Monster Hunter World

Kirin explained: An elder dragon, a unicorn, a giraffe or a kelbidrome?

Monster Hunter World Preview Screenshot 08 1024x576 - Kirin explained: An elder dragon, a unicorn, a giraffe or a kelbidrome?

As the "how is kirin an elder dragon" questions rack up again, I figure it'd be good to weigh-in as an Asian familiar with this side of folklore. I'm chinese by race, though I'm not from China, I grew up with the chinese dragon(think Shenron).

You can't begin to talk about Kirin's roots without talking about the chinese dragon. The chinese dragon is actually a chimera. Though depictions vary, what are the most consistent and common are: snake body, eagle claws, crocodile snout, ox ears, and deer antlers. From this mythical creature birthed legends of another, which is also a chimera, and one of my favorites: the Qilin.

I first knew of Qilin's through an old japanese manga called Bt'X. From there I researched more about it, and asked my relatives about it too, which led me to love it more and more. The Qilin is sort of a combination of a dragon and a hoofed animal, most often a deer (can you say chimeraception?). It's body is fully scaled, and it's bearded with a mane that always points to the sky. It's also sometimes depicted with the Four Symbols (zhuque, baihu, xuanwu, qinglong) as the central figure.

When giraffes was first introduced to China, the emperor thought they were Qilin. There were horned like the Qilin, and the body markings resembled scales. The way they carried themselves on the grass looked majestic and grand, and thus the giraffes were named Qilin. In Korea and Japan, giraffes are still known as Gilin and Kirin respectively, even though China has updated their name for giraffes to literally Long-Necked Deer. And this explains why Kirin is "mistranslated" into giraffe.


This part may not be entirely factual, as my uncle told me globalisation led to the association of Qilin with unicorns. This probably happened due to language barriers or a lack of complete understanding of the creature, but one-horned Qilin started to become a thing. This is likely the design behind our lightning elder, and it is thus portrayed much like a unicorn with its horn as a lightning rod of sorts.

It also seems like japanese depictions of Kirin in many mediums actually look more like dragons in the shape of a deer. So if we were to assume that the Japanese grew up with that imagery in mind, Kirin is closer to the Kelbidrome than we might realise.

I know it's hard to visualise Kirin as a dragon for people who grew up with western culture, but to most asians I would think it's much easier for us to see that Kirin is pretty much an elder dragon in many ways.

So that's it, if you've made it this far I hope you enjoyed it! I hope I somehow changed some minds about Kirin, it is still based off of my favourite mythical creature after all.

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