What are you rambling on about? Who's Nikanoru?

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What are you rambling on about? Who's Nikanoru?

Postby CoolHandLuke » Wed Jul 04, 2018 5:35 pm

Hey everyone!

I just stumbled across this site last week but I wish that I had discovered it much earlier. I've been a fan of the series ever since I first rented the original game back in the mid-90's. I still hold a soft spot in my heart for it and the rest of the games in the series (as well as many of the other classic RPGs I discovered from that same video store).

Anyway, I thought for my first post I'd share something I just discovered this past week.

Okay, undoubtedly anyone whose played BoF II has wondered what the heck is up with Deathevan callying Ryu "Nikanoru." Heck, when I played through it as a middle schooler in the 90's I just assumed it was like Raditz calling Goku "Kakarot" or General Zod calling Superman "Kal-El." I thought Nikanoru was Ryu's true name from the Dragon Clan or something and that for whatever reason Deathevan knew it even though Ryu didn't.

However, then I saw found this last week, which some of you might have seen as well (skip down to message #39):
https://agora.rpgclassics.com/showthrea ... tion/page2

Basically, in 2009 (a solid 14 years after the game's English release!) a fan finally developed what seems like the first clue as to what this elusive term might actually mean. He notes that the game contains several references to works by the great author Gabriel Garcia Marquez (indeed, a G. Marquez even appears in the end credits) and Marquez's novel, The Autumn of the Patriarch contains a passage where one character calls another, "Nicanor, que es el nombre por el cual la muerte nos conoce a todos los hombres en el instante de morir" ("Nicanor, which is the name by which death knows all us men at the time of demise.")

Now, that's pretty interesting because A) the fact that the game is already chockful of translational errors stemming from the fact that Japanese syllables must end in vowels, almost makes this feel like a done deal right there, but B) the context in which Marquez deploys the term also perfectly fits with Deathevan's dialogue.

However, that one single forum post, and a few odd comments that seem to directly reference it, are really the only references I could find to this, so I started digging a little deeper. The guy in the above link mentioned that Marquez didn't actually coin the term, rather he was actually referencing another author, Eduardo Mallea. So I tried looking up how Mallea used the term (since it piqued both the RPG fan and the English major within me), and what I discovered (and this is the part that I've never seen anyone else mention in regards to Breath of Fire II) is that Mallea didn't invent the term at all, in fact far from it: "Nicanor" is actually just the Latinized version of the Greek name "Nikanor" which literally translates to "victorious one."

Woah! In context, that makes a lot of sense, doesn't it? Deathevan and Ryu fight to the death for the fate of the world, and Ryu defeats him and -- in his dying speech -- Deathevan refers to him as what? As the "victorious one." Surely, you could not find a more fitting meaning for the word than this.

But wait, I did find a third possible explanation, albeit what I feel is perhaps slightly less probable: Saint Nikanor (or Saint Nicanor in the Roman Catholic church) was one of the seven original deacons of the Christian church (set up as sort of aides to the Apostles). In the Book of Acts, the deacons (including Nicanor) go out to proclaim the Gospel in order to further God's work, they go to preach to a dangerous people (some theologians suggest that they must have known that they were going to their death) and many of them are stoned to death (we know that Nicanor himself "suffered that day" but it's unclear whether he himself was included among those who were stoned to death or if he was merely anguished by the death of his friends). At any rate one of their members, Stephen, sees a vision of God as he dies and is thus comforted. Esssentially, they all render themselves martyrs so that the glory of God can go forth. Doesn't St.Eva/Deathevan's speech before you fight him sound like it contains serious shades of that? Like he's expecting Ryu and his companions to all serve as twisted sort of matryrs so that his glory can go forth and the people will all look up in happiness and thank him as they die? Whether St. Nicanor himself was stoned to death, or whether he was merely left to grieve the loss of his friends as they died for the glory of God, either case draws some pretty sharp parallels to Ryu.

So really, the impression I'm left with is: I think one of the writers had to be familiar with the actual meaning of the Greek term, because it simply fits too perfectly to be a coincidence, the word is simply used in its literal sense. However the fact that other Marquez references already exist in the game and that he connects "Nikanoru" to "the name for dead beings" really makes it seem like there's a very strong chance the Marquez connection isn't an accident either. The Christianity parallel... well, I do feel like it fits really well, but I can see it going either way: I wouldn't be surprised if it were intentional (I mean the game clearly already has loads of intentional Catholic/Christian parallels, so why not this one?), but at the same time I wouldn't be surprised to learn that it was just an uncanny case of situational coincidence. Either way, you're left with a very calculated word choice that enriches the story on multiple levels, the sort of rich literary wordplay that was almost non-existant in 90's RPGs (don't get me wrong -- I totally understand that there are literary allusions galore in the FF games and many other RPG's, but man not anything functioning on such well-thought out multiple levels as this). Heck, it's the kind of wordplay that I think Marquez himself would've smiled in appreciation at.
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Re: What are you rambling on about? Who's Nikanoru?

