Folklore-fate-grand-order

You may already be aware of the hit mobile game Fate/Grand Order, which has a really fun mix of anime, historical figures, folklore, waifus and even some sci-fi elements! Right now, the game is hosting one of its most anticipated events: Records of the Enma-tei’s Prosperity. A New Year’s event which heavily features many different elements of Japanese folklore and especially a new Servant, a Saber called Beni-Enma, who has a rich history rooted in various legends of Japanese folklore, with the most important being the story of Shita-kiri Suzume: The Tongue-Cut Sparrow.

Beni-Enma inspired by “shita-kirir Suzumue”

Written back in the early Kamakura period, this fable tells about a kindly old man who lives in the mountains with his greedy, and honestly pretty awful, wife who finds an injured sparrow. In summary, it’s a story about how greed can lead to one’s own demise through a series of somewhat convoluted events involving feeding a sparrow some rice, your wife cutting the sparrow’s tongue off, and you discovering your bird friend is actually a magic innkeeper living in a bamboo grove who will treat you to some quality food and dance for you, as well as give you a choice of small or big basket as a souvenir. You will choose the small one, since it’s much easier to carry, and find out it’s filled to the brim with treasure. Your terrible wife will then run back to the inn when she learns of the bigger option, proceeding to open it before the time is right and leading to an attack by venomous animals and monsters. Fun and morbid stuff!

Thing is, FGO’s Beni-Enma IS the sparrow from the legend, or, at the very least, a representation of it in the form of a little Tengu girl known for being an earnest and respectful innkeeper who does her best to care for her guests. Curiously, there is an overlap in legends of Beni’s story. Here, she is a kind of Oni born from the spirit of a young girl who lived in a brothel and died in the mountains. She was first adopted by Datsue-ba and Yamaten, the demons responsible for weighing the sins of the recently deceased, to do their work, but was later readopted by King Enma who felt pity for the way she was treated and wanted to give her a good afterlife.

Woodblod from Hokusai relating the
The Tongue-Cut Sparrow inspired woodblock art by Hokusai “Pair of Scissors and Sparrow”

She is also known for being a great cook, to the point of teaching cooking classes to all other yokai servants, such as Tamamo-no-Mae, Kiyohime, Suzuka Gozen and so on, leading to them treating her with a great deal of respect and fear, even addressing her as Beni-Sensei.

As a fighter, she is part of the Saber class, known for their versatility in both combat and magic, as well as their swordplay. In her first form, Beni-Enma carries a rice basin and uses a spoon as a weapon, a clever nod to the kind old man from the legend, but gets an actual sword in her later ascensions. Her skills in-game also reflect the fable in name and use, with Star Basket (Big) EX, Star Basket (Small) EX, Inn Creation B and Ventriloquism EX being some of them. But the crown jewel for players, folklorists and fans of beautiful animation alike is her special attack, known in the Fate franchise as a Noble Phantasm. Hers is called Jyū-Ō Hanketsu – Tsuzura no Michiyuki, or Judgement of the Ten Rulers of Afterlife – Journey of the Wicker Basket, a brilliant callback to the story of Shita-kiri Suzume.

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