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The Hidden Meaning of Shadow of the Colossus & ICO

5,975 words

Shadow of the Colossus is an artistic and technical triumph that looms large on lists of top video games, with an average score of ninety-one percent on review aggregator Metacritic. It is rightly considered a masterpiece. Originally released in 2005 for the PlayStation 2, it was reissued in high definition on Playstation 3, and got a full makeover on Playstation 4 last year. Several games have paid homage to its designs, and it has been optioned for a film adaptation.[1]

Shadow of the Colossus is a game shrouded in mystery, partly because game designer and director Fumito Ueda’s philosophy is design by subtraction. He holds his cards close to his chest, and in so doing allows the player’s imagination to fill in the blanks. At first glance, its minimalist introduction doesn’t give us much to go on. At just under fourteen minutes, it would be wise to view it before reading further (see it on YouTube), but it’s summarized as follows:

Our protagonist and avatar, Wander (also referred to simply as Wanderer in some European versions of the game), is a young man on a mission to resurrect a dead maiden who was sacrificed for having a cursed fate. He trespasses into a sacred realm where it’s rumored such feats are possible. Entering the atrium of a massive tower, he lays her limp body on an altar and is greeted by shadowy spirits who scatter before his sword. Speaking in a voice that is both masculine and feminine, the disembodied entity Dormin says it may be possible to revive her if the idols connected to the colossi roaming his domain are destroyed. Warning him there will be a price, Wander nonetheless agrees without hesitation, and from there the player is given control.

This is virtually the only exposition we are given until the abrupt and cryptic finale, leading to much fan speculation. Most fan theories focus solely on the minimalist surface narrative, roping in details from Fumito Ueda’s other games that appear to take place in the same universe. While it can be fun to piece that together, there’s more to uncover. Many have noted a veiled religious reference, but no one to my knowledge has explained what it could mean. This analysis uncovers and ties together other clues, revealing the moral of the game’s story.

Connections to Jewish & Christian mythology

Beginning with Donkey Kong, video games have traditionally climaxed with what could be called the “David and Goliath moment”: A tiny avatar representing the player is pitted against a “boss” several times its size, with the general idea being the bigger, the better. Despite what must be tens of thousands of game scenarios springing from this well, few embody the Old Testament story better than Shadow of the Colossus. Its more direct Japanese title, translated as simply Wander and Colossus, directly parallels David and Goliath.

On its surface, the fable of David and Goliath is a braggadocious tale of a Jew defeating a much larger and stronger foe; rather than engaging Goliath in hand-to-hand combat, David wisely opts for a sling. Reading between the lines, the story communicates how a relatively small Jewish tribe can conquer larger and seemingly invincible nations and empires by outsmarting them. This is essentially what the player is tasked with throughout the game.

The spirit inhabiting the towering Shrine of Worship is named Dormin, which is Nimrod reversed. This is an essential clue to the religious subtext, as Nimrod is a character from the Book of Genesis who plots to conquer God’s Kingdom by building the Tower of Babel, a structure that can reach Heaven. The myth’s primary purpose is to explain human biodiversity, with God intentionally dividing Nimrod’s workers into distinct races and tongues to confuse and derail their task. In doing so, Nimrod’s project is doomed to failure, and it follows that any nation that embraces multiculturalism is revolting against God’s will. Thus we have one implicit and one veiled connection to Jewish mythology central to Shadow of the Colossus‘ story and action concerning the destruction of other nations.

If Shadow of the Colossus is drawing from the Jewish well, what else can be gleaned from the scant remaining details? As we saw with Dormin, names are the most important clues to decoding esoteric works. So how does Wander – sometimes spelled “Wanda” from the Japanese romaji – fit into this? It seems he was partly inspired by and named after Bander (or “Banda”), the protagonist of Osamu Tezuka’s One Million Year Trip: Bander Book. Mr. Ueda mentions that the made-for-television anime left an impression on him in his childhood in an interview about his work in Kiyoshi Tane’s Style of Game (2005). However, the similarities between Bander and Wander are largely superficial.[2] Additionally, one finds similarities in the anime/manga Arion.[3]

If Fumito Ueda wanted to evoke Bander in his hero’s name, why choose “Wander” instead of something like Lander, Sander, Zander, and so on? Substituting “b” for “w” might be a random choice, but the story’s connections to Judaism suggest it’s deliberate. “Wander” is itself a Jewish surname from the Yiddish vandern, meaning “to wander or hike.” And when it comes to wanderers, few are as famous as the Wandering Jew, a legendary figure in Christian mythology. The character is so well-known that it’s a colloquialism for at least nine plant species. Hence, by changing Bander to Wander, Mr. Ueda implies the latter’s role as the Wandering Jew in the religious subtext, while simultaneously providing himself an alibi if ever confronted on it. This “wandering” is emphasized in the game itself, as the player spends a significant amount of time trekking across the expansive, Mongolian-inspired landscape.

