Some of you may already be familiar with the name Jiraiya, but today we are going to focus on the Japanese folktale, “The Tale of Jiraiya the Gallant”.The tale itself has been told in a number of formats since it’s origin in 1806 with the novel, 『自来也説話』 (“The tale of Jiraiya”) appearing as kabuki theater plays, picture novels, shamisen plays, movies, video games and so on.
The author was supposedly inspired by a tale of a robber in the Northern Song region of China who scribed “I, have come” on the wall in a home he had entered. The name Jiraiya (自来也) came from that phrase: 自 I, myself; 来る to come, to arrive, to be due; 也 to be (somewhere, a sum).
The picture novels 『児雷也豪傑譚』 (“The Tales of Jiraiya the Gallant”) published 1839 – 1868 were also highly influential. These were based on the original novels, but deviated from and added to the tales in many ways. The first apparent change is in the spelling of Jiraiya’s name (児雷也) which changes the meaning to “young thunder” a nickname acquired in his youth. The other is that Jiraiya is a ninja (more so than a robber). This helped establish the image of ninja as sorcerers.
Thanks to the wonders of the internet, you can read a simple version here on Google books. This version covers the whole of Jiraiya’s life.
The tale in it’s barest form features an heir to a powerful clan that learns Toad magic and becomes a chivalrous robber (much like Robin Hood). He marries the beautiful maiden Tsunade who knows Slug magic. His arch-enemy is Orochimaru, a former comrade, who has mastered Snake magic. The two oppose each other in a war between clans and eventually Orochimaru and the opposing clan are defeated. Jiraiya is given a title in honor of his deeds and they live out their days peacefully.
The magic of the three main characters is based on a 3-way stand-off idea from that era: snake > toad > slug > snake … and is functionally the same as: rock > scissor > paper > rock, etc.
Snakes swallow Toads in one gulp, Toads snag Slugs easily with their tongues, and Slugs dissolve Snakes with their mucus (although this proves to be untrue in actuality).
With this in mind, the story can be simplified further!
Our hero is a virtuous rascal who has A power. He joins with a beautiful maiden who has B power. His arch enemy has C power. War comes. A+B prove to be greater than C.
At this level we have such a simplified frame that it could cover any number of stories. Personally, I find Toad, Slug, and Snake magic interesting and bursting with interesting applications and ideas, but any number of things could be used instead.
If we substitute in Air, Water, and Fire, it sounds a lot like Avatar: the last air bender.
We could also take this frame and apply it to a political intrigue setting.
The citizenry are being strained and squirming in dismay beneath the heel of the country’s self-declared dictator. A young rebellious merchant stakes his fortunes against the evil rule. In his struggle he is joined by a beautiful and charismatic farm girl who incites crowds with her passion. The dictator’s private forces begin moving to quell rebellion before it can take hold, but the spark is lit! Can they survive against the might of the dictator? Is the will of the people strong enough to topple the regime?
We could also remove the magic element but keep it in a medieval setting.
Our hero is a young noble ousted from his birthright by the assassination of the King by his half-brother. His family, loyal retainers to the crown, were deposed and disposed of. Our young hero narrowly escapes and he studies the art of mounted combat and cavalry tactics from his mother’s family and grows to become an ideal[istic] knight, chivalrous and pure. In his travels returning to his native lands, he becomes enamored of an engineer both brilliant and beautiful! He patronizes her artillery research and she patronizes him mercilessly. His lands are held by a former childhood friend, the son of the usurping half-brother, who has long studied the application of earthworks and infantry. The conflict brewing between the proponents of the fallen King’s line and the incumbent usurpers has begun to boil over. Fate is drawing our hero to the fore. He shall reclaim his birthright, by might if he must!
Hope you got some great ideas.
Have fun and see you next time!
Some links for reference or further reading: