Hi! The World of Sekiro project has come to an end and it's time to see what we've learned, how far we've come and if it all was worth the effort.
So, let's see!
We uncovered a lot of facts that were either lost in translation or required a very delicate untangling. For example, we learned that the Headless were the heroes of Ashina; that Senpou assassins were former shinobi protecting the Temple and Black Badger was their leader; that Gyoubu was Genichiro's moriyaku, responsible for his upbringing; that One Mind art is called Isshin; that Rice is the Child's version of Dragon's Blood Droplet; that Okinaga doesn't exist; that Mist Raven is a nushi; that the prosthetic is actually a source of karmic burden; that it was Isshin who severed Sculptor's arm with Ashina Cross. We also put forward a number of theories that are backed by the original text: for example, that Jirafu changed his name because of Shirafuji who was his star, and that Sen'Un is in the Temple for a reason. Now we know in detail why Isshin called Wolf Sekiro.
The artbook helped us figure out how exactly all the prosthetic devices work, what is written on a sen coin and on the blade of the Lazulite Axe. We would have never figured out "the ceremony of consuming living sacrifices" without it.
Even though not all the dialogues have been analyzed (yet) we still achieved much more clarity in that kubi dialogue with a wounded gunman before the Headless Ape and found a lot of subtle details lost in translation in Sake dialogues and Shura Narrator's dialogues. We also found out that the Divine Grass' description in Japanese is entirely different; it was one of the major discoveries because it added a lot of context to the native gods being overwhelmed by the Dragon's presence.
Another notable discovery was Holy Chapter: Dragon's Return's original description that led us to a better understanding of the tragedy of Senpou Temple and the story of the Child of Rejuvenation.
The Fountainhead Palace episode was the longest, the one that required the most research and probably the most exciting. We did a lot there: researched the differences between Fountainhead Palace and Divine Realm; compared the Palace's architecture to that of Heijō and Heian Palaces; figured out where the Bull came from; drew the connection between the Okami and the Old Dragons; touched on Tokoyo no Kuni and the insect cult and also came up with an explanation for the Miko, silently sleeping at the gates to the Divine Realm. It was a lot. And it was great.
Consequently, we learned a lot about Takeru and Tomoe even though they are not present during the events of Sekiro. Tomoe was an elite Okami warrior and Takeru's oathbound; Takeru died of Dragonrot and Sakura Droplet was left by Tomoe after her oath was broken and she perished. Turns out, Aromatic Flower has a full guide for the Purification ending but the English description was too long, and it didn't fit.
While researching the world of Sekiro we had to acquire a lot of additional context. At different points throughout the project but mainly in the Senpou Temple episode, we talked about Buddhism: Esoteric Buddhism (especially Shingon Buddhism), Shugendō, Buddhas and Bodhisattvas including Kannon, Jizo, Manjushri, Four Heavenly Kings and Five Cosmic Buddhas. We also learned a lot about ashura, yaksha, vajra bells, shakujou staffs, the concept of merit-making, manifestation theory, syncretism of kami and Buddhas, then separation of kami and Buddhas, komusō monks and sōhei monks.
Of course, we also talked about Shinto: different types of omamori, onryou, katashiro, yorishiro, ofuda talismans, shintai, shimenawa ropes, shide paper streamers, hokora shrines, suzu bells, ikenie sacrifices and miko.
Since Sekiro is set during Sengoku period, we could not ignore the history of Japan. During the project we covered the Sengoku period itself, Nanban trade, introduction of Buddhism and the real history of many clans mentioned in the game. We also talked about all sorts of Japanese swords, firearms, armor, helmets and faceguards; centipede miners, goze, rōnin, onna-musha, onmyōdō and onmyōji, kemari, Sanada Ten Braves, Seven-Branched Sword and many more things.
Sekiro is also full of Japanese legends and folklore, so we also covered the legend of Yao Bikuni, 9 sons of the Dragon, Okami and Kuraokami, Tengu, Kappa, Shachihoko, the significance of Chinese Phoenix in Japanese culture and Suzaku, the Vermilion Bird; the last one we talked about twice.
Funnily enough, we talked a lot about real-life flora and fauna: fumewort plants, bush clover, lotus, persimmon, Japanese aralia, tear grass plant, Chinese silver grass, bottle gourds, lion tamarins, koi carps, nightjar and others.
