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Tanuki/Kitsune Contrast

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Ace: I can't believe you tricked me too.
Keiwa: Foxes aren't the only tricksters. Tanukis can do it when they need to.

In Japanese folklore, the Tanuki (or raccoon dog) and kitsune are perhaps the two most recognizable members of the henge, a subset of Youkai consisting of supernatural, Shapeshifting Trickster animals with human intelligence.

On one side, you have strange, stout creatures resembling fat raccoons who go about with their gigantic nads on full display, known as pranksters who like to trick humans in ways such as paying them with leaves disguised as money, or transforming themselves into wine bottles that roll away from people whenever they try to grab it. On the other, you have mystical, elegant, squinty-eyed foxes who infiltrate human society, bewitch humans, and even bring down entire kingdoms with illusions and deceit, often with a penchant for transforming into gorgeous women to seduce men and young boys.

These two critters are often portrayed in Japanese culture as rivals and foils to each other in various ways, sharing much in common yet being different from each other at the same time. In many cases, they will have a Slobs vs. Snobs relationship where the Tanuki serves as the "Slob" of the dynamic, generally being the simpler, humbler, jollier, and good-hearted one who plays petty pranks just because it's funny; the Kitsune in turn tends to be play the role of the "Snob", being much more graceful, prideful, and dignified, but also more cunning and ambitious if not outright malevolent, meddling with humans in ways that can change the course of their lives. If either one is portrayed as evil, the Tanuki usually gets the sympathetic end of the stick (e.g. being a Guile Hero and a Lovable Rogue compared to the Kitsune being a Magnificent Bastard), but the opposite is not unknown (e.g. a Tanuki pulling cruel pranks For the Evulz vs. a Kitsune with Undying Loyalty).

Tales where the two creatures come into conflict are known as Kori no Tatakai (roughly "Tanuki/Kitsune Battle", with kori referring to both youkai), in which the Tanuki and Kitsune pit their abilities against each other in supernatural showdowns. Ability-wise, the Kitsune will easily beat the Tanuki in terms of raw power, but the Tanuki will be far more capable and creative when it comes to trickery and disguises, summarized by the famous expression "the fox has seven disguises, but the tanuki has eight". In most of these stories, the Tanuki's knack for mischief enables it to outwit the Kitsune and emerge victorious.

The duo are also employed as an Animal Motif through the use of certain facial features (or a more general Fat and Skinny dynamic), with people being either "tanuki-faced" (square/round) or "kitsune-faced" (inverted triangle/heart-shaped). Naturally, "foxy" features tend to be more popular, and you can expect the fox to be the Veronica whenever the two appear as a Betty and Veronica pair.

Whether or not the work pits both henge against each other or showcase their contrasting traits, you can still expect them to be paired with each other; even if one of them shows up by themselves, the other likely won't be too far behind.

Dogs can also be added to upgrade the duo to a trio, with both henge fearing man's best friend for their ability to see through disguises. The ouija-like game kokkuri is written with the characters fox-dog-tanuki, though in this case the "dog" may be a reference to Tengu.

