In Part 1 of this feature, I discussed the elements of story in the novel The Grass-Cutting Sword and in the video game Okami, and analyzed how both transform an ancient, Japanese myth to retell the narrative in a new perspective. Both the novel and the video game center on the Susano-o versus Orochi story, but each has additions and changes to make the myth more compelling to a modern day audience.[1] With myths, authors fill in the “blank space” of the narrative—parts like personal development, emotions, descriptions, and motivations—with their own views on the how and the why: How did Susano-o deal with being banished from Heaven? Why did Orochi target Kushinada, out of all maidens? How did Kushinada handle this threat? Why is Amaterasu important in this story?

In comparing the two media, I argued that the myth-in-novel format in The Grass-Cutting Sword is a stepping stone for narrative, one that can lead to the myth-in-game format. The novel presents texts laid out by the author’s design into which readers can delve, but games can take this a step further and present a world for players to fully explore. Instead of reading about how Susano-o sulks over his position in life, players continue the narrative and become the goddess Amaterasu themselves, restoring peace to Japan. Okami takes creative liberty to invite players to complete the myth with their own experience, something impossible in a novel.

In addition to the differences in story, however, we need to analyze the characters of each media directly to fully grasp how each work transforms its source myth. Since the stories in both The Grass-Cutting Sword and Okami are so character-driven, each character in the myth is reimagined in rich and diverse ways.

In this article, then, we will consider how Amaterasu, Susano-o, Orochi, and Kushinada all differ between the Grass-Cutting Sword, Okami, and the original myth on which each is based. The thesis from the previous article—that The Grass-Cutting Sword functions as a stepping stone for Okami—does not apply to this paper. Instead, I will argue that each character is important in their own right regardless of medium, and comparing the two versions can give fruitful ideas to how mythologies can be remade, designed, and portrayed within their original source material.


The sun goddess Amaterasu is a nuanced character in both The Grass-Cutting Sword and Okami. In the general mythology, she is a benevolent mother-goddess who is loved, or at least respected, by other immortals and mortals.

Utagawa Toyokuni III, Amaterasu emerging into the light.[2]

In The Grass-Cutting Sword, however, readers see her only as the reason why Susano-o is exiled to the dreadful mortal world. Since the story is told through his eyes, Amaterasu is described through a bitter and resentful frame: she is the perfect child of Izanagi and Izanami, and her conceited attitude always butts heads with Susano-o’s temperamental personality (he is the god of storms, after all). Since this is the only lens through which the readers see her, her character is not entirely believable. She surely has other sides to her personality— and, honestly, her decision to exile her brother was reasonable: he was trashing the heavens, and had killed something she treasured.

Amaterasu has an incomplete characterization in The Grass-Cutting Sword, but this makes sense in the broader context of the novel. The story focuses on Susano-o’s plight, not on Amaterasu, and so the benevolence of the goddess was not especially relevant. This incompleteness of Amaterasu’s character invites a more open interpretation of her, one that many authors of mythic fiction like to explore: maybe, they imagine, this benevolent goddess is not as great as mythic history makes her out to be.

Shunsai Tomihasa, Amaterasu Emerging From a Cave.

In Okami, Amaterasu is similarly incomplete and thus open-to-interpretation. Not only is she reincarnated as a wolf instead of as a human, but she also has a tiny personality in the story that can be easily overlooked. This personality is not as in-depth as Susano-o’s, Kushinada’s, or even her original mythic counterpart’s. This is because she is the player’s avatar.

Some video-game avatars have their own unique personality from which the players cannot really deviate: Sonic the Hedgehog, Dante from Devil May Cry, and Bayonetta, for example. In other video games, players get to choose and shape the avatar’s personality: e.g., Shepard from Mass Effect, Frisk from Undertale, or any character from Telltale Games’ works.

And then you have video game avatars that are essentially “blank”: they appear in more open worlds, in games with a heavier focus on exploration and interactivity; they usually do not speak at all; and the player has great control over their responses to situations. In many cases, there will be cutscenes of these “blank” avatars reacting to important events, but for the most part the avatars do not have a personality that is easy to define: instead, the player is given the agency to determine the avatar’s personality. I am talking about Link from The Legend of Zelda, Samus Aran from Metroid, Jack from Bioshock, or Gordon Freeman from Half-Life, to name a few.

Avatars are given an “open” personality so that the player can insert themselves into the story and feel as if they are more personally “becoming” the avatar. Instead of resisting an avatar that might have different morals or reactions to a situation, the player gets to save the world and be badass themselves since there is no witty dialogue or extraneous cutscenes to alienate them from their avatar.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild inventory screen. Seen at the beginning of the game when Link awakens.

