There are many eavesdropping conversations in Sekiro. There is one that a little more out of the way than the rest. Located in the second Hirata Estate Memory, most likely found be dumb luck or using a walk through it can go unheard. This is a shame because this conversation has a lot to unpack. Well, it’s that or there’s a lot I can read too much in to.
Things are different in the second Hirata memory. Different enemies, different enemy placements and items. Amongst all of the new thing, there remains old dependable Juzou the Drunkard is still there. This time however he is not accompanied by his posse of bandits but by an Interior Ministry Ninja, Masanari. It is with Masanari that Juzou shares a conversation that touches on Owl and the Interior Ministry. There a few things said out loud, and there a few things said more tacitly.
For context – Juzou is a disgraced former Sumo champion who has turned to brigandry as means to make a living. He drinks a lot and commands an army of bandits. Masanari is in the employ of the Interior Ministry who have given the go ahead for the attack on Hirata. They have done this on the basis of information supplied by Owl. Juzou and Masanari are talking in the aftermath of the attack.
Initially, I planned to write this and use a video already posted on YouTube. I could not find one. Then I planned to take a transcript from a Wiki. I could not find one. So, I eventually got around to recording the conversation and putting it on YouTube. Here it is – and if it does not work I will post a transcription below.
Masanari: Taking Hirata Estate was surprisingly easy. Owl’s info was right on the money, you know?
Juzou the Drunkard: … I don’t like him. There’s something shifty about him… the smell of a crook. (Drinking sounds). Ahhh… He’s a villain… a down and out villain, Masanari…
Masanari: Well… he’s useful right now, so endure him. For all his scheming, he’s a nameless, rogue shinobi. His efforts won’t amount to much.
Juzou the Drunkard: (Buuurp.) Heh. I’m not complaining so long as there’s coin and booze in it.
Takes one to know one: Juzou is not a good person. He has led a posse of bandits to Hirata Estate, when its warriors are away engaging in combat, and he has helped to wipe out almost everyone there. Amongst the bodies at Hirata there are people without weapons, and there are women among the bodies. Juzou did all of this for some coin and some booze. He’s not good people. When someone of Juzou’s quality is calling someone else a bad person, you know the other person is awful.
Owl is a terrible person. Through the game narrative, item descriptions and Owls actions the man has… taken a child off a battlefield and wounded the child in the process. Thrown said child into a dangerous wood as a means of raising them. Raised said child as part of a long-term plan to rule Japan. Stabbed said child in the back as an adult (after faking his death) while taking part in the wholesale slaughter of a defenceless estate all in an attempt to kidnap a small child. In one ending, attempts to grievously wound Emma with a surprise attack. Also, said child as an adult does not know how to eat food properly because he was never told how to. Stand-up guy.
A matter of perception: It’s interesting seeing how Masanari perceives Owl and how Jouzu perceives Owl. Masanari, as part of the Interior Ministry thinks little of Owl. He goes as far as calling Owl a “nameless, rogue shinobi.” And that “for all his scheming” … “his efforts won’t amount to much”. Owl is clearly perceived as someone that the Ministry can use to further their own efforts to dismantle Ashina. Probably someone they could off once the Ministry’s goals have been met.
Juzou on the other hand, while he cannot see Owl for all that he is, he knows there is something suspect about him and that perhaps, his goals stretch far beyond this estate and are maybe beyond the scope of what Masanari can see. “There’s something shifty about him… the smell of a crook.” Juzou, being who he is has probably encountered more shifty people than Masanari and probably has a better sense of who is a regular dirtbag, and those guys who genuinely have something about them. “He’s a villain… a down and out villain, Masanari…” Juzou knows that Owl is something more than a “nameless, rogue shinobi.” But, as he has his booze and coin, he’s fine with it.
Whose playing who: Building on the above section, Masanari seems to be under the impression that the Ministry is using Owl and his information. The Ministry has used his accurate information to get the jump on Hirata. They have also managed to do this without using great numbers of their own troops – one of Ashina’s strongholds eliminated without risking any major casualties. A good deal on the Ministry’s end.
Masanari and the Ministry at large seem to be oblivious to Owl and what he is really after. Kuro is at Hirata Estate. By attacking Hirata Owl gets a chance to gain access to Kuro and the Dragons Blood. Getting the Dragons Blood would grant Owl immortality. The Shura ending reveals this is what Owl wanted all along. Owl got the Ministry to commit to furthering his plan with them being out of the loop.
Owl’s skill at manipulation might surpass his skills as a warrior, and that’s saying something.
The Battle Between Sekiro and Lady Butterfly: The first Hirata memory culminates in the fight between Sekiro and Lady Butterfly. Lady Butterfly has Kuro and Sekiro is intent on getting him back. The end of this fight see’s Sekiro triumph and then almost immediately get stabbed in the back by Owl, although Sekiro does not know this at the time. Kuro has scampered at this point, escaped Owl and later returns to bestow the Dragons Blood upon Sekiro, granting him immortality.
There has been some thoughts and ideas on Lady Butterfly’s being here. My idea is that in the grand scheme of things, it does not matter. Imagine there was a version of Sekiro where we do not play as Sekiro but as Lady Butterfly on a mission of vengeance against Owl. No matter who pulled through, Owl was killing whoever succeeded. Owl had two of the best warriors in Ashina working under his patronage – both of whom could have later foiled Owl’s plan if they turned. Owl wanted both of them of exhaust themselves (and got them in a position to exhaust themselves) and then he would pick off the winner. Why get your hands dirty when you don’t need to?
To give another description, imagine wrestling and money in the back. Cashing in your title shot when your opponent is at their weakest. Owl is cashing in money in the bank.
Notes and asides
Regarding the sentence about Owl raising Sekiro in such a manner he cannot eat properly. I don’t have the footage to hand, but there is a conversation between Kuro and Sekiro. They are talking about rice, and Kuro asks Sekiro about how he likes food. Sekiro responds that he does not really care – he just takes bites out of stuff. Kuro is talking about raw rice and is taken aback and promptly sets about preparing Sekiro some properly cooked rice. A small scene, but once it links to back to the sort of dad Owl was, it suddenly becomes very sad. Sekiro doesn’t know how to adequately cook or eat food. That’s a rough upbringing.