Hi! In this post we'll continue exploring Shinobi Prosthetic Tools. Initially I thought to dedicate this post to the Spear and Sabimaru only but I couldn't help myself and added in the Iron Fortress because I love it so much and couldn't wait any longer to talk about it :D If you missed the previous posts, you can check them out here and here.
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.
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.
We already talked about Gyoubu's Broken Horn when we discussed Gyoubu himself and his associated items. This is his signature spear that was broken during the rebellion, and Isshin was so impressed by how exactly it broke, that he bestowed upon Gyoubu the cross-shaped spear of General Tamura whom he defeated in the opening cinematic. That's the spear that Gyoubu wields when we fight him in the game. You may have noticed that one of his helmet horns is broken, and I think it was done on purpose as a reminder of his favorite spear's noble death in battle.
When you fit Gyoubu's Broken Horn into the Prosthetic, you get 仕込み槍 [shikomi yari] - Loaded Spear. I finally realized what 仕込み [shikomi] means in all the Prosthetic Tools, my mind just kept blanking out on its meaning but now I get it. When you fit stuff into your Prosthetic, it's described by the verb ** so basically every 仕込み [shikomi] upgrade is supposed to reflect that now this Tool is built into the Prosthetic. Could be "Fitted", especially because that's how the localization translates the same word in the description, or even "built-in" but I think "Loaded" is the best option, sounds good and makes just as much sense. It's simple, I know, but it had been escaping me for a while :D
「柄の長さを活かした突き攻撃を繰り出す」- "unleashes thrusting attacks that capitalize on the length of the shaft". I find the consistency of the original description incredible: as soon as you install a new Prosthetic Tool, the game goes out of its way to tell you what the main feature of your new weapon is. With Shinobi Axe it was its weight, and with the Spear it's its impressive length.
As for the last line, the "Armor Stripping", I think this term was not coined by Gyoubu but rather by people who saw it in action.
「世に言う、刑部の鎧剥ぎよ」- "so-called "Gyoubu's Armor Stripping [technique]". Well, that does sound kind of... weird. Gyoubu's Armor Tear-off? Well, you get the idea, that's just the name of his special technique, and this skill was unique to Gyoubu.
Its original name is 仕込み槍・突式 [shikomi yari tsukishiki], the localization is accurate: 突く [tsuku] means "to thrust". This is the first spring-load upgrade for the spear that allows for an alternate attack: a series of thrusts.
Cleave Type's original name is 仕込み槍・回転式 [shikomi yari kaitenshiki], literally "rotating type", not really "cleave type". This is the second spring-load upgrade for the spear. Its description is for the most part identical to that of the Thrust Type: the original says that it is further reinforced by a spring mechanism although it doesn't really specify in what manner. The localization says that the spring mechanism is "enhanced" in this one, which makes more sense.
The last line is also different as it describes the attack unique for this upgrade:「薙ぎ払い攻撃」- "attack that mows down enemies". If you look at it, it's basically this large sweeping attack, the English localization again translates is as "a powerful cleaving attack". Maybe I don't really know what "to cleave" means, I've always thought that it describes splitting or dividing something, not rotating. If my understanding of this verb is incorrect, please let me know in the comments :D
You know I often get super excited for the weirdest reasons :D Spiral Spear's original name is 螺旋号 [rasengo:], and I was really happy to see the word 螺旋 [rasen], it was kind of nostalgic in a weird way because this word was used in the original name of the Coiled sword from Dark Souls :D 螺旋号 [rasengo:] can be translated as "spiral edition" or "spiral model", but it all sounds really awkward and out of style for Sekiro, so Spiral Spear is a great choice.
「螺旋の回転を伴った突きを繰り出せる」- "allows for thrusts paired with the rotation of the spiral [chiseled into the blade]".
The last paragraph describes in detail how this upgrade works, however the localization did not translate the first line as it is, possibly because of the lack of space.
「穂先を尖らせるばかりが、槍ではない」- "even though it makes the tip sharp, it's not a spear". Sounds kina clumsy, I admit, but I struggle to come up with a more agreeable translation. I think, this sentence means to say that despite the fact it's still a spear and the vortex makes a pointy end, you're attacking with the vortex, not really with the spear itself, if it makes sense.
Leaping Flame has a beautiful Japanese name, 火走り [hibashiri] - gliding flame, running flame, or, indeed, leaping flame. This upgrade falls in line with Sparking Axe as it is also enhanced by 「火打の撃鉄」 - "a percussion hammer that creates sparks".
