The World of Sekiro: Remnants. Part I.
Hi! This sub-series about bosses and their related items will include 3 posts where we'll take into account as much context as possible to learn something new or interpret things we already know in a different way. What does this boss drop upon death and why? What are the techniques they use in battle? Is it relevant to who they are and what their place in the story is?
(oh yes) Important: if I don't mention an item that is seemingly connected to the boss, it means it's better suited for another thematic post. For example, Lady Butterfly drops Sakura Droplet but I think it will be more fitting to include this item into the future Takeru and Tomoe post.
The previous post discussed Sugars, Spiritfalls and the Headless, you can check it out 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.
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-reding 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.
Memories and Remnants
As with Sugars and Spiritfalls, the basic description of all Memories and Remnants is exactly the same so we'll discuss it just once.
Once you've killed a boss, you receive an item called 戦いの記憶 [tatakai no kioku], literally "Battle Memory". I'm not sure why the English localization chose to translate it just as "Memory" but I'm sure there was a reason.
"Extraordinary foe" is great, it accurately corresponds to the word used in the original, 類稀 [taguimare] means "unique", "exceptional".
Then there is always an identifying line that tells us who this boss was. When you use a Memory, you receive something called 戦いの残滓 [tatakai no zanshi], literally Battle Remnant. The English localization chose yet again to drop the "battle" part, so we have just "Remnant". "Although distant" is a rather loose interpretation of the original 「今はその残滓のみが残り」, literally "now nothing, except for this remnant, remains". When it comes to what these remnants mean for Wolf, they become his 糧 [kate], this word denotes mental or spiritual nourishment, sustenance or source of encouragement.
We will be looking at Remnants rather than Memories, as they contain much more information about the bosses.
MY NAME IS GYOUBU MASATAKA ONIWA
While you're making your way towards Gyoubu, you overhear soldiers talking about him, and they call him "Gyoubu the Demon". This nickname is constructed by throwing out one kanji from 鬼庭刑部 [oniwa gyo:bu] -> 鬼刑部 [oni gyo:bu]. 鬼 [oni] means "demon", so here you have it. In the Japanese version he is called Gyoubu the Demon when you fight him, and both his Memory and his Remnant are titled exactly that. For some reason, the English localization chose to name him Gyoubu Oniwa which is, honestly, very boring and makes all those overheard conversation lead up to nothing. Also, his Memory is called Gyoubu Oniwa and his Remnant - just Gyoubu. Thank God we don't have a third derivative item, with this word-swallowing there'd be nothing left to name it. The original is much more cohesive, and he is named Gyoubu the Demon everywhere.
"Infamous group of bandits" is quite accurate, the original says 「葦名に名を轟かす賊」 - "bandits whose name roared across Ashina". When describing Isshin's attitude, the localization says "captivated", which is close enough, but not as sweet as the original 惚れ込む [horekomu] - "to be charmed by something" :3 The original also says that Isshin took in not only Gyoubu, but all his bandits as well.
Then Gyoubu became "Genichiro Ashina's most trusted retainer", which is also close enough but not quite. The original says that he became 傳役 [moriyaku], a person responsible for someone else's upbringing and education. I read a bunch of Japanese forums and learned than in the Sengoku period (when Sekiro takes place) a chieftain would pick his most loyal vassal and appoint him a caretaker (:3) of his firstborn son. Here, Isshin made Gyoubu a trusted caretaker (:3) of Genichiro who at the time must have been a little boy.
Gyoubu's Broken Horn
Gyoubu's main associated item is his spear that you can make into a Prosthetic Tool. If by looking at the picture you're not sure what the weird smoking pipe is, it's that "horn" that can pull armor. Gyoubu's helmet has a broken horn, quite possibly as a reminder of his signature spear that was broken during the Rebellion.
Unfortunately, I couldn't find an image of this spear when it was in one piece in the artbook - maybe, it had two horns because the original keeps saying "one horn", as if implying that there was one more (?). This would (probably) explain why Gyoubu was given cross-shaped Tamura's spear afterwards - his own spear had two horns and thus was in some way cross-shaped too. But I'm not sure of anything, just would like to see his spear before it broke :D
The English localization says that "The horn contracts to pull enemies in" when the original says that only the blade contracts, the horn just hooks on the armor, but these are all minor things.
When it comes to the Isshin's comment about the spear, the original is kind of hard to decipher. Here's what he said after the spear broke: 「見事な折れぶりよ」. He was expressing admiration for how exactly the spear broke, maybe celebrating its noble death, that's something you'd expect to find in Japanese texts.
