For the first of a new series of articles, I’m going to be looking at something that’s interested me for a while, but that you don’t really hear much about. Yu-Gi-Oh! has thousands of cards and draws inspiration from a variety of sources, including the real world, works of literary fiction, Konami’s own properties and ancient myths to name but a few. Some of these are more obvious, such as the Noble Knights being based on Arthurian legend, or the many types of Dragons and other mythological monsters that inhabit the game. Many are less obvious or people simply aren’t aware that the cards are even based on anything. For example many people probably realise that all the spaceship and Core cards are based on Konami’s famous Gradius game, but how many realise that Getsu Fuhma is the protagonist of an old Konami game?
One recent example is the Mermail, which I’m sure people are aware of being Mermaids, and might realise some of the fish connections, but they probably don’t realise the full background of the cards. This is the first theme I’m going to be covering, looking at the inspiration behind the card names, and whether this has an resemblance or bearing on the cards themselves. Since the Mermail themselves can be subdivided into different categories, I will cover these one at a time.
Female Mermail and the Rhinemaidens
In Abyss Rising we were introduced to a trio of female Mermail Monsters, Abysslinde, Abyssgunde and Abysshilde, who all draw their names from the Rhinemaids in Der Ring des Nibelungen, or the Ring of the Nibelungs. The three Rhinemaids are Woglinde, Wellgunde, and Flosshilde, and you may notice that the Mermail all happen to share the same name ending. The Rhinemaids themselves are water-nymphs, although they have been portrayed as mermaids in some productions of the opera. As such, it’s not too much of a stretch that their Yu-Gi-Oh! counterparts would also be mermaids.
Whilst some factors in the Mermail design are drawn from their inspiration, they are still distinctly different. The Rhinemaidens act as a more or less a single entity, whereas each of the Mermail are clearly their own being. They might be linked through similarities in effects, but their art design shows a clear differentiation in terms of age and appearance. The Rhinemaidens are meant to be innocent, yet seductive and you could say this is reflected in the artwork used for the Yu-Gi-Oh! cards, although I would argue that Abyssgunde and Abysshilde more lie on the former end, with Abysslinde the latter. Although then again there are people into the younger end of the spectrum when it comes to anime styled art. Even though the original Rhinemaidens are meant to act as a unity, there is an implied seniority in Flosshilde, this is however not reflected in the Mermail. Abysshilde is the youngest of the three, with Abysslinde taking the role of seniority. I cannot say whether this was something taken into account during the creative processes for the cards though.
Finally, there is the support card Abyss-squall, which features all three of these Mermail, surrounding a glowing golden ring. One can only assume this is meant to be a reference to the Ring of the Nibelung, and when they receive the ring at the end of the opera.
Mermail and Fish
Many of the Mermail draw their inspiration from fish, and this can be seen most notably in the male Mermail from Abyss Rising, such as Abysspike and Abyssturge. However later female Mermail also appear to draw inspiration from fish, possibly because they used up all the Rhinemaidens with the first trio.
Up first we have Abyssturge, who is based on the Sturgeon. The Sturgeon is one of the oldest families of bony fish, and is distinctive due to the fact it is partially covered in bony plates, rather than scales. You can see there are features of Abyssturge’s art that are clearly inspired by the fish he’s based on. The helmet he wears bears a resemblance to the head region of a Sturgeon. He also has bony plates running down his back, similar to those down the back of a Sturgeon. One notable difference is the fact that a Sturgeon is mostly a freshwater fish, with very few species that venture into the deep ocean, whilst Abyssturge looks to dwell in this region.
Our next Mermail is Abysspike, who takes his name from the Pike. Pike is the common name for the Esox genus, and is a shortening of Pike-fish, in reference to its elongated face. This can be seen in the exaggerated helmet Abysspike wears. The patterning on the fish portion of Abysspike is also similar to that seen on a Pike. I’m a little surprised that he focuses on hand to hand combat, rather than using a pike, but that might have been going a bit over the top on the references. There is the same issue as Abyssturge, in that they’ve based him on a freshwater fish, when he’s clearly an ocean dweller.
The last of the original male trio is Abysslung, who is based on the Lungfish, neither of which are the prettiest things in the world. Once again the Lungfish is a fresh water fish, but it does have the unusual ability to breath air, and shares some other characteristics with ancient fish. In this case, as well as the helmet Abysslung is wearing, I feel that his arm shields also bear similarities to the head region of the Lungfish. The larger build of the Lungfish also seems to be reflected in the heavier build of Abysslung when compared to the other Mermails.
Cosmo Blazer gave us a new male Mermail, Abyssnose, who seems to be based on the Peters’ Elephantnose Fish. The Elephantnose Fish is a native of West and Central Africa that prefers muddy, slow moving rivers. Its most striking feature is its elongated ‘nose’, which is actually just an extension of its mouth. It can be used for tasks such as self-defense or communication. The mask of Abyssnose features a longer central section which covers the centre of his face, similar in appearance to that of the Elephantnose’s mouth. Another interesting feature of the Elephantnose that has been expanded upon with the Mermail, is its use of a weak electric field. Since the Elephantnose has poor eyesight, it instead uses a weak electric field to find food and navigate. Abyssnose on the other hand uses his electric field as a weapon, shocking other fish like you see in the bottom right hand corner.
Abyssdine is our first female Mermail that doesn’t fit into the Rhinemaidens, and instead draws inspiration from a fish. Well this isn’t strictly true, since the Sea Angel is actually a type of sea slug, but its close enough. As you can see Abyssdine shares many aesthetic similarities to the Sea Angel, including the red tipped translucent tail section, the glowing orange interior and the wing like appendages. In addition her associated Trap card, Abyss-scorn shows her attacking with her tentacles, in a similar manner to how the Sea Angel attacks its prey. For the Mermail they opted for a female monster, possibly due to the perception that a Sea Angel has more feminine features, despite being an Hermaphrodite. On the plus side we do finally have a Mermail that’s actually based on an ocean dwelling species.
Even though its clear she derives her appearance from the Sea Angel, her name is likely derived from Undine, a water nymph. This should already be familiar to people who play Mermails. Although the Undine of mythology is not a robot like you get in Yu-Gi-Oh!
Oceabyss is currently the only Mermail we don’t have in the TCG, and derives her name from Exocoetidae, the family name for the Flying Fish. It’s likely her TCG name won’t be exactly this, but I’m not going to hazard a guess as to what that might be. The links between the two are fairly obvious, since Oceabyss has 2 pairs of wings, one large and one small, just like the real Flying Fish. She has also taken to the skies, rather than being just restricted to the seas like her real life counterpart. A Flying Fish doesn’t truly fly though, merely able to leap from the water and then glide on its wing-like fins. This is used to evade predators, but it looks like Oceabyss is more doing this to show off.
Mermail and Amphibians
A very small category of Mermail are those based on Amphibians, which currently only contains one member.
Abyssmander is based on the Salamander, a species of amphibian that can live on both land and in the sea. They have the unusual ability among vertebrates that they can regenerate lost limbs, but this doesn’t seem to be reflected in the card itself. Their living habits can vary based on which species the Salamander is, with some living fully aquatic lives, others splitting their time between the land and sea, and others just sticking to the land in their adult lives. Abyssmander looks to be one of those that spends the majority of his life living in the oceans, although you can still make out his lower legs, suggesting he might be able to walk on land if he wanted. Abyssmander is bulkier and less muscular than the rest of the Mermails, which might be a reflection of the appearance of some Salamanders.
Mermail and Extinct Fish
The most powerful group of the regular Mermails all take the form of giant fish men, rather than mermen or mermaids like the smaller ones do. They also all draw inspiration from species of large, long dead fish, rather than modern dwellers of the sea.
Abyssmegalo is based on the Megalodon, a species of giant shark, and one of the largest predators in vertebrate history. This is fairly fitting with his aggressive ability to attack twice. The Megalodon was a truly massive species of shark, possibly capable of growing to 20m, and with teeth that dwarfed those of modern species like the Great White. Beyond the fact Abyssmegalo has a shark-like face, I don’t feel the rest of him looks particularly shark-like, but this might be due to the fact he’s been anthropomorphised. He jaws don’t look quite as deadly as his real life inspiration, but its hard to judge his actual size relative to the other Mermails based on this card alone.