Amaterasu is this kind of blank avatar: because she has little (if any) characterization, the player becomes the reincarnated sun-goddess who needs to save the world from evil. Most of the dialogue comes through Issum—a Poncle (tiny sprite) and traveling artist—who serves as a proxy for her voice: he talks to all the supporting characters and NPCs in order to acquire information.[3] 

The main narrative function of Amaterasu’s “open” characterization is for the player to believe that they can interact and shape the landscape of mythopoeic Japan through their own power; through the Amaterasu avatar, the player is able to stop the evil Orochi and transform Japan into a beautiful place, making the player’s ultimate feeling of accomplishment (for beating game) even more justified than usual. 

Okami’s Amaterasu, manifested as a wolf.

The idea of the player becoming Amaterasu because of her “blank” character takes on unique significance in the context of the original source, the Kojiki. The Kojiki is the source of Japanese mythology, heavily mixed with cultural control that established Japanese dynasty. Since Amaterasu is the best of the three gods that were born from Izanagi, the Japanese emperor was believed to be a direct descendant of hers—or so he said, in order to establish a dominant hierarchy in the Yamato clan. This mythology implied that, since other clans were not descendants of the most powerful deity, they did not deserve to rule Japan. The Emperor put the Kojiki together to prove the Yamato’s importance and status as the best among the rest of Japan, giving them the biggest excuse to rule Japan. This idea of Amaterasu’s divine lineage continued until the Emperor surrendered in World War 2 (Hughes).

It is interesting, then, that the most important god in Japanese mythology was designed to be the main character in a video game. The player is the “best” goddess in the Japanese pantheon, and, despite all the other gods, the game designers deliberately made it so that Amaterasu specifically is the main avatar. Amaterasu re-draws the world with her calligraphy, Amaterasu restores the celestial brush gods, and Amaterasu drives away the evil and restores order. The brush gods refer to her as “Origin and mother to us all” (Okami), referencing how she is the mother-goddess and goddess of the entire cosmos.

In a game centered on Orochi, you would think that Susano-o would be the main character, but instead he is relegated to the role of side character because Amaterasu is too important not to be the avatar’s character. That’s why you play as Amaterasu in the game rather than her brother: unlike the destructive god of storms, she is the restorative Mother goddess, so the player must become her in order to save Nippon and complete the game (Hughes).

Artwork of the Celestial Brush Gods.

Before moving on from Amaterasu, I want to touch upon what this new “version” of Amaterasu does for our understanding of myths as a whole.

In storytelling, one of the many resources that authors have for creating characters in delving into an archetype: a universal representative of human understanding. Archetypes range from general to specific: you have universal archetypes such as the Hero, the Princess, the Devil, and the Saint, and you also have more narrowly defined archetypes bounded by genre or medium, like the different hero classes in multiplayer video games.

In myths, archetypes can become the gods themselves and what they represent. This invites an interesting method of analyzing other works of fiction. When readers come across a well-known god, they learn about the god specific to the text (or movie, tv show, game), but they also compare the god to its other iterations from other works, gaining comprehensive awareness of the gods in general. Northop Fyre explains how this works in Anatomy of Criticism:

If we do not accept the archetypal or conventional element in the imagery that links one poem with another, it is impossible to get a systematic mental training out of the reading of literature alone. But if we add to our desire to now literature a desire to know how we know it, we shall find that expanding images into conventional archetypes of literature is a process that takes place unconsciously in all our reading… Moby Dick cannot remain in Melville’s novel: he is absorbed into our imaginative experience of leviathans and dragons of the deep from the Old Testament onward (100).

If readers do not consider the context of the mythology from which the god came, and if they do not consider the many personifications of the god from different adaptive works, then part of the god’s meaning is lost in the analysis. This, by the way, is why I am comparing The Grass-Cutting Sword, Okami, and the original text all in one paper: I want to show you how the different interpretations of Amaterasu (and the other gods) combine into one full understanding of the character.

Amaterasu completing a painting, adding the sun with her brushwork.

The original Japanese myth presents the sun-goddess as the benevolent mother-goddess and one of the greatest gods in Japanese mythology and Shinto religion. So, naturally, a reader will paint a correspondingly positive picture surrounding the goddess. She is the sun-goddess, always supplying mortals with light, energy, and life. Her throwing Susano-o out of heaven was justified and reasonable because he was being an absolute menace. She is there in times of need, and mortals love her for it.

In The Grass-Cutting Sword, Amaterasu might still be all those things, but that fame has also gotten to her head. She is conceited—a “stuck-up brat,” if you will—thinking that she is entitled to the heavens and has the power to do whatever she pleases. Now we are getting more of a full and believable character here. Of course the myth generalizes, so The Grass-Cutting Sword fills in the “blank space” and adds smaller details that better define the goddess, casting her in a more realistic and wholesome light, for better or worse.

