Though Yu-Gi-Oh is full of quirky characters and names, Bakura’s name is one of the oddest. By itself, ‘baku’ translates roughly to ‘tapir’; ra is ‘good’ or ‘skilled’.
Tapirs are herbivorous mammals of the order Perissodactyla, or odd-toed ungulates, making them cousins to horses and rhinoceros. They live in jungles in South America and Asia, sport odd, elephant-like snouts, and have absolutely nothing in common with either a particular quiet, polite white-haired boy or the spirit of the Ring’s previous incarnation.
Or do they?
As it turns out, tapir are associated with a certain Japanese youkai, a spirit or demon from folklore. Fans of Pokémon may recall that Drowzee, one of the original 150 monsters, resembled a tapir and had the signature move ‘Dream Eater’. This was a nod to this particular variety of youkai; the baku.
The baku are mostly benevolent youkai that are said to eat bad dreams and nightmares so people can sleep peacefully. They are often depicted with the body of a lion and the head of an elephant, which results in something that looks a bit like a tapir. Pictures, toys, and statues of baku are sometimes placed in Japanese bedrooms to ward off bad dreams. However, baku are also sometimes depicted as trouble makers that rob people of all their dreams, and sleep.
The role of the baku may sound similiar to a more Western tradition. Dreamcatchers served the same purpose, hanging in bedrooms to catch nightmares before they could enter the sleeper’s dreams. Dreamcatchers are almost circular and laced with webbing and beds, like a spider’s web, and decorated with threads and feathers hanging off the bottom.
Very much like the Millennium Ring and its pendants.
So obviously, Takahashi was trying to send some sort of baku / dreamcatcher vibes when he named Bakura and designed the Ring. What that means, though, is still up for debate.
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