis. And the creativity of Japanese artists doesn’t end there. For instance, a quiet whooshing sound can be captured with suu or combined with puu, giving us such colorful renditions as pusuuuu. Although we’re admittedly relying on our memory, we could swear we’ve seen at least one toot captured as hei. As amateur linguists, it sounds reasonable to us that the same phonological process that transforms buu into puu could also transform hei into pei, making Kappei also work as a combination of kappa and a wettish poot.
If it sounds like we’re reaching here, consider the facts that he is one word for a bottom-burp in the
dictionary and neppe is slang for somnambular flatulence. Perhaps less ubiquitous in colloquial speech than onara, he does appear in common expressions like he demo nai, which idiomatically translates as “trivial” but literally translates as “not even a fart.” Or, consider the related expression, kappa no he, which idiomatically translates as “a piece of cake” but literally translates as “a kappa’s fart”—hold on, a kappa’s fart…?!
With due respect to Yūzō Kayama and Ina Kappei, it would seem the expression kappa no he—on top of the strong and myriad associations between kappa and all things scatological to begin with—provided a third source of inspiration for the character Kappei.
So, the next time you see Kapp’n and his new flag in New Horizons, well… you can’t un-read this article now, can you?
Feel free to share your love, fun facts and fan theories about Kapp’n below.