Wow, it’s been a while since the last Lost in Translation, but I think I’ve got a real sweet one for you guys this time around. This entry comes from episode 6 of Ero-Manga Sensei where we find Masamune lamenting over the fact that his pseudo-rival Muramasa had beaten him to the punch for a publishing deal at his publishing house.
Chances are if you watched enough anime or grew up playing Final Fantasy, you’ve encountered the two blades named Masamune and Muramasa. The former is probably most commonly attributed to Sephiroth from Final Fantasy VII, the blade of which was tremendously long — almost twice the height of the silver-haired super villain. The latter, on the other hand, you might have noticed was the favored sword by Marquis Elmdor in Final Fantasy Tactics, who had vampire-like abilities, as well as other cursed arts.
But the swords were actually not specific blades, rather, swords forged by a certain swordsmith, or students of that particular school. Masamune was perhaps one of the more prolific and well-respected of the two, and emerged some time during the 13th century during a time known as the Kamakura Period. He is regarded as one of Japan’s greatest swordsmiths, so much so that a semi-annual award for swords crafting has been graced with his name: the Masamune Prize.
Muramasa on the other hand came much later — around the 15th century — during the Muromachi period, and has been credited as a sort of twisted genius. Some accounts describe him as borderline mad, and that madness supposedly passed on to his swords, and in effect, into the handler of his creations. It is said that Muramasa blades have the ability to cause insatiable bloodlust in its wielders, to the point that the blade must slice a man before it can be returned to its sheath.
So it comes as no surprise that these two blades have often been depicted in Japanese popular culture as some sort of dichotomy — a blade of divine protection, and a blade of evil destruction. And it’s pretty clear to us that Masamune feels the weight of such a cultural backstory in his own rivalry between Muramasa:
And that’s because he has a lot to live up to. Although Muramasa and Masamune never lived during the same time period, their own skill had become legendary to the point that they were depicted in legends, themselves. One particular legend places Muramasa as a student of Masamune, and one day the two challenge one another as to who can create the greatest blade. To test their blades, they lay them in a small stream with its edge facing the current. Muramasa’s blade is said to have cut everything that passed through it — leaves, fish, even the very wind itself was said to be sliced as it flowed across the cold steel. Masamune’s blade, on the other hand, sliced leaves just as Muramasa’s had, but did not harm any fish that met its edge, and the wind flowed gently over its metallic sheen. A monk passed by and claimed that he had seen what the two were doing, and proclaimed that Masamune forged the greater blade. Muramasa was obviously indignant, and demanded an explanation. The monk explained that, indeed, the sharpness of Muramasa’s blade was unparalleled, but it sliced whatever it crossed indiscriminately. But Masamune’s blade had the sharpness to know when to slice, and when to preserve life.
So yeah, that’s a pretty big name Masamune has to live up to. But when you think about it, why is Muramasa always getting such a bad rap? I mean, it’s not like people were all peaceful in feudal Japan. Sharper swords were always better, right? It could spell the difference between life and death, after all — so why did Muramasa get branded as the bad guy here?
Some people believe that Muramasa blades were so effective, they were responsible for killing many of Tokugawa Ieyasu’s acquaintances during the struggles leading up to the Tokugawa era. In response to this, he ordered that all Muramasa blades were forbidden to be used by the shogunate, and imposed sanctions on those found wielding the blade. Part of this included rumor mongering to dissuade people from using the blades — and true enough, this meant rumors like “the sword will make you go mad” or that “the blade is cursed” and “requires the blood of man in order to satisfy its edge”. Rumors eventually turned into legend, and the rest is history.
So what is Masamune yapping about when he says he’s been called a “fake Muramasa” and “a degradation of Muramasa”? This, actually, has something to do with the proliferation of fake Muramasa blades during the Tokugawa era. Apparently, anti-shogunate parties favored the Muramasa blade, probably as a way of showing their spite against the shogunate, which lead to the forging of “fake” blades that had the name “Muramasa” only as a form of overt rebellion. So by calling Masamune a fake Muramasa or a degradation of Muramasa, the critics are basically singling him out as a failed attempt to surpass Muramasa (the author) in reference to the proliferation of fake blades during the Tokugawa era.
As for the last comment, “horrible even for a follower”, this stems from the belief that Muramasa came from the same school as a former student of Masamune. Although there is no evidence to suggest that Muramasa came from the same line as Masamune, this criticism insinuates that not only is he not worthy of the name Masamune, but he is also not worthy of the title as follower of either Masamune or Muramasa. This is perhaps the harshest of the three criticisms mentioned, and I’m not surprised that Masamune is taking this to heart.
And there you have it! It’s amazing how so much culture can be packed into just two simple names, and how this cultural backstory actually adds to the comedic irony of the whole production of Ero-Manga Sensei. Whether or not this sort of trivia will make or break the franchise is up for debate, but I think it goes without saying that this was definitely something that was Lost in Translation.
See something in animeland that you think was Lost in Translation? Do share your suggestions in the comments below! Until next time, ciao!