Finally, the Yosenju have descended upon the TCG! Today I get to reveal the secrets and the stories behind two of my most beloved branches of study, yokai and religion.

"Religion and yokai? What do religion and yokai have to do with a theme based on weasels?" That's a very good question, and the answer is "quite a lot, actually." So grab your Yosenju cards and follow along as we explore these calamitous and cunning beings of natural phenomena.

Origin Of A Yokai
Before we begin I'll quickly explain what a yokai is. "Yokai" is an umbrella word used in certain regions of Asia to refer to mysterious things; calamitous beings or events; otherworldly creatures; and spirits, goblins, and demons. The Yokai are a very old concept dating back to the first century B.C. and possibly even beyond it. Some yokai began as Chinese myths brought to Japan, and some began as Japanese myths and superstitions. Yokai were also the focus of specific art forms, appearing in many different mediums including poetry, spoken and visual entertainment. Sexual humor, inappropriate behavior, lewd and horrific imagery are all included in their different portrayals.

Yokai are essentially how people explained extraordinary creatures, animals, circumstances and phenomena which couldn't be explained due to a lack of knowledge about the natural world at the time. Said to have special powers that could make them beloved or feared by regular people, they acted as explanations for the unknown.

That's a very broad and very simple explanation; it'd take me an entire article to explain Yokai traditions in depth, but if you're very interested in reading more I'd suggest you check out my article on Yokai in Yu-Gi-Oh! here.

Yokai have appeared in the Yu-Gi-Oh! card game before, originally as a disorganized arrangement of monsters way back from around the 5D's era. They were first released as OCG Exclusive V-Jump cards that eventually made their way to our shores. Wielded by Bastion Misawa in the Yu-Gi-Oh! GX manga, the Yokai weren't an attribute or theme, but rather an actual monster type akin to Warriors, Spellcasters, or Fiends. However, out of all the cards created for the manga only some of them were released in real life; Red Ogre, Shutendoji and Goka, Pyre of Malice.

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Those cards generally worked with other Zombie-types, and were Zombies and Pyros themselves. None of these cards shared anything beyond imagery and their link to Bastion Misawa. Now the Yokai have reemerged as a legitimate archetype through the Yosenju monsters and their spell and trap cards.

That said, the Yosenju mainly focus on a single type of Yokai at the moment: the Kamaitachi, which I'll explain in detail below, and their many varying forms. In Crossed Souls, the next set after Secrets of Eternity releasing in early May, the theme will receive two new related monsters that aren't Kamaitachi: Yosenju Oyamabiko and Yosenju Kodama. (Note that those names are OCG Fanlations, which I'll explain in the next article.)

Kamaitachi: Sticks, Swords And Cream
The first three monsters we'll look at are the Yosenju Kama "Brothers": Yosenju Kama I, Yosenju Kama II, and Yosenju Kama III. Much to the chagrin of some, Yosenju Tsujik is NOT part of this trio. That monster is a different event all unto itself even though its physical incarnation looks very similar. These three monsters are direct references to the mythological Kamaitachi, in form, style, attack, effect and name.

The name "Kamaitachi" translates to something resembling "Sickle Weasel," and they owe their Wind-attribute to the historical real-world myths about Kamaitachi's fondness of using whirlwinds to attack. The Kamaitachi are a trio of weasels who sneak up on their victims in the guise of a spontaneously generated whirlwind. Working together, they're armed with long, sharp sickle-like claws which the weasel trio use to attack unsuspecting prey. It's said the first weasel stuns their victim (Yosenju Kama I). Next, the second weasel inflicts swift, deep cuts to the legs, face and torso (Yosenju Kama II). The wound, however, is painless because the third weasel applies a medicinal salve that stops the bleeding and numbs any pain (Yosenju Kama III).

Depending on the myth, there's no real reason why they behave that way, although one school of thought is that they're hematophagous – they eat blood. The mammalian family called the mustelids include weasels, and were thought to be blood drinkers in folk beliefs, explaining the thought process behind the Kamaitachi's strange habits. However, we now know that weasels don't drink blood – the blood on their snouts that naturally resulted from their hunting techniques simply gave the visual impression that they did.

Like all Yokai myths, there's a real life answer to this phenomenon. The possible real life Reasoning is attributed to the wounds and cuts inflicted on the legs, face and lower torso whilst traveling late at night. While moving through feudal Japan in the dark, you wouldn't have a good gauge of your surroundings. Winds would pick up debris and the environment could do you physical harm. When you'd arrive somewhere with a much better source of light, you'd see all the damage you'd accrued on your journey – usually cuts from grass and leaves, and scrapes from debris.

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Fans originally translated these three Kamaitachi monsters as Yosenju Kamaitachi, Yosenju Kamanitachi and Yosenju Kamamitachi. Each of their names is a portmanteau of the word "Kamaitachi" and an ordinary Japanese number by adding either "n" or "m" to their names. Beginning with Yosenju Kamaitchi you have the number one, ichi or ichibanme; Yosenju Kamanitachi presents the number two, nibanme or ni; and Yosenju Kamamitchi gives us three, mittsume or mittsu.

