The Real Life Inspirations behind Indivisible

Welcome to Art-Eater! I’m Richmond Chaisiri. You may remember me from such articles as “Darkstalkers and the 12 Principles of Animation” or “A Buddhist’s Guide to Asura’s Wrath.” Today I’m here to tell you about the real world influences behind the colorful cast of Indivisible, an upcoming RPG from Lab Zero, creators of Skullgirls.

(This is a Simpson's bit. Do kids still know bout Troy Mcclure?)
(This is a Simpson’s bit. Do kids still know bout Troy Mcclure?)

You can download a very impressive demo of the game here: http://indivisiblegame.com/

And if you like what you see, you can fund the game here: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/indivisible-rpg-from-the-creators-of-skullgirls#/

Now let’s get to analyzing!

Ajna


anja_punching

The main character of indivisible is Ajna, a young martial artist who draws on South East Asian cultures for inspiration. In Hindu and Buddhist traditions, “Ajna” is the name of the 6th primary chakra. Chakra are 7 points running down the center of the body that regulate spiritual energy.

art-eater_ajna_indivisible_7_chakras_diagram

The Ajna chakra is located between the eyebrows and represents wisdom and intuition. It is believed that spiritual energy enters the body through the Ajna. It is often referred to as the “third eye” and often depicted as such in art.

art-eater_indivisble_ajna_chakra_bindi
The Ajna chakra appears frequently in Buddhist and Hindu imagery

Many Buddhists and Hindus wear a bindi, a bright red spot of color applied at the center of the forehead to represent the Ajna chakra.

Ajna has the ability to absorb beings into her body and channel them in battle. They are referred to as Incarnations.

ajna_summoning_incarnations
Ajna activating her third eye and channeling her various incarnations

The word “incarnation” is often used in English texts on Hinduism to describe the form a deity takes when they manifest on earth. It’s common for important deities to have multiple incarnations with distinct appearances and personalities.

The 10 Incarnations of Vishnu
The 10 Incarnations of Vishnu

Ajna is also able to transform into a Heruka, a powerful wrathful deity. In Buddhism Heruka are divine beings who take on a fierceful form in order to lead people to enlightenment. Heruka are often incarnations of important deities. True to her name, Ajna’s Heruka has a prominent third eye.

art-eater_indivisble_ajna_heruka_tibetan_buddhism

In another nod to Buddhism, Ajna wears Buddhist prayer beads on her head.

art-eater_indivisble_ajna_buddhist_prayer_beads

Ajna is wearing a kebaya, a traditional Indonesian blouse and skirt combo that often has a square collar. art-eater_indivisble_ajna_kebaya_indonesian_clothing

Roti

Ajna is accompanied on her quest by a pet named Roti, who looks a bit like the Baku, a spirit from Japanese folklore that has origins in China.

art-eater_indivisble_roti_tapir_baku

Baku are often called “dream eaters” because they devour nightmares. They are traditionally depicted as looking very much like tapirs.

The word roti refers to a kind of flatbread originating in India. In South East Asia roti are a popular street food.

thailand_banana_roti
Image originally from: http://www.deliciousfood4u.com/2012/06/what-to-eat-when-in-bangkok/

 

Zebei

art-eater_indivisible_incarnations_character_design_zebei_mongolian_archer_composite_bow_yabusame

The first incarnation you get in the Indivisible demo is Zebei the archer. Zebei is a Chinese sounding name. He hails from a nomadic tribe famous for their archery skills. They are probably inspired by Mongolian culture. Zebei looks like he’s using some kind of composite bow. His sleeve resembles those used in Japanese horseback archery.

*Update*
My good pal Maese has pointed out to me that Zebei(哲別) is also the name of a character from the famous wuxia series, The Legend of Condor Heroes. Zebei is an expert Mongolian archer who teaches the protagonist, Guo Jing, the ways of archery. Zebei is based off of the historical Jebe, who was one of Genghis Khan’s most trusted generals.

Razmi

Razmi is a shamaness hermit who practices magic. Razmi is a sanskrit name that means “ray of light.” Razmi is also a common name in Iran, and I believe her design is largely inspired by Persian culture.

art-eater_indivisible_incarnations_character_design_razmi_zoroastrian_shamaness_persian

In traditional Persian art, mystics are often depicted wearing tiger skins. This is also a common motif for wise men in Indian and South East Asian art. Razmi is accompanied by a tiger spirit named Bom that lives in her lantern. As long as the flame is lit, Bom remains by her side.

art-eater_indivisible_incarnations_character_design_razmi_zoroastrian_shamaness_persian_eternal_flame_fire_temple

This idea may have been inspired by Zoroastrianism, one of the world’s oldest monotheistic religions that originated in ancient Persia. Zoroastrians traditionally worship while facing a flame which represents order, beneficence, honesty, fairness and justice. Zoroastrians originally practised worship at home, but over time they developed permanent places of worship called fire temples. One of the main features of fire temples is an “eternal flame” which burns perpetually and symbolises the passing of knowledge through generations.

