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 Western media as well. 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. The term "Chinese Unicorn" used to describe them however is often misleading, as Qilin are often depicted with two sets of horns and antlers. The proper Chinese Unicorn would be another mythical animal, the "Xiezi".
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 Data Squad: 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Stitch & Ai: In the fourth episode, "The Scroll", Jumba receives scrolls from a sage that apparently contain information the "Evil Genius" needs to create Chinese mythological creatures, the first of which is a qilin. The qilin then saves Stitch from being taken away by drones sent by the villainous Jaboodies to capture him. Afterward, Jumba sends the qilin off to a pocket dimension to live in, only bringing it (along with other re-created creatures seen throughout the show) Back for the Finale in the last episode, "Monstrosity", to fight off the Jaboodies.
- 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. They resemble deer or, less commonly, goats, and 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. The canonical kirin were incorporated into the story after their own later debut, with the differences in design being explained as due to region: Ki Seong is from Carrea, while canon design kirins are from Neighpon.
- 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. Overall, this particular use of the term was very widespread in the early fandom, but faded from prominence over time and in particular after the canonical kirin's debut.
- Pokémon Uranium: Kiricorn is a Fairy-type Pokémon that evolves from a Western unicorn and resembles a deer 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.
- Princess Mononoke: Shishigami (the Forest Spirit) possesses the vaguely ungulate feet and antlers of a kirin, albeit with a primate-like face, and a fur coat instead of scales. It also has the ability to walk on water.
- 47 Ronin: A Kirin appears at the beginning where it was sent by an Asian Fox Spirit named Mizuki to kill Lord Asano but was killed by Kai.
- Buddha's Palm: Long Jian-fei's Loyal Animal Companion is a winged kirin that appears to have borrowed traits from Western griffin, including having eagle-like wings.
- Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore: A pair of Qilin twins are a central part of the conflict of the movie as the turmoil of wizarding world means that they'll be central for a pivotal election in the International Confederation of Wizards. Qilin are also revealed to be a central figure in wizarding children's fairytales, as they can see into your soul and bow to you if you are pure of heart.
- 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.
- Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings: A herd of qilin are some of the creatures inhabiting Ta Lo. One briefly stops Shang-Chi, Katy, Xialing, and Trevor as they drive through the landscape, and stares at them like a deer in the headlights.
Trevor: That's a weird horse.
- Across the Green Grass Fields: In the Hooflands, kirin are sapient unicorns, unlike the unicorns that Regan's centaur friends herd (those unicorns are more like deer with sharp horns, and they are very, very unintelligent).
- Book of Imaginary Beings: Borges 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.
- Dracopedia: Kilin are a species of arctic dragon, a group of dragons distinguished by thick coats of fur, which possess shorter bodies and tails and longer legs than other arctic dragon species. Two main species exist, both native to Siberia; the common kilin (also called kirin, kylin, quilin, quirin and Chinese unicorn), which have a single, backward-pointing, two-branched antler and live in large herds; and the much larger and rarer great white kilin, which possess a large crown of antlers and has been hunted into near-extinction for its horns.
- Dragon Calling: The ki'lin of Coron-Mias are intelligent, benevolent creatures with a single antler protruding from their foreheads, an affiliation to the element of water, and as healing abilities.
- Fengshen Yanyi: The mighty and powerful Grand Tutor Wen Zhong rides on the back of a massive black qilin, who's actually loyal enough to him to take a fatal blow intended for his master. Another character, Huang Tianhua, rides a jade-colored qilin in combat.
- 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.
- Sword of the Samurai: One of the hero's allies in the Arena of Death is a friendly kirin, who helps out by inflicting a De-power on the Dai-Oni.
- Tales of the Otori: In the fifth book, Harsh Cry of the Heron, a kirin is gifted to Lord Takeo. However, as the books are very light on fantasy elements and the creature displays no supernatural powers, it is very likely just a normal giraffe perceived as exotic by the populace.
- 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, which is born literally minutes before the kirin and yet immediately knows the name of its charge. A kirin is also responsible for ineptreting the will of Heaven in choosing each kingdom's monarch, and then becomes his or her principal counselor.
- 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.
- Arabian Magic, despite its "Arabian Nights" Days setting, has a kirin showing up as the steed of the sorceror Baruantess. It momentarily turns the final battle into a Dual Boss, but after it's defeated Baruantess goes back to fighting you alone.
- Arknights: Leizi is of Kirin race, and like most characters in the game, mostly looks human save for two horns emerging from the sides of her head, which her hair is partially coiled around, and a large horse-like tail.
- Bloody Spell, befitting a fantasy-wuxia game, has kirins as an enemy in an underground mausoleum.
- 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.
- Gaia Crusaders: At the end of the final stage, the Demon King arrives on his steed, a kirin, to fight you. Despite looking absolutely ferocious, you don't get to fight the kirin itself, as it simply leaves after depositing its master.
- Genshin Impact: Ganyu, an important resident of Liyue (a Chinese-inspired fantastical city), is half qilin and half human.
- Golden Sun: The second Mars summon is a Kirin, involving appearing via portal, galloping at full tilt towards the enemies while engulfed in flame, and ramming them to deal damage. There's also someone riding it, but their identity isn't known.
- Hangzo grants your ninja protagonist a fire-breathing Kirin as a Power-Up Mount allowing you to scale long distances quickly, while breathing fire on enemy mooks.
- Monster Hunter (2004): Kirin is an Elder Dragon resembling a large, scaly-skinned Unicorn with powerful electric attacks. It's usually a calm and peaceful creature that tends to keep away from humans, but it will fight fiercely if something provokes it.
- Monster Sanctuary: The Qilin mostly resembles a unicorn, but it has scales, cloven hooves, and an association with purity.
- Mystical Fighter, a game set in ancient Japan, has a kirin as its first boss.
- Mystic Riders has a kirin boss, oddly enough despite the rest of the game being in a western setting. It's also Wreathed in Flames and fought in a room containing a fire pit.
- Suicune is based on 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 has some kirin-like traits as well, including an even more deer-like figure and head with a backward-pointing protrusion.
- Pokémon Legends: Arceus: Dialga and Palkia, the dragon gods of time and space respectively, gain Origin Formes made to resemble Arceus while keeping many of the draconic traits of their base forms, thus resembling other depictions of the kirin that are more draconic.
- Steel Assault have a robot kirin serving as the last boss in the plant stage. Which can leap and pounce all over the place, dispense smaller robots from it's mouth, and execute a hard-to-dodge Rolling Attack to flatten you from above.
- Terra Battle has the Dracorin, which is one of the first enemies encountered in the game. Initially just relegated to a mook that later became a Player Mook, it was eventually upgraded to a hero character, gaining its advanced forms in the process.
- World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria introduces them, though unfortunately Blizzard used the name for the Mogu's stone lions.
- Yakuza 3: Yoshitaka Mine, the Final Boss, 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. The Kirin is also said to be one of the only creatures that can kill a dragon, and Mine proves to be one of the tougher bosses both physically and emotionally for Kiryu to face off against.
- 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 are pony like creatures that have scales across their bodies and a single, branching antler with chevrons they're capable of using telekinetic magic with. 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.
- Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon, uses a qilin as a mascot in a very indirect way. As explained here, a qilin statue purchased by a missionary in China was donated to the school in the late 1800s, and the students gave it the name Boxer, then subjected it to various examples of Wacky Fratboy Hijinx. The original statue disappeared, but several replicas have been made and a more formal pedestal statue of it was also erected on campus. A stylized version of the qilin is used in the school's logo, and its sports teams use the nickname Boxers in honor of the statue.