What Inspired the Creepy Mask of Dark New Anime Tribe Nine’s Mysterious Villain?

There's not long to wait until the January 10 premiere of Tribe Nine, the next anime from Too Kyo Games. The story concerns a dystopian world in which gangs have no choice but to solve their differences by playing a brutal futuristic sport called "Extreme Baseball." Funimation's official YouTube channel released an English-subtitled trailer for the series on December 13, which ends with an ominous teaser featuring the series' most mysterious character, Otori Ojiro.

Otori Tenshin, a character pictured sitting on a throne on the official Tribe Nine website, imbues a prophecy on the younger man, who may be his son: "Ojiro, you shall rule over all the tribes of Neo Tokyo." Otori Ojiro responds: "Of course. I intend to." Otori Ojiro opens his eyes, revealing that they have the same red, sinewy texture as those of the older Otori. However, the younger Otori's most striking feature is his jaw mask, which displays a fearsome set of metallic teeth.

The conspicuous artificial teeth on Otori's mask give it a similar appearance to that of Kaneki Ken of Tokyo Ghoul. Kaneki wears his mask because he leads a double life as a ghoul. If Otori is indeed the son of the King-like Otori Tenshin, perhaps he wears his mask when acting in an official capacity, making him relatively discreet when infiltrating various tribes without it -- or at least it would if not for his notable red eyes.

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The mask's clearest real-life inspiration is Menpō masks worn by historical samurai. These half-masks protected samurai's jaws as well as supported their helmets. Some have suggested that the striking design of Menpō masks may have served an additional purpose of intimidating opponents in battle. Otori's mask is at least as intimidating as many Menpō masks, presenting a terrifying visage of an uncannily broad rictus smile, sharp chin and jagged jaw. It's possible that Otori may have chosen the design of his mask to unnerve his own Extreme Baseball opponents.

As well as using them in battle, Japan has a rich history of crafting masks for the purposes of theater and art. It is oddly appropriate then that a Tribe Nine character would wear an ornate mask, given that the story concerns the combination of sports and combat.

Otori's mask differs from the majority of Menpō masks in terms of how artificial it looks. Many of these beautiful, evocative real-life Menpō masks have smooth, naturalistic features. Some even have hairy mustaches where the wearer's lips would be. In this way, Otori's mask resembles a creepy cyberpunk evolution of the Menpō mask, creating a sharp contrast between the mysterious futuristic character and the historic potential origins of his appearance.

Otori's mask also resembles a skull with its light color and exposed teeth. In many cultures, skulls symbolically represent death. This would be appropriate for Otori if he is indeed a villain, but what if the character is not what he appears? Series creator Kodaka Kazutaka is familiar with characters who are more or less evil than they initially appear, as evidenced by the DanganRonpa series, which he also created. Otori's conversation with Otori Tenshin makes the audience think of an evil plot to take over a city, but if Otori Ojiro's motives are more nuanced, his terrifying mask could be an ironic or misleading symbol.

Shinguji Korekiyo is a DanganRonpa character who wears a face mask with a zip, and its purpose concerns a disturbing secret about his identity. Perhaps Kodaka and character designer Komatsuzaki Rui are once again introducing a character whose mask hides an unexpected facet of their personality.

It's possible that ancient Menpō masks inspired the appearance and style of Otori's scowling mask, but other anime and games have also shaped the popularity of often creepy masked figures. The purpose of Otori's mask could be to manipulate his recognizability as the son of a powerful leader, or it could provide protection like the mask of a samurai. Otori's world is fraught with violence and political turmoil, both of which he seems poised to take advantage of in his quest for power. At the very least, he is prepared for the outbreak of an airborne pandemic.

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