By comparing the original mythology to the mythic fiction, we can see better that Amaterasu is the mother-goddess of Japan and mortals are grateful to her, but she might not be so fun in conversation. We also do not have to choose between the goddess’s different versions in order to understand her as a character. We can just see these two ideas of Amaterasu as two sides of the sun: one is beneficial to us, and the other is unpleasant at times (imagine 100-F-degree heat with no clouds).

Shinshu Field at sunset.

If then we add the interpretation of Amaterasu from Okami, things get really interesting: now you, the player, have become the reincarnated sun-goddess. When you remember Okami’s version of Amaterasu, you ask yourself, “What did I do in that game?”, rather than “What did that god do in this book?” Amaterasu is more personal now, and her identity depends on your actions and interpretation of the game’s events.

Okami Amateasu official design.


Since readers learn half the story from Susano-o’s point-of-view in The Grass-Cutting Sword, his grumpy and resentful perspective casts a bitter light on the mythology, making the stories seem more tragic and melodramatic than epic, romantic, or comedic. His behavior is akin to the original mythos: Susano-o has always been unpredictable and known for reeking havoc, but his mood was never explained in the original myth, except for his tearful wish to see his mother.

Susano-o creates the main tension of the novel by telling his journey and his backstory with a harsh bias, describing how things in the immortal sphere are not as great as mortals believe they are, and how he opposes everything in his own life. Through his perspective, though, readers hear several myths retold: the beginning of the world with Izanagi and Izanami, how Izanami got to the underworld; and how Susano-o was kicked out of heaven by his sister. He tells these stories to devout monks who take the stories for granted, explaining how his father is an arrogant god who basically killed his own wife and does not care about his own children.

These abusive personality traits in the “blank space” of the myth serve to better justify Susano-o’s bitterness and weeping for his mother. Along with the general resentment toward his father, Susano-o also tells the monks of his deep longing for his mother, Izanami, and of how he wishes to join her in the land of the dead. The readers feel his desire to meet the one person who might show him care, even love, and want him to find his way down to the underworld (he eventually does, since he had been exiled as a mortal, thus giving the story a satisfactory resolution).

In short, Susano-o is not the cheeriest god in the universe, and his relief from utter melancholy is something that the readers hope he achieves (for everyone’s sake).

Susano-o fighting Orochi, with Kushinada in the background.

The Grass-Cutting Sword takes the original source material and successfully creates a distinct protagonist who has complex attitudes towards his world and desires: the bitter Susano-o, resenting his awful father and his arrogant siblings, wishes to see his mother down in the underworld. After being kicked out of heaven, he must overcome the difficulties of being a human being seeking his goal, and, while doing so, he must save a maiden from the beast Orochi (which only concerns him at the end of the story). The novel depicts Susano-o as a figure who is neither good nor evil; he feels detached from his own family and his spiteful view on his own life, making him more of a troubled soul than a simple, havoc-wreaking storm god.

Readers can sympathize with this version of Susano-o more than they ever could with the original mythology because the novel humanizes his problems in a way that the original myth did not. Susano-o’s entire outlook on his immortal life shapes the mythic narrative into one of sympathy and understanding: understanding that even though they may be gods, that does not mean they are free from the troubles of their own origin, of their own family, and of their own souls.

Depiction of Susano-o (center) fighting Orochi (left) and protecting Kushinada (right).

It would be hard to convey this complex and melancholy character in a video-game format and still have the player like him. The player would tire pretty fast of needing to engage with Susano-o’s droning, to the point that they would probably avoid him altogether. Also, how could a player deal and sympathize with a side character who hated the world he/she was exploring? The player would not want that character in the game at all—it would detract from their desire to engage the world and story. So, for a game, Susano-o needs an entirely different character: one for which players can feel empathy, but which they also enjoy being around.

Okami takes the angry, exiled god and turns him into a dufus, completely changing his personality and breathing new life into the existing myth. Not only did this add to the “blank space” of the source myth, but it also completely transformed it. Sometimes authors have to do this in order for myths to be enjoyable in the present day because our storytelling needs have changed—and, as I have said before, because adapting a myth into a video game is nearly impossible without reinventing the myth itself.

Susano-o, in all his bumbling glory.

In the original myth, The Grass-Cutting Sword, and Okami, Susano-o begins as a destructive, angry being who ruins everything, and develops into someone who ends up helping others and “saving the day.” However, each interpretation of this character arc is colored with a different feeling:

  • typical monster-slaying in the original
  • melodramatic and unwanted in the novel
  • heroic and transformative in the game

As a result, even though Susano has the same general development in each version of the myth, he ends up having different character traits in each.