A rather cute caricature of the Wandering Jew by Gustave Doré, 1852. Eduard Fuchs, Die Juden in der Karikatur (Albert Langen Verlag, 1921), p. 145.

Turning our attention to the maiden, her relationship to Wander is never explained. She could be a complete stranger, his sister, or his lover – all we know is that he’s willing to risk his life to save hers. Somewhat suspiciously, her name is never spoken aloud anywhere in the game, but it can be found in the credits: She’s named Mono, a Japanese girl’s name (“hundred sound”) and a word simply meaning “thing” that can be applied equally to inanimate objects and living beings. However, like Wander, her name is spelled with katakana characters in Japanese materials, an alphabet used almost exclusively for foreign names and words. Consequently, we can ignore its Japanese meanings, even if it cleverly hints that she represents something other than a person.

Mono is of course a prefix taken from the Greek meaning “one, single, alone.” That Mono will be resurrected when Wander destroys the idols is very revealing: Recall that idolatry is forbidden in Jewish theology, which demands that its monotheistic God be worshipped above all others. Hence, we can take Mono as the personification of the Jewish faith, which makes sense, since Jews trace their lineage matrilineally.

Assuming this is the case, we can infer that Mono is dead in the surface narrative, because in the subtext, the Jews have been cast out of their holy land as divine punishment for refusing to recognize Christ’s divinity. Thus the Wander-ing Jew is on a quest to revive his Mono-theistic religion, and he allies himself with the biblical figure of Nimrod in defiance of God.

The significance of Emon in Shadow of the Colossus

The above reading is borne out by the inclusion of a very specific Buddhist reference. In the game’s finale, a shaman named Lord Emon appears and Wander is reincarnated – two details that point directly to the tale of Emon Saburō (衛門三郎). He’s a prominent figure in Japanese Buddhist legend that Japanese players would recognize:

Emon Saburō came from a wealthy and powerful family that ruled over a farming village. While he was in power, it is said that he was greedy and treated the peasants poorly. Then one day a shabby monk arrived at his gate and placed an alms bowl. Emon ordered that he be chased away. The monk returned the following day, and the next, and was rudely chased away every time. On the eighth day, Emon was so incensed that the monk had returned that he personally smashed his alms bowl, which shattered into eight pieces. The monk then went away, never to return.

The following year, one of Emon’s children fell ill and died. The next year, another child succumbed to illness. This continued until the eighth year when his last child perished. In the depths of despair, it dawned on Emon who the beggar was, and that he was being punished for his lack of compassion. The man whom Emon had mistaken for a simple beggar was none other than Kōbō-Daishi (弘法大師), the Grand Master Who Propagated the Buddhist Teaching.

Emon sold his fields, his family shares, and left his wife all to beg forgiveness of the Grand Master, chasing him along the Shikoku pilgrimage.[4] He completed the pilgrimage twenty times, but never managed to find him. Instead of giving up, Emon turned around and did the pilgrimage in reverse, but eventually his body gave up on him. Near death, Kōbō-Daishi reappeared and absolved him of his sins. Emon asked to be reborn to a wealthy family so that in his next life he could serve the people and rebuild the Ishite-ji (石手寺) temple. Kōbō-Daishi picked up a stone from the roadside and wrote something on it, and told Emon to hold it tightly in his left hand as he passed away.

The following year, the local lord celebrated the birth of his first son, but the infant would not open his left hand. Concerned about his health, the lord summoned a monk to pray over the child, and finally the baby opened his fist. In his palm there was a stone that was engraved with the words ‘Emon Saburō is reborn’. The child would go on to rebuild the temple as Emon had promised, and the jade stone is now kept there as one of its treasures.

