Well, here we are! There's just a little bit of the world of Sekiro left for us to explore and we are going to do it just as thoroughly. Today we'll take a look at both Ministry Invasions and all the endings: we'll look at environmental art, character art, and even dive a little bit deeper into the history of real Sengoku period to see if it'll help us gain a better understanding of the events unfolding after we receive the Gracious Gift of Tears. Please note that we have already discussed all major endgame bosses in their respective Remnants posts so I won't repeat what we already know.
Disclaimer #0 — common sense is still everything. Please do not assume that I have access to some secret true knowledge; I'm just entertained by reading Sekiro in Japanese. My lore theories are just theories so treat them accordingly.
Disclaimer #1 —
trust me, I'm a professional if this fact is somehow important — I am a certified linguist. My major is English and Japanese as foreign languages, my minor is intercultural communication. Fun stuff!
Disclaimer #2 — I am not a professional translator, I have never worked in localization. Yes, I will say that something is translated poorly and something is not, and it will be my personal point of view. People have been complaining that I am picking on minor things or have weird opinions when it comes to "better translations". I want to emphasize that it's okay to have those :) Ultimately, my goal is to give you the information so you can see if the localization was good or not, whether something important was lost or not. My opinion is just that and I choose to share it, however odd it might seem.
Disclaimer #3 — I am not an expert on Buddhism or Shinto, so if I get something wrong in the religious side of things, I'm sorry :D I will leave links to the religious terms that we will undoubtedly encounter so you can read more on your own, if you are interested.
This is a popular question in the comment section. In a nutshell, Japanese kanji usually have two types of readings: on-reading and kun-reading, there might be a number of them in each category. On-readings have carried over from Chinese since kanji were borrowed from there, and kun-readings are native to Japanese. When a kanji stands on its own and is used as a single word, it is read with its kun-reading. When a kanji is used as a part of a multi-kanji word, it is read with its on-reading. It is slightly more complicated, but in broad strokes I think it explains it.
As far as I know, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice was localized into English by Mugen Creations.
[:] — colon after a vowel means that it's a long sound;
['] — apostrophe after a vowel or before a vowel (or between two [n]) means that these are two different syllables, not a single long one.
The transcriptions I give do not follow all academic rules, and I don't think it's necessary. They are just here to represent the pronunciation.
For this research I mostly used Sekiro Shadows Die Twice Official Artworks, English wiki and a number of dictionaries.
The first invasion happens when Wolf acquires all Fountainhead aroma ingredients: Shelter Stone, Lotus of the Palace and the Mortal Blade. After that, all Ashina Castle Idols go dark except for the Abandoned Dungeon Idol through which we are able to return. There we can eavesdrop on a soldier who's confused why nobody is coming even though his shift has already ended.
We'll cover the Ministry and Akazonae troops in the Second Invasion, for now let's go and reclaim Ashina Castle idols.
In the Serpent shrine we meet yet another elite Ministry agent, Lone Shadow Masanaga the Spear-Bearer who doesn't wield a spear. His original name is 孤影衆 槍足の正長 [koeishu yariashi no masanaga] — Lone Figure Masanaga the Spear Leg. This metaphor is supposed to hint at him using his leg as a spear. If we eavesdrop on him, we'll learn that the other Ministry shinobi killed by Tengu is Masanari. We'll meet him a little bit later when we go back in time.
Masanaga uses the forbidden Yashariku Sugar which proves that the Senpou Temple has been supplying the Ministry with them in exchange for substantial donations.
The most interesting thing in this encounter is that from Masanari's body we take Dragon's Blood Droplet, and we know all too well that this item is not just a piece of random loot. Why does Masanari have it?
On the castle roofs we meet shinobi like those from the Senpou Temple dressed in red Akazonae colors with the Ministry crest on the chest. The Nightjar bodies are scattered nearby.
In the castle atrium there is one more Chained Ogre. It's always been curious to me that the ogres are blond. These are probably foreign merchants that arrived during Nanban trade and were captured to be experimented on.
Under Isshin's solitary room we can witness a Nightjar shinobi battling an Interior Ministry shinobi; it's quite a sight. Isshin upstairs is not feeling well but keeps his spirits high; outside of his room we can finally take the Black Scroll.
Another Lone Shadow, this time in Ashina Dōjō. His original name is very curious, it's 孤影衆 忌み手 [koeishu imite] — Lone Figure Forbidden Hand. The 忌み [imi] part denotes something that is taboo, or something that is unlucky or needs to be avoided in general. A very fitting name.