Susano-o in Okami has destructive traits: he drinks the 8 Purification Sake that was meant to stop Orochi; he destroys a tree and crashes through a river at one point; and he doesn’t help in battle, even when he believes he is being supremely “heroic” (Amaterasu, in reality, is doing all the work). The story instead teaches a different lesson. Rather than saying “learn to control your emotions and do services for others in need,” Okami teaches “You can be strong and fight against evil even if you are not the ‘strongest’ in the world: if you are brave enough and face your fears, you can tackle any monster.” When Susano-o finally admits that he was the one who brought Orochi back, he describes his fate in a drunken, remorseful, and fearful state:

I fled the village out of fear…*hiccup*. Then I blocked its entrance with a boulder and hid underground. After that, I tried fleeing her and there, But the gods would not leave me be! Ever they stared down at me! They let it be known that I’d never be forgiven…At least, not until I slew the dreaded Orochi! *sob*

The message is also relevant because Susano-o is the reason Orochi is back in the world: since he broke the monster’s seal—trying to prove that the legend of Nagi, his ancestor, was a load of rubbish—he was the one responsible for the bad things happening in the world. The story is not just about him learning to be brave: it’s also about him learning to fix his mistakes and take responsibility for his actions.

The Susano-o in the original myth does not really do this. After he kills his sister’s favorite animal, she locks herself away, denying people access to the sun. Susano-o doesn’t try to bring back the animal or clean up the destruction his created in Takamagahara (heaven), and he does nothing to bring his sister back. So the Okami story is more complex and deep than the original in regard to its treatment of Susano-o.

But there’s another reason why this is so: it’s because Susano-o in Okami is mortal.

Amaterasu giving Susano-o a quizzical look after he “defeated” a harmless, sleepy bear.

It’s hard for humans to sympathize with gods in a story. After all, they are gods: they have power and knowledge that is beyond us. So the best way to make a god more relatable is by reducing them to mortal standards. This happens to Susano-o in the original myth once he is thrown out of Takamagahara, but his humanity is never fully explored. The Grass-Cutting Sword explores Susano-o’s mortality crisis, but he was a god before and it is implied that, in the end, he becomes a god again. But in Okami, Susano-o is mortal through-and-through—not a “fallen god,” but rather a mortal at the beginning, middle, and end.

There are no godly powers associated with Susano-o in the game. Susano-o’s clumsiness, laziness, and overall dufus-ness are his own, thus making him more relatable, because we, as humans, know that it is hard to train to become a good swordsman (or the “greatest,” as Susano-o sees himself)—and it is even harder to muster the courage to defeat an ancient monster that you have unleashed. The latter problem is more understandable in the Okami because, though most people have never had to fight evil monsters head-on, the story encompasses two problems that most of us have encountered in our own lives:

  1. Overcoming fear.
  2. Taking responsibility for your actions.

That’s why Susano-o has a more human character arc in Okami than he does in the source myth.

Susano-o striking a demon imp. The player has to draw the slash that defeats the monster (see the controls on the bottom left).

Another aspect of Okami’s Susano-o that almost serves as meta-commentary is that he does not believe the legends that his ancestor Nagi defeated Orochi 100 years earlier. That’s why he pulled the sword out in the first place. He wanted to disprove the legends: to show that there is no 8-headed monster actually sealed in a cave, and that no hero and wolf showed up and stopped the sacrifices. By proving that these legends are wrong, he believes, he can prove that he does not need to be a hero: “I was sick of hearing about how I’m a descendant of Nagi! I wanted to prove that it was all a lie by removing by removing the sword Tsukuyomi.” (Okami).

Susano-o wanted to run away from an ancestral fate: he did not want to be destined to be a hero just because his ancestor was. He wanted to disprove the legends in two ways.

First, he was trying to break away from his ancestral lineage and be his own person. No, he is not Nagi, the famous warrior (who is named after the creator god Izanagi), and no, he will not be a copy of Nagi: he is Susano-o, an entirely different person who just so happens to share Nagi’s blood. It would be like if someone expected you to be a soldier simply because your grandparent was: the ancestral labeling is unfair, and Susano-o wanted to break it. This is reminiscent of how Susano-o in The Grass-Cutting Sword hates his father, Izanagi, and wants nothing to do with him.

Susano-o sleeping, mumbling inappropriate things. This is how you are first introduced to him in Okami.

Second, Susano-o wanted to break his ancestral label to become a lazy, drunk buffoon whom no one really wants around. Even though he wanted to break a forced, stereotypical “hero” trope, he also wanted to turn around and be a worse person than he could potentially be. Once the player realizes this, it becomes clear that Susano-o isn’t so much trying to “break the mold” of his lineage: rather, he’s trying to run away from any responsibility so he can sit around his house all day, drinking and sleeping.