"Awarding" is a little disappointing, the verb 下賜する [kashi suru] describes a person of a very high social standing giving something to someone of low social standing, the verb "to bestow" would've been nice to see here. The whole construction is wrapped into という structure, meaning "as said". "They say that Isshin admired the way the spear broke so much that he bestowed upon Gyoubu the cross-shaped spear of general Tamura".
One more item that gives us some details about Gyoubu is the Gatehouse Key that opens the room where the Broken Horn is kept. In the description of this item Gyoubu is consistently called 鬼刑部 - Gyoubu the Demon, good to see it localized accordingly. "Respectfully guarded" - awesome, just like the original says.
"It's said that no prey can escape Gyoubu's horn" is also pretty accurate. I'd say that in the translation of this item description hardly anything was lost by the English localization, great job.
With Lady Butterfly yet again we can see that her original name is a little different. She is called まぼろしお蝶 [maboroshi ocho:], where まぼろし (幻) means "illusion, phantom". You could assume that the localization couldn't come up with a good enough translation but they totally did: in the Remnant description they call her "Phantom Lady Butterfly". Why isn't she called this when you fight her? I don't know, the whole concept of naming bosses three different ways in their items and in battle puzzles me greatly.
The word "Lady" is the translation of the honorific prefix お before her name, great thing to see.
"These mentors employed strict methods" is trying to adapt the original 「師と言うが、手取り教えるわけも無し」 - "Even though they were called "teachers", they didn't go into much details" meaning that the people who trained Wolf were not "teachers" in a traditional sense, although they are referred to as "teachers". The next line, translated very accurately, explains why.
I thought it would be fitting to take a look at Snap Seed since the fight with Lady Butterfly is the first time you need to use it. The original name for this item is 種鳴らし [tanenarashi] where 種 means "seed" and the verb 鳴らす denotes a wide assortment of sounds including snapping.
Surprisingly, this plant is real, in Japanese it's called 紫華鬘 [murasaki keman], a type of fumewort native to Japan, Korea, China and Taiwan. It is an introduced species in the US. The seeds of the plant look exactly like the ones you see in the game, the plant catapults them with a snapping sound, hence "Snap Seed". You learn something new every day :D
"If an illusion occurs, it is because someone created it" sounds kind of funny to me, the original is rather simple: 「幻術には、必ずそれは生みだす者がいる」 - "Every illusion, without exception, has a creator".
The next part is my absolute favorite: the part about defeating the creator of an illusion. The original uses the verb 倒す [taosu] - to defeat, to kill. You know what the first meaning of this verb is? To bring down, to throw down, to knock down (from a high place). In the first phase you fight the illusion of Lady Butterfly while she sits above on the statue and watches you. "To dispel illusions you need to knock down their master". The verb is pretty standard though, I am most certainly fantasizing but isn't it cool :D
The original name for the Phantom Kunai, as expected, is まぼろしクナイ [maboroshi kunai], since the boss is named まぼろしお蝶 [maboroshi ocho:] - Phantom Lady Butterfly. "Since childhood" is quite a bold statement, うら若い頃 is more like "since she was young", which is not the same thing. The original says that Usui Forest is located to the north of Ashina but is cut off from the land, meaning "hard to reach". "Far from civilization" phrase kind of tries to convey all of these facts at once. The localization also mentions "Tozan trail" but the original says nothing about it. Maybe this is a real-world geographical reference but I couldn't find any provable connection.
Now let's talk about Usui Forest. If you've completed Shura ending, you know that Owl's real name is Usui Ukonzaemon, and I'd say it's very likely that the mysterious forest belongs to his clan. Probably he and Lady Butterfly met there in their shinobi youth. The English localization makes a funny slip by saying "his forest", obviously confused by the original 彼の森. 彼 can indeed act as a third person musculine pronoun but it's also a kanji for あれ, a demonstrative pronoun that points at something that is distant both from the speaker and from the listener, here - Usui Forest. This demonstrative pronoun is very rarely written in its kanji form, you usually see it in hiragana, so I don't blame anyone for panicking here for a hot second :D It should be "That forest".
The forest is "an exceptional/unparalleled place" for training, the English localization chose the word "ideal", not bad.
The localization ate up Genichiro's family name so he is just "Genichiro" both in the Memory and in the Remnant. Stop doing this, what the heck :D By the way, the first kanji in his name, 弦 [gen], denotes bowstring.