*Update *

Thanks to DungeonMaster11 who pointed out that “Razmi” is a Sanskrit name meaning “bright” or “ray of light.” I had previously mistakenly called it a Quranic name, because I had mixed it up with the name “Ramzi.” It’s possible that Razmi is inspired by Indian culture. After the Islamic conquest of Persia (633-654AD) many Zoroastrians fled to India. Zoroastrianism declined greatly in Persia, but continued to flourish in India which now has the greatest population of Zoroastrians in the world. There are currently 177 fire temples in existence, 150 of which are in India.

Tungar

art-eater_indivisible_incarnations_character_design_tungar_urumi_kalaripayattu

Tungar is a seasoned warrior who wields an “urumi” a flexible, whip like blade. It looks like a fantasy weapon, but it’s actually real! The urumi, also called an “aara” is one of the weapons taught in the ancient Indian martial art of Kalaripayattu.

The urumi is incredibly difficult to master as its very easy to hurt yourself with the weapon! Tungar wears his Urumi as a turban wrapped around his head. In historical practice, the urumi was worn around the waist as a belt, easily concealed and always within reach.

Here’s a video of some expert urumi wielders in action!

Dhar

Dhar is an enemy general who raids Ajna’s village, but somehow becomes one of her Incarnations. Dhar is possibly named after a city in India, and his overall appearance, like Tungar draws heavily on Indian culture.

art-eater_indivisible_incarnations_character_dhar_mojari_khanda_india_indian_warrior_soldier

Both characters are wearing mojari, a traditional Indian shoe that often has toes that curve upward. Dhar wields a khanda, a double edged straight sword originating in South Asia. The khanda frequently appears in Hindu art. It is also the official emblem of Sikhism, a monotheistic religion originating in India.

Thorani

In the world of Indivisible, Thorani is a Celestial who channels magical water through her hair. This water can cure people of their addiction to a dangerous drug called Soma, which is distributed through the land by a drug lord named Mara.

art-eater_thorani_character_analysis_thai_buddhist_earth_goddess

This is a direct reference to the Buddhist earth goddess Thorani, who is well known throughout South East Asia.

Indivisible's incarnation of Thorani is actually quite modestly dressed compared to classical depictions
Indivisible’s incarnation of Thorani is actually quite modestly dressed compared to classical depictions

According to Buddhist doctrine, when Siddhartha Guatama (the man who would become the Buddha) was meditating under the Bodhi tree to attain enlightenment, he was accosted by a demon named Mara. Thorani protected Siddhartha by wringing water from her hair, which washed away Mara and the hoards of demons under his control.

A painting from a Laotion Buddhist temple depicting Thorani protecting the Buddha from Mara and his demons
A painting from a Laotion Buddhist temple depicting Thorani protecting the Buddha from Mara and his demons

In Hinduism and Zoroastrianism and early vedic religions, Soma was an elixir enjoyed by the gods. If a mortal were to drink it, they would be granted immortality. Historically Soma was not explicitly associated with recreational drug use until the publication of Brave New World by Aldous Huxley in 1932.

This is a great book
This is a great book

In this novel, the government controls the masses through the widespread usage of a narcotic called “Soma.”

The idea of South East Asia as a drug paradise is also relatively new. Most South East Asians do not consider drug use an important part of their heritage, but that tends to be the focus whenever a Hollywood movie takes place in this part of the world.

These movies are not well loved in the countries they take place
These movies are not well loved by the locals in the countries where they are set :P

Vasco

Vasco is an expert marksman who used to be an officer in the Iron Kingdom army. He eventually got tired of slaughtering natives and went off on his own to become a gun for hire. His name is likely a reference to Vasco Da Gama, the famed Portuguese explorer who became the first European to reach India by sea in 1498. Along his tremendous journey, Da Gama and his crew would encounter many of the cultures that are referenced in Indivisible.

art-eater_vasco_da_gama_conquistador_cowboy_iron_kingdom_mercenary_character_design

Vasco’s appearance is like a conquistador combined with a cowboy. His wide brim cowboy hat has a very pointed top in a nod to conquistador helmets. He wears a bandolier full of bullets, something that cowboys down the road would wear in the New World. Vasco also wears a suede Native American style jacket with the iconic hanging fringes.

