Kirin (or qilin, girin, ghilen, kylan or others, depending on the translation and language of origin) (the first name is pronounced as "chee-leen"), also called eastern unicorns, are a type of mythological creature found in Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean and Japanese folklore, and which have since percolated into the popular consciousness. They typically resemble ungulates — usually horses, deer or oxen, sometimes giraffes — with draconic traits such as fangs, reptilian scales or dragon heads. They may have a single horn or antler in the center of their foreheads, or they may have two in the usual arrangement.
Kirin are typically considered to be benevolent, heroic or outright holy beings. They are usually depicted as having a strong sense of justice, which, combined with their supernatural ability to detect whether someone is guilty or innocent of a crime they are accused of, makes them legendary — and merciless — judges. They are often characterized as crusading sorts, roaming the land looking for evildoers to punish and wrongs to put to rights. They are occasionally treated as omens, with the appearance of a qilin/kirin foretelling the birth of a king, sage or hero.
A very common power attributed to kirin is Flight, despite them never being depicted with wings, and sometimes the ability to Walk on Water. In early myths, this is due to their unwillingness to harm so much as a single blade of grass, and thus using their magic to run on the air and water where they will not tread on any living thing.
As a result of their mythological origins, kirin are particularly likely to appear when the story visits the Far East, Wutai and associated areas, although they can and do of course appear elsewhere. They are often associated with or linked to the Western myth of the unicorn, due to general similarities between the two — magical horse-like ungulates, good and holy, with sometimes a single horn — although most works still treat them as at least somewhat distinct things.
There is also the term "huolin/kakurin" (lit. Seizing Bright), which refers to an instance where one was seen hunting a kirin in the wild never to be seen again, especially with the only evidence of this being the said hunter's last written works abruptly ending with no indication of continuing. Thus, this term is often synonymous with "one's final moments" in that something so mysterious happened to end their life on the spot without a second thought.
In modern Japanese and Korean, kirin and girin, respectively, are the usual words for giraffe. This is an influence of Chinese, which did a cultural translation dating back to the Ming dynasty, when Admiral Zheng He brought a giraffe from East Africa to China. In modern Chinese itself, however, using qilin to refer to giraffe is considered archaic, the word having been replaced by the neologism changjinglu (lit. "long-necked deer").
See also Dragons Are Divine, Our Dragons Are Different, Mix-and-Match Critters and Youkai. Compare Unicorn and The Marvelous Deer. A kirin is also regularly included as one of The Four Gods, typically replacing the White Tiger or the Yellow Dragon.
Examples of this trope include:
- B't X: The main B't (Mini Mechas resembling animals) is X, who's based on a kirin and looks like a white horse with wings. He is also part of a B't ensemble based on The Four Gods (with the kirin replacing the white tiger).
- Digimon Savers: Kudamon (which resembles a weasel) at Ultimate level becomes Qilinmon, a Digimon which, as its name implies, is derived from a kirin. It looks like a classical, one-horned kirin with wings decked out in armor. It's also classified a Holy Beast Digimon and detests fighting, although it punishes senseless killings without mercy.
- In Naruto, Kirin is the name of a jutsu used by Sasuke in which he summons natural lightning and shapes it into the head of a giant Kirin (the beast) before crashing it down to the ground.
- In Pet Shop of Horrors, the Kirin is a being who grants the wish of its sovereign through the blood of others. Like with other creatures that appear in the manga, it appears to their masters in a human form. In the Kirin's case, their chosen form is that of a young Chinese girl with bound feet, wearing a lavishly ornate outfit, flowered headdress, and imposing makeup.
- The Twelve Kingdoms: Kirin resemble horned or antlered horses that can take human form, among many other magical properties. They're also so pure that they are greatly weakened by the smell of blood, even their own, so they have a special servant monster that acts as a bodyguard/parent/older sibling. It's complicated since the monster in question is born literally minutes before the kirin, and yet immediately knows the name of its charge. A kirin also chooses each kingdom's monarch, and then becomes his or her principal counselor.
- Magic: The Gathering: Kirins are a rare creature type typically aligned with White Mana and found in worlds inspired by East Asian cultures and mythologies, such as Kamigawa (feudal Japan), Tarkir (central Asia, Tibet and India) and the Plane of Mountains and Seas (ancient China), where they tend to serve as replacements for angels as White's iconic creatures. All are capable of flight, despite having no wings. Tarkir's kirin appear as heralds of the arrival or death of an important figure — Alabaster Kirin and Misthoof Kirin both appeared as omens of the ascent, and then return, of the planeswalker Sarkhan Vol — while those of the Plane of Mountains and Seas are known as qilins.