After defeating him we come across a dying Nightjar shinobi on the roof who tells us that Kuro and Ema are being targeted and asks us to protect them. Unable to cope with the fact that he had to ask Wolf for help, he dies. He also drops two Lumps of Fat Wax.
As we climb the Ashina Castle Lookout tower, we witness Owl trying to persuade Kuro to go with him. We have discussed Owl and his final dialogue with Wolf that was lost in translation in Remnants. Instead of repeating what we already know, let's look at his character art.
Owl is an exceptionally gigantic human, which I think is just meant to convey his power. How he is able to act as a shinobi when his towering figure eclipses the sun is a mystery to me. On every single character art except for just one Owl is depicted with the Spirit Owl. The similarity in their appearances cannot be denied: the bird's left eye is smaller and more sunken, making its expression asymmetrical, and the same can be said about Owl himself, although it's his right eye that makes his face melt to the side a little. This similarity, I think, is meant to further prove that whatever nushi or god you worship, in time you will become like that god, even if a little bit.
In an early concept art, he is depicted yet again with the Spirit Owl; the bird looks a bit different and there is a weird round something at the centre of its body, I have no clue what it's supposed to be.
Owl wears a piece of wood around his neck. The wood has markings, like an inscription of some sort but I honestly do not know what these markings are. If you do, please let me know! I wonder if it is an omamori of some kind.
Interestingly, when he charges at Wolf in the cutscene, he is attempting kageotoshi: a shinobi technique that he used to kill Wolf in Hirata Estate. When Wolf reacts, Owl concludes that he became more skilled since that time in the Estate because then he didn't notice anything and, well, died.
In this fight Owl uses a lot of tricks to try and take advantage of Wolf such as poison and smoke which I think shows that he is not at his prime anymore and he cannot rely just on his sword skills.
If you decide to betray Kuro, you'll get Shura ending. Its original name is pretty straightforward: 修羅 [shura]. We have already discussed both Isshin and Ema as bosses. Funnily enough, this is the only ending the artbook completely ignores in terms of character art so unfortunately there are no pictures of bloodthirsty Wolf wielding two Mortal Blades.
After we defeat Owl, there is a whole bunch of dialogue and running back and forth between Kuro, Ema and Isshin. As a result of all that labor we get Owl's omamori bell that helps us travel back in time to face Owl in his prime in the Hidden Temple. This is a part of the Purification ending.
In the altered Hirata Estate we meet yet again Lone Shadow Masanaga the Spear-Bearer and his shinobi hounds. Masanari, still alive, is not very far: he is in front of the main gates talking to Juuzou the Drunkard. You can actually eavesdrop on them which I didn't know about. Masanari tells Juuzou how easy it was to take Hirata Estate because of the information that Owl provided. Juuzou, however, is not quick to trust Owl and tells Masanari that Owl is an outright villain. The Drunkard had some incredibly accurate gut feeling, as it turns out. As for Masanari, he will live three more years before being killed by the Tengu in the Serpent Shrine. I think, he got the Dragon's Blood Droplet here in Hirata Estate during the assault. It was Kuro's home after all, so there must have been some Dragon Heritage pieces lying around.
Fun fact: the big Buddha in the burning temple is actually the same Eleven-Faced Kannon that sends us back in time from the Dilapidated Temple. It makes perfect sense that these two points in time would be connected through the same Buddha, doesn't it?..
Foster Father is definitely among my favorite bossfights. I love that he also uses shinobi tech like shuriken and firecrackers; I think it makes the fight much more exciting.
After defeating him, we get Aromatic Flower and open the possibility of the Purification ending.
When we come back from the Divine Realm having received the Gracious Gift of Tears, we discover that the Ashina Castle is being purged by the Interior Ministry and Akazonae troops. The tension that we've seen building from the start of the game finally erupted.
But... what even is Interior Ministry?..
To figure out what Interior Ministry even is in Sekiro, let's discuss the real Sengoku Period. It is often called "Warring states period", named so after a similar Chinese era but some scholars disagree with the title because Japan was still intact, at least nominally: the Emperor and shogunate still ruled the country.
Sengoku period started in 1467 when a civil war called Ōnin War broke out. It began as a succession dispute over who would succeed Ashikaga Yoshimasa who at the time was the shōgun of the Ashikaga, or, alternatively, Muromachi shogunate. He abdicated his position but didn't have an heir so he convinced his younger brother Yoshimi to abandon his life as a monk and instead be the next shōgun, succeeding him gradually over the next few years. A year after that, unexpectedly, Yoshimasa's son was born, named Yoshihisa. His mother and shōgun's official wife, Hino Tomiko, hailed from a powerful family the women of which became consorts to many previous shōguns. After she became shōgun's wife, her family grew even more powerful and she had great influence over the shōgunate court.