Why make this connection? Because Emon’s story dovetails beautifully with that of the Wandering Jew: Compare how Emon failed to recognize Kōbō-Daishi’s holiness, his mistreatment of him, and his divine punishment, to the Wandering Jew’s denial of Christ’s holiness, his mistreatment of Him (taunting or striking Him on his way to the crucifixion), and his divine punishment (condemned by God to wander the Earth until the second coming of Christ). Yet unlike Emon – who piously sought forgiveness, was reincarnated, and thereby restored a temple – the Jews have obstinately refused to recognize Jesus as their messiah and curse him in the Talmud. As a result, they were scattered to the winds for close to two millennia, and their beloved temple has remained unrestored.

Contrary to the unrepentant Wandering Jew, Emon Saburō of Buddhist legend shows remarkable penitence, is forgiven, and is rewarded. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Consequently, we understand that Wander’s pact with Dormin/Nimrod is a deal with the devil because God and the Jews have mutually forsaken one another. This is appropriate given that modern Israel was founded on war, terrorism, political violence, and genocide. There’s even a growing movement in Israel to build a third temple, further aligning with Emon Saburō’s legend, but the Jews cannot do so until the Al-Aqsa Mosque is moved or destroyed. Many predict that they’ll recruit their puppets in Saudi Arabia to relocate it, or simply blow it up and blame its destruction on Iran, an act which could ignite a third world war. Hence, one might be forgiven for accusing the Jews of doing the devil’s bidding.

Colossus as idolatrous nation

Lining the tower’s main hall are sixteen idols that Dormin wants destroyed, aligning with the Jewish concept of tikkun olam – overcoming all forms of idolatry. The task can only be achieved by killing the colossus connected to each idol. Like the God of the Old Testament commanding the Israelites to genocide the Canaanites, Dormin commands Wander to hunt the colossi in a set order, and provides a hint if the player is having difficulty. This aggression is mirrored in other biblical passages such as Ezekiel 25:14 (famously quoted by Samuel Jackson’s character in Pulp Fiction), Isaiah 60:12, and Obadiah 1:18. That Dormin’s voice is androgynous dovetails with the Jewish concept of a genderless god possessing both masculine and feminine traits.

Jews can be surprisingly candid about their self-appointed role in destroying what they perceive to be false idols. Douglas Rushkoff, author of Nothing Sacred: The Truth About Judaism, summarizes the Jewish position as follows (watch a video clip):

The thing that makes Judaism dangerous to everybody – to every race, to every nation, to every idea – is that we smash things that aren’t true. We don’t believe in the boundaries of nation state, we don’t believe in the ideas of these individual gods that, you know, protect individual groups of people. These are all artificial constructions and Judaism really teaches us how to see that. In a sense our detractors have us right, in that we are a corrosive force. We’re breaking down the false gods of all nations and all people because they’re not real. And that’s very upsetting to people.

The sixteen graven images found in Dormin’s Shrine of Worship. Next to the colossi themselves, they’re redundant. Why include them, if not to stress the Jewish prohibition against idolatry?

The hunt always begins at the Babel-like tower in the Sacred Land, the latter described in the introduction as a “place that began from the resonance of intersecting points.” This seems to be another clue: Jews consider Israel to be the center of the world, as its location uniquely intersects with the continents of Europe, Africa, and Asia. This undoubtedly played a role in the development of early civilizations in the region.

Just as Goliath personifies an enemy empire, the colossi can be interpreted as idolatrous nations in the Sacred Land. Some stand as tall as skyscrapers, lumbering about as if sleepwalking, while others are as small and agile as an enraged rhinoceros. Like nations, they occupy a specific territory within the vast landscape; they’re normally docile, but are dangerous when attacked; and they’re often surprisingly incompetent and slow to react.

They appear to be ancient man-made guardians or gods, but the colossi are actually prisons for Dormin’s spirit. Presumably, Dormin was defeated and its soul was ritualistically divided and sealed inside the colossi to stop its evildoing, in the same way Nimrod’s workers were divided by God to prevent them from building a tower to reach heaven. This is further paralleled in Nimrod’s fate: His body was chopped up into tiny pieces after he was murdered by Shem, the presumed patriarch of the Semites (Shem became “Shemite,” which became Semite). Given the age of the colossi, Dormin’s imprisonment happened hundreds, or even thousands of years prior to the events of the game.