For some reason, the localization emphasized the fact that Genichiro learned the Lightning of Tomoe to save Ashina, but if you remember the timeline, he actually learned it before anything even happened to Ashina, when Isshin was quite healthy and not dying. The original just states that Genichiro wielded a heretical art known as "Tomoe's Lightning", that's all. The localization also mentions "heretical artS" in plural. The original, however, doesn't say anything about "taking to heretical arts", there are no details given at all, apart from that statement I mentioned earlier.
The last sentence was broken up in two and kind of scattered across the description - in fact, the parts "With his country on the brink of defeat || such heresy may be the key to saving her" are in one sentence in the original. So, the Japanese says: 「葦名存亡の鍔際。」 - "Ashina on the edge between life and death/ Ashina in the critical moments of its existence". And then continues: 「異端こそ、この国を護るのだ。」 - "it's heresy that would protect her". Now it's time to remember that apart from poor Tomoe and her lightning technique, there were other things in the lands of Ashina that could be considered heretical. Maybe, this description is not talking about Tomoe's arts that do not seem to do any Ashina-saving and instead just constitute Genichiro's personal (and very cool) arsenal. I think, here it's more about experimenting on children, creating a false Dragon's Heritage and making people immortal in weird ways. Genichiro was in cahoots with the Senpou monks since he thought that all those things - quite heretical if you ask me - could save his country. It's not with the lightning he tried to save Ashina.
In the last phase his name changes and we see 巴流 [tomoe ryu:], where 流 can refer to a style, manner or even a school of art or something like that. I like "Way of Tomoe", it's accurate and sounds really cool.
Ninjutsu, as we can read in the description of Bestowal Ninjutsu, are special techniques that Wolf discovers himself, being inspired after defeating a particular enemy. It's not something that the boss drops upon death but rather an art Wolf learns on his own as the result of the battle. If Puppeteer/Bestowal Ninjutsu's descriptions allow us to see quite clearly how it so happened that Wolf learned these particular things after these particular bosses, it's not the case with Bloodsmoke Ninjutsu. It's hard to say what it was that inspired Wolf to create Bloodsmoke Ninjutsu. It doesn't really bear any characteristics that could potentially link it to Genichiro or to his boss fight. Maybe you have an idea or two about it, definitely let me know in the comments!
The localization is on point, the original is 血煙の術 [chikemuri no jutsu] - bloodsmoke technique. All these arts are named 術, and the description then defines them as 忍術 [ninjutsu] and 秘術 [hijutsu] - secret technique.
The original goes into detail describing the mechanics of this Ninjutsu: the blood droplets from someone you killed via Backstab Deathdlow turn into bloodsmoke that allows you to hide from your enemies. After that, you can freely continue your killing. English localization just explains the whole thing in broad strokes but the main things are all there. The only thing that confuses me is the word "smokescreen", why is it here? They could've chosen "bloodsmoke" instead, like the original says, and it's literally the name of the Ninjutsu.
"Source of strength" is 糧 [kate] that we already know as "sustenance" from the standard Remnant description.
Undoubtedly, one of the coolest ways of storytelling in Sekiro is Combat Arts. Genichiro uses Floating Passage he learned from lady Tomoe. The same combat art is used by Okami Warriors in the Fountainhead Palace. Coincidence? I don't think so :D There will be a separate post about Tomoe and Takeru as well as another one about Okami and the Fountainhead Palace so I won't dwell on it here for too long.
The original name for the Floating Passage Combat Art is 浮き舟渡り [ukifune watari] where 浮き舟 is not only "a floating boat" but also the title of the last chapter of The Tale of Genji, a classic work of Japanese literature written in the early 11th century. Ukifune is the name of one of the female characters in this novel, her real name is unknown. I honestly read everything that I could about this novel but could not see any viable parallels between Ukifune and Tomoe. The only thing they have in common is a suicide attempt that can be considered a failed one: Ukifune is saved in the novel, and Tomoe's death was in vain because she failed to save her master. 渡り [watari] means "crossing", "passage", so this is translated accurately.
"Crossed the Floating Passage" is the exact translation of 「浮き舟を渡り」 [ukifune wo watari] and, to be honest, I'm not sure what happened there. Did Tomoe cross something called Floating Pasage (with this Combat Art?) and it allowed her to descend to Ashina from the Palace? Is 浮き舟 - a floating boat - a place of some kind? I hope to find answers to these questions or at least some additional information in future posts about Tomoe and the Palace, so stay tuned for that. As of now, I can't really untangle this knot, if it can be untangled at all.
