Were the Manikins of Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne based upon the description of two Pre-Human groups from the Popol Vuh (Mayan Creation / Hero Mythology book)?

Background info for Fellow MegaTen fans:

The translation I primarily read was by Allen J. Christenson, which from what I understand is the most accurate translation possible for English readers. The Mayan language is a specific style where they repeat phrases and have deities of duality in order to emphasize that duality. The Popol Vuh itself is technically post-colonial (although, this is argued between Mayan scholars at this time) as the Catholic Church spent a century burning down all documents related to approximately 800 years of dynastic history, cultural artifacts, myths, Church officials spent an entire century persecuting and murdering every known Mayan who was learned in Mayan hieroglyphics, and – as has been more recently discovered – burned down information on a unique calendar systems based upon ancient Mayan scientific research. The Popol Vuh was made by the remaining Mayan royalty who survived the purges and were able to make it in secret. After a few hundred years of deliberate cultural and physical genocide with the specific intentional poverty, illiteracy, and destruction making it easier to convert people into Christianity (this was bluntly stated by the Church officials who hunted and burned Mayan literature wholesale for over a hundred years, it is not something of academic dispute but official Church policy per the Doctrine of Discovery); some Church officials eventually broke away from this viewpoint and began a more positive process due to cultural changes and the weakening hold of the Spanish versus their European rivals. One Church official, who was highly enthusiastic about learning Mayan cultural views and language, was eventually trusted enough by descendants of the Mayan nobility to be given the Popol Vuh and he translated it into Spanish before giving it back. No one knows what happened to the original Post-Colonial Popol Vuh, but the translated version was forgotten about for centuries until Church archivists and non-affiliated historians eventually rediscovered it and began publishing it. It was repeatedly translated and re-translated with early translators deliberately ignoring the repeated phrases and emphasis on Twoness that’s nigh-ubiquitous in Indigenous cultures. The translation I decided to read was from a translator who actually went to Guatemala to meet with K’iche’ Mayans to get the most accurate possible translation and put in an English format.

I can’t be sure as to what translation the Nocturne writers and Kaneko may have read or to its accuracy as this one that I read was published in 2007 and Nocturne first came out in 2003 in Japan and was obviously in development prior to that. However, I did eventually find a rather interesting tidbit from the 1985 English translation by Dennis Tedlock which gives significantly more evidence that Kaneko and his cohorts were heavily inspired by and designed the Manikins of Nocturne based upon the Popol Vuh’s mythological pre-humans.

I’ll begin with the more accurate Christenson translation and then share the specific text from the Tedlock translation that makes the similarities more apparent:

The Popol Vuh describes two distinct pre-human groups that, while not being similar to the Manikins in isolation, seem to be eerily similar to the Manikins once I envisioned their descriptions as a single group of people. That is, combining the two descriptions does make it seem like a description of the Manikins.

From the Christenson translation of the Popol Vuh (Bold Emphasis added by me to get to the point quicker):


Thus there was another attempt to frame and shape man by the Framer and the Shaper, by She Who Has Borne Children and He Who Has Begotten Sons: “Let us try again before the first sowing, before the dawn approaches. Let us make a provider, a sustainer for us. How shall we then be called upon so that we are remembered upon the face of the earth? We have already made a first attempt with what we have framed and what we have shaped. But we were not successful in being worshiped or in being revered by them. Thus, let us try again to make one who will honor us, who will respect us; one who will be a provider and a sustainer,” they said. Then was the framing, the making of it. Of earth and mud was its flesh composed. But they saw that it was still not good. It merely came undone and crumbled. It merely became sodden and mushy.90 It merely fell apart and dissolved. Its head was not set apart properly.91 Its face could only look in one direction. Its face was hidden. Neither could it look about. At first it spoke, but without knowledge.92 Straightaway it would merely dissolve in water, for it was not strong. Then said the Framer and the Shaper: “We have made a mistake; thus let this be merely a mistake.93 It cannot walk, neither can it multiply. Then let it be so. Let it be merely left behind as a thing of no importance,”94 they said. Therefore they undid it. They toppled what they had framed, what they had shaped.

The second group, described as the Effigy People which have an even greater resemblance:

And when they had spoken, straightaway the effigies114 of carved wood were made. They had the appearance of people and spoke like people as well. They populated the whole face of the earth. The effigies of carved wood began to multiply, bearing daughters and sons. Nevertheless, they still did not possess their hearts nor their minds. They did not remember their Framer or their Shaper.115 They walked without purpose.116 They crawled on their hands and knees and did not remember Heart of Sky. Thus they were weighed in the balance. They were merely an experiment, an attempt at people. At first they spoke, but their faces were all dried up. Their legs and arms were not filled out. They had no blood or blood flow117 within them. They had no sweat or oil. Their cheeks were dry, and their faces were masks.118 Their legs and arms were stiff. Their bodies were rigid.119 Thus they were not capable of understanding120 before their Framer and their Shaper, those who had given them birth and given them hearts. They were the first numerous people who have lived here upon the face of the earth.


