The World of Sekiro: Prosthetic Tools I. Shuriken and Firecracker
Hi! This post marks the start of our Prosthetic Tools exploration where we will be taking a closer look at each and every Prosthetic Tool, its modifications, history and related items, if there are any. I really want to try and keep these posts short and sweet (finally) so in each post we will discuss two Prosthetic Tools. After we've covered everything, we'll move on to Upgrade Materials. Today's theme is Shuriken and Firecracker!
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, so if I get something wrong in the religious side of things, I'm sorry :D FromSoftware had a theological consultant who helped them build the religious narrative in Sekiro. I will leave links to the Buddhist terms that we will undoubtedly encounter so you can read more on your own, if you are interested.
Why do kanji (Japanese characters) have different readings?
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.
Tiny Transcription Legend
[:] — 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.
Well, before we start exploring Prosthetic Tools, we need to talk about the Shinobi Prosthetic! Its original name is 忍義手 [shinobigishu] - Shinobi Artificial Arm. The original description says that 「人のそれを模した偽骨を軸に、絡繰りが施されている」 - "mechanisms are attached to the fake bone imitating a human one, that serves as an axis".
I actually find this section of the artbook utterly fascinating; I never expected the Shinobi Prosthetic to be explained in such detail. There's everything you might want to know: pictures of all the mechanisms, how everything works, how things are attached to one another and how exactly Wolf uses them. Incredible.
You can't upgrade any Prosthetic Tools unless you have the Mechanical Barrel - 絡繰り筒 [karakuri tsutsu]. The original name means "a cylinder for mechanisms", and 筒 [tsutsu] also denotes a gun barrel. I think Mechanical Barrel is a great name for it.
I wonder why Gyoubu has the Mechanical Barrel. After Isshin prevented Orangutang from becoming Shura and severed his arm, Dougen made him a new one, and the Mechanical Barrel was undoubtedly a part of it. Maybe as the flames of hatred started consuming the Sculptor, he either surrendered the Mechanical Barrel or it was taken from him to make him less dangerous. The Sculptor knows what the Barrel is for, what Shinobi Tools are, so he had it at some point.
Now when I think about how helpful the Sculptor is with the Prosthetic, how eagerly he explains everything, upgrades tools for you, gives you a Shinobi Esoteric Text as soon as you show up with your first ever Skill Point... It honestly breaks my heart. I think the Sculptor just wanted to make Wolf stronger so he would be able to kill him.
When you get your Shinobi Prosthetic, turns out there is already one Prosthetic Tool installed! And it's your Grappling Hook. There isn't much said about it in the game, it has no upgrades and no separate description, only a little tutorial. At least I can tell you its original name! 鉤縄 [kaginawa], literally "rope with a hook". Kaginawa is a type of grappling hook, it was widely used in feudal Japan, especially during sieges. Kaginawa has a number of configurations, from one to four hooks.
Shuriken Wheel is called exactly that: 手裏剣車 [shurikenguruma], shuriken wheel. The word "shuriken" itself literally means "a concealed hand blade". This contraption was created by 機功師・道玄 [kiko:shi do:gen] - inventor Dougen. The description of the item is quite accurate: a surprising number of blades can fit into the wheel because it was designed for stacking. The last line is slightly different in the original:
「こうした絡繰り忍具を作り上げた技巧が、忍義手にも生かされている」 - "the technique that went into constructing such shinobi mechanisms allows one to put Shinobi Prosthetic to good use".
The localized version of this line initially confused me because I thought that "when one matches mechanical finesse with a Shinobi's talent" implied that Dougen was also a shinobi, that's why he was so good at constructing these things. But later we learn that he was a genius, a doctor, but hardly a shinobi. However, he most certainly was the one who constructed the Shinobi Prosthetic in the first place. I wonder why that nightjar had the Shuriken Wheel. Nightjar don't really use shurikens, they mostly fight with sickles and somersaults.
When you fit the Shuriken Wheel into your Shinobi Prosthetic, you get Loaded Shuriken. The original calls it just simply "shuriken" - 手裏剣 [shuriken], I'm not sure why "Loaded" was added but it doesn't hurt. Shuriken Prosthetic Tool has 5 upgrades, that's more than any other Prosthetic Tool. We'll look at all of them. And we'll also look at the pictures from the artbook that show how all these things work!