English localization preserved the dramatic structure of the original text where the name of the "master" who brought this combat Art to Ashina is revealed in the last short sentence that leaves you electrified, yearning for more information. I appreciate it very much. Not only words contribute to the emotional effect of the text, but also structure, types of sentences and their succession. It's often overlooked or dismissed, unfortunately, but here - well done, awesome work.
Folding Screen Monkeys
This boss is an embodiment of a Japanese maxim: see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. This maxim is called "Three Wise Monkeys". Why monkeys? It's actually a pun. 見ざる [mizaru] - "not seeing", 聞かざる [kikazaru] - "not hearing", 言わざる [iwazaru] - "not speaking" have a grammatical form -ざる [zaru] that turns a verb into its negative form. Also, ざる is an alternative reading of 猿 [saru] - monkey. There is a fourth monkey, "do no evil" monkey, but it is often omitted. The monkeys cover their eyes 🙈, ears 🙉 and mouth 🙊 respectively. This maxim usually refers to those who cover up evil by feigning ignorance. If you remember what "evil" was occurung on the other side of Senpou Temple, you can see that these Monkeys are here for a reason.
There is an alternate version of this maxim, and it is far more important to us in the context of Sekiro. One monkey holds its hands close to its eyes to focus vision, the other one does the same with its ears, and the third one holds its hands to its mouth to speak louder. This version denotes the opposite: see, hear and speak about things you stand for. Don't cover up evil, don't ignore it. And these are the Monkeys we meet in Sekiro, souls of children who died in Senpou experiments and now protect the Child of the Rejuvinating Waters.
There is also one awesome detail that English localization didn't transfer into their version of the bossfight - and I don't think they could. The boss is called "Folding Screen Monkeys", but in the original they are listed by names: 「見る猿、聞く猿、言う猿、 」 - the monkey who sees, the monkey who hears, the monkey who speaks. After the last one you see a comma, as if the list continues, but there are no more names. This little detail - along with the empty fourth part of the folding screen - is here to tell you that there is one more, invisible monkey. The fourth monkey is just called 見え猿 [miezaru] - invisible monkey. Together they are 屛風の猿たち [byo:bu no sarutachi] which corresponds to "Folding Screen Monkeys".
The location you fight them in is called 幻廊 [genro:], literally "Halls of Illusion", so well done here. Important to note that the souls of the departed children cannot just possess any monkey, but find their refuge only in these monkeys depicted on the folding screen. So, the Folding Screen with the Monkeys was already there as an item, and then these monkeys became vessels for the fading souls of the children.
Illusive Hall Bell
This item is called 幻廊の鈴 [genro: no suzu], literally Bell of the Halls of Illusion, so that's accurate.
"Five-pronged" is really important because, as you've already guessed, it's a real object. We briefly discussed it in the previous post about Sugars and Spiritfalls. Its real name is 五鈷鈴 [gokorei], Five-Pronged Bell, and it's one of the ritual objects, along with vajra, a five-pronged short club, used in Vajrayana, one of the Buddhist traditions. It is said that this bell can purge evil spirits from where the ritual is being performed. Very lore, because Illusive Hall is a place of tranquility.
Not sure why the English localization says "Wolves", the original just says 「猿たちも狼も」 - "both Monkeys and Wolf". 狼 [ookami] here is used as a proper name denoting, well, Sekiro himself.
The original for it is 傀儡の術 [kairai no jutsu], Puppeteer Ninjutsu is very accurate. The original is very poetic when describing the mechanics of this technique, and I'd say the English localization keeps up with it, which is really cool. With Puppeteer Ninjutsu you can see how Wolf might have been inspired to master this technique after defeating Folding Screen Monkeys: this art can help you bind a soul that should've been already gone from this world. This is the lore of the Monkeys: fading souls of children find their refuge in the monkeys but sooner or later they will have to let go.
The beauty of the original goes off the charts - and the localized version is honestly just as awesome:
「傀儡とされた者は、しばしの間、術者のために動こうとする。だが、やがて散る定めである」 - "a puppet will move for its master for a short while. However, in the end its destiny is to disappear [be scattered like blossoms/leaves]".
"A puppet moves on behalf of its master, but its strings are destined to snap" - beautiful, great job with the text here.
English localization surprised me greatly with its ability to convey the poetic qualities of the original text, the subtleties that some other localizations just don't care about (the Russian one most certainly doesn't care). But at the same time it names bosses three different ways in their Memories, Remnants and bossfights and gets confused with the simplest things like "the Monkeys and Wolf".
There will be two more posts about the bosses and their associated items up ahead so stay tuned both here and on the Lair's YouTube channel to be immediately notified when something new is released!
Thank you for your time.