Once you realize this, you, as the player, have another reason to defeat Orochi: to somehow make Susano-o a better person by coming to terms with his ancestral legend. Amaterasu and Kushinada push Susano-o to accept who Nagi is (a better warrior) and who he himself is (the lesser warrior, but still with the potential to become better). You want Susano-o to grow into a courageous and honorable hero—not in the way Nagi was, but in Susano-o’s own, bumbling sort of way. He started this mess (the releasing of darkness over Nippon), so it is up to him to come to terms with the history behind it and move forward.

Okami turned Susano-o’s mythic “blank space” into a good, complex character, especially in a video-game setting, because this entices the player to push the story forward and allow Susano-o to develop as a character.

Susano-o striking Orochi in the final battle. Again, the player has to draw the actual attack.

Okami further adds to the “blank space” of Susano-o’s character by making his relationship with Kushinada an actual relationship. In the myth, Susano-o simply asks for Kushinada—someone he has never met—as a wife, and the parents agree without any say from Kushinada herself. In Okami, on the other hand, Susano-o and Kushinada lived in the same village together for a while. They each have feelings for the other, though neither expressed them initially.

The game changes the trope “hero saves damsel-in-distress and they live (marry) happily-ever-after” into something more genuine and realistic. Susano-o and Kushinada already love each other, and it is your job to help that love come to fruition. Susano-o, however, remains much too scared through most of the game to even approach Kushinada, running away from his responsibilities; thus, it is up to Kushinada herself to step up to the challenge of both solidifying their relationship, and, ultimately, saving the world from Orochi.

The result of this reimagining of Susano-o is that it’s rewarding when he finally does step up and defeat Orochi. Sure, the player does most of the work (his attacks won’t register unless you, acting as Amaterasu, cut the monster on screen), but at least he showed up in the monster den. He is present, ready to face the challenge that he brought upon himself and the world, exclaiming, “If it is my fate to fall battling evil, then so be it. I seek help from neither god nor demon! The heroic bloodline of Nagi is all I require to slay you!” And, at the very end of the fight with Orochi, Susano-o acknowledges Amaterasu’s help and, in a non-interactive cutscene, delivers the final blow to Orochi—by himself.

This is a proud moment for Amaterasu, Kushinada, and the player: Susano-o finally has finally taken control of his own fate and responsibility.

Original art of Susano-o after defeating Orochi (left), Kushinada saved (far left), and Amaterasu relieved (right).


In this section, I am going to first consider Okami’s version of Orochi because it is a pretty simple character. It is an eight-headed dragon, with each head in control of a single power: fire, ice, pollution, etc. It manipulates Susano-o into releasing its seal, and in turn curses majority of Japan and threatens to eat Kushinada as its first meal. It is the third boss that Amaterasu encounters in the game, and she wins by force-feeding it the 8 Purification Sake, waiting until one of its heads passes out, and then wailing on it with the player’s choice of weapon.

Okami’s Orochi definitely has more of an ominous presence in the game than the original myth could ever portray. Every time the monster is mentioned, eerie music and chanting plays, and the sky darkens in malevolent-looking swirls of black and red ink. The cursed zones spread across all the land, casting mythic Japan in a dreary tone and scene. And Orochi’s roar, which appears in cutscenes, is so loud that it can literally shake the continent.

Instead of writing one or two lines about the terrible beast, Okami creates an entire atmosphere around Orochi, building it up as one of the toughest and most sinister enemies and making giving the battle against it incredibly high stakes. Remember, Orochi killed Amaterasu’s first incarnation, Shiranui: it took all of her power just to defeat it the first time, and that was with all of her power. In the game, Amaterasu must fight Orochi with about a third of that power.

Orochi is one hell of a fight.

Amaterasu confronting the boss, Orochi.

If Okami’s Orochi is a typical evil monster, then The Grass-Cutting Sword’s Orochi is the exact opposite. Like Susano-o’s half of the novel, the Orochi half of the story, presented from his perspective cultivates empathy toward someone who is troubled, to a certain degree. Enemies and villains who are evil for evil’s sake are typically one-dimensional and thus boring, so if an author wants to add more depth to a “good vs. evil” story, then he or she should start by blurring the lines of “good” and “evil” from the get-go. Orochi talks in second-person narrative, calling out “you” and saying imperatives like “Call me Monster…I am Eight. We are Eight. Lying on my side, if you prefer symbolism” (15). The “you” is both Susano-o (as discovered at the end) and the reader, as Orochi wants “you” to know its full story—why it is eating the maidens, why it seeks Kushinada, and why it views the world the way it does.