I really like the localized version of this description, it's very expressive and sounds really cool. The last line of the original description was moved up and combined with the first sentence, it's exactly the same structure from the description of the Sparking Axe: 「これは鋭き槍であり、火器でもあるのだ」 - "it is both a sharp spear and a firearm".
Let's look at the pictures and see how the Spear works!
You can see how the shaft is located partly inside the blade and how the armor-stripping horn is folded in when not it use. The artbook also depicts all types of blades: the default blade, the broader blade from the Cleave Type modification and the blade with the spiral pattern from the Spiral Spear.
And that's all there is to discuss about the Spear! To be honest, it is not my favorite Prosthetic Tool, I never mastered it to any decent degree but I know that it can be very useful. After my first playthrough I learned that you can use it to pull the centipede out of the Guardian Ape and the other infested, and I think it's by far the coolest thing about it :D
Before you find Sabimaru in the Ashina Castle you have a chance to learn about it by purchasing Sabimaru Memo from Fujioka the Info Broker. Let's start with the name of this kodachi sword: in 錆び丸 [sabimaru] 錆び [sabi] means "rust" and 丸 [maru] is a typical suffix for the names of swords, we've already seen it in Kusabimaru's name. I saw people theorizing about the connection between Kusabimaru and Sabimaru since their names kind of sound alike but that's only in English. In the original every sword has its own kanji, and a common suffix for sword names, otherwise they are not connected in any way.
As the description states, Sabimaru is a kodachi sword, the localization says "kodachi short sword", which I thought was redundant since "kodachi" already indicates that it is a short sword, it's basically its main characteristic. But then I thought that kodachi swords and their appearance don't constitute any kind of common knowledge so that's probably why the localization chose to specify that it's a short sword.
Kodachi is a weird type of sword for many reasons :D It comes from the early Kamakura period (1185-1333) and its name 小太刀 [kodachi] means "small tachi". Tachi is a type of traditional Japanese sword that is different from the katana, and it appeared much, much earlier: tachi were the mainstream swords for almost 700 years (900-1596). Then, during the Muramachi period (1336-1573) tachi swords were deposed from their mainstream position by katana swords but some high-ranking samurai still wore tachi swords.
Kodachi is often confused with wakizashi, a broader category of swords that served as a backup for the main weapon - a katana. Wakizashi can vary in length and be close to a katana or to a tantō, when a kodachi sword's length is set at being less than 60 cm. Wakizashi also came much later in history than kodachi - in 15th or 16th century and they were widely used during Edo period because Tokugawa shogunate required samurai to pair their katana with shorter swords, and many of those samurai chose wakizashi.
There was another combination, albeit less popular: katana and tantō. Tantō is even more ancient than kodachi and dates all the way back to Heian period, and that's 794-1185. Tantō is basically a dagger, it has a short blade between 15-30 cm and was designed for stabbing. Back in the day, when tachi were mainstream, samurai often paired tachi with tantō. When katana swords became mainstream, they started wearing katana and wakizashi, but some of them mixed both and there were katana/tantō combinations. There was also a transition period where both tachi/tantō and katana/wakizashi samurai existed.
So, where is kodachi in this picture? Kodachi swords were too short to be considered a proper sword but too long to be a dagger, so they were considered short swords. What's more important, kodachi is a primary weapon, as opposed to both wakizashi and tantō that acted as auxiliary weapons to either a katana or a tachi. However, it's still unclear how exactly kodachi swords were used: some argue that they were secondary weapons to normal-sized tachi, others say that kodachi swords might have been swords for adolescents. These swords were produced only in a certain time period and by specific swordmakers, so they weren't exactly mainstream.
I am no expert in Japanese swords and I only share the limited knowledge that I have. I just felt that it was important to give as much context to Sabimaru as possible and emphasize how weird it is that Wolf pairs Kusabimaru, a katana sword, and Sabimaru, a kodachi sword from an earlier historic period when katana swords weren't popular. An odd couple indeed.
Back to the memo! The localization says that Sabimaru is a national treasure of Ashina, the original says 宝刀 [ho:to:] - treasured sword. Reminds me of Kusabimaru and its position in the history of the Hirata clan. The rest of the description is accurate: the poisonous blue rust on this blade helped banish the inhuman Okami warrior women. We'll find a bit more details on that later.
I love that you can actually see the depiction of Sabimaru in the picture, it's so cute :3
The mysterious bluish rust on Sabimaru is 緑青 [rokusho:] - verdigris, bluish-green copper rust, a natural patina that forms when copper, brass or bronze are exposed to air or seawater.