Wander climbs up the back of a minotaur-like colossus which is too slow and dull to fight him off. The pink circle in the lower right reflects Wander’s dwindling grip strength; if it runs out, he will fall off.

To kill a colossus, Wander must find and destroy the runic talismans engraved on its body with his magical sword. Finding an opening, he scrambles on top of them and stabs mercilessly at the glowing talismans. Given the size difference, Wander often resembles a flea on top of an animal. The image recalls the historical comparison between Jews and parasites, because they lived in small groups that exploited their larger host populations via usury. This is echoed in the American ad copy that asks, “Will you look at a challenge and see past its size? See its weakness? Exploit it?” Perhaps with each stab, Wander is metaphorically usurping its elite, subverting its culture, indebting its people with usury, opening its gates to a foreign army, and so on?

Upon defeat, the colossi collapse into lifeless earthen heaps resembling ruins of lost civilizations. Each one releases its portion of Dormin’s spirit into Wander’s body, progressively corrupting him. As the screen fades to black, his unconscious body is spirited away to the tower, where his quest can begin anew. These scenes are always accompanied by a sad melody conveying that, though Wander (the Jewish people) may be heroic from one point of view, destroying the colossi (foreign nations and religions) for purely selfish reasons is an unforgivable sin.[5] Many players have commented that they felt guilty for killing some of the colossi. This gels with director Fumito Ueda’s confession in the aforementioned interview that the game’s overarching theme is zankokusei (残酷性), a word that can be translated as cruelty, barbarism, savagery, or inhumanity.

A colossus’ black blood sprays into the air like geysering oil, a liquid synonymous with the Middle East. Upon defeat, a fraction of Dormin’s black spirit is freed from the colossus’ prison and enters Wander’s body like slithering tentacles.

Much can be said about the colossi themselves, which are based on animals and mythological beasts. Decoding precisely what god, religion, or nation any given colossus represents is a wild goose chase, and doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. If you’re curious but have no intention of playing the game, you can see all sixteen colossi and how they’re defeated in this video; just ignore the narrator’s names – they’re non-canonical. In fact, none of them are named.

There is, however, one in particular that demands comment: the sixteenth colossus. It’s a monstrosity that is either wearing a robe or is caged in scaffolding up to its waist. It can’t move, as though it was abandoned before completion, so the latter interpretation seems to apply. Despite its frightening power, it seemingly represents a new or rising nation. Is it the United States of America, perhaps? Or that ultimate nemesis of the Jews, a nascent Third Reich? A storm rages overhead, and the colossus shoots blasts of light from its hands, so it may represent Ba’al/Hadad, an Aryan god of storms related to Zeus.

Resurrection and reincarnation

The finale, which runs about twenty-five minutes, including the credits and post-credits scene, is worth viewing before continuing with this analysis (see it on YouTube). With the idols shattered, Wander’s quest is at its end. All of the pieces of Dormin’s soul formerly trapped inside the colossi have been gathered into one place, metaphorically undoing God’s plan from the story of the Tower of Babel, or reassembling Nimrod’s desecrated body. Borrowing Wander as its vessel, Dormin’s enormous, bull-like demon spirit is unleashed: Is this a manifestation of Satan, or the Canaanite god Moloch, that “has been used figuratively . . . to refer to a person or thing demanding or requiring a very costly sacrifice”?

Lord Emon makes his entrance just in time to seal away the malevolent spirit with a magical spell. Indeed, it was he who narrated part of the introduction, as indicated by his owl-like mask. He recognizes Wander, Mono, and the magical sword, implying it was Emon’s tribe that killed the girl. He expresses shock and indignation that Wander would blaspheme in this manner. This raises the obvious question: How are these characters related?

As mentioned earlier, Shem was the one who killed and chopped up Nimrod’s body in the Bible. Eons passed, and Shem’s descendants split into two factions: the Jews and the Christians, which we take to be personified by Wander and Emon, respectively.[6] This reading explains why Wander and Emon seem to belong to the same tribe, yet are at odds with one another in the surface narrative, and why Emon expresses shock at Wander’s sacrilege: The latter has defied their shared religious texts by siding with Dormin/Nimrod against God. It also explains why Dormin/Nimrod blames them all for his imprisonment – as far as he’s concerned, they’re all descendants of Shem. Christianity supplanted Judaism and views it as obsolete, which is how Emon’s tribe “killed” the girl and why she is “cursed.”

