|Primary Power||Elemental manipulation |
|Notable Members||Kushihara |
"In the mountain recesses, there are those called nekomata, and people say that they eat humans..."
Nekomata (猫又, lit. "Again Cat") are ancient and powerful cat yōkai originally from the Animal Realm who migrate to either the Human World or Soul Society in order to feast on the Souls residing there. Typically, they distance themselves from other beings and live in remote mountain ranges, although a few have been known to assume human form and interact with civilization.
The Nekomata are cat-like creatures who vary in size and form. Typically, they are much larger than a typical domesticated cat, and can take the form of lions, leopoards, or other large felines. Their coloring can vary as well, including spots and stripes, although most have black fur. The most powerful Nekomata have split tails, which signifies the full maturation of their spiritual abilities. Nekomata are often confused with Bakeneko, as the difference between their appearance and characteristics is slight. However, Nakomata can assume and maintain human form for much longer and much more perfectly than the Bakeneko, which they often do to lure unsuspecting souls to their death. Oftentimes, however, the Nekomata chooses to retain "cat-like" features, such as slit irises or long whiskers instead of a mustache, when shapeshifting.
The Nekomata usually reside far away from civilization, such as within mountain recesses. In the human world, the Nekomata are said to kill and eat humans, shapeshifting in order to fool their prey. A Nekomata's bloodlust is often tempered with a curiosity in human affairs. While solitary and territorial, they are often interested in human emotion and invention. As such, some Nekomata have assumed human form permanently, as they are more content to live with humans than alone. Typically, they shift into the form of a beautiful man or woman in order to seduce their human target, at which point they suck the human's reiryoku. Some rumors in Japan state that the most prominant and most famous Geisha were actually Nekomata who chose to repeatedly feed off of their prey as opposed to killing them at once. Other Nekomata are canabilistic, as they can obtain great power by killing and feeding off of a member of their own species. Thus, the Nekomata live as far apart from each other as possible, and some rumors even state they only mate once every hundred years. As a result, natural-born Nekomata are rare, although there is a more abundant number of half-human specimens, which are known as Bakeneko.
- Bakeneko (化け猫, "changed cat"): Similar to the Nekomata, the Bakeneko are a type of cat-like half yōkai. Bakeneko are born from the union of a Nekomata and a human soul, and while they can shapeshift and are long-lived, their powers are imperfect and their human apperance may be permanently affected by their feline nature.
- Kasha: A yōkai that would assume the form of a cat in order to carry off corpses in the human world.
Similar to the Komumura Clan, it is likely that the Nekomata were originally powerful human Souls residing in the Soul Society who, in order to gain immortality, gave up their human natures entirely. However, unlike the Komumura, none of the Nekomata seem to remember the time in which they were human, and in fact see themselves as a seperate and superior species. As such, they typically despise the common souls of the Rukongai and Human World, seeing them as nothing more than a potential mean or diversion and rarely interacting with them otherwise.
At some point, the one of the Noble Houses contacted Gakyō, a powerful Nekomata, in order to entrust him with one of their sacred tools. Another Nekomata, Kushira, has knowledge of this event, which she told to Yoruichi Shihōin. It is unknown how Yoruichi gained knowledge of the Nekomata, as they are both ancient, rare, and largely unknown to the Shinigami. It is suspected that the Shihōin once had some kind of interaction with the Nekomata, and darker rumors state they used members of the Feng family as sacrifices to appease the monstrous beings.
Powers and Abilities
The Nekomata are often associated with death. Beyond their obvious powers of shapeshifting and immortality, the Nekomata have the power of necromancy. They are able to raise the dead in the human world and animate their corpses with macabre puppetry, and in the Soul Society they can conjure the remnant reishi of a spiritual being's corpse in order to "reanimate" the spiritual particles or use them as a pattern before shapeshifting into the image of the deceased. It is unknown why they might do this, although possible reasons of revenge and power over an individual related to the deceased have been suggested. The Nekomata are also associated with elemental powers, as they are able to conjure flames or lightning, for example.
However, the most powerful ability of the Nekomata is their immortality. Because of their connection to the Animal Realm, it is extremely difficult to kill a Nekomata whose tail has split (signifying the maturation of their spiritual powers). Should a Nekomata be killed, they will simply reemerge in the Animal Realm and, from there, eventually crossover into whichever realm they have made their realm, often with a vengeance. The fact that they are caught in a loop within the the cycle of souls is considered to be a curse, but in reality it offers several perks. The Nekomata may impart this "curse" on another soul, with the drawback of the soul losing a piece of their humanity with each incarnation.
- Kushihara: A powerful, ancient, and particularly capricious Nekomata who lives deep in the mountains of the South Rukongai. She allegedly has some connection to Yoruichi Shihōin, and it is possible that Yoruichi learned to master her "cat form" from Kushihara. Kushihara also takes pride in her seductive abilities, and would have lured Yanosuke Shihōin, who was inexperienced and unsuspecting, to his death had it not been for Yoruichi's intervention.
- Gakyō: An old cat who resides at a monastary located in the mountains of the South Rukongai, Gakyō is rumored to have stolen a sacred treasure from one of the Noble Houses. In reality, he was entrusted with the Ōgyohōtsurugi (大御封剣, August Binding Sword) for safe keeping, which he gives to Yanosuke Shihōin.
- Nekomata can be written three different ways. 猫また, the most ancient form, combines the kanji for cat (猫, neko) with the hiragana form of mata, which has no inherent meaning. A later version uses 股 for mata, meaning "forked" (referring to their tails). The most common variation uses 又 for mata, meaning "again," which either stands for the split tails or the second life of a cat as a nekomata, thus the term “again cat.”
- In the Hyakkai Zukan, an artbook published in 1737, there is a depiction of a nekomata who appears as a human female playing a shamisen. Since shamisen were frequently made by using the skins of cats, the image is interpreted as sadly ironic. Furthermore, it is thought the fact that the cat is wearing geisha clothing relates to the fact that geisha were once called "cats (neko)."