Miki Makimura Talks Like a Samurai

Pronouns in Japanese, both first and second person, are a lot more complicated than in English. If you’re reading a post about Devilman, you probably have at least some cursory knowledge of the subject, but for a quick redux: in Japanese, there are a variety of ways to say both “I/me” and “you,” each carrying their own meanings and nuances. In addition, pronoun choice tends to be a lot more deliberate in fiction (especially pop fiction like manga and anime) than in real life — so what pronouns a character uses can often say a lot about them.

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I’ve already touched on Ryo and Satan’s use of first-person pronouns in the past, so I won’t retread that here. Akira’s are fairly straightforward as well – the only part that might be surprising is that even before becoming a Devilman, he uses the casual masculine ore when speaking to Miki and Ryo. While this is closely in line with how a Japanese teenager would probably speak in real life, in fiction, his particular character archetype of a timid boy would typically use the less assertive masculine boku. Some foreshadowing, perhaps.

But we’re not here to talk about the boys. We’re here to talk about Miki.

Miki’s pronouns in the manga are…unusual, to put it lightly. While she does sometimes use the casual female pronoun atashi, she also uses the first-person pronoun sessha and the second-person pronoun onushi when speaking to Akira.

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If you’ve never heard of these pronouns before, that’s perfectly understandable, because they’re from the feudal period and completely archaic. Wikipedia describes sessha as a masculine pronoun “used by samurai during the feudal ages (and often also by ninja in fictionalized portrayals). From a Sino-Japanese word meaning ‘one who is clumsy.'” Onushi is gender-neutral, “used by elders and samurai to talk to people of equal or lower rank, as well as by fictional ninja. Literally means ‘master.'”

So basically, Miki talks like a samurai. This is as specific as it is bizarre, and the official translation of Devilman doesn’t even try to translate it, which is honestly fair. The politeness makes it kind of sarcastic, and the masculine nature of it and association with samurai makes it kind of aggressive and barbed, but most of all, it gives an incredibly strong impression, especially in contrast with her cute appearance and bubbly demeanor. That seems to be the main takeaway in the Japanese fandom as well – from nothing but her pronouns you get a sharp sense that Miki’s something else, the kind of girl who bitchslaps thugs and makes her own shivs.

It’s probably also worth mentioning that on top of her odd pronouns, the way Miki speaks can be very rough and masculine-coded, particularly when she’s speaking to Akira and/or the Dosuroku gang. I could write a whole series of long, detailed posts solely focused on breaking down the different ways Miki speaks in different contexts, but first of all, it would be largely incomprehensible without at least a passing knowledge of Japanese, and second, I’m the only one who cares. Suffice to say that the way she talks can be closer to a Yazuka punk than a high school girl.

 

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I’m at a loss as to how I’d convey this in English. Something along the lines of having Miki speak like a 1920’s mafioso or a wild west gunslinger would get some of the same feeling across, but it’d be way too distracting. It would read like a bad Dragon Quest localization, where all the characters are given accents so thick it’s hard to make out what they’re trying to say. What I’ve done in some of my fanfiction (yes, of course I’ve written Devilfic) is have her use “honey” and “sweetie” in a patronizing manner – not to try and mimic the effect of sessha and onushi per say, but just because it felt right in some vague way. Something like “kid” or “kiddo” might also work. Oh, and lots of cheerful profanity. This makes Miki come across as something of a thirsty, delinquent valley-girl – which might not be exactly right, but I’d like to think it isn’t so far off, either.

Of course, the fact that she uses these pronouns in the manga doesn’t seem to be common – or even uncommon – knowledge, because she doesn’t use them in any other adaptation or spinoff (and Japanese copies of Devilman aren’t exactly easy to come by). In Crybaby she uses the masculine ore – which still retains some of the same sense of tomboyishness, but on top of being much less strikingly unusual (while women practically never use ore in real life, it’s not uncommon to see in anime), she’s so much more gentle than in the manga that it seems like a formality. In the OVAs, which again have a softer interpretation of the character, she uses standard female pronouns – watashi for formal situations, atashi for informal. And even in Cyborg 009 VS Devilman, in which she’s maybe the closest to her manga self – her introduction is whacking a couple of snatch-and-grab thieves off their bike with her school bag! – she uses mostly atashi.

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It’s not surprising that adaptations decided to drop the antiquated pronouns, just based on how bizarre of a choice it was in the first place. There is such a thing as too striking, after all. Personally, though, I have to say I’m a little disappointed. A lot of the time, Miki’s portrayal in adaptations and spinoffs seems to have the edges sanded off, to greater or lesser degree. In the original, she tells the Dosuroku gang to go kill themselves, is openly, unabashedly horny for Akira, and is willing and able to defend herself with knives and molotov cocktails when push comes to shove. You don’t often see girls like her, who are loud and thirsty and violent and still get to be the heroine. She’s a bad girl, and that’s a good thing.

As for any other iteration of Miki… It’s not like she’s ever unrecognizable, but she’s just not the same. More of a good girl, more of a typical heroine. Changing her pronouns from bizarre, obsolete ones something more normal is just another part of this.

Don’t be a coward. Let Miki talk like a fictional ninja.

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One thought on “Miki Makimura Talks Like a Samurai

  1. This is a side of Miki’s character from the original manga that I would have never known about if not for this article! We need more of this empowered Miki.

    Sidenote: Whatever happened to the VRV Blog? You and others did some really informative articles there, but they seem to all be gone now 😦

    Like

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