The most interesting part of this description is the line about the invasion. The localization says "inhuman evil", when the original is more specific - 「人ならぬ一族」 - inhuman clan. We have already seen this phrase pop up when we talked about Takeru and Tomoe: "relatives of Tomoe" in Japanese were also 「巴の一族」- Tomoe's clan. There has been some debate surrounding Okami and their clans, whether or not there is only one clan inside the Okami, or more than one, and Tomoe comes from a different family than the other Okami. As of now, I think there is only one clan of Okami that came from the group of people who ascended into the Fountainhead Palace from the Sunken Valley. But we'll see when we get to the Fountainhead Palace later.
The original says that "Ashina army trained with this sword in the ancient times to oppose an inhuman clan that made an onslaught on Ashina land". This raises a lot of questions! I feel like this line implies that there were many Sabimaru swords to supply Ashina troops. Hard to imagine they were driving off Okami with only one blade. Sabimaru being an unpopular kodachi sword gives us a loose timeframe of the invasion: hundreds of years before the events of Sekiro take place. Kodachi swords were forged during Kamakura period (1185–1333) and the game takes place in Sengoku period after the Nanban Trade had been established in 1543, we learned that from the Robert's Firecrackers. This places us at the end of 16th century or the start of 17th century but not beyond 1615 when the Sengoku period ended. From all of this we can conclude that the Okami invasion happened at least 200 years before the events of Sekiro, and probably even earlier than that. This Sabimaru sword that the Wolf gets might have been the only one left because so much time has passed. Honestly, the name "Sabimaru" strikes me as kind of generic, "Rust Sword" and I can easily imagine that this was a special type of kodachi swords for fighting the inhuman Okami rather than one special blade.
As far as I know, verdigris has a degree of toxicity that was, obviously, hyperbolized in the game. For some reason, Okami are vulnerable to copper rust! The biggest mistery, however, remains: why would Okami attack Ashina in the first place?..
Also, gotta love the item placement in Sekiro: Sabimaru Chest is located just next to an Eel liver that raises resistance to lightning and Shock damage. This room is basically a little anti-Okami stash :D
There is a lot of interesting details in Sabimaru's description so let's dive in! First of all, the mechanism of its poison is described in the most interesting fashion:
「敵の身体を蝕み」- "[poison] eats into the enemies' bodies". 蝕む [mushibamu] is an interesting verb, it means "to be eaten by worms", not exactly the most pleasant feeling I would imagine. Okami, for example, start coughing and throwing up when poisoned by Sabimaru.
This description also elaborated on the "inhuman clan":
「人ならぬ、淤加美の女武者」- "inhuman female Okami warriors". I have always found it really interesting that all Okami are women, but what I find even more fascinating now, is that I think, all Palace Nobles are men. During the course of the game we encounter one man who turns into a Noble - Head Priest of Mibu Village, and another man who is in the process of turning - Great Carp Attendant. I wonder...
「その血筋に連なる者にもまた、有効だろう」- "besides, it's likely to be effective against those who have a connection to their lineage".
I love Sabimaru not only because it gives so much lore about the most curious events of the past, but also because it can be practically used to learn even more. If someone is suspiciously vulnerable to Sabimaru's blue rust, they might be connected to the Okami somehow. Like ladies in the Sunken Valley - but those were obvious, or O'Rin, who was not at all obvious. I love it.
Improved Sabimaru is 錆び丸・表裏 [sabimaru hyo:ri]. 表裏 [hyo:ri] means "front and back", "inside and outside" and generally refers to some kind of duplicity, or two sides of something. Here it points to the fact that this upgrade allows Wolf to perform a forward slash with Kusabimaru and then change the moveset and use both blades at the same time.
The localization is pretty accurate, only "applied to the blade" sounds kind of weird when describing the blue rust, the original just says "the blade's poisonous blue rust". Much like in the previous descriptions, it uses the verb 蝕む [mushibamu] - "to eat into" to describe the effect of the poison.
The next Sabimaru upgrade falls in line with one of the Shuriken upgrades, it is enhanced by a sharper blade. Its original name is 貫きの錆び丸 [tsuranuki no sabimaru] - piercing Sabimaru. This upgrade allows Wolf to damage enemies through their guard.
The last paragraph about the poisonous blue rust is identical to that of the Improved Sabimaru but was translated by the localization a bit differently, we've seen this happen to many upgrade descriprions. I think, it is either a space issue or, which is much more likely, these descriptions were not localized in their direct order as we're looking at them now, that's why the localization is slightly different. Nothing was lost though!