The original name for Spinning Shuriken is 独楽手裏剣 [komashuriken], where 独楽 [koma] means "spinning top". The shuriken upgrade path is basically to build as much momentum as you can so it spins faster and longer, and then throw into the mix some sharp edges so they will rip enemies into shreds. This is the first one of the bunch and, as the original says, it is enhanced by 「回転の力を溜められる」 - "accumulating rotational energy". This is the first shuriken upgrade that offers an alternate attack. You might have noticed that some Prosthetic Tools have a spring-load upgrade, like Spring-load Firecracker or Spring-load Flame Vent. This is the first spring-load version of the shuriken, the description uses the same word for the mechanism - バネ [bane] - spring - that is used in the names of other Prosthetic Tools that have it.
I keep reading it as "Coughing Top"... Gouging Top's original name is 貫け独楽 [tsuranuke koma] - piercing spinning top. This shuriken is enhanced by 「鋭利な刃で敵を貫く」 - "sharp blades that pierce enemies".
The last paragraph that describes how it works, is identical to the Spinning Shuriken - because they both have a spring-load mechanism and blades - but the last line is slightly different since Gouging Top has sharper blades: 「その鋭利な刃で敵を切り裂き続ける」 - "these sharp blades continue tearing enemies apart".
We already discussed Phantom Kunai as an item when we talked about Lady Butterfly so we won't dwell on it for too long. The original name of the Prosthetic Tool is exactly what you would expect - まぼろしクナイ [maboroshi kunai], Phantom Kunai. The localization is very accurate.
Let's look at the Phantom Kunai page in the artbook! This little line comments on how the kunai are arranged inside the wheel in such a fashion that their handle and blade parts stack.
Sen Throw is a fun and weird modification for the Shuriken Prosthetic Tool. It reminds me a lot of the Flukenest charm from Hollow Knight where your main spell transforms and deals a lot of damage but becomes incredibly short-ranged.
Its original name is 銭つぶて [zenitsubute], where 銭 [zeni] denotes both a round coin with a square hole in the center, and also sen, and つぶて [tsubute] means "a stone used for throwing". I think, Sen Throw is a great localization.
「仕込んだ銭を、まとめて放つ」 - "shoots a stack of coins in one go". If you look at the picture from the artbook, it shows how exactly the coins are organized inside of the Shuriken Wheel: there is a rope that goes through the hole in the center of each coin and bundles all of them together. They are also loaded at slightly different angles and density so the stack won't be too uniform, otherwise, I'm guessing, it will get stuck inside the wheel.
The artbook also depicts one of the coins as an example - a round coin with a square hole in the center. The little note says that there is the chromatic part - I'm guessing, the darker inside of the coin - and also the polished outer part. If you're interested what the kanji on the coin say, I've got you: the vertical kanji are 葦名 [ashina], and the horizontal kanji when read right to left are 通寶 [tsu:ho:] which means "currency".
「つまり、大金持ちならば、滅法強い。一方、素寒貧は、ほこりが出るだけだ。」 - "Being rich makes the blast incredibly strong, but an empty purse will shoot nothing but dust".
I really like the way they localized this sentence. The last part "On the other hand, if you're poor, nothing but dust will come out" has a really interesting detail. The original uses the word ほこり [hokori] that denotes dust but also pride. Since there is only hiragana and no kanji, I think this is intentional wordplay. If you're poor, you have only your pride and no sen to use.
Its original name is 瑠璃の手裏剣 [ruri no shuriken], where 瑠璃 [ruri] means "lapis lazuli". This Shuriken upgrade features not just "piercing edge" but literally "lazulite blades" - 「瑠璃の刃」. The original compares the blue light to 「箒星」[ho:kiboshi] - a comet.
Otherwise the description is pretty similar to Gouging Top, as this is technically the same construction with the spinning blades that continue damaging enemies after they strike but here the blades are special and thus the damage is higher.
That's all there is to discuss about the Shuriken Prosthetic Tool so let's move on to the Firecracker!