See also Tiger Versus Dragon, Japanese Beetle Brothers and Dog Stereotype. Sub-Trope of Elves vs. Dwarves.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • BNA: Brand New Animal: As main character Michiru is a raccoon dog beastman with the ability to shapeshift much like the mythical Tanuki, it should come as no surprise that her old friend Nazuna is revealed to be a fox beastman herself reminiscent of a Kitsune. Both are initially set up as rivals in typical Tanuki/Kitsune jingoism — with many foil hallmarks such as sharing a Tomboy and Girly Girl / Slobs vs. Snobs dynamic (Michiru is an tomboyish, friendly and impulsive Passionate Sports Girl; Nazuna is a prideful, more feminine-looking girl with longer hair and pink fur who aspires to be an Idol Singer) along with a difference in power (Michiru has more numerous, but uncontrollable transformations; Nazuna has flashier ones with a finer degree of control over them) — but ultimately rekindle their friendship and trust.
  • No actual tanuki or kitsunes are in The Case Files of Jeweler Richard, but Jeffrey and his boyfriend, Joachim, are compared to this by narrator Seigi.
  • This is the basic premise of The Fox & Little Tanuki, which is about a kitsune named Senzou who must raise a tanuki pup named Manpachi to become a servant of the gods, in order to atone for his past transgressions. Senzou is a grumpy, antisocial Jerkass while Manpachi is a sweet, kind and helpful Cheerful Child, so naturally they take a while to warm up to each other and doing so is a major catalyst for their Character Development. There is also the "dog" component of the trope in the form of a pack of divine wolves who keep tabs on the two, and often have to step in to help them if either gets into trouble.
  • The Helpful Fox Senko-san contains the Show Within a Show "Little Yoko: Inari Girl", focusing on a kitsune girl who clashes with Don Tanukiman. Little Yoko is more humanlike and a carefree spirit who helps protect humanity, whereas Tanukiman is more animalistic, self-centered, and mean-spirited. In the show's season finale, Tanukiman is distraught when Little Yoko seemingly sacrifices herself to save the earth, suggesting there's more to their dynamic than mere rivalry.
  • Inuyasha: Shippou — a young fox youkai — tends to be frequently mistaken for a tanuki, something which riles him up without fail. (Miroku's friend Hachi actually is a tanuki, though he and Shippou don't interact significantly.)
  • In Kemono Jihen, the tanuki are good-natured Kemono who seek to live undisturbed by humanity, secluding themselves in a temple hidden by their illusions and only coming out in human disguises to mediate conflicts and maintain the Masquerade. In contrast, the kitsune faction — led by Inari — are sociopathic, power-hungry Kemono who seek to take over the entirety of Japan, and will commit mass slaughter against their fellow kemono as well as humans in the name of this goal. This also manifests in the relationship between Inari and Inugami the bake-tanuki, who were once partners who worked together to preserve The Masquerade despite hating each other's guts.
  • Kitsune no Yomeiri: Both Tanuki and Kitsune are uncontrollable pranksters who share a relatively friendly rivalry, having regular competitions to see who can prank the most humans in a single day. During the series Kyouka, the White Fox Princess of the Kitsune, and her Tanuki rival Kanon are chosen to compete in that year's competition.
  • Matoi the Sacred Slayer: Yuma has two spirit partners rather than one, allowing her to switch between an offense-oriented kitsune form — provided by the female Kuu, a Tomboy with a Girly Streak — and a defense/utility-based tanuki form —provided by the male Kai, a nervous Cowardly Lion.
  • Naruto:
    • Shukaku, a tanuki and the One-Tailed Beast, holds a bitter grudge against Kurama, a kitsune and the Nine-Tailed Beast. This was due to the arrogant Kurama viewing himself as the strongest of the Tailed Beasts because he had the most tails, while seeing Shukaku as the weakest because he only had one, something which Shukaku doesn't take kindly to.
    • This trope extends to Kurama and Shukaku's respective hosts, the titular Naruto and his Evil Counterpart Gaara before the time skip. While Naruto is indeed more powerful thanks to having the Nine-Tailed Beast sealed within, he can't tap into Kurama's power without risking physical injuries or going berserk. Gaara, however, is able to physically transform into his Tailed Beast form (thus unleashing its full power) long before Naruto can do the same, and can do so without any of the aforementioned risks.
  • Pom Poko: While tanuki and kitsune actually get along just fine in this example, they are shown to be complete opposites in terms of demeanor and methods of dealing with the current situation of their forests being torn down. The numerous tanuki are simple country mice who actively resist ever-encroaching human influence in an attempt to save their home. The kitsune, in contrast, are much fewer in numbers and have gone into hiding, but are also more willing to adapt and blend in with human society in the big city, with one of their members having already successfully risen through the ranks of the social ladder and gotten filthy rich as a result.
  • Rurouni Kenshin casts the homely, Hot-Blooded Action Girl Kaoru as the "tanuki" against the tall, dark quasi-Femme Fatale Megumi's "kitsune", in a Betty and Veronica setup. At one point, Watsuki has their respective battle-auras manifesting as said creatures.
  • Shaman King: Ponchi & Conchi are a tanuki/kitsune duo who serve as Tamao Tamamura's familiars and Bumbling Sidekicks, as well as being Captain Ersatzes of Ren & Stimpy respectively. Yoh's father, Mikihisa Asakura, also has a tanuki/kitsune pair as his familiars too.

    Comic Books 

    Live-Action TV 
  • The main characters of Kamen Rider Geats are kitsune-themed and tanuki-themed heroes, Kamen Riders Geats and Tycoon, respectively. Both are rivals competing in the "Desire Grand Prix". From the first episode, Geats is showy, flashy, and very much The Ace, while Tycoon is a naïve Wide-Eyed Idealist who has no real ambition.

    Mythology & Religion 
  • Danzaburou, a famous tanuki passed down in stories and folklore on Sado, Japan, is said to be reason there are no foxes there, having driven them out of the territory.
    • In one legend, Danzaburou met a kitsune who asked to take him to Sado. The former agrees, but on the condition that the kitsune shapeshift into sandals for him to wear. The kitsune complies, but as they traveled to Sado by boat, Danzaburou proceeds to take of his sandals in the middle of the sea and toss them out into the water. No kitsune has ever tried getting into Sado after that.
    • In another story, Danzaburou came across a boastful kitsune who bragged on about his shapeshifting abilities, so the former claims to the latter that he can turn into an entire feudal lord's procession before disappearing. Sure enough, the procession promptly arrives, so the kitsune hops on the feudal lord's basket under the impression it's all part of Danzaburou's illusion... but it wasn't, and the kitsune is immediately captured and executed for his trouble.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons: Fox and raccoon dog have been playable subraces of the obake-based "Hengeyokai" race since it debuted in the "Oriental Adventures" sourcebook for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st Edition, with very marked differences. Fox hengeyokai were characterized as Ditzy Genius types, with a +1 bonus to Intelligence but a -1 malus to Wisdom. Racoon dog hengeyokai, in comparison, were Dumb Muscle, with a +2 bonus to Strength and a -2 malus to Wisdom. Both were presented as being restricted to all three Evil alignments (Lawful/Neutral/Chaotic). In Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition, they lost the alignment restriction and were both ditzy (-2 Wisdom), but kitsune were graceful (+2 Dexterity) and tanuki were strong (+2 Strength). Finally, in Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition, they were rewritten drastically in terms of basic abilities to be largely identical — fox hengeyokai are faster, but raccoon dog hengeyokai are able to climb.
  • Golden Sky Stories: Both fox and raccoon dog henge are playable character classes with their own powers and personality traits. Notably, foxes tend to be more dignified and archaic (due to their age, and they're in some ways closer to minor kami than henge), with most of their tricks involving seduction or faux-divine visitations. Racoon dogs, however, are much more mischievous and straightfoward in their antics; they're likely as not to break into your pantry, eat all the food, then transform into a teapot when you come looking.

