Iguana no Musume / Iguana Girl

Aug 12, 2016

Have you seen this image before? It's made the rounds as a lesser-known meme paired with phrases like "when will my reflection show who I really am?" and "when you realize that you're ugly" etc.

I don't exactly remember when I first saw this image. Browsing meme sites is something that I've enjoyed doing for a long time, so it's probably been close to a decade or more. What I do know is that every time I've come across it, I've at least made a cursory effort to find the source. Each time I was unsuccessful.

Until a few weeks ago.

I came across the file again and it was still bugging me. So I reverse image-searched the file and scrolled through the comments on dozens upon dozens of sites where this screen-capture had been posted as a meme, and finally someone revealed where it had come from. My thanks to you, whoever you are!

It turns out the image is from a 1996 Japanese television drama called Iguana no Musume (Japanese: イグアナの娘) translated to English as Iguana Girl or Daughter of an Iguana. Wikipedia had an article on it and I was ecstatic to begin researching.

The Story Behind the Scene

The Iguana no Musume television drama begins years before the main events of the series. While visiting the Galapagos Islands, a young man rescues a marine iguana who becomes enamoured of him. The iguana is actually a princess who asks a shaman lizard to make her human; a very "Little Mermaid" type opening. But from there we skip ahead almost 20 years. The lizard princess, Yuriko, is now married to the man and has forgotten her scaly origins. However, all is not well in the Aoshima household.

The couple has two daughters, eldest Rika, and younger Mami. By some strange twist of fate Rika is actually a huge, humanoid iguana but magically glamoured so she appears human to all but Yuriko and herself. This puts an incredible psychological burden on Yuriko, who blatantly shuns Rika in favour of her "normal" younger daughter Mami.

Rika the iguana is green and pink, unlike Yuriko's tan and pink.

As the series progresses and Rika becomes more independent, the pressure on Yuriko mounts so high that on a couple occasions, she sees herself as an iguana in mirrors. It's as if her own iguana origins are breaking through her shroud of repressed memories. The meme image at the top of this article is one of those mirror scenes.

Yuriko is trying to end Rika's blossoming relationship with schoolboy Noboru. Knowing Noboru has a major track meet that Rika desperately wants to attend that day, Yuriko invites both her husband and Rika on an outing. This is so out of character for Yuriko, and her father is so happy about it, that Rika has no choice but to accept. While they're having lunch in a cafe, Rika becomes progressively more anxious, with Yuriko glaring at her fiercely. Eventually Rika stands up in mid-conversation and, despite demands for her to sit down, she runs from the restaurant, creating a huge scene. Yuriko is beside herself, both embarrassed and furious about Rika's continued relationship with Noboru.

She goes to the restroom in a whirlwind of emotion, and this is where she sees her reflection as the iguana for the first time. A meme is born.

The Source Behind the Story

The Iguana no Musume television drama was successful enough that iguana Rika was released as a figure in Japanese toy-maker Fewture's Comic Character series.

Click for larger images.

As is common with television dramas in Japan, Daughter of an Iguana was adapted from a previously published manga. The original story Iguana no Musume was published in the Japanese magazine Petit Flower in 1991 by artist and writer Hagio Moto. While the manga contains the same central characters as the television drama (Yuriko and Aoshima-san, Rika, Mami and Noboru) it's only 50 pages, and concerns itself more with Rika coming to terms with being different. By contrast, the television drama is eleven forty-minute episodes bulked up with subplots about friendship, misunderstandings, love triangles, academic anxiety and other typical fare for television aimed at a young female audience in Japan.

You can find and read the translated Iguana no Musume manga at MangaFox. You can also find it in printed form in Hagio Moto's 2010 anthology A Drunken Dream and Other Stories. I cannot recommend the manga highly enough! It is an absolutely amazing and emotionally powerful work both in art and story. As well, the message it conveys is essentially different, and far more meaningful than that delivered by the television series.

Mirroring the author's own relationship with her mother, Rika is an unloved child who struggles to understand her mother's disdain for her. Eventually she moves on to acceptance, and then ultimately forgiveness. It is a story which reminds us that even though we may feel alone or that we don't belong, there is nothing stopping us from becoming content with exactly who we are. As well, those who may treat us badly more often than not have their own inner demons and secrets we know nothing about.

The Iguana no Musume manga is such a confluence of all sorts of things that appeal to me personally: touching story, comics and manga, and reptiles to name a few. Young iguana Rika is just so adorable, but at the same time it's not difficult to empathize with Yuriko who believes she is losing her mind. It definitely sits among the small number of stories I am truly grateful to have read.

And I have a silly lizard-in-the-mirror meme to thank for it.

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