I watched the 2011 edition of the anime Hunter x Hunter (ハンターｘハンター) this year, and, I have to say, it was a wild ride. Although it had its light, fun moments, it also touched on some deep, heart-touching topics, and some heavy issues.
Not least of which is a character named Alluka Zoldyck (アルカ・ゾルディック). She is, honestly, one of the things I most remember about the show. Her innocence even in the midst of how her family sees and treats her, as well as the issue her gender ambiguity, really left a mark on me.
Yes, gender ambiguity. Most of her family members refer to Alluka using masculine words, but she dresses in feminine clothes, and Killua, her older brother and closest family member, calls her his sister. It’s easy to come to the conclusion that she’s transgendered; born male, but self-identifying as female. And, of course, the only one who cares enough to respect her self-identity is Killua.
What’s interesting about Alluka from a linguistic perspective, though, is her name. Or, rather, names. The alter ego that takes over when she uses her dangerous power is given the name ナニカ (Nanika), which means “Something”.*
It’s this de-humanisation of this character through her name that made me realise that the name Alluka is also a clever pun, a way of expressing the idea of her as a thing rather than a person. Her name is アルカ (Aruka) in Japanese. ある (aru) is the verb ‘to be’; but it’s used for inanimate objects, such as books, toys, etc., unlike the verb いる (iru), which is used for animate objects; animals, and people. So, her name would mean, “Is it/something there?”
Funny enough, when I shared this concept with my brother, he said it also seems to fit the character Alphonse Elric (アルフォンズ・エルリック) of Fullmetal Alchemist (鋼の錬金術師, Hagane no Renkinjutsushi). He spends most of the anime (I watched Brotherhood) as a soul trapped in a suit of armour, and spends a bit of time questioning his own humanity.
His nickname? Al. In Japanese, アル, aru.
Japanese name puns in anime and manga are pretty interesting, don’t you think?
*何 (なに, nani) means what, and か (ka) is a question marker. Question words combined with ka denote stuff that in Japanese: だれか (dareka) means “somebody”, and どこか (d0koka) means “somewhere”, for example. And dare and doko mean who and where, respectively.