- Yu-Gi-Oh! has several notable cards based on the Kirin, namely Cyber Kirin, Majispecter Unicorn — Kirin and Brotherhood of the Fire Fist — Kirin.
- Kirin are fairly popular within the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fandom, and have appeared as a fanmade species in a number of fan works well before their eventual canon debut:
- Adopted Displaced: In Three More Things!, when three pony fillies appear on the doorstep of the Chan household, Uncle is wonderstruck at such a good omen as being visited by an infant ki-lin — meaning the unicorn filly Sweetie Belle. When Jackie protests that she's a Western unicorn, not a Chinese ki-lin, Uncle replies that "unicorn" and "ki-lin" are simply different languages' names for the same species of magical beings.
- The Bridge: Ki Seong is a kirin from Carrea — Fantasy Counterpart Culture Korea — who emigrated to Equestria some time back. She resembles an antlered ungulate dragon or, alternatively, a deer with dragon scales and a draconic tail.
- In Earth and Sky, one of the racers in the Grand Pegathalon — a long, legendary aerial race circumnavigating Equestria's borders — is a kirin named Lulong, described as a deer-like creature with shining blue and purple scales and an ethereal, gold-and-peach mane always flowing on an unseen wind. Unlike the other contestants, who fly by means of wings or mechanical aid, the wingless Lulong flies by means of his innate magic. He hovers, even if just off the ground, all the time — if his hooves so much as touch the soil, he loses his ability to fly for a thousand and one days. After he's tossed to the ground and deprived of his ability to continue the race, he takes to traveling across Equestria as a wandering hero, helping strangers and righting wrongs.
- In Lionel23's Equestria Expanded setting, kirin are a species of blue-scaled, antlered equines native to Neighpon. They live in isolated villages and dojos rather than large cities, and are masters of air and water magic. They're also skilled warriors, and their samurai spend years training with both the sword and the bow, and in battle are able to switch between their two weapons without pause or falter.
- One fanmade map plotted on the outlines of real-life geography places a large qilin nation named the Realm of Harmony where China would be, and two smaller qilin nations in place of Korea and Japan. Qilin sages from the Realm of Harmony are stated to have created and squirreled away several artificial suns of jade and silver, in case Princess Celestia — who moves the sun around the world — were to literally drop the ball.
- Another popular use of kirin in the fandom was to define them specifically as the children of pony/dragon pairings. As such, any future generation story that has Spike (a dragon) and Rarity (a unicorn pony) as a couple would inevitably have one or more of these as their children. However, these hybrids rarely share any of the mythical kirin's traits beyond a mix of draconic and equine traits.
- Buddha's Palm: Long Jian-fei's Cool Pet and companion is a winged kirin that appears to have borrowed traits from Western griffin, including having eagle-like wings.
- The Great Yokai War: At the start, Tadashi is bitten during a street festival by the dancer's kirin head, which according to local custom makes him the next "kirin rider", a hero fated to defeat malevolent Youkai; in the climax, he is seen riding the kirin through the sky.
- Mysterious Ancient Beasts: The titular beasts in this Chinese Direct-to-Video movie are Kirins, which the protagonist, a healer-in-training, must seek to find a mystical ingredient. During one penultimate fight, the kirin is shown to have an Overly Long Tongue that it use to ensnare the heroes.
- The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor: At the ending battle, the Dragon Emperor turns himself into a Kirin-like beast (one portrayed as a wholly mammalian creature, though, without the dragon-like features frequently associated with Kirins) to battle the O'Connells. He's almost unbeatable until Rick managed to stab his side with an enchanted dagger, reverting him to human form.
- The Book of Imaginary Beings describes the Unicorn of China, or k'i-lin, as a creature with an deer's body, an ox's tail and a horse's head and hooves, as a well a short, fleshy horn in the middle of its forehead, and sometimes hair and sometimes scales. It is one of the four animals of good omen alongside the dragon, the phoenix and the tortoise, it never harms any living thing — it even avoids eating live grass — and its appearance heralds the birth of a righteous king. Killing one, or seeing its dead body, brings terrible luck. Borges describes a number of incidents involving these creatures:
- A k'i-lin appeared to Confucius' mother when she was pregnant. The same k'i-lin was killed by hunters seventy years later, bringing the sage to tears for the ill omen this act foretold.
- Genghis Khan's plans for a full invasion of China were halted when a chio-tuan, a variant of k'i-lin, appeared to his scouts and commanded them to tell their lord to return home, for Heaven was horrified by the bloodshed and war.
- One of Emperor Shun's judges, two thousand two hundred years before Christ, had a creature resembling a one-horned goat that would refuse to harm those who had been falsely accused but headbutted the guilty.
- Judge Dee: The court is occasionally described as having a tapestry with a unicorn (as a symbol of wisdom) hanging on the back wall, but the illustrations show it's closer to a kirin.
- Kirin first appeared in Chinese Mythology, and spread to Korea and Japan from there. Their frequent depictions as stocky dragon-oxen has led to the hypothesis that they were inspired by ceratopsians, as ancient Chinese alchemists are known to have had an interest in dinosaur fossils, believing them to be dragon bones.
- In later times, the qilin became strongly associated with giraffes. The animals were purchased during the Ming Dynasty, alongside other exotic animals, from Somali merchants when the explorer Zheng He traveled to Africa. Two giraffes were gifted to the emperor, who announced that they were qilins. The idea stuck, and it became common afterwards to base portrayals of qilins on giraffes. This is especially popular in Korea and Japan — girin and kirin, respectively, are still used for "giraffe" in Korean and Japanese.
- According to Chinese legends, a qilin appeared in the gardens of both the Yellow Emperor and Emperor Yao, two legendary emperors from The Time of Myths. Another legend describes a qilin appearing to herald Confucius' birth.
- Dungeons & Dragons:
- Ki-rins are intelligent, elephant-sized, celestial ungulates. They vary in appearance, although all have thick manes and skin covered in golden scales; some resemble immense unicorns while others are more draconic, and while most have one horn others have two or a set of stag-like antlers. They can fly by simply galloping on the air, and spend most of their lives high in the sky. Lawful Good by nature, they roam the world looking for good-hearted people to reward and evildoers to punish, and are often viewed as omens of good fortune or sought out for their advice.
- T'uen-rin, described in Planescape Monstrous Compendium II, are stronger relatives of the ki-rin found in the Outer Planes. They resemble horses with golden scales, flowing golden manes and a single horn, and like ki-rins are fierce foes of evil. They have plenty of tools to help them — they can cast spells as wizards, telepathically sense the thoughts of creatures around them, magically detect lies and alignments, turn invisible or into mist, control weather and call down lightning, and inspire supernatural awe. They're also allied with creatures of elemental air, and like ki-rin can run through the sky — indeed, most t'uen-rin spend most of their lives high in the heavens and never step on earth if they can avoid it, which however also leads them to literally see themselves as above everyone else and may be planting the seeds of a fall in their hearts. There's also speculation in-universe that they and the ki-rin are the two sexes of a single species.
- Duruch'i-lin, describes in the 2nd Edition Monstrous Compendium: Kara-Tur, resemble gigantic, colorful unicorns with the usual set of kirin powers. They're mostly notable, besides their size, for their sexual dimorphism — the species is split between the smaller, male duru and the much larger female ch'i-lin. When a duru wishes to mate with a ch'i-lin, he first presents her to the wild creatures of his domain and, if they like her, the couple goes to the Celestial Bureaucracy for approval. If that is granted, they retire to a remote corner of the planes to share their extensive life stories, mate, and spend the next fifty years raising their foal. According to legend, the first ch'i-lin was a fusion of two other, now-extinct creatures, the ch'i and the lin, respectively resembling a silver-antlered stag and a golden horse with earthquake-like steps; the first ch'i-lin emerged from a river to meet the first emperor of Wa and teach him the secret of written language.
- GURPS Fantasy Bestiary: Kilin, also known as ki-rin and chi-lin, resemble short-necked giraffes. Most have no horns, but some have short horns with fleshy tips that cannot be used as weapons. They are called the Princes of Four-Footed Beasts, and the term kilin is a combination of the names of the male and female of the species, the ki and the lin. They can walk through the air and become invisible at will (often only appearing during the lifetime of a great man), and fight against the enemies of Heaven. People who commit blasphemy in front of a kilin often become afflicted by fevers that can only be cured through acts of piety and atonement.