So essentially you'd get something akin to "Yosenju Kamaitachi 1st," "Yosenju Kamaitachi 2nd," and "Yosenju Kamaitachi 3rd" under literal translations. The same can be said in regards to their English localizations. Like the rest of the Yosenju, their names have been shortened, but with the numerals replaced by I, II and III perpetuating the ordinal system.

However, in a world wherein the subtleties of language can be easily misheard and taken advantage of, the addition of 1, 2 and 3 are a necessity. After all, "mi", "ni" and "i" (pronounced like the letter "e") all sound the same when spoken, and the names maintain the spirit of the Yokai themselves as well as the newly adopted Yosenju.

People have a hard enough time with Mind Crush and other name-specific cards: releasing three closely-related names would have just caused more turmoil for the less than scrupulous players to try and abuse, to say the least. I know just from my experience, most of the people I've ever spoken to about these monsters can't keep up with "ni", "mi" and "i".

They're Mythological, They're Humanoid And They're Furry...
What's even more fascinating is that the Yosenju Kama Brother monster cards work just like the Kamaitachi! By landing all three in play, you actually just made a Kamaitachi come to life. Not to mention you can make some pretty amazing combos, like placing two brothers on the field at once to generates awesome plays. Best of all, no matter what the combination of differently-named Kama Brothers you play, each helps the other just like the real Kamaitachi of legend! The artwork for Yosenjus' Secret Move even goes so far as to show the Yosenju Kama Brothers' attack pattern as well, which is really cool in its accuracy.

Returning to what I explained above, the Yosenju brothers themselves are actually named after their pattern of attack. Beginning with Yosenju Kama 1, he holds a sickle which would be use to knock down a victim. He's pictured as rushing towards the enemy, making an arch with his arms to trip his victim. Kama 1's effect lets you bounce a face-up card your opponent controls to their hand – possibly that Vanity's Emptiness preventing you from performing a Pendulum Summon. You can catch your opponent off guard and bump away something that's hindering your plays, effectively stunning and knocking over an opponent.

The next brother, Yosenju Kama 2, is pictured swinging a katana in his hands. That's assumedly how he'd make the cuts on his victim's body. Like his brother before him, Yosenju Kama 2 reveals his mystical roots through his effect, slicing through an opponent's defenses with ease with his ability to attack directly. Undetectable and undeniable just like the second weasel.

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The final brother, Yosenju Kama 3, holds in his hands a glowing salve in a clam shell. This is most likely the numbing and healing agent said to be used by the third Kamaitachi. He also seems to be holding what looks to be a blunt blade or possibly an applicator stick for the salve. This monster's effect doesn't soothe an opponent's wounds, so much as it benefits you instead, searching any Yosenju card when an attacking Yosenju damages your opponent. Now that's really nifty!

Death Is His Gift
The next mustelid we come to isn't related to the Kamaitachi brothers: Yosenju Tsujik (Irikaze). Dressed as a samurai, this monster lives up to its attire and its in-game effects as well as its relation to the weasels of the Yokai legends.

Tsujik's name is a combination of two words pertaining to horrifying practices of the Tokugawa samurai. "Tsujigiri" was the act of testing a new blade on an innocent human commoner. The "kiri" aspect of the name is a reference to "Kirisutegomen" – killing and leaving the scene. The "kaze" aspect of the name refers to the relationship this monster shares with the wind.

Tsujik is one of the few Yosenju's in the Yu-Gi-Oh! card game whose name isn't based on an actual Yokai I can find. It is, however, similar in function to other weasel related yokai like the Kamaitachi, with its razor sharp claws and auspicious nature of attacking whatever it desires for unknown reasons. Unlike the other Kama Brothers, Yosenju Tsujik has white fur and not brown, as a feeble but half-hearted attempt of mine to further the distinction between these different monsters and myths.

While samurai are sometimes depicted in the media as cold, violent, and quick to kill, some were also well aware of their social standings and their hierarchy over the common man. Abuse of power, even among the samurai, wasn't all that uncommon. At one point in the Tokugawa shogunate, samurai had the legal right to kill members of the common class, though they'd still be held accountable for their actions with severe punishments if caught. While these acts were allowed legally, such behaviors were still frowned upon by most every other standard. Eventually the government realized their dependency on commoners, and allowed them the right to fight back against unprovoked samurai attacks regardless of class.

Yosenju Tsujik happens to have two effects which relate to its naming scheme. The first effect lets you drop it from your hand during either player's turn in the damage step. It seems reminiscent of a surprise cutting down of an opposing victim. That effect grants a Yosenju monster an extra 1000 ATK. Its next effect only activates if it's on the field, boosting the ATK of one of your Yosenju by 1000 attack points.

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Both effects, combined with the fact that at the end of the turn you have to return him to your hand, serve as nods towards both practices of tsujigiri and kirisutegomen, striking a monster down and then fleeing without taking responsibility. In fact, this Yosenju's really awesome in that it can make absolutely no appearance on the field but still impact battle.

That's where we'll leave off for today, with the winds still calm and quiet and the Yokai placated. Check back tomorrow when we'll pick up where we left off with the religious aspect of the Yosenju, focusing on the gateways to the Yosen Training Grounds and the grounds themselves. I haven't forgotten about the other larger and more destructive forces behind the Yosenju either – we'll explore those as well!

-Franco Ferrara