In the novel, Orochi is actually the first child of Izanagi and Izanami, named “Hiruko.” Izanami loved him; however, because Hiruko was shapeless, deformed, and looked nothing like a child, Izanagi cast it away to the bottom of the celestial sea, and it later grew into Orochi (a name that, by the way, never appears in the novel). This is not in the original myth, but the reimagined bond between Izanami and Orochi makes Susano-o’s encounter with his older brother all the more compelling. He kills the one child of Izanami for whom she actually showed affection before she died, making Susano-o seem more like Izanagi than he would ever want to be.

Artwork of Orochi from Okami, with blood dripping from all eight heads.

Through its perspective, Orochi reveals that “it” is really a “they”: the monster in the book is Orochi and the seven maidens it has already swallowed, and it proceeds to tell the reader how each maiden became one with the beast. In the original myth, both the maidens and Orochi get very little recognition: Orochi is only described as it approaches the sake and appears as another demonic beast, and the eaten maidens are only mentioned, for the myth assumes them to be dead already. In the novel, however, the maidens are an essential part of Orochi’s story. Every time one of Orochi’s eight heads swallows one of the eight sisters, she becomes part of Orochi, mentally and physically. The pronouns through the text reflect this, switching between “I {you}” (65) or “you [us]” (88) with different punctuation, such as the curly brackets and square brackets in the preceding quote. Each maiden has a unique form of punctuation in the text to distinguish between her and the monster.

Orochi/the sisters tell their backstories in eight chapters throughout the novel, depicting how each sister escaped a life of either neglect, boredom, or abuse from their family or ever-persistent suitor. Over time, Orochi realizes that it wants all of the sisters to join together, and the sisters agree, wanting to be one with each other. Both the beast and the maidens decide that “seven-eighths is no good: [it] want[s] the whole set, perfect little dolls lines up in a row” (16).

Picture of Orochi found in the book Japanese Fairy Tale Series No. 9.

The goals of the two versions of Orochi differ in complexity. In Okami, Orochi tries to rule over Nippon and cover the land in darkness, devouring the sacrificial maiden every 100 years to restore his power. He is a typical boss monster, with a goal that is antithetical the very essence of Amaterasu, the sun goddess. In The Grass-Cutting Sword, on the other hand, the monster’s goal is to (re)unite this twisted amalgam of monster and family, and to live together as the rejected, abused, and suffering. Orochi/the sisters are not simple, mythic fiends that need to be defeated in order for the world to restore balance: through their multiple, unnerving, and disjointed perspectives, they reveal to readers that they are a pathetic monster that needs to be put out of its own misery.

Orochi threatening to bring about darkness throughout Nippon.

These two differences highlight a difference in the storytelling capacities of novels and video games: bad guys are harder to write in video games that feature a “pure” or even “blank” avatar. When the protagonist is a literal manifestation of goodness, then the antagonist basically needs to be an incarnation of pure evil. The player is responsible for controlling and molding the personality of the avatar, and it can be hard to do this with a simple and pure avatar if your enemy if anything more nuanced than absolute darkness.

The novel, however, can get away with severe complexity that can make “bad guys” even more interesting than the “good guys.” In good writing, literary characters should be three-dimensional and far from clear-cut and predictable. You read a book because you want to passively watch what the interesting characters do (or don’t do) in given situations; you don’t want to “take over for them” as you would in a video game.

So Okami needs to have a simple villain in order for the player to can get behind Amaterasu’s motivation for defeating him; The Grass-Cutting Sword, in contrast, creates an intricate and nuanced monster so that the readers keep watching its actions, waiting to see how the beast tragically falls to its doom.

Official artwork of Orochi in Okami.


In The Grass-Cutting Sword, the last maiden, the one sister alive, is the final step for Orochi’s goal. If Orochi finds Kushinada and swallows her in its eighth head, then it will achieve its complete form, having consumed all the maidens and absorbed their bodies and thoughts.

In the original myth, Kushinada was obviously opposed to this idea, but in the novel, she actually wants to be eaten by the beast. She begs Orochi to take her as well, pleading with her loneliness and desire to escape her wretched fate of marriage: “Please, it’s cold out here, and I am alone…Let me touch your skin…let me pry open your lips. It is cold, I want my sisters, I want to be eight-in-one, I have heard them whispering and I know they want me” (110 – 111).