Crucially, the player now controls Dormin and is forced to experience firsthand the fate of the colossi they have wantonly destroyed. In doing so, Shadow of the Colossus reverses the nearly universal video game paradigm of good versus evil, cementing Wander as anti-hero. However, the game only gives us the appearance of control; no matter what we do, Dormin is simply too large and cumbersome to combat the monks. Emon’s spell opens a vortex that sucks Dormin inexorably and inescapably towards a shallow pool, exorcising him for good. Emon and his followers beat a retreat from the sacred land as the sole bridge to the outer world collapses. This seems to imply that the Jews should be isolated until they learn their lesson. Boycott, divestment, and sanctions?

Although vanquished, Dormin has kept his side of the deal: Mono has been resurrected. She awakens to find a newborn infant in the ritual pool. Wander has been born again, as if baptized by Emon’s spell. However, a pair of small horns protrude ominously from his little head, which were passed on from when Dormin possessed his adult body. As with the inscribed stone in the Buddhist legend that proved Emon had been reincarnated, the horns transferring from Wander to the baby prove that they are one and the same. The horns evoke Nimrod’s crown, which was made from the horns of a bull he slew with his bare hands, as well as the anti-Semitic superstition that Jews such as Moses had horns. It might also symbolize the birth of the Antichrist: Wander will live, but he’ll be forever tainted by his evil deeds.

Mono then carries the infant Wander up into the tower, where she discovers a sanctuary evoking both the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and the Garden of Eden. Again, we’re reminded of Nimrod’s story: According to some traditions, Nimrod’s wife Semiramis gave birth to a baby boy following her husband’s murder. She then claimed her son was actually the reincarnation of her late husband, and “remarried” him to retain her royal powers. Will Mono do the same with this child? We’ll explore this possibility in the analysis of ICO.

Counter-clockwise: Dormin fully possesses Wander’s body, causing horns to appear on his head. When Dormin’s bull-like spirit is vanquished and Wander is reincarnated, the baby Wander retains the horns. This implies that Dormin’s evil spirit has tainted Wander’s soul.

Conclusion: Myth as codified history

In summary, Shadow of the Colossus can be interpreted as a simplified mythological retelling of the Jewish struggle. More importantly, it is a critique of Jewish aggression as exemplified by Israel’s skillful manipulation and destruction of foreign nations in order to establish itself in the region. This unrelenting aggression is strongly condemned as the will of a demonic spirit, which is portrayed as the very source of false idols, a particularly venomous barb for the Jewish people.

Despite that, Shadow of the Colossus doesn’t stray into fully anti-Semitic territory. Anyone who studies the Jewish Question with any seriousness comes to respect Jewish group cohesion and tenacity. Wander’s courage and single-mindedness are symbolic of that, and they’re admirable in their own way. Mono is depicted not as ugly, or evil, but as luminous and beautiful. And Emon says, “Perhaps they can one day make atonement for what they’ve done,” aligning with the Buddhist and Christian belief in redemption, or that Jews may one day “see the light” and convert to Christianity. This will be an uphill battle for them, given that Jewish supremacism is encoded in their religious dogma.

Why would a Japanese game designer encode such a moral in his work? In the interview mentioned earlier, Fumito Ueda said that he wants his games to stand the test of time rather than being tossed aside like so many others. What better way to do that, than to imbue a spiritual and political message within them? Contrary to what many Jews seem to believe, they’re not above criticism; it’s certainly possible that Mr. Ueda is unimpressed with Jewish interference in world affairs – for religious and/or political reasons – and sought to communicate this through his work.

Shadow of the Colossus and 9/11

Mr. Ueda’s debut title ICO appeared on store shelves less than two weeks after the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. The timing of these events would leave an impression on anyone. Is it a coincidence that Shadow of the Colossus – conceived in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 – would criticize Jewish aggression when many believe the attacks were carried out by Israeli intelligence? An attack ostensibly carried out by Saudi extremists, but used by Jewish neocons as a pretext to destabilize Israel’s neighbors Iraq and Afghanistan, followed by US-backed rebels in Egypt, Libya, and Syria? Currently, the same neocons rattle their war sabers in Iran’s direction, and so the moral of the story remains relevant fifteen years later.

