Thanks to cruelwhencomplete for the inspiration!
This has long been a mystery to me. The first appearance appears to be in Final Fantasy 6, I believe, which was released in 1994.
They bear more than a passing resemblance to haniwa sculptures, such as:
but this doesn’t explain the almost swastika-like arm positioning or the cactus body.
I randomly found an image from a comic that the band Current 93 put out (in 1993: predating FF6 by a year), called “The Nodding Folk”, which contains what is (obviously) an incredibly similar character:
It is basically the same character, cactus body and everything.
I also randomly came across this character from the game Monster Party(1989), which predates both:
Is there a character in Japanese popular culture that predates these appearances? It’s hard to believe that the character just materialized in 1994 in FF6, when (basically) the same character appeared in a 1993 comic book by a band that has no relation to the world of video games. Anyone have any more info or insights?
The Cactaur first debuted in Final Fantasy VI, as the “Cactrot”. The three black holes for a face make this enemy look like a graphic design logo. But the idea of fighting a cactus in a perpetual running stance was a cute and quirky idea. The monster quickly became a popular recurring enemy.
Tetsuya Nomura drew the design in his high school notebook. His inspiration? A Japanese “Haniwa“, a type of clay figure made for ritual and funerary uses. You can see the similarities in the faces. But there’s one odd question with the Cactaur’s arms and legs. Notable, the right angles. Strangely enough, it looks like another familiar symbol – the swastika. The monster certainly resembles one. But would Nomura really draw a swastika?
One thing to keep in mind, not very many Japanese people are familiar with the swastika. In the West, we’re all too familiar with it. We study it in history, and unfortunately, many hateful individuals wish to keep it alive. But in the East, the symbol has a different connotation. The Japanese aren’t too familiar with the history behind the swastika, but they do know of the manji.
What is it? It’s the same thing. But the connotations are different. In the West, the symbol used to mean good luck before the Nazi’s appropiated it. But in Japan, it still means “conducive to well being or auspicious”. In Japanese the symbol is called “卍” or “卍字” (manji). The Manji is also a homonym of the number 10,000, used to represent the whole of creation. But as a religious symbol, it denotes temples. One would be able to see many 卍 symbols a Japanese map.
So it might make sense why Tetsuya Nomura would make his Cactuar run in this stance. The manji is an old symbol, so it’s wouldn’t be a stretch for us to discover a Haniwa with a Manji symbol. As a brilliant character artist, he simply combined two religious symbols into a cute monster. And the homonym of the monster also informs us as to why the Cactaur has a “10,000” needle attack.