Was Lenneth Valkyrie’s Battlecry Mistranslated?

The recent release of Valkyrie Elysium got me thinking about the Valkyrie Profile series. The original PlayStation release follows the story of Lenneth—a member of Odin’s coterie of valkyries—as she chooses worthy warriors from among the slain and prepares them for Ragnarök. With one of Motoi Sakuraba’s best soundtracks, an action/RPG hybrid combat system that is practically unimitated to this day, and a striking aesthetic reminiscent of the baroque period of classical art, it easily ranks among the best JRPGs ever made.

On top of all that, a huge swath of the game is voice acted—which was uncommon at the time—and, depending on your perspective, this could be either another notch in VP‘s belt or an uncharacteristic blemish. Sharing a cast with Pokémon meant that even as a kid I could spot voice actors I recognized, where hearing the voices of Brock and Nurse Joy share a romance added a meta layer to the story that I rarely got to enjoy as a 10-year-old. Nowadays, though, I largely think the game’s performances often leave something to be desired…. Positive or negative, the voice acting is sure to leave an impression.

In particular, it’s impossible to forget the lines Lenneth repeats every time she uses her signature attack, Nibelung Valesti. The move is as inextricably tied to Valkyrie Profile as Goku’s Kamehameha is to Dragon Ball Z. Here it is in action:

Before the attack, Lenneth says something a bit weird: “It shall be engraved upon your soul!” Anyone who’s played Valkyrie Profile has likely heard this phrase hundreds of times, but I think its exact meaning is a little unclear. I’ve even heard it said it’s a mistranslation:

In Valkyrie Profile, a single vowel misheard led the incantation of the heroine's main attack being changed from the original "I shall annihilate your soul!" to "It shall be engraved upon your soul!" This translation proved so popular that four different characters say a variant of it in the prequel, Valkyrie Profile: Silmeria.
— TVTropes, via Good Bad Translation

If you know me, you already know where this is going; let’s take a look at the original Japanese.

At the very start of the video, Lenneth says,「そのみにきざめ!」 (“Sono mi ni kizame!“). Let’s break that sentence down word-by-word. その (sono) is simple enough; it refers to something near the person being addressed, so in this context, “your” is a reasonable translation.

The “something” is (mi). Without kanji to rely on, we’re left to guess at the precise meaning of mi, but we’re in luck because the Japanese playerbase seems to have unanimously settled on . The simplest English equivalent for this is “body“, but context changes its meaning somewhat. Essentially, when following no (as in “sono mi“), it can be interpreted as more generally referring to one’s being, physical or otherwise. For a detailed explanation of a similar concept, check out this StackExchange thread about appending no koto to a noun. Otherwise, here’s two examples of this use that might clear it up for you:

In this panel from chapter 128 of Berserk, Guts can be seen saying 「キャスカの身に何か…!!?」 (Kyasuka no mi ni nanika…!!?, Did something [[happen]] to Casca…!!?)
A literal reading would result in “Something [[happened]] to Casca’s body…!!?”, but it’s pretty obvious in context that Guts just has a bad feeling about Casca’s overall safety, not something specifically related to her body.
At the start of Final Fantasy V, Lenna has a very similar line of dialogue: 「お父様の身になにか!?」 (Otōsama no mi ni nanika!?), once again expressing a general concern that something has happened to her father.

A decent approximation of “X no mi” in this context would be something like “X’s (very) being“. That actually makes “soul” quite reasonable as a translation. I would also say the impression given by this no mi structure is old-fashioned and dramatic. It’s common in fiction, but not so much in real-world Japanese. This type of speech is the standard in Valkyrie Profile, and helps give it an archaic, mythological feeling. All that being said, we’re up to “Your very being…” with our translation so far.

Next up is に (ni), which has many uses that vary based on context. Here, ni shows that whatever comes before it (in this case, sono mi) is the goal or end point of the action that follows. A much shorter way to say that is that ni is this sentence’s indirect object marker. Knowing this, we can use “into” as our English equivalent, so “Into your very being…” is our current literal translation.

Lastly, we have きざめ (kizame). Kizame is a conjugation of the verb きざむ (kizamu) into the imperative form, which is a fancy way of saying it’s telling someone to do something. Since it’s a command, we can drop the “It shall” from our translation. Let’s take a look at the various definitions of kizamu:

At first glance, definition (c) might seem to be the odd man out, having nothing to do with cutting. In actuality, it comes from Japan's historical use of water clocks: containers with notches on the side that recorded the passage of time as water filled them at a steady pace.

At first glance, you might assume the “to shred” or “to cut up” definitions are the most fitting, but there’s a problem with that interpretation. Remember that indirect object marker ni we talked about earlier? Well, this sentence has an indirect object as well as an implied direct object. That means we need a verb that can handle both. As it turns out, “engrave” works a lot better than most of the other definitions! So, for our final literal translation, we are left with the command to “Engrave [[something]] into your very being!

It’s also important to remember that, for Japanese words, these separate definitions are often more closely-related than they might seem at first glance. Each of these definitions can relate back to the core meaning of “to mark by cutting” in some way. That being the case, these definitions aren’t actually all that different. Still, it can be tough to pick an English word that fully encapsulates each of them.

