What do Drowzee, Hypno, Munna, and Musharna have in common? Before you say, “Uh, they’re all Pokémon,” I should mention that our dear friend, Luna from Animal Crossing, waves hello, too.
Even an untrained eye can detect those long elephant snouts and faintly otherworldly appearances. Drowzee, Munna, and Luna are all based on an old yōkai, the Baku.
Now, before diving in, I’d like to settle some things: One of the most popular Google searches about Musharna’s origins reads precisely like this, “Is Musharna a fetus?”
Thanks, Internet. I’ll never be able to unsee that one…
Then there’s question number two:
Munna and Musharna originated in 5th generation Pokémon. Pokémon Black and White was a complete franchise reboot. Many older Pokémon were essentially recycled so the experience could be completely fresh… yet vaguely familiar. Garbador replaced Muk as the “carbon footprint” Pokémon. Amoongus replaced Electrode as the “fake item” Pokémon. Basculin replaced Magikarp as the “invasive fish species” Pokémon.
And, you guessed it, Munna and Musharna replaced Drowzee and Hypno as the funky Psychic-type Tapir Pokémon.
Except, this time, they were drawn up by the cutesy-design artist, Atsuko Nishida. She’s famed chiefly for designing Pikachu and Vaporeon, but chances are if it’s got swirly ribbons or pudgy cheeks, it’s Nishida’s work.
Diversity is a beautiful, glorious thing. Let’s embrace it. Both Drowzee and Munna are welcome here.
Musharna does bear resemblance to a fetus. I’ll give you that. Thanks to that imagery, I’ll probably have the perfect nightmare to present to a legendary Baku tonight… But I probably delivered that joke a few sentences early. First, let’s talk about what the heck a Baku even is.
The Baku has an uncanny appearance. Older interpretations often illustrate a bizarre Frankenstein-like blend of mixed animal parts that make platypus imagery seem tame. According to storytellers, the Gods gathered any leftover animal parts they could find to produce one final creature – our yōkai in question.
The Baku is often depicted as a chimera with very particular animal parts:
Drowzee, Munna, and their buddies all have strong lore relating to hypnosis and toying with dreams, though. That’s where Mr. Baku’s influence becomes most prominent!
A Baku needs to devour nightmares to survive. Despite its somewhat terrifying appearance, Baku is revered as a guardian spirit. Like many cultures of the era, the Japanese believed nightmares could manifest into something tangible and evil after enough repetition.
A hungry Baku could devour nightmares before any problems occurred, and a symbiotic relationship developed.
By the Edo period, a full-blown tradition was born. Children who awoke from horrendous nightmares could stuff their heads into a pillow and chant three times, “Baku-san, come eat my dreams!”
The pillows weren’t soft and fluffy in feudal Japan, either. They were primarily wooden and wrapped in cloth. Geisha would take this one step further by using Takamakura pillows to preserve their hairstyles. Ouch!
Calling for a Baku too frequently had severe consequences. If a Baku felt unsatisfied after feasting upon a nightmare, it could overwhelm itself with temptation and suck out more prominent dreams, including hopes and aspirations. The host would be doomed to live a hollow void of a meaningless life.
Although, the latter sentiment is considered more contemporary. Traditional Baku helps populate a short list of protagonists scouring the realm of the yōkai spirit world. They are silent protectors of the dreary feudal nightscape.
Baku are the heroes we need, not the heroes we deserve. Baku are like Batman… if Batman could subsist off of intangible dreams instead of Mulligatawny soup. Yeah, I just had to pester Google for what Batman’s favorite food was. No, I’m not proud.
The image above is a Tapir. It looks a lot like a real-life Drowzee, doesn’t it? While the pictures of Baku are wildly stylized, bear an undeniable resemblance the Malayan Tapir. But the truth is, the jury isn’t unanimous on whether or not this cute little creature inspired the Baku.
For starters, there’s a fringe belief that the Baku was a cryptozoological Chinese feline creature that’s gone extinct.
More importantly, it’s difficult to decipher whether the name Baku was first granted to the real-world Malayan Tapir or the dream eating yōkai.
That’s right, the Japanese granted the name ‘Baku’ to the Malayan Tapir, too. That opens up a brand new can of worms.
Origins are further diluted by the fact that real-world Baku are primarily nocturnal. So, now academics are stuck arguing whether the chicken or the egg came first.
Never change, Japan. You’ve got historians all flustered yet again, but your creativity is worth the commotion.
Here’s what we can all agree on: The Baku was an old yōkai tale absorbed into Shinto legend around the time Buddhism traveled to Japan.
Odds are that the Japanese heard the story first and saw the Tapir second, giving it a suitable name for its appearance.
Like many Japanese traditions, the Baku legend originated in China. In the earliest years, the tale was pretty basic. Someone could craft blankets from the pelt of a Baku to ward off evil, pestilence, and the like.
As the legend evolved, a mere drawn image of a Baku became adequate for suppressing the forces of evil.
The legend of the Baku carried over to Japan during the Muromachi period. The creature hadn’t developed much personality yet. Early stories simply state our yōkai as a shy beast who could ward off the same evil and pestilence the Chinese mentioned.
But Japan is famed for creativity.
Time passed, and more people spoke of the feeling that something was watching them after bedtime. The mysterious ominous feeling after waking up before a nightmare gripped a wider audience.
From those stories came the birth of the Baku we know today. Devouring dreams, answering our calls, and hopping between rooftops to serve the children of Japan as if he were the deformed stepchild of Santa Claus.
While the resemblances between Drowzee and Munna are pretty striking with the Baku, Game Freak took a few creative liberties.
Drowzee tends to enjoy munching on those flavorful, good dreams. Nightmares give them belly aches. Imagine dreaming about meeting your soulmate in a magical forest teeming with pixies who do all your heavy lifting. The temperature is perfect. The woodland area is somehow devoid of parasites. You have a ton of money to throw around, and your lifelong friends are all present and perfectly capable of getting along with one another.
Cool. Drowzee scarfed that bad boy down, and you’ll never remember it. He might share it with his best buddies if he deems it special, but odds are he’s eaten a couple thousand of these yummy little snacks and is already piercing the mind of another host to fill up his belly.
Our adorable little pink Tapir lined in floral patterns has a sinister little secret, too. Munna will slather some gravy on any dream she comes across. She isn’t picky. Had a dream where you were elected class president? Tastes like chicken. Dreaming about what the world would be like without war and famine? Eh. It’s edible.
Sounds pretty bold for a child-friendly franchise, right? Well, let me prove it.
There you have it! Irrefutable proof of two sweet little Pokémon being related to another fear-mongering yōkai. You’re one step closer to becoming a Pokémon master. If you’re craving more, I’m running an entire series on Pokémon origins:
But be warned! You know what they say about curiosity. Although, I suppose curiosity proves that Munna and Drowzee haven’t eaten your ambitions and hopes. As always, thank you for reading! Maybe in the future, I’ll get lucky and stumble across a special yōkai who absorbs your likes and follows on social media. The links are down below! Much love.