The image of a tiny man bringing a towering colossus to its knees strongly evokes the planes bringing down the World Trade Center buildings – so much so, in fact, that Shadow of the Colossus cameos in the Adam Sandler vehicle Reign Over Me (2007). His character has lost his family in the terror attacks and becomes obsessed with the game, viewing it as an allegory for the events of that day. Clearly, Jews in Hollywood noticed the connection between Shadow of the Colossus and 9/11. The game’s film adaptation is to be directed by the Jew Joshua Trank, and will likely distort or obfuscate the game’s religious subtext. Unfortunately, the intellectual property rights to Mr. Ueda’s masterpiece are owned entirely by Sony, and it can do whatever it likes with it – including vandalizing it with unnecessary remakes, sequels, or films.

Shadow of the Colossus in Reign Over Me, written and directed by Mike Binder, a descendant of Russian Jewish immigrants, and produced by Michael Rotenberg. In November 2010, Rotenberg met with Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon to discuss how to best portray Israel on film.

Shadow of the Colossus as critique of multiculturalism

The Japanese are notoriously ethnocentric and respect America and Europe; many hold idealized conceptions of the West as received from post-Second World War propaganda, films, and novels. The majority are hesitant to embrace multiculturalism and are likely befuddled and dismayed by the Great Replacement. For example, every year a handful of Japanese women vacationing in Paris will suffer a mental breakdown when their romantic visions are shattered by the urine-soaked realities of France’s racial pluralism.

Hence, by directly recalling the Jewish fable of the Tower of Babel – which instructs us that a nation divided will fall – Mr. Ueda seems to criticize the hubris of the West’s ongoing multicultural experiment, including the oft-seen double standard whereby Jews overwhelmingly support mass immigration and diversity for every nation except Israel. In effect, it’s a biblical roadmap for the ruination of their historical enemies and rivals through the obliteration of Aristotle’s philia. Likewise, the globalist European Union (EU) seems destined for self-destruction.

Originally there were forty-eight colossi planned, but these were distilled into the sixteen we see in the final game – or so we are told. Coincidentally, the EU comprised sixteen nation-states during the game’s development, and its Parliament building in Strasbourg strongly resembles traditional depictions of the Tower of Babel. In approving its design, EU officials seem to celebrate its blasphemous function.

Bruegel’s Tower of Babel, the EU Parliament building, and the bottom portion of Shadow of the Colossus’ Shrine of Worship as seen in the Playstation 4 version.

The relationship between Japanese and Jews

There are other reasons to believe the Japanese would criticize Jewish aggression. Japan is not the philo-Semitic Zionist echo chamber we live in. As outsiders with high IQs, they likely see Zionism’s pernicious influence on the world quite clearly. Public schools have taught Mein Kampf, and The Protocols have reportedly sold well. Plus, the Japanese were victimized in the Pacific Slave Trade, with many of the slavers being Spanish and Portuguese crypto-Jews (Marranos). That atrocity was one of the motivating factors behind Japan entering its isolationist period, and no doubt some are aware of the Jewish role therein.

I believe others have failed to address the obvious ramifications of the story for fear of speaking ill of the Jews. Even the Japanese are not immune to their reach. Shadow of the Colossus bypasses this taboo by encoding its message as a myth, which condenses information in such a way that complex and important lessons can be passed down in the oral tradition. Too many players and reviewers have failed to listen to what Shadow of the Colossus is whispering. Certainly, those dissidents who are aware of the importance of the Jewish Question should recognize its subtext and celebrate it. Others have possibly decoded it, which might explain why Mr. Ueda’s third game was essentially shelved for years until fan demand grew to a point that Sony could no longer ignore it, during which time he cut ties with the company.

The hidden meaning of ICO

Director Fumito Ueda’s debut title ICO is also considered to be a masterpiece, though it was not a commercial success.[7] Likewise, its story is presented as a simple fairy tale, leaving plenty of room for interpretation, but unlike Shadow of the Colossus, its names provide no clues to an esoteric subtext. Therefore, the following interpretation only makes sense in light of Shadow of the Colossus‘ religious references, presented here merely for the fans’ enjoyment.

In ICO, children born with horns are expelled from society, imprisoned, and left to die within a fortress ruled by an evil Queen. When they die, their souls become horned spirits similar to the ones we saw in Shadow of the Colossus that reside in Dormin’s tower, who then serve the evil Queen. Again, we’re reminded of the history of Jewish expulsions, the belief that Jews had horns, and the Semitic bull god Moloch, which is associated with child sacrifice.