Kushi and Altun

Kushi is a cheerful young falconer. Together with her roc, Altun, they are a formidable team. They must have been inspired by the rich history of falconry in Central Asia. Judging by their appearance, I believe Kushi is specifically inspired by Kazakh falconers who hunt with giant golden eagles.

art-eater_indivisible_kushi_altun_central_asian_kazakh_falconry_falcon_falconer_roc_golden_eagle

Here’s a nice article about a young Kazakh girl named Ashol Pan, who is on her way to becoming a master falconer. She’s pretty much the real life Kushi!
http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-26969150

Altun is a roc, a legendary giant bird from middle eastern mythology. The word “roc” is of Persian origin.  The Roc is described in 4 different stories in the Arabic epic, the 1001 Nights, also known as the Arabian Nights. Sinbad encountered them twice during his journeys. The first time he was shipwrecked and hitched a ride back to land by binding himself to a roc’s leg. It was so massive it didn’t even notice.

An illustration of Sinbad hitching a rid on the Roc by the Italian cartoonist Nadir Quinto
An illustration of Sinbad hitching a rid on the Roc by the Italian cartoonist Nadir Quinto. Source: https://goo.gl/08PWsc

During the 5th voyage of Sinbad his shipped is destroyed by rocs dropping massive boulders in retaliation for the destruction of one of its eggs.

Gustave Dore, The merchants break the roc's egg (from Fifth Voyage of Sinbad), From Le Magasin pitoresque, Paris, 1865
Gustave Dore, The merchants break the roc’s egg (from Fifth Voyage of Sinbad), From Le Magasin pitoresque, Paris, 1865

Marco Polo describes rocs in his memoirs, saying they were capable of grasping grown elephants in their talons, dropping them from a great height to feed on their shattered carcasses. A similar description exists in the ancient Indian epic, the Mahabharata, where Garuda carries off an elephant and tortoise and eats them because they couldn’t stop quarrelling.

A 17th century Mughal of Garuda flying with Vibhāvasu (turtle) and Supraťika (elephant). From the Razmnama, the Persian translation of the Mahabharata
A 17th century Mughal of Garuda flying with Vibhāvasu (turtle) and Supraťika (elephant). From the Razmnama, the Persian translation of the Mahabharata

***

That’s it for today. If you enjoyed this article, please contribute to the funding of Indivisible. It’s a nicely hand animated game with a fun, diverse cast of characters informed by real world cultures that harkens back to the golden age of console RPGs.

The creators of the game have worked really hard to bring it this far. Let’s make it happen! https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/indivisible-rpg-from-the-creators-of-skullgirls#/

I will try to do more character analysis as the Indivisible campaign continues. Hopefully I’ll get through every character (and some of the monsters too!).

To keep up to date, you can follow me on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/Richmond_Lee

Author: Richmond

I am a professional game artist who wants everyone to love art as much as I do!

10 thoughts on “The Real Life Inspirations behind Indivisible”

  1. And then we have the guest characters, which only exist because the developers were afraid that the game wouldn’t sell (or get funded) on its own merits.

  2. yo rich, what’s crackin! you can guess who this is, nice job on this article.

    my pedantic correction is that 1001 nights is a persian epic not arabian, don’t get it twisted, PERSIAN PRIDE~

    also tigers are way less iranian than lions when it comes to iconography so india might be the safer bet there but yeah it’s an interesting theory.

    glad you are doin well!

  3. This is all REALLY awesome and insightful, and good on you for putting it together! However, there IS a bit of a teeny mistake in Razmi’s entry. Razmi is a Sanskrit word that means “bright”, and RAMZI is a Quranic name that means all of those things you mentioned.

  4. Oh man, another great insightful article. I love games, eastern culture and I wish you would write more often! I’m also going to shamelessly steal this format for my articles on art style / influence and themes on Batman topics for my blog.
    PLEASE WRITE MORE OFTEN!

  5. This is Maese from the cafe.
    Awesome write-up, as usual!
    Let me add that you are right on spot with Zebei’s mongol inspiration. In fact I’d say they based off the character on the historical Jebei, a legendary mongolian archer who, incidentally, was also Guo Jin’s archery teacher on Condor Heroes novels!
    (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jebe)

    1. Thanks for the tip Ruben! I was pretty certain he was Mongolian inspired, but I couldn’t find any people named “Zebei.” Thanks very much for your help! I need to watch/read more Condor Heroes!

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