There’s a good chance you’re definitely familiar with ‘Onyankopon’ (Onyame-a god; Koro–one; Pon–great; meaning the only great god, besides whom no other is as great). This is the Akan language equivalent of ‘God’ with a capital G—the religiously neutral designation for an almighty being. What about a Ghanaian ‘sky god’? You’d be forgiven if the reference seems unusual to you, as this is by no means a popular term; not even in traditional language circles.
Mythologically speaking, however, ‘Onyankopon’, has been referred to as a ‘sky god’ by the Oxford Dictionary of World Mythology (this is in accord with the many sky deities littered throughout the folks legends of various ethnic groups) as it recounts the popular Akan folktale where, once upon a time, “the sky god Onyankopon lived very near to men [and] was obliged to remove his abode to the top of the sky because a certain old woman used to knock her long pestle against him when she pounded yams” and so on and so forth.
It is this folkloric ‘Onyankopon’ that had evidently inspired a new Japanese anime (of all things to inspire) of the same name. The plot thickens hereafter.
As I browsed through my favourite go-to anime site for my weekly anime fix, you can imagine my surprise when I saw ‘Onyankopon’ sharing a spot in a list of Japanese titles. Naturally, I got curious (maybe a little too excited).
The synopsis read: “Onyankopon watched over people long ago, but one day an old woman accidentally hit Onyankopon in the head with a mallet while mashing yams. Since then, Onyankopon has been nervous about greeting people directly, and so sends subordinates to speak to them and solve their problems. He will use Afrobeat and dance to help Japanese high school girls with problems such as dieting, love, and cramming for exams.”
Definitely not what I expected (I am a Naruto fan).
From the synopsis, the Akan folktale inspiration was glaring and interesting and all, but the “high school girls” drama and dance plot twist was just not for me. Still, I was intrigued. This was an anime called Onyankopon after all so, needless to say, it had my attention.
In a slightly variant synopsis of ‘Onyankopon’, one site began the rundown with the caption “I dance, therefore I am”—a clever reformulation of Rene Descartes’ famous Cogito ergo sum, I think, therefore I am—to, apparently, highlight the importance of the music and dance element of the show. So, ‘Onyankopon’ has aptly been classified as a “dance” anime.
Still fascinated by the entire deal with ‘Onyankopon’ and dancing, I went beyond reading about it to actually viewing the thing for myself, at which point, I began to wonder why the trouble to designate the main character as a sky deity, specifically Onyankopon of all names, rather than just some original dance deity of Japanese nomenclature.
I may never know. But that’s the intrigue, isn’t it? For a Ghanaian tale by the fireside to have long hands to reach the orients and inspire the most unlikely anime genre imaginable to bear the name ‘Onyankopon’ is truly curious.
And yes, the “high school girls” thing was all too true. More so, Onyankopon-sama (sama is a Japanese honorific suffix to show reverence), the sky god himself—itself? herself?—is depicted as (spoiler alert) a cat—ladies and gentlemen—a cat, and voiced by a woman. Her angelic subordinates follow suit in the depictions from the animal kingdom.
But hey, you don’t have to take my word for it. You can catch the first episode here and, perhaps, you may agree with one of the comments that read:
“Weird, but cute.”
WRITER: Richard Yaw Baafi