This rears its ugly head constantly in translation, sasuga being an infamous example. It has a dual function of “as one would expect of X” and “as only X could do”. In this Shin Godzilla clip, for example, Kunihira utters it as both awe at America’s firepower and a grim reminder that the threat of a nuclear response to Godzilla constantly looms over Japan.

By the way, when listening to Lenneth’s Japanese dialogue you might think she doesn’t say kizame but, rather, kizare. If so, don’t feel bad; even native Japanese speakers have difficulty hearing anything but kizare! It’s so prevalent that using kizare when quoting this line has actually become a way to signal to other fans of VP that you’ve been with the series from the beginning.

According to Yaamao: The “kizame” part of Valkyrie Profile‘s “Sono mi ni kizame […]” sounds like “kizare“, doesn’t it?
sasamimayo writes: And from [[the time I played VP]] onward, I can only hear the valkyrie’s finishing move as “Sono mi ni kizare! […]” (Even though I know it’s kizame)
To quote s590807, from whom I got the JP footage: Sure enough, it’s totally “Sono mi ni kizare!”

Either the voice actress’ delivery was poor, or compression made the consonant indistinct. Given Yumi Tōma’s extensive voice acting history (Xenogears‘ Elly, Soul Calibur‘s Ivy, Metal Gear Solid 2‘s Fortune, and more), I’m inclined to believe her delivery wasn’t at fault. In fact, in some instances, even the gi in Lenneth’s shingi isn’t clear, while it’s fine elsewhere. I can only assume compression is the primary cause.

The localization team—comprised of Jeremy Blaustein (who also worked on games like Metal Gear Solid, Silent Hill, and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night), Nick Des Barres (The Wonderful 101, Guilty Gear), and Casey Loe (Fire Emblem, Xenoblade)—deserves a medal for actually getting it right, seeing as how it confuses even native speakers! EDIT: According to this Twitter post, Des Barres specifically handled this particular line.

Valkyrie Profile developers tri-Ace love to bring old characters back for cameos, so Lenneth has appeared in tons of Star Ocean, Valkyrie Profile, and even Tales games, canonically or otherwise. Her voice lines are usually re-recorded, and kizame can be heard more clearly.

Going back to the start of this article, the TV Tropes claim was that a misheard vowel was responsible for the change from “annihilate” to “engrave”. If anything, the kizare in the Japanese line would be wrong, but the localization figured it out despite that. Interestingly, the origin of this claim is a translation guide on GameFAQs, which notes the confusion between kizare and kizame, but incorrectly states that kizare would translate to “annihilate”. In actuality, kizare is not a word in Japanese at all, and therefore has no definition.

At some point in this rumor-spreading game of Telephone, the misheard consonant became a misheard vowel, but the “annihilate” misconception stayed. What’s particularly amusing about this is that if kizame had instead been misheard as kizamu, that would actually explain the use of the declarative “It shall” in the localization! Thanks to Matthew for pointing that one out.

The use of “soul” is grandfathered into most subsequent localizations of the Valkyrie series. Not only does Lenneth herself say it in any cameos she has in other tri-Ace or Square Enix games, but other Valkyries also use slight alterations of it:

I think this article might be the kick in the pants I need to finally play this game. I didn't own a PS2 so I totally missed out on it!
From her debut in Valkyrie Profile 2 onward, Silmeria says, “Sono mi ni kizaminasai!”, a softer version of Lenneth’s command. It’s localized as “Engrave it on your soul!”
By the way, Hrist's name is actually different in Japanese! アーリィ transliterates to Āli.
Another valkyrie, Hrist, goes for “Sono mi ni kizamu ga ii!”, which comes across as an advisory, yet still forceful “You’d better engrave […]” The official localization is, “It shall be engraved upon your very soul!”
If you're wondering why these valkyries appear in so many games, Tri-Ace just loves putting in cameos as secret bosses. If you've played Valkyrie Profile, the Seraphic Gate is one example.
In her cameo in Star Ocean: Till the End of Time, Lenneth’s English line is translated as “I shall cleave into your flesh!” For some reason, the localization team didn’t preserve her line as it appears in VP.

With the exception of the Star Ocean cameo, the lines are remarkably consistent in both English and Japanese. I suppose that’s a testament to the localization team’s ability to develop iconic dialogue.

That covers almost all the variants of “It shall be engraved upon your soul!” The one thing I would’ve liked is for there to be an instance of it in writing, so I could definitively say which interpretation of mi is correct. Sadly, Lenneth and her fellow valkyries never seem to say it outside of battle.

But that doesn’t mean no one else did.

This article has gone on quite long enough, so I’m going to save an analysis of Lezard’s introductory speech for another time. If you want to know about that as soon as it happens, I recommend following us on Twitter, subscribing to our subreddit, or maybe even the RSS feed.

If you enjoyed this unnecessarily deep dive into a single line of dialogue, you may also like Matthew‘s analysis of the mistranslation of the Mistwalker skill in Advance Wars: Dual Strike. Since Nibelung likely descends from the High German nebel, meaning “mist”, does that make this the sequel to that “Misty Monday” article? Nope! That was actually this article about how one of Mist’s most iconic moments from Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance was mistranslated. Who knew we’d do so much writing about mist?

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