Orochi, however, is in a dilemma: the more it consumes the sisters one-by-one, the more a pain builds in its stomach—the pain of holding too many bodies. Its throats are clogged, and its belly bleeds red whenever it moves. Despite this, Kushinada pleads with Orochi, not caring about monster’s physical pain, instead emphasizing how empty it will still feel without her inside (105 – 111). Here, Orochi’s desires conflict with each other: on the one hand, it wants to feel whole, especially with the seven sisters’ thoughts sharing and influencing its own mind and goals. On the other hand, Orochi is in so much pain that “there is no space left…for hunger” (105). This is a vividly painful way of filling in the “blank space” of the original myth in novel form.

A >1000-year-old wall painting of Kushinada, on display at the Yaegaki Shrine in Matsue.[4]

In the novel, when Orochi swallows Kushinada before Susano-o arrives (contrary to the original myth) and Susano-o eventually frees her (the same way as the original myth), Kushinada still screams for her sisters to “come back!” (123.) She mourns Orochi’s/her sisters’ passing, ignoring Susano-o and crying to herself slowly. Kushinada, in this story, is not an innocent maiden waiting to be rescued: she is definitely someone who needs to rescued, but she is rescued against her will. It is not healthy to want to be eaten and “live” inside a monster’s throat for a gruesome eternity. Somehow, she needs to realize that life can be better for her; whether Susano-o will help her realize that or not is left to the reader’s imagination.

Kushinada’s character arc is somewhat terrible because Susano-o is not the best of people to be saving her, let alone marry. Unlike the game, where the union of Susano-o and Kushinada is a relief and something the player looks forward to, the union of the two in The Grass-Cutting Sword is pretty awful since Kushinada doesn’t want to be there, Susano-o does it in bitter impulse, and, most importantly, they do not love each other. The contrast between the game and the novel is striking: one the player wants, the other the readers receive as a melancholy and disturbing outcome.

Okami Artwork of Kushinada seeing Orochi’s sacred arrow strike her house, naming her the sacrificial maiden.

Unlike the damsel-in-distress, doesn’t-have-any-dialogue Kushinada in the original myth, and unlike the wanting-to-be-consumed Kushinada in the novel, Okami’s Kushinada —or Kushi—is the one who instigates Orochi’s defeat. The game had a great amount of “blank space” to fill in regarding her character (because she essentially had no character in the myth), so it could shape her in a wide variety of ways; the result is that she ended up being one of the most important female figures in the game (aside from Amaterasu herself).

Kushinada is the first person to trust Amaterasu, and bonds well with her; she is one of the few people who recognizes Amaterasu’s divinity. When the player’s wolf approaches her, she will stop attending her rice field, run up to her with a heart above her head, and give her some pats. Being a sake brewer, she delivers her special brew around Nippon to all customers and is an essential asset to the plot: once the village is determined to stop Orochi, Amaterasu finds her at a spring next to a ridiculously large barrel that holds water for the sake; later, you discover she can carry the filled barrel on her back by herself and lug it all the way back to her village. She also has an unspoken romantic interest in Susano-o, but she keeps it to herself when the man is bumbling around in a state of drunken vigor.

Talking to Kushinada in the rice fields. She is called “Kushi” in the game.

Eventually, when Susano-o drinks her 8 Purification Sake and Orochi chooses her to be its first victim, Kushinada takes the first step towards defeating the horrid monster. She was very patient with Susano-o and his shenanigans in the past, but she eventually puts her foot down and tells him to get his act together:

Susano. You’re no coward. If the gods tell you to fight, you’re the only one who can!” *Shakes head, then shakes arms in exasperation* “You can do it. After all, you saved me, didn’t you? I know you can do it. I’ll know you’ll come!

Kushinada is neither angry nor upset when making this speech to Susano-o: instead, she is calm, collected, and determined. She is the sake brewer who makes the one thing that can defeat Orochi, and she is the one who initiates the plan to get the beast drunk, for she does not want to die that day. Instead of 8 Purification Sake, she brings her own Thunder Brew that she created herself.

Most importantly, she is the one who pushes Susano-o to do the right thing—to fix his mistake and defeat Orochi. Amaterasu cannot do this: the game does not allow her to do so, no matter how many times the player tries to “talk” with Susano-o.

Immediately after she speaks to Susano-o, Kushinada rushes to her house, grabs her legendary Thunder Brew, and rushes out of the village. And she was not determined to become a willing sacrifice just for Susano-o’s sake: she makes it clear that she’s choosing the just path for its own sake.

Don’t try to stop me, Issun. Or you, Snowy [Amaterasu]. If Orochi’s chosen victim runs away, disaster will befall Kamiki. But…that’s not why I’m doing this. There is too much suffering in the world. I’m going to use my sake to rid us of this evil menace!

Encouraged, Amaterasu accompanies her, carrying the sake brewer on her back, and epic music begins to play as the two charge straight into Orochi’s lair. It is one of the most intense moments of the game because Kushinada’s determination has filled Amaterasu, Issun, and the player with hope and courage to slay the terrible Orochi, even though the odds are stacked against them.