Of course, she wanted to make sure that the next shōgun would come from her lineage and insisted on naming their son the successor. These events led to Ōnin War that lasted 10 years: both sides found political and military support and absolutely devastated the city of Kyoto. However, there was no winner in this war; both armies just fought until they were completely exhausted.
The battles of Kyoto were over, but the war had spread beyond the city walls. Other clans suddenly found themselves in succession disputes too; conflicts similar to Ōnin War ignited on a smaller scale throughout the country. The peasantry and lesser samurai revolted in response to the Hatakeyama clan being split in two by such a dispute. It led to the formation of a confederacy inside Japan. There were also rebellious groups of people called Ikkō-ikki led by the power of the True Pure Land Buddhism sect; they defied the rule of governors and daimyō. A ceaseless civil war engulfed Japan.
During the Ōnin War the Ashikaga shogunate wasn't really doing much to alleviate the situation or to stop the war, even though it broke out because of the shōgun's succession issue. The fact that this local conflict spilled over and had such a powerful ripple effect is mainly attributed to the shogunate's inability to exert enough power and influence over the warring parties and just being complacent.
After the war the Ashikaga shogunate lost its power and in 1573 it fell apart completely. Oda Nobunaga, whom you've probably heard of, was an ambitious daimyō and the head of the very powerful Oda clan who firstly installed his puppet as the Ashikaga shōgun and later drove him out seizing power. He is known as the first unifier of Japan. He defeated the rebels and conquered most of the Honshu island. In 1582 one of his vassals rebelled against him and Oda Nobunaga was forced to commit seppuku. His mantle was picked up by Toyotomi Hideyoshi who was one of the Nobunaga's most trusted generals. Fun fact: Yamauchi Tenzen, one of the Ashina Generals, has a faded Toyotomi clan crest on his back, underneath the Hirata clan sigil.
Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the second great unifier of Japan, died in 1598. He was to be succeeded by his young son, however, another prominent general and Nobunaga's former retainer, Tokugawa Ieyasu, seized power in the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600 and was declared shōgun soon after. He completed the unification of Japan and founded the Tokugawa shogunate in 1603.
Some scholars consider the establishment of the new regime to be the end of the Sengoku period; others push it a little bit further to 1615 when Tokugawa shogunate destroyed the rest of the rebellious Toyotomi clan and their loyalists during the Siege of Osaka.
Where do we place the events of Sekiro in all of this? Of course, the game never mentions any of these people; it never mentions any kind of authority whether a shōgun or an emperor, but if we look closely at the Interior Ministry crest, we'll see that it is a modified crest of the Tokugawa clan. Interior Ministry — 内府 [naifu] — is essentially a shogunate agent sent to destroy the Ashina rebels because they worship the weird waters that make them stronger.
By the way, "the Central Forces" that characters sometimes mention in dialogues are also 内府 [naifu] — the Interior Ministry. It's just a localization inconsistency: sometimes 内府の軍 [naifu no gun] is translated as "Interior Ministry's army" and sometimes it's "Central Forces". In Japanese it's all the same thing.
Warriors in bright red armor that are part of the Interior Ministry forces are called 赤備え [akazonae]. The history of these elite troops is very interesting; let's see where they come from.
Akazonae were a military unit during the Sengoku period; they were a part of Irozonae — colored arms, the warriors of which wore a single color and had banners of that color. Akazonae's color, which is evident from their name, was red. At the time red color was derived from cinnabar and it wasn't cheap, so wearing red elevated them as an elite military group. Akazonae were led by a busho, an outstanding commander. In Sekiro it's Shigekichi.
Initially Akazonae were a part of the Takeda clan that ruled Kai province during the Sengoku period. However, Takeda clan was defeated by the allied forces of Oda Nobunaga and Tokugawa Ieyasu. Old retainers of the Takeda family including those who supported the Akazonae unit, were allotted to Ii Naomasa, one of Tokugawa Ieyasu's most trusted generals. Naomasa formed his own Akazonae troop dressed in red, and these warriors led the vanguard in upcoming battles and were feared; they were also nicknamed "Akaoni", or "Red Demons".
There were other Akazonae troops, for example, Sanada's Akazonae but they are not as relevant to our discussion. I think, this bit of history proves that the Interior Ministry forces are, indeed, shogunate forces. The red Akazonae troops are not random at all; at the time they were already a part of the Tokugawa army.
