In case any of this gets out of context, I feel I should be clear for some reason that I’m not a Tales translator and this has nothing to do with the (god allowing) English release of Tales of Zestiria. I’ve just been translating promo material on my own time because I am hopeless. The only reason these words are on the internet is because I wanted to write them down and put them somewhere.
Right. So the particular thing that made me want to put them somewhere now is that I have a growing feeling of unease about the word 天族, and writing and sharing has always worked.
But first I’ll indulge myself in dumping some thoughts about “Shepherd”.
If you follow Zestiria on real Tales news, you’ll almost certainly see the main character described with the title of “Priest.” I don’t know if any of them are simply using doushi. If you were at the right place at the right time, you might have seen the high comedy of “Fon Master” (there’s a tale).
I’ve been using “Shepherd” for almost a year now. I chose it last December on Something Awful and I’ve been subbing with it since, but I haven’t talked to nearly anybody about it other than that. (Footnote: I’m told it was used by Namco-Bandai staff at NYAF. If I called it, if this speaks to my classiness in any way, that just makes it less forgivable that I’ve simply stuck with “Celestial” by default for this long.)
All of these stories start with the word itself. 導師 refers to a (Buddhist, in particular) monk or priest in charge, a leader, a teacher, or a master of a ceremony, and the ultimate of these, of course, is Gautam Siddhartha himself.
(If you played Tales of the Abyss, this is the word the Fon Master thing comes from, by the way – another reason I expect the translation team to pick out an entirely new term that integrates it into a reconstructed, fantastic mythology.)
Now, “Priest” is already pretty insufficient, because in this game the title isn’t for just any old cleric or monk. But more than that, in the world’s lore, the 導師 are actually a group of legendary champions who manifest to restore balance every time the forces of darkness inevitably, periodically strike. Certainly the main character is tasked with being an unfailing beacon of goodness in a corrupt world, but his powers are more physical (and political) than religious, and the evil he battles is both spiritual and given tangible, stabbable form. So the title refers to something a little like the mythical Bodhisattva itself, the reincarnating soul that finally came as the Buddha – only in the form of not a wise, beatific creature-of-the-age, but a young, sword-wielding, magic-slinging action hero.
So yeah, “Priest” is going to fall short, but I’m hard pressed to think of a way to exhaust all of that in a nice term. “Shepherd” was simply a word that I thought took the picture of the spiritual and moral leader and mixed in the protector, the champion, the destined hero that the in-game myth (all I had at the time) recasts the 導師 as. It’s also conveniently associated with another major figure whose name speaks a revolution of peace.
And unfortunately, that’s actually, deeply tied into the problem with 天族. I wish I could say it was my bad, but my influence doesn’t extend nearly that far.
天族 means, roughly, “the race of heaven.” I’ve seen it as “Celestial” (including my own), “Divine,” occasionally “Heavenly Tribe,” and (of course) “tenzoku.” But, like “priest,” I argue that using an angelic term misses the mark.
These creatures don’t serve a higher power and are only sacred insofar as they’re revered. Most of them seem to fall into one of the four classical elements; they seem to be creatures of elemental magic, not of some kind of holy authority. Their role is more like spirits; some of them are patrons of small areas like towns, or control the power of individual forces or elements. In lore, the closest to “god” were the ones, back in the bygone magical age, who others of their kind followed as subjects, pooling their powers and expanding their domains. They have their own form of old magic which comes in rituals and binds them to their own arcane laws. In short, they’re a magical race in a less-magical world, like the Elves – but not a divine one.
(On the other hand, Zestiria’s elementals’ battle magic is 天響術 (heaven, resound, arte) and I can’t get away from “Choiral Artes.”)
I don’t have a better answer of my own right now. By default I’m sticking to “Celestial,” I suppose; we can all pretend we only mean “sky people,” which is still misaimed but technically faithful. Anyway, I want to start thinking about it, and I thought I’d share in the process. And if I’ve missed something, or totally misunderstood something, I might as well open myself up to be informed.
Do share those, or ideas, or anything else. Like I said, I’m not nor trying to be the guy in charge of Zestiria hype.
EDIT: Since posting, I’ve caught myself saying “elemental.” It’s not great, but it seems like it might be going in a promising direction?