Lazulite Sabimaru is 瑠璃の錆び丸 [ruri no sabimaru]. This version of Sabimaru creates poisonous mist with each swing. It also has the prettiest dark blue sheath!
The description is very accurate, the original speaks of 「いにしえより錆び丸に凝っていた青錆び」- "the blue rust, absorbed by Sabimaru in the ancient times" and says that it rises to the sufrace of the blade and becomes visible when Lapis Lazuli is dissolved [on the blade].
Let's look at the artbook and see how Sabimaru works!
Here you can see how Sabimaru is attached to the Prosthetic by a loop and a metal hook. Sabimaru's sheath is quite unusual: since it would be impossible to unsheath it like a regular sword using only one hand, its scabbard has a long slit at the bottom, so the kodachi sword basically works as a flick blade. The little note on the Lazulite Sabimaru's blade points at the groove at the top and says that it stretches all the way to the handle. And we can once more admire the blue sheath, I'm absolutely obsessed with it.
And that's all there is to discuss about Sabimaru! Sabimaru is one of my favorite Prosthetic Tools not only because it makes the Fountainhead Palace a breeze but also because of how much lore it holds and how it allows you to explore the story even deeper.
Next up, the Umbrella!
Iron Fortress' original name is very special, it's 金城鉄壁 [kinjo:teppeki], a four-kanji word that denotes impregnable or unassailable castle walls. I think, the "Iron Fortress" localization is pretty incredible: it captures the overall meaning and at the same time references two out of four kanji: iron (鉄) and castle (城).
扇 [o:gi] is a folding fan, and 鉄扇 [tessen], another name for this Prosthetic Tool, is an iron-ribbed fan that has its own martial art called 鉄扇術 [tessenjutsu].
The most important thing about this description is the fan's history. The localization says that is was passed down through generations of assassins serving Senpou Temple, but that's not all of the truth. The original says:
「その代々の長が受け継ぐ、相伝の鉄扇」- "this iron-ribbed fan is an heirloom, inherited by the generations of [assassins'] leaders".
Iron Fortress is a speacial item that marks the leader of the Senpou Temple assassins, it is passed down from one commander to the next. This was completely new to me because this fact makes the Black Badger the leader of Senpou assassins. Which is very lore, because he gives up his position and this heirloom, cutting ties with Senpou Temple. The next line explains it all:
「だが、受け継がれてきたものは、何かと重い。手放したくなる者がいても、おかしくはない」- "however, once inherited, it feels somehow heavy. This is not surprising, since there is a person one doesn't want to lose".
Black Badger inherited the Iron Fortress from the previous chief and became the leader of the Senpou Temple assassins. However, this position weighed heavy on him since the assassins now were not just the shinobi protecting the Temple, but rascals kidnapping children for the Priests' experiments in their Quest for Immortality. Black Badger had a child of his own, and the new mission apparently didn't sit right with him. When his kid died he decided to go rogue, cut all ties with the Temple and sell the Iron Fortress since he saw no use for it any longer. His questline ends in the most tragic and yet fitting way: he dies defending a child from the Senpou assassins during the final invasion.
It's insane how much lore this description holds.
Its original name is, unsurprisingly, 仕込み傘 [shikomigasa] - loaded umbrella. The localization slightly whiffed at the beginning there, it says "indestructible iron-ribbed Umbrella", when it should be "indestructible iron-ribbed fan" - 「鉄扇・金城鉄壁」. The next line is also different, the original says that the fan "opens like an umbrella" but the localization doesn't really describe the transition. I think, it has to do with the lack of space on the description card, that's why they had to mention Umbrella at the start, to save some symbols later, hoping the players would figure out on their own that it's still a fan that just opens like an umbrella.
However, this lack of space wouldn't have occured had they not decided to assist players with a tip that was not in the original text :D The Japanese description says:
「だが、これは傘だ。下段攻撃はガードすることはできない」- "But, this is an umbrella. It cannot protect from attacks that come from below/from low positions."
And it gives no further comments, however the English localization adds "such as sweep attacks", which of course makes it much clearer :D
Loaded Umbrella - Magnet is 仕込み傘・磁鉄軸 [shikomigasa jitetsujiku], loaded umbrella - magnetite axis. According to the original description, this version of umbrella is enhanced with 「磁鉄で鍛えた軸」 - axis, forged with magnetite. For some reason, both the title and the description don't use the word "magnetite" as it is, 磁鉄鉱 [jitekko:] but only the first two kanji which makes me question its reading but I suppose it's [jitetsu]. I was very confused when I saw it for the first time, but then again, it's not exactly unheard of for Soulsborne and Sekiro texts to have altered words that look like normal words but somehow shortened or otherwise modified while preserving their meaning, probably for stylistic reasons. So, I'm pretty sure it's still magnetite :D
The next paragraph about the fan opening like an umbrella and protecting Wolf from attacks is identical across all umbrella descriptions, so we won't dwell on it.