We learn from Ema that Isshin has passed away from his illness, the Castle is being overrun by Interior Ministry forces and Kuro is waiting for us in the field of silver grass where it all began. She also gives us 抜け穴の鍵 [nukeana no kagi] — secret passage key. The localization is accurate; the last sentence conveys more urgency in Japanese though:
「それを追わねばならぬ」 — "[Wolf] must follow [him]".
The artbook calls it 内府軍襲来 [naifugun shu:rai] — Interior Ministry army invasion, or attack. The view of the burning Ashina Castle is called 炎上する葦名城 [enjo:suru ashinajo:] — Ashina Castle engulfed in flames.
Before flying on the shinobi kite, let's look around. Akazonae troops are fighting Ashina soldiers and Ashina samurai; they are also burning the place down hoping to purge Ashina heretics with fire.
Akazonae soldiers in the artbook are named according to the weapons they wield. Soldiers with two long swords are called 二刀 [nito:], literally "dual-wielding". The ones with flamethrowers are 焼夷弾 [sho:idan] — incendiary device. The ones with two short swords are 小太刀・二刀 [kodachi・nito:] — kodachi dual-wielding.
On the roofs red-eyed Nightjar are fighting regular Nightjar; the red-eyed ones upon death drop an alternate version of Bite Down that says they have betrayed Ashina to ensure their own survival.
Taro Troop warriors near Ashina Castle are very upset; they are crying their eyes out covering their faces with their hands. They are like lost kids.
Below Isshin's room there is a red-eyed Ashina Elite, in English his name is Mizuo Ujinari but in Japanese he is 水生氏成 [mibu ujinari]; the localization's efforts were clearly aimed at distancing the character from the Mibu Village while I think the connection is here for a reason, proving once again that there is a Mibu clan in the world of Sekiro.
If you eavesdrop on him, he says something curious:
「…一心様、お借りいたします」 — "Lord Isshin, I'm borrowing [this]".
Initially I thought he was talking about Isshin's sword, the one that he has in Shura ending but then I remembered that Isshin is still clutching that sword in Dragon Heir's room, so I am not entirely sure what this Ashina Elite is borrowing in this case.
Before going to Kuro let's make a little detour and visit Ashina Outskirts.
Even though an Ashina soldier and a Nightjar ask Wolf to save Ashina and reinforce the troops defending the Outskirts, there is no saving anything. The Outskirts are burning, Black Badger is dead, Anayama is dead, Inosuke and his mother are too; all banners have been replaced with Ministry banners. This is the end.
The Tiger's Den where Yamauchi Tenzen used to be, is now 内府方の陣 [naifugata no jin] — encampment of the Interior Ministry [soldiers]. Here we meet the Akazonae leader: 赤備えの重吉 [akazonae no shigekichi] — Shigekichi of the Akazonae.
We have already discussed Demon of Hatred in the corresponding Remnants post. The pose he assumes at the start of the fight appears to be a theatrical kabuki pose; I think he strikes a couple more throughout the fight. I must admit that I have no substantial knowledge about kabuki theatre, it is a very complicated area of Japanese art, BUT if by any chance you are an expert on the topic and recognize the poses, please leave a comment below.
A couple of Ministry soldiers attempt to hold him by dousing him with fire but this, of course, does not work. I usually overwhelm him with Malcontent which works very well and also breaks my heart, and hide under Suzaku's umbrella. In second and third phases he casts projectiles and I assumed those to be burning Spirit Emblems but turns out, these are burning demonic Buddhas that he's been carving in the Dilapidated Temple. Demon of Hatred drops Lapis Lazuli which I don't think can be explained from the story and lore perspective; I think it's purely a gameplay thing.
There are actually two endings to this fight: based on your previous actions Wolf either recognized the Demon of Hatred as the Sculptor or he doesn't. It changes his dialogue during the final deathblow, and also Shura Narrator's dialogues after the battle is over.
About her! Regardless of whether or not Wolf recognized the Sculptor, she finishes her dialogue with this:
"You have your duties... Things you must accomplish, yes?"
This single line, in my opinion, proves that she is a sort of omnipresent narrator who knows everything and serves as a guide, albeit reluctant, for a part of the story. The thing is that Wolf's signature phrase that he repeats throughout the game is 為すべきことを、為す [nasubeki koto wo nasu] — "[I] will do what must be done." When he readies himself to fight his former mentor lady Butterfly, when he kills his foster father on the Ashina Castle lookout tower. Then Kuro picks it up, which is kind of heartbreaking, and then even Ema repeats it on a couple of occasions. This is sort of Wolf's motto that he lives by: there are things that must be done whatever the cost. All other characters who say this phrase heard it from Wolf first.