Abyssleed is based on the Leedsichthys, another truly massive ancient fish. Whilst probably not as big as a Megalodon, they could possibly reach up to 16m, with most being estimated to reach 10m. Unlike the Megalodon it doesn’t seem to have been an aggressive predator though, instead just extracting zooplankton that passed through its mouth and gills. Since Abyssleed is drawn with its mouth closed, it’s a little difficult to tell whether it has a huge mouth or not. The colour scheme on his body seems to be shared with some of the artists impressions of a Leedsichthys, however we cannot know its true colours. It seems a little odd to me that Abyssleed is a larger monsters than Abyssmegalo, given that the Megalodon was not only bigger, but also a predator. However I might be placing too much weight on how much these factors influenced the design choices. It might just have been that Konami picked out a big dead fish for this card, and didn’t think too much about the original.
Our final monstrous Mermail is Abyssteus, who draws inspiration from the Dunkleosteus. A Dunkleosteus was another giant prehistoric fish, a bit smaller than the Leedsichthys, only reaching about 10m at max. Instead of teeth the Dunkleosteus had two pairs of sharp bony plates, forming a beak-like structure. This feature is carried over into Abyssteus, who has a remarkably similar facial structure to a Dunkleosteus. The crushing power of this beak was likely the second strongest ever seen amongst fish, only being outmatched by the Megalodon. In addition to the powerful jaw, it could also quickly open its mouth, causing a powerful suction, allowing it to draw in its prey. Given its size, it doesn’t seem like it had predators, but bit marks suggests they would occasional cannibalise each other.
Mermail and Mythology
The final category of Mermail cards are those with links to mythology in some way. These come both in the form of their Xyz monsters, and their support cards. The Xyz monsters call on gods for their inspiration, whilst the support cards are based on legendary monsters. I’ve not covered Cetus here, since the name appears to be a general reference to large fish and sea monsters, rather than anything specific.
Abyssgaios is the most powerful Mermail, and it should be no surprise that he is based on Poseidon, the god of the seas. You might be wondering how this fits into his naming though, because the two are nothing alike. It would seem gaios is derived from Gaiēochos, meaning Earth-shaker, an alternative title for Poseidon, since he was also believed to be the cause of earthquakes. Poseidon was often depicted as an older gentleman with a beard and wavy hair, wielding his iconic three pronged trident. As you can see, Abyssgaios borrowed several of these elements and combined them merman attributes. In this case his lower half seems almost centaur like, except of course being that of a sea monster, rather than a horse.
Our second Mermail Xyz monster is Abysstrite, who is based on Amphitrite, the sea goddess and wife of Poseidon. Much like her husband she was often depicted wielding a trident. In this case, the design on Abysstrite even matches that seen on ancient pinax, with a ring located below the top of the trident. In archaic Greek legends she was of great importance, with authority over the seas and all the creatures that lived within. She was rarely mentioned with her husband, except to say that Poseidon was her husband. However in later Greek legends, Poseidon took on this role, with her demoted to his mere consort, and later to just being the personification of the sea.
Abyss-scale of the Kraken is based on the legendary giant squid that is meant to dwell off the coasts of Norway and Greenland. There is a good chance these legends were based on sightings of the Giant or Colossal Squid, which can grow to 13 and 14m respectively. When I first saw this card, I had assumed it was merely a suit of armour with tentacles coming out of it, to represent its link to the Kraken. Upon closer inspection it appears that it is actually just a suit of armour being presented by a Kraken which lurks in the background of the card, the top of its head just visible over the top of the armour.
Our final Mermail card, at least for now, is Abyss-scale of the Mizuchi, named for a legendary Japanese dragon, or sea serpent, associated with water. As with the Kraken it is possible that a Mizuchi is hiding behind the armour, as the dark tail like and fin like features at the edges might attest to. However it is difficult to tell whether these are just flourishes to the armour or not. Since there’s not really a set image for a Mizuchi though, Konami are free to do what they want with it.
This concludes my look at some of the details behind the cards that make up the Mermail theme. In many cases Konami just borrowed design elements from the fish that they are named after, but in others they seemed to do a surprising level of research, such as the Elephantnose fish’s ability to control a weak electric field. I hope this was an informative read, and might make you think a little bit more about where your cards come from the next time you play them.
If anyone is interested in hearing about details behind other cards or themes in Yu-Gi-Oh!, just let me know.