FromSoftware has some of the most inspired games in the gaming market. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is no such exception. In fact, Sekiro might possibly have the most roots in mythology and folklore than any other From title. As a result, there are fun little nods to Japanese mythology scattered throughout the game.
VaatiVidya, a popular YouTube content creator centering on From’s games recently published a video detailing 10 of these myths, which I encourage anyone interested to checkout. While the list is by no means comprehensive (and really, I doubt any digestible list could be), it covers some of the most apparent and forward myths that Sekiro has to offer.
But, as Sekiro has so many, there are plenty of minor myths that are perhaps less obvious, which I aim to cover in this article series: Myths Of Sekiro. Starting with the ever bizarre Headless, the creature encountered in three optional miniboss fights in Sekiro, with: Myths of Sekiro: Headless.
Before getting into the specific creature regarding the Headless, a concept must first be introduced: Yōkai. Yōkai roughly translates to ghost, spirit or apparition. In a lot of Japanese folklore, Yōkai are present for a variety of reasons, whether it be malicious (particularly malicious ones are deemed ‘Yanamun’), friendly, or just kind of there. While Yōkai can possess a variety of abilities, ranging in all manner of supernatural or spiritual, by far the most common ability present in the Yōkai is shape shifting.
Throughout Japanese history, the presence of Yōkai in writings tends to decrease as time goes on, considering that science and technology helped to explain the previously attributed phenomena. In terms of art, a similar trend can be observed, but the Yōkai become more…friendly looking. In modern times, Yōkai have appeared in all sorts of productions originating from Japan. To perhaps get a rough showcase of the various types of Yōkai, I would recommend the anime Ghost Stories (and especially the English dubbed version).
Now that you know the basis, the Yōkai the Headless in Sekiro is most likely based off of comes from very old times in Japan (I legitimately could not find the specific date of writing when this Yōkai first appeared).
The story goes that a Samurai was travelling a road late at night, when all of a sudden he heard a voice from his darkened surroundings. This voice called for him to stop, and out of curiosity, the Samurai complied. After waiting a few seconds, the Samurai did not detect any movement. Checking his surroundings, he looked behind him.
Behind him was what appeared to be a man who was stripping off his clothes. Once the man’s clothes were stripped, this mysterious man faced his rear towards the Samurai, and bent over protruding his buttocks towards the Samurai. The Samurai looked with pure horror as where the man’s anus should have been, a glistening eyeball was staring back at the Samurai. Before the Samurai could take additional action, the man disappeared into the darkness, and the Samurai’s travel continued unabated.
This creature responsible for exposing its self to the Samurai became to be known as the “Shirime”, a word that literally translates to “Butt Eye”. The Shirime can be found throughout multiple pieces of old Japanese art, and even present in some modern day media as a cameo. However, the Shirime isn’t as well known as other Japanese Yōkai.
The Headless Connection
So, now that the stage is set, a connection can be made to the headless enemy in Sekiro. As pictured in the original image for this article, the Headless in Sekiro appears as a burly man, clad in only a loin cloth. The creature has an off putting, deathly colored skin, and can be found in particularly darkened areas. And of course, it’s missing a head.
Going off of looks alone, not much is telling here. Especially considering that in most depictions of the Shirime, the being is quite skinny, and rather normal man sized. Examining the fight of the Headless, is where a more concrete connection can be drawn.
For starters, the Headless has a move where he disappears into a dark mist, causing the player to completely lose track of the creature’s location. Eventually, the Headless emerges from the darkness, and unless the player dodges what the game deems to be a ‘Perilous Attack’, the Headless grabs the player. After grabbing the player, the player is then brought down on all fours, with their buttocks facing the Headless. The Headless then reaches into (in a spiritual, apparition-like manner, of course) the player, and pulls out some sort of glistening orb shaped object from the player. Not only is the player treated to an absolutely bizarre attack sequence, but a significant amount of health damage is inflicted to the player.
And there you have it. It’s quite obvious to see how the Headless were inspired by the Shirime, in an absolutely…fascinating way. As previously mentioned, there are almost countless myths and folk tales Sekiro is based off of. Be sure to keep it here at Culture of Gaming, when I delve into the myths and lore surrounding the Shichimen Warriors that appear in game. If you’d like to read our Sekiro review, check it out here.