In Japanese Shura Maid says,
「あんたには、あんたのお役目が… 為すべきことが、あるんだろう？」 — "You have your duties... things that must be done, do you not?"
She never heard this phrase from Wolf so she shouldn't know how much significance it holds but she does; you can hear it through her voice and the pause that she takes. I think, she foreshadows the endings: whatever you choose to do, whether it is killing Kuro, sacrificing yourself or embarking on a long journey, there are things that must be done.
On our way to Kuro we meet one more of the Seven Spears: 葦名七本槍・鬼庭主馬雅次 [ashina nanahon'yari・oniwa shume masaji]. Yes, the "Oniwa" part is written the same way it is in Gyoubu's name so they might be related. This guy is accompanied by an Ashina general; you can eavesdrop on them to learn that they are waiting for Genichiro: they expect him to return with the Dragon's Heritage so they can revive Ashina.
Little do they know that we're also after Genichiro! Honestly, this encounter is probably my favorite moment of storytelling in Sekiro; it mirrors the start of the game so well. There are so many subtle details in this scene. During their first meeting Kuro was startled by Genichiro; he took a step back and looked to the side because he was afraid of him. Now, even being wounded by the Mortal Blade, he straightens himself, looks him in the eye and says that he won't be able to save Ashina. Think about how Wolf hesitated while unsheathing his sword the first time, how he couldn't grasp it firmly; now this movement is smoother than breath. Previously it was Wolf who stopped Kuro from approaching Genichiro because he wanted to shield him, and now it's Kuro preventing him from stepping between them with the exact same gesture.
I also love how easy it is to just steamroll Genichiro in this fight, quite contrary to the first encounter :D It's great when games have moments that show you how far you've come and how much you've learned, and I think this is a perfect example of that.
We have already discussed Kensei Isshin in one of the earlier posts; there isn't much I can add, it's just a very fun fight. Isshin wields the Black Mortal Blade, the cross-shaped spear of general Tamura, a firearm that appears to be a tanegashima pistol, and also lightning. Apparently not only Genichiro was Tomoe's student back in the day.
The only other thing that I noticed is that for some reason Isshin has a scar on his stomach as if from seppuku. It doesn't really make any sense before you defeat him, but it does after: Wolf cuts Isshin's stomach and then beheads him with the Mortal Blade. I don't think there's any significance beyond that.
And now after we have defeated Kensei Isshin and Wolf kneels beside Kuro, let's talk about all the endings.
This ending is called 不死断ち [fushidachi] — severance of the immortality. This is the ending that Kuro wants, and also the ending that Takeru wanted. The trophey\achievement you get for this ending depicts Wolf as a busshi; the artbook has a few images of him without the prosthetic, carving Buddha images out of wood. This is basically "continue the cycle" ending where nothing changes: the current Heir dies but there will be a new one eventually; the hatred is still there. Wolf finds no peace.
The second ending is 人返り [hitogaeri] — literally "turning back into a human". This is the ending Ema wants for Kuro and also the ending that Tomoe wanted for Takeru. Wolf sacrifies himself to unbind Kuro; Kuro loses his divine power and becomes human. The trophy depicts him in his travelling attire as does the artbook. He promises Ema to live his life to the fullest before passing on.
In my opinion, this ending is much better than Immortal Severance, but it solves only the personal problem of one Dragon Heir. Kuro lives on as a human, yes, but in the grand scheme of things nothing has changed just like in the previous ending. A new Dragon Heir will appear, and the stagnation will continue getting worse.
The last, and, arguably, the true ending is 竜の帰郷 [ryu: no kikyo:] — Dragon's Homecoming. This is the ending that the Child of Rejuvenation suggests to Wolf; it brings to fruition the Senpou plan to send the Dragon back to the West. It also gives closure to the Child since she understands her purpose and fulfils it. The artbook depicts her in a travelling attire as she leaves the Temple; the trophy picture shows her departing with Wolf whom she now calls not "shinobi of the Divine Heir" but "shinobi of the Dragon".
This is the only ending where we do not perpetuate the cycle but break it, removing the source of the stagnation and immortality and carrying it back where it came from.
Even in this fairly simple episode we managed to find some interesting things to look at. But it was the last one. Our exploration of the world of Sekiro is over.
We'll meet once again in the Epilogue where we'll look at what we have discovered during this long research and whether it was worth it at all. And then we'll celebrate! If you have a favorite episode or a favorite bit of any kind — save that comment for the next post.
As usual, stay tuned here and on the Lair's YouTube channel not to miss out on anything.
Thank you for your time.