The World of Sekiro: Shinobi Arts
Hi! In this post we will cover all Shinobi Arts from the Shinobi Skill Tree plus a couple of other relevant arts that Wolf learns from other sources. This post will be on the shorter side since I'm still recovering from that nasty cold but we'll have fun anyway!
As with the Prosthetic Arts, the English text for SOME of the combat arts and skills is different depending on the menu you're in: Sculptor's Idol skill menu, skill equip menu or skill tab on the inventory screen. The Japanese is the exact same everywhere, however the localization can vary quite considerably between the three menus. In this post I will discuss the localization from the Skill tab of the Inventory screen, that's where all the screenshots are from. I found that those are more accurate in general and tend to have more of the original text localized so we'll go with those.
There are latent Karma skills in this skill tree that we've already discussed in the previous post so I won't repeat them 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 or Shintoism, 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.
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.
Shinobi Esoteric Text
The original name of this item mirrors that of the Prosthetic Esoteric Text with the exception of it being about shinobi skills - 忍び技の伝書 [shinobi waza no densho] - "a secret book of shinobi skills". The line about the samurai that is the last in the English description is actually the first one in the original.
「侍には真似できぬ」- "samurai cannot imitate/mimic [these skills]". We'll see more of this juxtaposition later.
For "innermost secrets" the original uses the word 極意 [gokui] which indeed denotes the innermost secrets of an art or skill. Otherwise the localization is on point, the trademark of shinobi techniques is fighting with feet off the ground and avoiding detection.
When you earn your first skill point, the Sculptor remarks that Wolf seems to have his 勘 [kan] back - this word means "perception", "intuition" or "the sixth sense". In English it was localized as "battle sense".
Oh, Mikiri Counter! Its original name is just 見切り [mikiri], a noun derived from the verb 見切る [mikiru] - to see everything, to see all. You have to see the start of a thrust attack to react quickly and counter it, so the name fits perfectly. The localization just left it as "Mikiri" but added "Counter" to specify what it is.
The localization is a little bit more exciting than the original text that just says "shinobi eyes can perceive a thrusting motion/a thrust attack". I also didn't find the "Mikiri requires impeccable timing" line in the Japanese description. It is true but there is no corresponding line.
「誤れば死地に至るだろう｜だが、見切ればすぐにも殺せるではないか｜忍びは、そう考える」- "a mistake will mean almost certain death. However, if you succeed, won't you be able to instantly kill [your opponent]? That's how shinobi think".
The original elaborates more on shinobi fighting style that is basically high risk-high reward. If you screw up your mikiri, you will be punished. However, if you succeed, you'll gain a huge advantage, and those are the terms that you should be operating when playing.
I never really used thrusting attacks myself throughout the game because they seemed too slow to me so I kinda just forgot about them. And when I was fighting Owl Father I accidentally held the button for too long and Wolf did a thrust and got mikiried by Owl SO HARD, I wish I could see my face when it happened :D
Whirlwind Slash is called exactly that - 旋風斬り [senpu:giri], whirlwind slash. The localization is mostly accurate, it sometimes drops the "spinning" part of the combat art that the original always keeps:
「回転の勢いをつけた鋭い斬撃」- "a sharp slashing attack with added spinning force".
For "slice open a path" the original uses 切り抜ける [kirinukeru] - to cut one's way through.
Run and Slide
Run and Slide's original name is a curious compound word 駆け伏せ [kakefuse] which is derived from the verbs 駆ける [kakeru] - to run, to dash, and 伏せる [fuseru] - to lay face down or to hide. So, it's basically "run and hide". "Sliding" is mentioned in the original description, and the picture is straightforward enough so "run and slide" is perfect.
Throughout this skill tree the original text often mention 隠密 [onmitsu], a noun "spy" that can also act as an adjective "secret" or "clandestine". In the context of Sekiro it is "stealth", as localized by the English localization, and this is somewhat of a skill type despite the fact that is not in the title. Shinobi Esoteric Text mentions it when describing what kind of skills you can learn from this skill tree. So, Run and Slide is an onmitsu skill - an art used for stealth.
Vault Over's original name is 崩し裏回し [kuzushi uramawashi], literally "to move behind an unbalanced opponent", which is a mouthful but also describes the whole skill perfectly. I think, "Vault Over" is a great name for it.
So, I remember being incredibly confused by Vault Over during my first playthrough because I got it way before I knew anything about Ninjutsu techniques and it seemed just completely useless to me. I kept jumping behind enemies that were already Posture-broken trying to figure out what advantage I'm meant to gain from it if I can just kill them from the front. Well, the thing is that the last line from the original description hints at some other skills that may benefit from Vault Over, while the localization does not.