Amaterasu and Kushinada stand before the Moon Cave, the dark dwelling of Orochi.

In the end, Susano-o shows up at Orochi’s battle, but he does not “get” to marry Kushinada simply because he saved her life, like in The Grass-Cutting Sword: instead, he had to earn her full affection by facing his fears and taking responsibility. Susano-o “earns” his title as a brave warrior when he arrives to slay Orochi, and Kushinada finally accepts him when he does—she just had to put herself in a dangerous position to see if he would be willing to go face Orochi for her sake, rather than just doing it for his own dignity.

This is a pretty smart way to see if a man will be courageous and responsible in a relationship—minus the whole sacrificing yourself to an eight-headed monster. But hey, whatever works in Okami’s world.

Kushinada is one of the bravest characters in the game, becoming much more than her counterpart in the original myth, and much healthier than the one in The Grass-Cutting Sword. In myth, she was just a doomed maiden, a comb, and a wife.[5] In The Grass-Cutting Sword, she is a desperate self-sacrificer, willingly throwing her life into a horrid eight-headed serpent. In Okami, she is instead the one who inspired the other characters to buckle down and fight Orochi despite the bleak circumstances. That is one of the greatest strengths a character can have.

Kushinada is the only character in Okami who will run up to Amaterasu, petting her with a heart emoji floating above her head.


Mythology can inspire some of the most amazing works of fiction today. Restructuring ancient stories can lead to radical changes in mythical landscapes, and reinvented characterization can lead to new methods of mythological storytelling. Amaterasu, Susano-o, Orochi, and Kushinada differ between the original myths, The Grass-Cutting Sword, and Okami. When we see the three renditions of these characters all at once, we can understand new aspects of them that we may never have recognized otherwise. A novel can give insight to interpersonal dilemmas, anxiety, and complex emotions, and is something that we as readers remember. A game takes one further step in transforming myths into experiences in which we, as players, participate.

That is why I will always treasure Okami more so than The Grass-Cutting Sword: instead of presenting text that allows readers to imagine events, with characters already spelled out for us, Okami gives its players a new, personal journey, and a landscape that encompasses it. The players are living in a mythic Japan, not just reading about something that happened in the past. The players trek through the reinvented Susano-o/Orochi/Kushinada/Amaterasu, seeing the wonderful beauty of mythic Japan with their own eyes. That is something that a novel can simply never beat. 


[1] To read the original myth on which Okami and The Grass-Cutting Sword are based, either read the “Original Myth” section of my previous article or check out this resource on Japanese mythology.


[3] Though, Amaterasu is not nearly as naive or gullible as Issun and thinks through situations differently than Issun, because the player is not naive, gullible, or sometimes even stupid (though, even in cutscenes, Amaterasu flat-out ignores Issun’s comments if he is being silly or naive).


[5] Fun fact: Kushinada’s hair in Okami is shaped like a comb.

Works Cited

Bascom, William. “The Forms of Folklore: Prose Narratives.” The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 78, No. 307 (Jan. – Mar. 1965). American Folklore Society. pp.3-20.

Frye, Northop. Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays. Atheneum: Princeton University Press, 1966. Print.

Hughes, Dan. Personal Interview. 30 August 2017.

Kamiya, Hideki. Clover Studio. Okami. Capcom, 2006. Nintendo Wii.

Valente, Catherynne. The Grass-Cutting Sword. Prime Books: Canada. 2006. Print.

Yasumaro, O No. An Account of Ancient Matters: The Kojiki. Trans. Gustav Heldt. Columbia University Press: New York. 2014. Print.

Laila Carter

Laila Carter - Video Game Analyst

Laila Carter is a science fiction/fantasy author with a background in English, folklore, and mythology. She discusses what video games inherited from older forms of storytelling.  Learn more here.

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Aiden · February 12, 2018 at 5:57 am

Hiya. Do you think it’s better to study japanese mythology prior to playing Okami or is getting acquainted with it through the game better?

    Laila · February 21, 2018 at 9:28 pm

    Hey Aiden! To be honest, it does not really matter – it is hard to study ALL of a mythology for a game/movie/TV show, because you never know what the creators are going to keep or leave out. When I first played Okami, I barely knew Japanese mythology – I only knew of Amaterasu as the sun goddess, but other than that everything was new to me. Then I learned more Japanese mythology and played the game again. So, it depends on who you are really. If you like to “be in the know” when you play (I know people like this and there is nothing wrong with it), then study it before. If you want to experience the re-invented mythology on its own (always remembering that it is heavily based on an actual mythology), then play the game first.

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