Another Dark Souls article! Some off you might have been left crestfallen, thinking today’s topic was unsolvable, but it’s actually pretty straightforward. The male Undead Merchant found near the start of the game in Undead Burg makes occasional reference to a “little Yulia,” and can occasionally be seen making stroking motions over a nearby wooden bucket.
Like many Souls NPCs, this guy’s clearly not all the way there. Even so, there’s not exactly a consensus on just what Yulia is. Because he says Yulia will “bite your head off,” some speculate that she’s a pet or even the uchigatana, a sword the merchant drops upon death. I’ve even seen speculation that the devs simply forgot to put a model in the bucket! Of course, this being Dark Souls, those are far from the only theories:
I abhor the idea of leaving the answer at “A guy on the Japanese equivalent to Yahoo! Answers said so.” After all, we saw how the English version of that with the Tiny Being’s Ring has lead to a widespread misconception. So, I decided to check it out for myself. There’re a few official books, but the most likely source of this claim was the Archive of the Fire. It’s a great book that has tons of art and side-by-side text comparisons of every line of dialogue across all three Dark Souls games. The description we’re looking for seems to be right in the merchant’s bio. It’s a lot of text, so I’ll break it down sentence-by-sentence:
|亡者のような姿をしているが、まだ自制を保っているようで、商品の取引を行っている。||Despite his Hollowed appearance, he still seems to have retained some self-control, and is trading goods.|
|その商品の仕入れ先は、聞かぬが花だ。||As for who his supplier is, some questions are better left unasked.|
|隣に座るユリアを愛でており、たびたび長しく撫でているが、彼以外の瞳にユリアという存在が映ることはない。||Sitting next to him is his beloved Yulia, whom he pets gently and often. However, outside of his own eyes, this “Yulia” does not appear.|
There’s a couple interesting things to note. First, the Japanese text uses 亡者 (mōja), literally ‘the dead’ for being Hollow. Dark Souls’ spoken dialogue is all in English, even in the Japanese version, so it’s a little interesting!
I also thought I’d point out the phrase 聞かぬが花 (kikanu ga hana). Although a literal translation would render it as, “to not ask is a flower,” that’s a bit cumbersome. The metaphor clear enough with a little thought; a flower is innocent, and asking questions can spoil innocence. Distilling it down to a one-size-fits-all type translation, kikanu ga hana would be something like “it’s better not to know“. In this context, the unknown is negative, implying that the source of his wares is something horrible (corpse-looting?), but it’s also used in the sense of spoiling a surprise.
I haven’t actually read the original work, but my understanding is that it comes from an Edo-era play where it was used to express a father’s surprise that his daughter was getting married. As the Japanese word for bride (花嫁, hanayome) contains the word for flower (花, hana), a little wordplay is involved! It wasn’t clear to me from this summary if the father’s surprise was positive or negative (perhaps bittersweet?), so maybe that’s something to look into, one day!
Lastly, the final sentence says in fairly clear terms that, whatever Yulia is in the merchant’s head, she doesn’t exist in the real world. Given this, we can pretty safely rule out the merchant’s Uchigatana or the female Undead Merchant, both of which are perfectly real. To me, the most reasonable explanation is that Yulia is indeed some sort of imaginary pet!
I hope this article helped you make more sense of the ever-circuitous Dark Souls lore. It’s honestly amazing to me that there are still questions in this series that can be answered by a simple translation of a paragraph out of an art book. If you’ve got questions about the localization of the Souls series, leave a comment and maybe I’ll be able to find answers, in the book or otherwise.
Also, if you’re interested in localization in general, feel free to follow us on Twitter, where we post updates to the site as soon as they go up. We also have a subreddit and an RSS feed, if those are more your speed. If you want more right now, how about this newly-translated Famitsu interview that gives the origin of the phrase “Onion Knight”, along with many other setting and development details for Final Fantasy III. Or, for another mystery that can only be solved with resources external to the game itself, check out this article about whether the name “Lunch” in the original Soul Hackers is a mistranslation!