「それから狙える、忍びの術もあるだろう」- "maybe there are also shinobi techniques that require aiming [from the back]".
Without this line the whole description doesn't make any sense. Why would you go out of your way to get a backstab deathblow on an enemy that can just be killed from the front? The original, however, tells you that there might be some techniques that work only through backstab deathblows, and suddenly Vault Over starts making sense and honestly becomes kind of exciting even if you don't have access to any Ninjutsu skills at the time.
Moving on to mid-air skills! As I mentioned in the previous post, "mid-air" is somewhat of a skill type. This skill's original name is 空中弾き [ku:chu:hajiki] - literally "repelling" or "deflecting in mid-air".
Some sentence-combining happened in this description, but the localization conveys the gist of it quite nicely.
Mid-air Combat Arts
This skill, akin to Mid-air Prosthetic Tools, allows Wolf to use Combat Arts while in the air. Its original name is 空中流派技 [ku:chu: ryu:hagi], literally "mid-air combat arts". There is nothing of note here in the description, everything is pretty straightforward, so let's move on!
Anti-air Deathblow is not from this skill tree but it is a shinobi skill nonetheless, you can purchase the text from Blackhat Badger. The original name of this skill is 対空忍殺 [taiku: ninsatsu] - "anti-air shinobi killing" or "anti-air deathblow" because the word 忍殺 [ninsatsu] - shinobi murder - has been localized as "deathblow". I find "to stop cold" localization quite amusing, the original uses 仕留める [shitomeru] - to bring down, to shoot down.
The last line is completely different in the original, it justs says that "this is one of the shinobi fighting techniques where the feet don't touch the ground", like it does in every other mid-air skill description, I'm not sure why the localization felt the need to rewrite it.
Anti-air Deathblow Text
Its original name is 対空忍殺の技書 [taiku: ninsatsu no gishu] - anti-air deathblow skill text. There isn't much to discuss, really, it just repeats the description of the skill explaining what kind of technique you can learn from it.
If you look closely at the picture, you'll see that it depicts one warrior striking down another.
Let's get down to passive abilities of this skill tree. The original name for Suppress Presence is 気配殺し [kehaigoroshi], which literally translates to "suppressing" or "killing presence". There is also a phrase 気配を殺す [kehai wo korosu] that means "to erase all traces of something". When describing the skill, the original uses the word 抑える [osaeru] - to control, to suppress, which is not present in the localized version.
The last line of this description is actually a smart play on words that was lost in translation.
「気配も殺してこそ、忍びなり」- "it's necessary for a shinobi to kill [their] presence as well".
From the grammar standpoint, the first part of the sentence acts like somewhat of a requirement for the second part: to be a shinobi, you need to master the skill of suppressing your presence. However, what makes the whole thing a word play is the little particle も [mo] - too, as well, paired with 殺す [korosu] - to suppress, to hold back, but also to kill. We know that shinobi kill people, the game tells us about it all the time, so their own presence is just one more thing to kill.
The same goes for Suppress Sound - 音殺し [otogoroshi], "suppressing" or "killing sound". This time the verb 抑える [osaeru] made in into the English localization but they still added "This is another shinobi technique" part which is not present in the original. Maybe they felt like there was too much space left :D
The last line has the exact same structure as the last line of the previous description, only now it's about sound:
「音も殺してこそ、忍びなり」- "it's necessary for a shinobi to kill the sound [they make] as well".
Its original name is really straightforward: 忍びの目 [shinobi no me] - shinobi eyes. The description isn't all that accurate so let's see what shinobi do to improve their mikiri counter.
「実際のところ、忍びの目は、刃のみを追っているわけではない」- "in reality, eyes of a shinobi do not follow only the blade"
「鋭い切っ先は恐ろしい｜だが、それの心をとらわれず」- "the sharp edge is frightening, however do not let your heart be seized by that fear"
And here's the last sentence that was completely lost in translation.
「見るとは無しに、全てをみるのだ」- "see everything without watching"
Japanese doesn't really distinguish between "to see", "to watch" and "to look" as much as English does, although there is a certain nuance to it. Generally, all these meanings can be conveyed by the verb 見る [miru] and then translated depending on the context. So, Shinobi Eyes skill tells us that shinobi mastering Mikiri Counter should not rely only on watching the blade while anticipating the thrust but sharpen their other senses.