The game begins with the eponymous Ico being sacrificially abandoned in the fortress, where he’s expected to die of starvation. By dint of fate, he escapes his sarcophagus-like prison and finds a radiant maiden named Yorda locked in a cage. He frees her, but she speaks an ancient tongue he cannot understand. She can unlock the magical doors inside the castle by simply touching them, so they make their escape together. The evil Queen sends her shadowy minions to kidnap Yorda, whom she claims is her daughter, but Ico fends them off.

Along the way, Ico’s horns are broken off in two separate incidents. He finds a magical sword and confronts the evil Queen, who reveals she intends to take possession of Yorda’s body to be reborn. Ico triumphantly defeats the Queen, but she warns him that Yorda will never be able to leave the castle. He passes out due to exhaustion and Yorda carries him to a small boat, pushing him away as the fortress collapses, her body seemingly fading to darkness. However, after the credits she’s happily reunited with Ico on the beach.

Some have pointed out that Mono may be connected to the evil Queen in ICO, and in this reading they both personify Judaism. The Queen is evil, just as the God of the Old Testament is an angry and vengeful deity. Ico refuses to be a slave to this religion. Yorda personifies a pure, kind, and loving God, which the Jews are keeping locked up for themselves in the dungeon of their religion. She speaks a different language because God’s will must be interpreted, and she can open the locked doors because religion is subservient to God.

Ico’s horns are broken off, suggesting he is no longer one of them, and the Queen’s prediction that Yorda cannot leave the castle echoes the Jewish belief that God belongs solely to them. The collapsing castle could reflect the destruction of Israel or Judaism with the birth of Christianity. When Yorda fades away and reappears, it’s like Jesus dying and being resurrected. The ending, in which Yorda carries Ico while he’s unconscious, even evokes the Christian parable of Jesus’ footprints on the beach. One interpretation would be that Ico personifies the early Christians, who “rescued” God from the Jewish religion to give to the whole world, and who were in turn freed by Him.

This interpretation would place the events of ICO well before those of Shadow of the Colossus. The problem is that Fumito Ueda told WIRED Magazine that he considers the baby born with horns in the finale of Shadow of the Colossus to be the first of his kind. In that case, its events precede ICO. However, it’s impossible to know if Mr. Ueda is being honest, and we don’t know if he had Semitic gods and civilizations in mind when he created ICO.[8] In interviews, he seems to have been primarily inspired by the theme of “boy meets girl,” so it’s entirely possible the games are unconnected esoterically, even if they share similar aesthetics.

For more analyses of video games, see my essays on Resident Evil 4 and Half-Life 2. If you’re new to the Jewish Question, watch this ten-minute explanation for an excellent primer. If you’d like to learn more, bookmark Counter-Currents and read it regularly. To better understand their role in Western society and culture, read The Occidental Observer and Dr. Kevin MacDonald’s trilogy (especially The Culture of Critique). Also research the Jewish role in Bolshevism and Communism.

Notes

[1] An incomplete list: The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass (Nintendo, 2007); Kizuna (Jaleco, 2009); Blood of Bahamut (Square-Enix, 2009); Castlevania: Lords of Shadow (Konami, 2010); The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Nintendo, 2017); Oure (Heavy Spectrum Ltd., 2017); Death’s Gambit (Adult Swim, 2018); and Praey for the Gods (No Matter Studios, TBA).

[2] In the film, Bander’s parents send him to an alien planet to escape a deadly terrorist attack on their spaceship. He rides a horse and peacefully hunts for tails that can be regrown by prey animals, bringing to mind Wander’s horse and his penchant for lizard tails. However, Bander is a virtuous character who does his best not to harm the animals he hunts, unlike Wander, who kills them mercilessly. Other than its terror attack and its general anti-war theme, it seems to have little in common with the plot or characters of Shadow of the Colossus.

[3] The manga/anime Arion (1986) is based on Greek mythology. The eponymous hero is tricked by Hades into believing that his mother was blinded by Zeus, and that killing Zeus will cure her affliction – similar to the way Wander wants to help Mono and is “tricked” by Dormin. Arion and Wander wear similar headgear, and in the film Arion grabs hold of a dragon’s mossy fur to hitch a ride, like Wander grabbing hold of the fifth colossus’ fur (at approximately the 1h49m mark). Furthermore, Arion was a horse god that was mounted by Adrastsus, King of Argos – which may be the inspiration behind Agro, Wander’s horse.