- In Ironclaw: Book of Jade (and the previous edition's Jadeclaw) Qilings are a playable race, though commonly believed to be ancestral spirits of the horses (also playable). The founding Emperor of Zhongguo is alleged to have ascended to heaven as a Qiling despite living on earth as a horse.
- Palladium Fantasy: Ki-lin resemble short, tailless Asian dragons with horse-like legs and hooves and with a single short, two-tined antler growing from their forehead. They are highly magical beings — they are often scholars of magic lore — and can run in the air, and while they often avoid humanoids they also never shirk from aiding people beset by danger, evil, sickness or other misfortunes. This penchant for crusading and helping those in need, however, also means that they are often in the crosshairs of demons and other evil beings whose plans they spoil.
- Pathfinder: Kirins are Lawful Good creatures resembling stags covered in draconic scales and who spend most of their time galloping on the winds high above the ground. Some knights are able to persuade them to serve them as mounts, but only the most noble-hearted among them are granted this honor.
- Warhammer: Kirin are unicorn-like creatures native to Cathay, who gallop through the skies and trail lightning and thunder as they go, and who are sometimes used as mounts by Cathayan heroes.
- Dragalia Lost has the Qilin as a race of antler headed people who live in a Hidden Elf Village far from the conflicts of man.
- Dynasty Warriors:
- The portrayal of historical figure Xiahou Dun often wields a podao/scimitar themed after the qilin/kirin's fang; stronger versions of the weapon often nod to aforementioned "huolin/kakurin".
- The symbol of the Jin faction is a qilin.
- Final Fantasy:
- Final Fantasy VI: The kirin appears as a summonable beast, and it resembles a silver unicorn (but with two horns). In keeping with its benevolent reputation, summoning it casts a spell that gradually restores HP.
- Final Fantasy XIV has Kirin be the prize mount you receive by obtaining all of the rare mounts across the Extreme Primal trials. The Wandering Minstrel takes you to where the elemental horses' aether together is enough to summon the Lord of Steeds.
- Fire Emblem Fates: Corrin's dragon form appears to be at least partially based on a kirin, having antlers, an ungulate posture, and having knuckles reminiscent of animal hooves.
- Genshin Impact: Ganyu, an important resident of Liyue (a Chinese-inspired fantastical city), is half qilin and half human.
- Golden Sun: The second Mars fire) summon is a Kirin, involving appearing via portal, galloping at full tilt towards the enemy and ramming it to deal damage. There's also someone riding it, but their identity isn't known.
- Monster Hunter: Kirin is an Elder Dragon resembling a large, scaly-skinned Unicorn with powerful electric attacks.
- Suicune is arguably based off of the kirin, chiefly due to its deer-like physique, the large, crystalline, backwards-pointing horn on its forehead, its ability to walk on water, and its nature as a pure and elusive being that avoids contact with humans.
- Arceus is partially based off of the kirin.
- Pokémon Uranium, a fan game, has Kiricorn, a Fairy-type Pokémon that evolves from a Western unicorn and resembles deerlike creature with a thick mane, a long hairy tail, a single blue antler and an additional pair of curving horns. Its own evolution, Oblivicorn, keeps most of the same motifs but with a darker and more malevolent appearance.
- World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria introduces them, though unfortunately Blizzard used the name for the Mogu's stone lions.
- Yakuza: Yoshitaka Mine, the Final Boss of Yakuza 3, has a tattoo of a kirin on his back which exemplifies his view as himself being Daigo Dojima's rightful successor as chairman to the Tojo Clan and his Undying Loyalty to Daigo.
- Yo-Kai Watch: There are two yokais based off of the mythological kirin, Unikirin — a black kirin with a mane of bluish clouds and a unicorn's horn — and Kyryn — a blue and red kirin with a mane of orange clouds, long whiskers and straight, backward-pointing brown horns. Both are part of the Heartfelt tribe and have the Restoration attribute — meaning that their attacks do not deal damage, but instead heal allies — and their sprites show them Flying on a Cloud.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic features kirin in its eighth season, introducing them in the episode "Sounds of Silence". They have scales across their bodies and single antlers shaped like tree branches. When they get too angry, they turn into the Nirik, literally Burning with Anger. This anger eventually caused the kirin to burn down their forest home, resulting in many of the kirin voluntarily entering the Stream of Silence so that they can no longer talk or feel emotion. The one kirin who found a cure, Autumn Blaze, became The Exile after getting her voice and feelings back, because she couldn't stand the idea of not being able to feel anything at all.