Shinobi Medicine is a subset of 3 passive skills that you learn after defeating certain enemies: two Chained Ogres and the Blazing Bull. Their descriptions are identical apart from only one line that gives us more information on how shinobi fight. They are also named the same: 忍びの薬識 [shinobi no yakushiki] - shinobi medicinal knowledge. We discussed the word 薬識 [yakushiki] in detail in the previous post. The unique parts of their names were localized correctly, those are ranks:
甲 [ko:] - 1st rank
乙 [otsu] - 2nd rank
丙 [hei] - 3rd rank
Since the identical parts are pretty straightforward and were localized correctly, let's look and the unique lines.
Shinobi Medicine Rank 1
「忍びは傷が絶えぬ」- "shinobi always get wounded".
The second line of this paragraph is identical in all three descriptions but for some reason, here, in Rank 1, it was translated slightly differently and placed first, while it most certainly should be last:
「ゆえに薬の知識は欠かせない」 - "thus, the medicinal knowledge is vital".
Shinobi Medicine Rank 2
「忍びは、時に死地を厭わぬ」- "at times, shinobi are drawn to extremely dangerous live or death situations".
死地 [shichi] can also translate to "nearly certain death". Thus, the medicinal knowledge is vital.
Shinobi Medicine Rank 3
「忍びは、他を頼みとせず独り戦う」- "shinobi fight alone and don't rely on others".
That's it :D These passive skills elaborate a little more on how shinobi live and fight - alone, constantly in danger, constantly getting hurt. Rather grim but such are the shinobi ways.
Breath of Life
Moving on to Breath of Life that is comprised of two passive skills that allow Wolf to regenerate some HP after a successful deathblow. There are also Breath of Nature skills but those are in the Ashina skill tree, and their juxtaposition is kinda interesting, although expected.
Both Breath of Life skills share the first two paragraphs. There isn't much to discuss, really, as the description of the skills is pretty straightforward. Their original name is 命の呼吸 [inochi no kokyu:], literally "breath of life". For "an opportunity to breathe" the original uses 息継ぎ [ikitsugi] - a short break, a breather, generally a brief moment of rest. Well, I suppose the deathblow is the "release tension part" so no wonder.
Breath of Life: Light
Its original name is 命の呼吸・陽 [inochi no kokyu:・yo:], where 陽 [yo:] is the kanji for sun, light and also yang, as in "yin and yang". For "calm the body and mind" the original uses the verb 整える [totonoeru] - to straighten, to put in order. The last line is really sinister in a way but again, such are the shinobi ways:
「そうすれば、まだまだ殺せる」- "having done that, [you] are able to kill [many] more".
Breath of Life: Shadow
So, this is the second skill in this set, you get it after defeating O'Rin. Its original name is really easy to guess: 命の呼吸・陰 [inochi no kokyu:・in], where 陰 is the kanji for shadow and yin. Since the effect of this skill is the same, the unique part of the description just explains to you why you've just learned it - because you've killed a powerful opponent. The original says that the "rest" that you get from deathblows becomes deeper, and the localization is quite accurate.
And finally we've arrived at the 奥義 [o:gi] skill, the "essence" of the whole shinobi skill tree and it isn't called Shadowrush in the original! 大忍び刺し [daishinobi sashi] - stab of a Great Shinobi. Well, not as catchy as "Shadowrush" but it is what it is :D The verb 刺す [sasu] means "to pierce", "to stab" or "to thrust" and because the main metaphor for the whole skill description is owl-themed, probably "pierce" is a better option.
The localization skipped the second sentence of the description, possibly for space concerns:
「これは、忍び技の奥義である」- "this is the heart of the shinobi skills".
I found it funny that for "the platform" the original actually uses 踏み台 [fumidai] - stepping stone. Yeah, use your impaled opponent as a stepping stone, they haven't suffered enough humiliation and pain as it is.
This is the skill that Owl devised himself, the skill that he uses A LOT in the Owl Father bossfight, and since he is the Great Shinobi, which I suppose is a title that only one person can hold at any given moment, his skill is the crown jewel of the Shinobi skill tree. I wonder why he doesn't use Shadowrush during the Great Shinobi bossfight, probably because he is already too old for soaring high after stepping on an enemy or something.
Shinobi Arts were probably not as exciting to read as Prosthetic Arts but we still got a couple of interesting names and details! It's been a bit of a breather for me to do during recovery and now I'm ready to take on more complicated things again!
Next up - probably Ashina Skill tree, let's go down the skill trees since we have already covered two of them.
As usual, stay tuned here and on the Lair's YouTube channel not to miss out on anything.
Thank you for your time.