This is not an exhaustive list; I just flipped through the blogposts and picked a random bunch of things we talked about to broaden our understanding of Sekiro. And there was A LOT of stuff. At some point we talked about pericardium, remember that? We covered various sorts of gunpowder, magnetite, black sand and mercury fulminate. Also, different types of kasa hats and fue flutes. And every single little thing contributed to our overall understanding of the Sekiro world.
The World of Sekiro project spanned 30 blogposts and 30 videos amounting to about ~13 hours of content. It was a big, big project.
I haven't analyzed all dialogues in the game. I know. But it will take quite some time even though I read through a lot of them while writing other parts of the research. I also need to think about presentation: I will have to translate all the dialogues from Japanese, then compare them to their English localization, then pick out the ones where something important was lost and somehow present it in an easily digestible way. It will take a lot of time and a lot of effort, but it will be done at some point. I will release it as an extra episode in the future, possibly stitched with some other little details that I might have skipped during the main project. Don't worry.
That's the question, isn't it? In my very personal opinion — because, really, I have no authority to pass any kind of verdict because I have no experience working in the field — I think they did great. Of course, any localization project is a serious undertaking, but I think that localizing Sekiro was an enormous challenge because how thick it is with Japanese culture, religion and history. It was a matter of maintaining a delicate balance between staying true to the original and at the same time conveying the story and lore to the audience that largely does not have the necessary cultural context. I think when criticizing the localization decisions, it's quite easy to forget that any localization is a commercial endeavor. The goal is to make the players of different language communities have largely the same experience, sure, but another goal is to localize a culturally rich game in such a way that most players, unfamiliar with all the subtleties of said culture, won't be deterred from playing it because of that. If you read my Ōkami post or watched the video, there I quote an old interview with Ōkami's localization producer where he described finding the balance between localizing the Japanese names as they were, thus alienating a large audience because people won't be able to pronounce them properly, and Westernizing all the names, thus losing the cultural context. It's a similar case to Sekiro; now, almost 20 years later, people are not easily deterred by the Japanese names and are more familiar with Japanese culture but there is still a limit to that.
We also need to make our peace with the fact that some things get lost inevitably. Just because English and Japanese are such different languages, and I mean typologically different. There are some concepts in Japanese that the English language simply doesn't have. From the Japanese description of Ornamental Letter, we know that the one who wrote it was a man because of the personal pronoun that he chose. English doesn't have such an extensive system of pronouns as Japanese does; there is only one first person singular pronoun that doesn't change form based on gender. There is no way to relay that detail into English because English just doesn't have the means. And there are a lot of examples of that.
In 2019 Frontline Gaming Japan did an interview with Miyazaki where among other questions they asked him if FromSoftware had overseen the localization. To which he replied that they left everything to Activision and didn't participate in the process at all, which explains why the original description of Divine Grass is just a totally different text to the one we see in the English localization.
I think the localization did great. Bound by symbol restrictions, often lack of context (I am sure of that), the differences between Japanese and English, and apparently having little to no contact with the developers, they managed to deliver a solid localization that is rather close stylistically to the original. The only thing I wish they did is introducing the concept of Nushi. There is this line in the description of Serpent's Viscera, "Nushi is a god of the land" that would make it really easy to establish the definition of nushi and then continue using this word consistently instead of coming up with synonyms every time. Turns out, nushi is one of the central concepts of the Sekiro lore, and losing it among just "god", and "master", and "deity" was a pity.
The main thing I learned during this project is that it takes me on average about 2 years to read a book that is mostly pictures.
In July 2021 when I published my first Sekiro post dedicated to Sugars, Spiritfalls and the Headless, I said that I could've completed the project in its entirety behind the scenes and then released it, but I decided to kind of wing it and just figure it out as I go along.
Well, I should've completed it first.
I think, the main reason why I decided to research as I go was that I could never even imagine the amount of research I would have to do. Initially, it was just a little pet project but the further I went the more clearly I understood that I need to spend more and more hours reading about history, religion and culture and then spend even more time distilling all that information into posts. It resulted in videos being posted a month apart, frequent touch-ups and going back and forth because there was always something I forgot to mention or a reference that I skipped.
If I ever do a similar project again, I will take my sweet time, do the research first, set up a database with descriptions and references so it will be easily searchable, think about blogpost composition and streamline video production so I can post consistently. I've learned my lesson; nothing beats systemic approach.