    Video Games 
  • Animal Crossing: Tom Nook and Crazy Redd are a tanuki and a fox respectively who compete for furniture sales, with the former running an ordinary store and at least trying to earn profits honestly, while the latter runs a shady black market, making a quick buck by swindling his customers. In New Leaf, Redd is implied to have been Nook's business partner in the past prior to their current animosity.
  • Jitsu Squad has a heroic tanuki named Hero, and Hero's Arch-Enemy, Dash Kobayashi, who's an albino fox loosely resembling a Kitsune. The latter serves as The Dragon of the game's main villain, but Hero's personal beef is towards Dash for wiping out his home village and killing Hero's father.
  • Kirby's Dream Land 3: Pon & Con serve as the Dual Boss of Sand Canyon area, consisting of a tanuki/raccoon and a kitsune/fox respectively. They reappear in Kirby Star Allies, along with stronger metallic versions of them called Goldon and Silvox.
  • Samurai Warriors: In the second game, Tokugawa Ieyasu has the tanuki as his Animal Motif, having an appropiately chubby physique; his biggest rival Ishida Mitsunari is most associated with the kitsune, and is younger, thinner, and prettier than Ieyasu. Both have a Red Oni, Blue Oni relationship, with Ishida being the Red to Ieyasu's Blue, and both even literally have red and blue as their respective outfit colors.
  • Sly Cooper and his nemesis/love interest Carmelita Fox are a western variation of this— Sly is a free-spirited raccoon thief and Carmelita is a professional and dedicated fox police officer.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog: In Sonic Rush Adventure, Tails the Fox gets his own Distaff Counterpart in the form of Marine the Raccoon, the latter resembling a Tanuki in appearance and serving as Blaze's Mission Control in the same way the former is to Sonic.
  • The first Splatoon is set in Inkopolis Plaza, which features two statues of tanuki and kitsune located right across from one another, and are decorated in Callie and Marie's team colors during Splatfest celebrations. This trope eventually played into the second Japanese Splatfest, whose theme was "Red Fox vs. Green Tanuki" in reference to the real-life Maruchan series of cup noodles of the name respective name (see the Real Life folder below).
  • Super Mario 3D Land: The Super Leaf makes its return since Super Mario Bros. 3, once again granting Mario a raccoon suit that lets him slow his fall. If Luigi picks a Super Leaf, he instead gets a fox suit unlike his brother, in reference to this trope; as Mario and Luigi are a Fat and Skinny duo, this is quite fitting.
  • The requisite Touhou Project example would be Ran Yakumo, the resident kitsune of the series, and Mamizou Futatsuiwa, a tanuki introduced later on who tends to get into mischief. Not surprisingly, the two don't like each other at all, and Mamizou (who's based on Danzaburou-danuki) is even stated to have driven the entire fox population away from her native island of Sado.

  • In some parts of Japan, there are particular variants of udon and soba dishes known "Kitsune udon/soba" and "Tanuki udon/soba". Usually, Kitsune udon is topped with a solid piece of aburaage (fried tofu), which is said to be foxes' Trademark Favorite Food. Tanuki udon is topped with fried drops of batter or sliced fried tofu, and likely got its name either because the fried batter's darker color is reminiscent of tanuki fur, or because batter with nothing inside evokes its style of trickery.
    • These noodle dishes are also is the reason why Maruchan's "Akai no Kitsune" and "Midori no Tanuki" (The Red Kitsune and The Green Tanuki, respectively) brand instant soba/udon exists. It even got a collaboration ad campaign with the aforementioned Kamen Rider Geats due to the brand's colors even matching Geats and Tycoon for their respective noodles, with Geats representing Akai no Kitsune and Tycoon doing the same for Midori no Tanuki.
  • For the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and Paralympic Games, the Tokyo Organizing Committee had schoolkids vote between three potential pairs of mascots, including a Kitsune/Tanuki duo (with the Kitsune being the Olympic mascot and the Tanuki representing the Paralympics). Ultimately, they lost out to a pair of Cartoon Creatures with checkerboard patterns.