A Bakeneko (化け猫, "monster cat") is, in Japanese folklore, a cat with supernatural abilities akin the kitsune or tanuki. There are legends about bakeneko everywhere in Japan, and the story of the bakeneko of Sagahan is especially famous.
A cat may become a bakeneko in a number of ways: it may reach a certain age, be kept for a certain number of years, grow to a certain size, belong to a deceased person or be allowed to keep a long tail. This superstition may have some connection to the breeding of the Japanese Bobtail. A cat might also become a bakeneko in order to aid a human to whom it owed a favor.
A bakeneko might resemble an ordinary cat, except walking about on two feet. It could also take the form of a human, and sometimes it was said to have three or seven tails. When the tail forks in two, the bakeneko is then called a nekomata (猫又, 猫叉, or 猫股 "forked cat").
It is often confused with the nekomata, and the distinction between the two is vague. A cat that had already become a nekomata might become a bakeneko after living a bit longer, but sometimes this order of transformation was reversed.
A bakeneko will haunt any household it is kept in, creating ghostly fireballs, menacing sleepers, walking on its hind legs, changing its shape into that of a human, and even devouring its own mistress in order to shapeshift and take her place. It also poses a danger if allowed into a room with a fresh corpse; a cat is believed to be capable of reanimating a body by jumping over it. The bakeneko is often imagined licking the oil out of lamps, and as lamp oil used to be made from fish, this may have been based on actual feline behavior.
A famous bake-neko story involves a man named Takasu Genbei, whose pet cat of many years went missing just as his mother's personality changed completely. The woman shunned company and took her meals alone in her room, and when the curious family peered in on her, they saw not a human being but a feline monster in the old lady's clothes, chewing on animal carcasses. Takasu, with much reluctance, slew what looked like his mother, and after a day had passed the body turned back into the same pet cat that had gone missing. After that Takasu miserably tore up the tatami mats and the floorboards in his mother's room, only to find the old woman's bones hidden there, gnawed clean of flesh.
Japanese popular culture contains a large number of two-tailed cat characters based on the nekomata. Some of these include:
- In the anime series Ayakashi(3rd arc) and Mononoke (last arc)
- Kirara, the pet of Sango in InuYasha.
- In the manga Shaman King, Hao Asakura's spirit ally from 1,000 years ago is a nekomata named Matamune.
- In the manga/anime series Hyper Police the character Natsuki Sasahara is half-human/half-nekomata.
- In the anime Inukami!, the character Tomekichi is a benevolent nekomata who honors an obligation to a deceased priest who once took care of him.
- In the Pokemon game series, the psychic pokemon Espeon is a lavender cat-like creature with a forked tail.
- In the video game Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Raidou Kuzunoha vs. The Soulless Army, the Skill Nekomata is an agile, human-like cat sporting a long tail.
- In the video game Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne Beast Nekomata appear as recruitable allies in Ginza and Ikebukuro.
- In the video game Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3, Nekomata is one of the main Protagonist's summonable Personas.
- The character Yurine in the animation Karas appears as both a human and a white cat with a forked-tail.
- In the series Claymore, Luciela, the abyssal one of the South, has an awakened form resembling a two-tailed cat demon.
- In the video game Battlefield 2142, the PAC (Pan Asian Coalition) has a futuristic hover tank named the Type 32 Nekomata.
- In Ninja Sentai Kakuranger there is a Yokai called Bakeneko.
- In the video games Disgaea: Hour of Darkness and Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories, the player has the ability to create nekomata characters.
- The Bakeneko was featured in episode 10, 11, and 12 of the series Mononoke.
- Chen, from Touhou Project, is a nekomata shikigami.
- In the Miyazaki film, My neighbor, Totoro, an unnamed character appears as a catbus. Bake neko are mentioned in several Studio Ghibli films.
- In the games Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance, and Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn there is a tribe men and women who have feline ears and tails as well as the ability to transform into large cats for combat purposes.(Lyre, Lethe, and Ranulf.)
- In the series Naruto the two-tailed bijuu has the appearance of a giant nekomata when fully materialized.
- An artist by the name Nekomata Master is present in multiple Konami related video games, especially in the BEMANI series.
- The cats from Studio Ghibli's movie The Cat Returns may be based partially on Bakenekos since they walk on two legs.