I also learned how to write better. As you probably know, neither English nor Japanese is my native language so it was a challenge to compose this project and then voice it for the videos. I have always been writing, and what I've learned over the years — and over the course of this project specifically — is that it's not hard to write a lot. It's not hard. What is much harder, is to write in a concise manner while still getting your point across. I don't like long-winded explanations where half the text could be omitted because it doesn't reinforce the main point or add anything to it in a meaningful way, and thus I try my best to write differently. Maintaining the balance between giving enough historical or religious context but not so much it outweighs the point of discussion instead of supporting it, was challenging. But I enjoyed it.
My main goal was to write in such a way that people who have no context for the Japanese culture, history and religion, who don't speak Japanese and don't even have an idea about what this language is like, could still have a great time reading — or listening — and not feeling like they are in the middle of a hard-to-follow boring lecture. To be honest, I demanded a lot from you in return: not to repeat the points I had already made I often referenced my earlier posts and did not give explanations for terms that had already been introduced; must be hard for people who randomly click on Episode 16 and try to figure out what I'm talking about.
There are so many wild coincidences that made this project what it is. First of all, I never intended to play Sekiro in the first place. At all. I was sure it was just another Dark Souls-style misery that I wouldn't enjoy. Then I watched the JP trailer, and I was like, "Is that Namikawa Daisuke voicing the protagonist?" and then Genichiro showed up voiced by Tsuda Kenjirō, and I was already purchasing the game. This is basically how I choose anime too.
I bought the artbook on a whim when I was in Japan at the end of 2019. I brought back a bunch of Dark Souls books, Bloodborne artbook, and Sekiro artbook even though I hadn't played the game yet. Without the artbook I never would've had the idea to start the project in the first place.
At the time I also became quite disillusioned with lore videos. I kept thinking, "But what if these theories are based on a localization mistake or a lack of context?". And this thought really bothered me.
When I finished my first playthrough, there were so many blanks I didn't know what to do with. However, I felt that if I gained more context and learned the face of every kanji in this game, I would be able to fill if not all, but most of them. And this is exactly what happened.
My research was never meant to be shared. I started doing it solely for myself, for my own interest and entertainment, just like I say every time in the first disclaimer. I thought I would spend a couple of months on reading through the artbook and replaying the game and then be done with it. And then my husband was like, "Why don't you share it? I bet people would be interested in this stuff". And I was like, "wHy dOn'T yOu ShArE iT". Honestly, I am not a person to share anything on the Internet. It's scary. It's exhausting. I usually just keep to myself. However, he convinced me, and I started learning video making and audio production. I didn't know any of it, I had no clue how to make a video. My first attempts were the Lost in Translation videos about DS and Bloodborne, and then I started turning my Sekiro posts into Sekiro videos.
My purpose with dissecting Sekiro has always been to provide linguistic, cultural and historic insights that could enrich the default experience. I was never interested in just relaying my lore theories based on the in-game facts and localized item descriptions. It works with Dark Souls and Bloodborne because they are pure fiction contained within itself. All there is to learn about these games is in these games. You don’t need real-world context. All players become equally knowledgeable but if there is no in-game answer for a question, there isn’t one at all. Every theory is as good as the next one.
But Sekiro is different. It is set in Sengoku era Japan which means that a lot of additional context can be obtained. I love Soulsborne theorycrafting as much as everybody else, but I also love just knowing things. With Sekiro I felt that if I read it in Japanese and did some research, I could very well find the answers I was looking for outside of the game, and they will be valid.
Now I take a break :D There will be one more video till the end of the year about the games I played in 2023, what titles I recommend and what my GOTY is, so look out for that. I will also continue streaming on Twitch and probably be more active on my Discord server. You are welcome to come hang out to either place. Or both!
I also have some video ideas lying around that I didn't get to because I was so focused on completing Sekiro. I have an hour-long script about Mass Effect Trilogy gathering dust. Maybe I will learn how to make shorts and cut up some Sekiro videos, highlighting the coolest discoveries! So, in case you see a short from me — don't be alarmed, it won't be new information.
Maybe I'll come up with another project. Who knows.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you. I could never imagine even in my wildest dreams that so many people would be interested in me overanalyzing every single little thing in Sekiro and beyond. Thank you for your support and kindness, for your views, for your likes, for your comments here and on the YT channel, thank you for correcting me, sharing your knowledge and asking questions. The World of Sekiro definitely benefitted from being shared.
If you have a favorite episode or a favorite bit of any kind, feel free to share it in the comments!
I am excited to finally finish it, after more than 2 years. Sekiro is an amazing game, and I will love it forever.
As usual, stay tuned here and on the Lair's YouTube channel not to miss out on anything new.
Thank you for your time.