The very name Ma (魔 - devil) suggests that they are meant to threaten human existence or defy the gods, while -zoku (族 - race) indicates that they are a family.
Maō is a term developed from Mazoku, suggesting a leader, in fact, a king (王 Ō - king) that rules part of, if not all of the mazoku.
Original usage in Mythology and Legend
The original term was used in Japanese transliteration of the Indian (Hindu) mythology's clan Asura and Yaksha, as well as Zoroastrianism's Daeva, and is the general term for devils, demons and evil beings. The term is used in the form of separating these supernatural entities from the devils and demons in Christianity and Oni of Japanese local mythology. In polytheism, it is simply a word used as an Antonym of 神族 (shinzoku), which means literally the race of gods.
The term maō is used to describe the king or kings ruling mazoku. It was originally used to transliterate Buddhism deity, the demon god 第六天魔王波旬. Later used for Lucifer/Satan in the Bible. In polytheism, a term used as an Antonym of maō is 神王 (shin'ō), which means the king of gods. However, the term 主神 (shushin, literally the main god) is used more often since the term shushin was also used in monotheism meaning God.
The meaning of mazoku differs from series to series. Some stories coins the term general to all evil beings (instead of a single biological race) that are enemies or nemesis of humans and good gods; while some others used it to specify a certain race (not necessarily evil). Also, even if the word is used to describe a certain race of biological beings, the characteristics still differs from different series. Sometimes, it is portrayed as other biological races, with individuals having similar characteristics, while other series having unique features on different individuals. While it can be confusing, in Japan, a separate term: 惡魔族 (Akumazoku) is used, the word 惡 (aku) suggesting the evilness in contrast of mazoku.
When described as humanoid, usually having some or all of these features, and share a lot in common with demons/devils.
- Having pointy ears
- Having exotic skin, hair, eye and blood colours
- Having sharp claws and/or teeth/fangs
- Having horns, wings, tails, or any features humans do not possess
- Having the ability to transform to other forms
- Look completely human
Maō in fiction
Although the term maō is also used as king of mazoku, it is also commonly used as a general term of king of demons, king of devils, and more general, just an overlord, a dark lord or an archenemy of the hero. Having a maō in a series does not necessarily mean that there is a mazoku race for it to rule, a maō can simply rule humans, monsters, anything or nothing at all. Der Erlkönig, by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, widely translated as "Elf King" in English, was translated as 魔王 (Maō) in Japanese. The term Daimaō (大魔王 - great demon king) is sometimes used to suggest an even higher class being than the maō. In Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, a term chōmaō (超魔王 - ultimate demon king) is used to suggest an even higher class being.
The ancestral influences to the presentation of Mazoku in modern Japanese popular fiction is believed to come from Go Nagai's Devilman and console RPGs starting with the original Dragon Quest. Since then, the concept has evolved considerably. More common and popular concepts could be seen used in Slayers, YuYu Hakusho and Disgaea.
In the YuYu Hakusho series, Mazoku, more referred to by human and reikai as Yokai, are living beings that reside in Makai (different from the world after death, but a parallel universe with mazoku as living beings). Reikai (the temporary world after death) viewed them as trouble makers and criminals, classifying them by power and intelligence, from intelligent A-Class to D-Class, to simple animals and plants. Anything more powerful than A-Class mazoku is classified as an S-Class, with only a few in existence; such as Raizen, Yomi, and Mukuro. Reikai set up a barrier between Makai and Ningenkai (the human world) to block Mazoku from entering the human world. However, due to the size of the Net, the barrier was large enough to prevent A-Class and above Mazoku from passing, but B-class and below could simply go through these "holes" like a small fish. Therefore, from time to time, when a gap opened, some Mazoku would find their way to the human world and behave mischievously, though not always by their own choice.
In the story, D-Class Mazoku are always dumb and do not know the limits of their power and ability. They are normally more monster-like and will judge their enemies' power by their size, rather than what they can sense. B-Class and C-Class mazoku are more intelligent, and usually take a more humanoid form since they are closer to humans, and also have organizing plan capabilities, even teaming up with other Mazoku if necessary, but sometimes still react on instinct. A-Class Mazoku, however, do not act on instinct, but instead will use their brains and "senses" in order to judge how much power they have and observe before taking action. S-Class Mazoku are rare, but are said to be numerous if one goes deep enough inside Makai (where its said to be structured like an infinitely deep dungeon with different floors). It is told towards the end of the story that Mazoku are not the criminal-like creatures Reikai would have them portrayed to be, incidents of mazoku killing humans are only 1/1000 to the rates of humans killing humans.
It was explained in the story that because the unexplored resources of the human world are precious to all, Reikai created the barrier in order to take it for themselves. They then went as far as capturing C-Class and D-Class mazoku, brainwashed them, and then released them in the human world to perform mischievous acts, where they would then be re-captured by specially appointed human-beings, by Reikai, known as Spirit-detectives. The brainwashed Mazoku were then killed after they served their purpose through several "capture and release" missions. Koenma, towards the end of the story, discovered all of this and would take down the barrier for good.
Notes and references
- Dragon Ball characters Piccolo Daimao and his demon lackeys are of the Mazoku (Demon Clan). They are later revealed to be an extraterrestrial race.
- In the Japanese version of Dragon Quest IV: Chapters of the Chosen, Psaro the Manslayer refers to himself as a Mazoku.
- YuYu Hakusho official guide, manga
- Slayers novel, manga, animated series
- The Ichiban Ushiro no Dai Mao series tell the story of a boy who upon entering in a magic academy is told that he is destined to become a Demon King