[4] The Shikoku pilgrimage consists of exactly 88 temples, so the reference to him might also be taken as an example of synchronicity favoring the 1488 meme, if you’re into that sort of thing.

[5] It might be said that Jews celebrate the destruction of their enemies every time they spin a dreidel. The letters on each side (nun, gimmel, hey, and shin) supposedly represent (among other things) the four kingdoms that tried to destroy them in Antiquity that they outlived.

[6] Note they wear similar clothing based on that of the Ainu people, the ancient indigenous people of Japan, befitting a story set long ago.

[7] You can see the influence of Italian Surrealist painter Giorgio de Chirico on Mr. Ueda’s work in the architecture in his games and paintings (one of which serves as ICO‘s cover art).

[8] Semitic gods and myths have been a source of inspiration for Japanese game designers going back decades. An early example is The Tower of Druaga (Namco, 1984), the first game in the Babylonian Castle Saga series.

8 Comments

  1. 12345
    Posted August 12, 2019 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

    Could the horned baby (first of its kind) possibly be Jesus?

    • Hugo Adrian
      Posted August 13, 2019 at 6:08 am | Permalink

      Anything is possible, of course. I assume you’re suggesting that Wander’s reincarnation is a metaphor for the immaculate conception or the resurrection? And that Wander’s magical sword is a reference to Matthew 10:34’s mention of Christ “bringing a sword”?

      Generally speaking, when authors insert esoteric meanings into their work, they include hints such as names so that the subtext may be deciphered (otherwise, what’s the point?). They may insert red herrings, but they tend to avoid inserting contradictory elements to avoid confusion. For example, in the Jewish Pardes system, none of the layers of interpretation may contradict the other. To play devil’s advocate, you would have to explain how Wander’s resurrection as the baby born with horns is not only applicable to Jesus, but how that fits into the bigger picture of Mono, Emon, and Dormin.

      For example, is the Buddhist legend of Emon Saburō a better foil for Christ, or the Wandering Jew? Clearly, the latter. Are horns more likely to be attributed to Jews, or Christ? Clearly, the former. Is idolatry a bigger issue in Christianity, or Judaism? Clearly, the latter. This is indicated in houses of worship, where churches commonly employ depictions of Christ’s crucifixion in sculpture, painting, and stained glass, whereas synagogues (and mosques) rely exclusively on geometric patterns for decoration to avoid committing the sin of idolatry. And so on.

  2. Jojo
    Posted August 10, 2019 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

    Absolutely fantastic analysis.

    • Hugo Adrian
      Posted August 13, 2019 at 6:09 am | Permalink

      Thanks. I have some others in the works in the coming months, so check back. 😀

  3. Captain John Charity Spring MA
    Posted August 9, 2019 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    Colossus?

    It’s quite a reference.

    The Coloseum aka Flavian Amphitheater was built on the loot from Judah after sacking the Jerusalem temple.

    The name Colosus derives from Nero’s giant bronze statue of himself as Apollo that slightly predates the Aphitheater. Even risky the name of the statue transferred over to the stadium as part of folk memory.

    The Bruegel painting of Babel is definitely based on the ruins of Flavian Amphitheater in Rome and so is the EU building.

    Full circle really.

    Nero should have been a video game designer not an Emperor. He also intended that the footprint of the colleseum was going to be a vast public swimming pool. Which if you think about it was much nicer than the butchers yard the Flavian Dynasty transformed it into. Image how much nicer Rome would have been if that central area next to the Forum had been a place to swim?

    • Hugo Adrian
      Posted August 13, 2019 at 6:11 am | Permalink

      Hm, yes, I had not considered all of that but it certainly does seem to bring everything full circle, as it were. To be able to see those simulated sea battles in the Colosseum, now that would be something! Too bad that was too expensive to recreate for Ridley Scott’s Gladiator, would have made an awesome sequence.

    • rujv
      Posted August 13, 2019 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

      One of the attractions of the colosseum were simulated naval battles, so not too far off from the swimming pool. It was a killing pool, of sorts.

  4. Matthias
    Posted August 9, 2019 at 8:30 am | Permalink

    Excellent, with many aspects to consider. For example regarding the possible horns of Moses.

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