As we take a closer look as the Firecracker Prosthetic Tool, we'll try and unravel the story of little Robert and his father. The original name of Robert's Firecrackers is really straightforward, it's ロバトの爆竹 [robato no bakuchiku] - Robert's Firecrackers. The localization says that "Firecrackers come from across southern seas", the original says 南蛮 [nanban]. This word refers to Nanban trade period that lasted from 1543 to 1615, and this timeframe places it exactly into the Sengoku period where the events of Sekiro take place. The Nanban trade began with Portuguese explorers and merchants establishing trade routes with Japan. They introduced matchlock firearms, Christianity and some of their own customs. They also brought many products for sale, like, you know, almonds. Thus it's most likely that little Robert and his father come from Portugal.
As the description states, firecrackers are used to generate a deafening sound, so the sparks you see are just a byproduct and not a goal. Little Robert and his father sold these to cover their travelling expenses. I wonder if the firecracker traps in Gun Fort are also made of these firecrackers. The Gun Fort folks certainly can fashion something like this themselves but I'm still curious.
「ロバトの命を永えられるため死なずを求めてのことだったとか」 - "were they seeking the Undying to prolong Robert's life?"
When you turn Robert's Firecrackers into a Prosthetic Tool, it becomes Shinobi Firecracker. In Japanese this tool is just called 爆竹 [bakuchiku] - firecracker, but I suppose this word looked really lonely as a title.
The localization is accurate, however to describe the enemy reaction to the firecracker the original uses the verb 怯む [hirumu] - to recoil or to flinch from something. I think it better suits this tool than "to blind" because you startle the enemies with the deafening sound. Later, with subsequent upgrades the firecracker will produce not only a loud sound but also blooming sparks, however for the time being its main feature is sound.
Next up, similarly to one of the Shuriken upgrades, we have the Spring-load Firecracker - 爆竹・バネ式 [bakuchiku baneshiki] that introduces rotational energy into the Prosthetic Tool. This upgrade not only allows the firecracker to produce a louder sound but also - finally - a flash of light. Interestingly enough, the verb 怯む [hirumu] that was translated as "to blind" in the previous description, here takes on a more correct translation "to recoil".
Long Spark upgrade, as well as Purple Fume Spark, is achieved by introducing compound gunpowder and tweaking its ratio. Its original name is beautiful: 長火花 [nagahibana], literally "long spark".
「火薬の配合を改良した強化爆竹」 - "firecracker, enhanced with an improved gunpowder combination".
I think, the last sentence should have mirrored the structure of the original and it would sound much better that way. You want to draw attention to the flower metaphor and not to the fact that the blooming is short. "For a short while, the flames of the firecrackers bloom". Has a completely different feel to it. But that's just my opinion, the localization itself is as accurate as it can be.
Purple Fume Spark
Purple Fume Spark is called 紫煙火花 [shien hibana], where 紫煙 [shien] literally translates to "tobacco smoke" or "purple smoke". This upgrade is achieved by 「紫煙が立ちのぼる配合」 - "[gunpowder] arrangement that causes the purple smoke to rise up". The recipe includes a Lump of Fat Wax and we'll get to it later later in Upgrade Materials.
This is all there is to discuss about the Firecracker Prosthetic Tool and its upgrades, however the story of little Robert and his father is not yet finished.
Ninth Prayer Necklace
Prayer Necklaces constitute probably the most interesting item category. Not only do they allow you to increase your stats but they also offer a lot of lore and story. Prayer beads are scattered across Ashina in such a curious fashion that if you are attentive enough and gather all the beads in order, each Necklace will give you a piece of lore on people, enemies and areas that you have just interacted with.
The original name of this item is 念珠 [nenju] - a string of prayer beads. They are all numbered - the first, the second, the third and so on up to the tenth necklace that is called 十全 [ju:zen], which means "final" but also contains the "ten" kanji, because it's the tenth necklace.
The one that tells us about Robert and his father is the Ninth Prayer Necklace. We'll focus on the lore part of the description and will explore the item category itself in another post.
Weird that the localization skipped the vital part of the original description that finally explains why Robert's father searched for the Undying and why he needed to extend Robert's life.