And, while not similar to what happened to the Manikins in Nocturne, their annihilation is even more brutal and it’s specifically because they serve no purpose; the same reason Chiaki gave when she annihilated Mifunashiro:

The body of man had been carved of tz’ite wood124 by the Framer and the Shaper. The body of woman consisted of reeds125 according to the desire of the Framer and the Shaper. But they were not capable of understanding and did not speak before their Framer and their Shaper, their makers and their creators. Thus they were killed in the flood. There came a great resin down from the sky.126 There came the ones called Chiselers of Faces, who gouged out their eyes.127 There came Death Knives,128 which cut off their heads. There came Crouching129 Jaguar, who ate their flesh. There came Striking130 Jaguar, who struck them. They smashed their bones and their tendons.131 Their bones were ground up. They were broken into pieces. Their faces were ground up132 because they proved to be incapable of understanding before the face of their mother and the face of their father, Heart of Sky, Huracan by name.133 Thus they caused the face of the earth to be darkened, and there fell a black rain,134 a rain that fell both day and night. The small and the great animals came in upon them.135 Their faces were crushed by the trees and the stones. They were spoken to by all their maize grinders and their cooking griddles,136 their plates and their pots, their dogs137 and their grinding stones.138 However many things they had, all of them crushed their faces. Their dogs and their turkeys139 said to them: “Pain you have caused us. You ate us. Therefore it will be you that we will eat now.” Then the grinding stones said this to them: “We were ground upon by you. Every day, every day, in the evening and at dawn, always you did holi, holi, huki, huki140 on our faces. This was our service for you who were the first people. But this day you shall feel our strength. We shall grind you like maize. We shall grind up your flesh,”141 said their grinding stones to them.

According to the myth, their surviving descendants then become cursed into becoming spider-monkeys that frequent Central and South America and it was a way of explaining spider-monkeys in the area during ancient times. While that part obviously doesn’t follow the trajectory of the Manikins, the description and the underlying reasons for the devastation of the pre-human groups seemed too specific to be a coincidence.

Finally, the Tedlock translation of the Effigy people (with bold emphasis added by me):

“Have shame, you up there, Heart of Sky: attempt no deception before the mouth and face of Sovereign Plumed Serpent,” they said.

Then they spoke straight to the point: “It is well that there be your manikins, woodcarvings, talking, speaking, there on the face of the earth.” “So be it,” they replied. The moment they spoke it was done: the manikins, woodcarvings, human in looks and human in speech. This was the peopling of the face of the earth: They came into being, they multiplied, they had daughters, they had sons, these manikins, woodcarvings.

But there was nothing in their hearts and nothing in their minds, no memory of their mason and builder. They just went and walked wherever they wanted. Now they did not remember the Heart of Sky. And so they fell, just an experiment and just a cutout for humankind. They were talking at first but their faces were dry. They were not yet developed in the legs and arms. They had no blood, no lymph. They had no sweat, no fat. Their complexions were dry, their faces were crusty. They flailed their legs and arms, their bodies were deformed. And so they accomplished nothing before the Maker, Modeler who gave them birth, gave them heart. They became the first numerous people here on the face of the earth.

AGAIN THERE COMES A HUMILIATION, destruction, and demolition. The manikins, woodcarvings were killed when the Heart of Sky devised a flood for them. A great flood was made; it came down on the heads of the manikins, woodcarvings. The man’s body was carved from the wood of the coral tree by the Maker, Modeler. And as for the woman, the Maker, Modeler needed the hearts of bulrushes for the woman’s body. They were not competent, nor did they speak before the builder and sculptor who made them and brought them forth, and so they were killed, done in by a flood:

There came a rain of resin from the sky. There came the one named Gouger of Faces: he gouged out their eyeballs.

There came Sudden Bloodletter: he snapped off their heads.

There came Crunching Jaguar: he ate their flesh.

There came Tearing Jaguar: he tore them open.


While I suppose it is not impossible, I’d be surprised if Kaneko and others hadn’t at least used these descriptions as reference material. The physical descriptions, mannerisms, and the irregular physical movements of the Manikins fit the descriptions of two sets of mythological pre-humans described in the Popol Vuh. If so, then the prevalent belief among Western fans that the Manikins and Futomimi represented the Bible or Moses seems to have been completely wrong; the massacre of Mifunashiro seems closer to representing the genocide of the Indigenous peoples of the Americas by Western, Abrahamic violence and imperialism. Chiaki transforming into the avatar of a Near-Eastern seasonal war and fertility deity through the blood of the Manikins may be closer to a criticism of Abrahamic cultural values and not a celebration of the Biblical story of Moses. It is a rather interesting critique by Atlus Japan. We Westerners didn’t recognize characters representing Indigenous creation mythology of the Americas, while many immediately assumed the Manikins were Biblically-inspired, precisely because the genocide of Indigenous cultures has been so thorough by Abrahamic-inspired cultural norms and value structures. I certainly wouldn’t have ever thought the Manikins were inspired by Indigenous mythology of the Mayans, if I hadn’t decided to read the Popol Vuh for my own research interests.

Now, I don’t want to end this on a sad note. I’d like to point something out that I believe bears great significance for many people who enjoy the older MegaTen games:

The amount of research that Kaneko, Cozy Okada, and the many others did as a development team of the early games is absolutely breathtaking. I am in genuine awe at just Nocturne alone. The amount of work, zealous research, and – I’m sure – crazy fun that they must’ve had in creating these games is just something that I cannot help but personally admire. Regardless of whatever obstacles and failures they underwent; especially the odd beeper toy empire they tried to rival Pokemon with during the PS1 era which resulted in near-bankruptcy (it wasn’t Nocturne, but this odd Japanese-only beeper toy product that they tried to mass market and that nobody was interested in); they got to make lifelong careers doing what they loved. The amount of details, charm, and dedication that they put into the early MegaTen games is simply amazing. I swear, any time I research other mythology that I think early Atlus hasn’t heavily focused on, I find they created a well-known boss or set of characters from that mythology. I don’t know if we will ever have this fundamental love and enthusiasm for mythology and mixing it with intriguing mishmashes of various world philosophies from newer game developers. The older generation of Atlus Japan game developers achieved something that I just don’t see anyone else triumph at or even challenge. For all intents and purposes, when it comes to mixing philosophy and mythology across the world into a single coherent and fun game, the older game developers of Atlus Japan seem unparalleled.

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