The last paragraph was translated accurately, the magnetite axis is quite strong, and you can now spin the open umbrella to repel enemies' attacks.
I'm super excited about the next upgrades :D It's original name is 鳳凰の紫紺傘 [ho:o: no shikongasa]. 紫紺 [shikon] denotes a bluish purple color and 鳳凰 [ho:o:] is a word that refers specifically to the Chinese phoenix, a mythological bird that reigns over all other birds. There used to be a difference between male phoenixes and female phoenixes but over time they merged into a single feminine image that was then paired with the Chinese dragon who has male connotations. If you look closely at the umbrella, you'll see that the bird is actually quite reminiscent of a rooster, and it's no coincidence since the Chinese Phoenix is also called August Rooster and often takes the place of the Rooster in Chinese Zodiac. This mythical bird has a lot of positive connotations and was a symbol of the imperial house in both China and Japan, symbolizing sun, fire and justice. Phoenix's appearance is a composite of many birds, for example she has a peakock tail, which you can also see on the Umbrella.
As with the Lazulite Sacred Flame, this description implies that the grace of the Phoenix is divine, connected to gods. "Apparitions" as a type of enemy in Japanese are called 怨霊 [onryo:] - mythological spirits who come to the physical world to seek vengeance.
Last but definitely not least! 朱雀の紅蓮傘 [suzaku no gurengasa] - Suzaku's vermilion umbrella. You've probably heard of Suzaku, it is a legendary Vermilion Bird, one of the Four Guardians, or Four Gods, or Four Symbols that appear among the Chinese constellations and represent elements. These deites hold a great deal of cultural importance in East Asia, and many cultures have their own names for these creatures. I'll give the Japanese ones:
Suzaku the Vermilion Bird represents the fire element and is depicted as a pheasant covered in flames with a five-colored plumage. The funniest thing is that if you look closely, you can see that Suzaku is on the Umbrella the whole time, starting with Loaded Umbrella. He is depicted on the Magnetite Umbrella too! Of course, the Lilac Umbrella depicts the Phoenix, but otherwise this Prosthetic Tool has been Suzaku's all along, and the final upgrade allows this mythical bird to show itself in all its glory. The bird, the wing pattern - it's all the same, only now engulfed in flames.
It breaks my heart that this upgrade wasn't localized as Suzaku's Vermilion Umbrella. 紅蓮 [guren] means "crimson" and can also denote "the color of roaring flames" or "the color of red lotus flowers". As far as I know, Suzaku has no connection to lotus flowers, red or otherwise, but he is kind of red himself and perpetually engulfed in flames. Would've been cool to see the name of the Umbrella reflect that in the localized version.
I love how graceful the original description is when describing how this Umbrella tames fire, the localized version is much more technical:
「朱雀の恩寵が火を鎮め」- "Suzaku's favor quells fire".
Let's look at the artbook!
This picture shows us how the fan itself is constructed. It has 36 metal plates that are slightly arched in the middle to make them stackable. The handle is attached to the last plate that's at the bottom of the fan. There is also a hole at the narrow end of each metal plate and a strong yet flexible rope goes through them. Wolf if able to unfold the fan into the umbrella with a single quick movement of his wrist.
This is Magnetite Umbrella, the picture shows that each metal plate is slightly darker on its wider end and that's where it is painted with a flower pattern depicted above. And you can see Suzaku lurking there :D
And the close-ups on the stunning designs of Phoenix's Lilac Umbrella:
and Suzaku's Lotus Umbrella:
The Umbrella is definitely my favorite Prosthetic Tool when it comes to design, I just can't contain my awe when I see it. A fan that turns into an umbrella - the animation for it is incredible too! I think, it's the most beautiful and graceful Prosthetic Tool out of the whole bunch, so much care and consideration has been put into it, it just blows my mind. Every time I open it I just can't help but admire its beauty.
Ah, what a ride! I think, this post is by far my favorite out of all the posts I've done on Prosthetic Tools, the research yielded some incredible results this time. I learned so much - and I hope you did too!
In the next post we'll finish up the Prosthetic Tools with Mist Raven's Feathers, Finger Whistle and Divine Abduction.
As usual, stay tuned here and on the Lair's YouTube channel not to miss out on anything.
Thank you for your time.