「息子の病を癒すため」 - "to heal the illness of his son".
「千本刀にて、変若の恵みを賜わる約束だ」 - "[they] promised to give the blessing of rejuvenation", but for what? The localization translates 「千本刀にて」 as "repelling a thousand blades". This part lacks a verb so it is unclear what Robert's father needed to do with a thousand blades but his whole character and this very phrase is a clear reference to a Japanese warrior monk called Benkei.
Benkei by Kikuchi Yōsai
Benkei was a man of great strength, 2 meters tall, he wielded 7 weapons and led a very interesting life: at some point he was a monk, a mountain ascetic, a rogue warrior, and then he served Minamoto no Yoshitsune, a military commander of the Minamoto clan in the late Heian and early Kamakura periods. People speculated that Benkei was an offspring of a temple god, or he was a demon - at least half-demon! - or an ogre due to his towering height.
Benkei was also known as a man on a personal quest to take 1000 swords from samurai warriors that he believed to be arrogant and unworthy, and so he wandered around Kyoto dueling every samurai he thought undeserving of the title. 1000 swords he aimed to collect in Japanese are called 千本の太刀 [senbon no tachi]. As you can see, the "thousand blades" in the Prayer Necklace description are written in a similar fashion - 千本刀 [senbongatana].
Anyway, Benkei collected 999 swords and was looking for the last one when he noticed a young man playing the flute at Gojotenjin Shrine. He carried a sword and so Benkei challenged him. I've no clue why he thought the young man was arrogant or unworthy but anyway, they dueled - not at the Shrine but on Gojo Bridge - and giant Benkei lost to this warrior who was much smaller than him. That warrior turned out to be Minamoto no Yoshitsune. Benkei did not accept his defeat and challenged the young man once again but lost anyway so he became Youshitsune's retainer and fought alongside him till the day he died. Boys' friendship, am I right.
There is a number of parallels between Armored Warrior and Benkei, for example their great height, the fact that they both lost to a much smaller warrior and also the running theme of bridges. Benkei later died on a bridge trying to hold it to protect Youshitsune. He didn't fall off of it though.
And, of course, the thousand blades they both needed to collect. Benkei wanted to defeat 1000 unworthy samurai and for Armored Warrior it was more of an exchange: when he defeats 1000 intruders that are trying to breach the Senpou Temple, the monks will give his son the blessing of rejuvination. The thing is that the Senpou Temple is not really besieged and there are not a lot of people who are trying to invade its grounds. Armored Warrior would be standing on that bridge for the next 200 years trying to collect a dozen of swords, if that. Genichiro is in cahoots with the monks, Isshin does not command the Ahina troops any longer, the Ministry is buying candy in bulk from the temple and making huge donations to further their research, and the guys from Misen are selling Gokan sugars to them wholesale. Who are they afraid of?..
I think, it was more of "your son will get the blessing approximately never" type of promise. They most likely just took Robert in for the experiments while his father continued standing guard on the bridge unable to check back with them on how his son was doing. Robert was most likely already somewhere in a pile of children's bodies and Armored Warrior never knew. He continued to believe that it was his responsibility to collect 1000 swords from intruders and save his little son. What a tragic story.
His Japanese name is very straightforward, 甲冑武者 [kacchu: musha] - literally "armored warrior".
In the next post we'll continue exploring other Prosthetic Tools, their upgrades and related items. I'm learning a whole bunch of new words because I wasn't really well-versed in the mechanisms, gunpowder and all the other stuff in Japanese, so that's always a good thing!
As usual, stay tuned here and on the Lair's YouTube channel not to miss out on anything.
Thank you for your time.
The World of Sekiro: Dragonrot and the Memorial Mob.
The World of Sekiro: Dragon Heirs. Part III. The Girl and the Serpent
The World of Sekiro: Dragon Heirs. Part II. Kuro and Wolf
The World of Sekiro: Dragon Heirs. Part I. Lord Takeru and Lady Tomoe
The World of Sekiro: Remnants I
The World of Sekiro: Remnants II
The World of Sekiro: Remnants III
The World of Sekiro: Sugars, Spiritfalls and the Headless