Postby Rurouni » Tue Jul 17, 2018 10:14 pm

Very nice writeup! I really enjoyed it.

As far as the reference, I think there's little doubt it is fully intentional. Some of the staff at Japan were clearly huge fans of western literature and pop culture given how loaded the game is of references the average Japanese would never figure on their lives. Flowers from Algernon, Kurt Vonnegut, the ending credits alone is so chock full...hell every single guard from Wyndia is named after a western writer! The fact it fits perfectly in both instances is just expected at this point! I really wonder if there are other obscure literary references hidden there, behind all the wall of sucky translations...

IMO, Breath of Fire II's narrative is just a great thing to experience and disect apart, it just needs a decent translation so bad (besides Ryusui's).
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Re: What are you rambling on about? Who's Nikanoru?

Postby CoolHandLuke » Wed Jul 18, 2018 10:26 am

Yeah, it's crazy! I played through the game several times when I was younger and was always kind of confused by them. Even as a kid some of them were obvious in-jokes (the Disney names in the resistance) but a lot of them just seemed like random English names, and others were random Japanese names. It wasn't until recently that I really started to pick up on just how loaded with references the credits actually are. Of course the Ryusi translation helps out quite a bit, but I was surprised to see that there are at least a few references that even his team seems to have mistranslated (for example "Ita Stow" in the list of thieves should actually be rendered "It is stolen," although if I remember correctly it's missing the final kana which probably through them off).
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Re: What are you rambling on about? Who's Nikanoru?

Postby Rurouni » Sun Jul 22, 2018 7:41 am

Indeed, although he may have just left that name as-is since "it is stolen" isn't a proper name :P Although he did miss some reference here and there (didn't recognized the Slam Master wrestlers in the credits, for example).

But yeah, one doesn't realize just how chock full of random references the game is at first, and it comes as a great surprise IMO. I still remember the old days of the fandom and fan pages trying to list all these references (I remember one list in particular that theorized the "BoyDR" was referencing Japanese band Shounen Knife, unaware it was simply a mistranslation of "Bowie Knife"). Breath of Fire II's list of translation hiccups and mistakes is probably worth a documentary given the sheer amount of different mistakes the translator(s) committed!
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Re: What are you rambling on about? Who's Nikanoru?

Postby Nina Windia » Fri Jul 27, 2018 2:38 pm

That was such a cool read! thank you for posting it up!
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Re: What are you rambling on about? Who's Nikanoru?

Postby Turbo852 » Thu Sep 20, 2018 3:38 am

Very cool find! It's amazing how many things are hidden in this game! I remember having wondered what it had meant as well. It's great to have a pretty solid explanation.
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Re: What are you rambling on about? Who's Nikanoru?

Postby CoolHandLuke » Thu Sep 20, 2018 5:54 am

Yeah, I really am amazed too. The more I study the game's script and research, the more I realize that the Japanese writing team had a really solid grasp on the English language! And of course, the end credits show that they were definitely well-versed in western literature as well. It's too bad the same can't quite be said for the translation team. Image

I especially am continually surprised by how symbolic a lot of the names seem to be. Granted, some of these might be coincidences, but man, it's a lot of very specific coincidences if that's the case! For example, did you know that the name "Ray" means "of royal blood?" But if you go back even further, it's oldest known European roots are in old French where it means "of the gushing waters." Considering the part Ray plays in Capitan, that seems like quite the coincidence, no? Also of course, ray can simply refer to a ray of light, and we see him utilize that in Capitan we well (when he save the party from the ambushing monster).
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Re: What are you rambling on about? Who's Nikanoru?

Postby Nina Windia » Fri Sep 21, 2018 9:35 am

CoolHandLuke wrote:Yeah, I really am amazed too. The more I study the game's script and research, the more I realize that the Japanese writing team had a really solid grasp on the English language! And of course, the end credits show that they were definitely well-versed in western literature as well. It's too bad the same can't quite be said for the translation team. Image

I especially am continually surprised by how symbolic a lot of the names seem to be. Granted, some of these might be coincidences, but man, it's a lot of very specific coincidences if that's the case! For example, did you know that the name "Ray" means "of royal blood?" But if you go back even further, it's oldest known European roots are in old French where it means "of the gushing waters." Considering the part Ray plays in Capitan, that seems like quite the coincidence, no? Also of course, ray can simply refer to a ray of light, and we see him utilize that in Capitan we well (when he save the party from the ambushing monster).



That's amazing! I didn't know that!
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