The Four Guardians. The Big Four. Zero’s bundle of rivals.
In the first game, the Four served primarily as a means of personifying the horrors and totalitarian rule of Neo Arcadia. They would later develop more personal roles and character growth, particularly Harpuia. These four are some of the most important characters in the Mega Man Zero series, and it’s time we see what makes them tick.
The Four Heavenly Kings
In Japan, Harpuia and company are sometimes referred to as the Four Heavenly Kings, rather than the Four Guardians. Like a number of the Mutos Reploids, this nomenclature is based on Buddhist origins. The Four Heavenly Kings are, in Buddhism, four gods who watch over the four cardinal directions.
The Kings are said to be the guardians of the world who protect Buddhism and fight evil, much like the Four Guardians of Mega Man Zero (minus the latter's misguided loyalty). The Kings have an extremely long lifespan that varies by source, ranging anywhere from 90,000 years to 9 million years. This could be related to the age of the Four Guardians, themselves ancient by the time the Zero series occurs. And just as the Big Four lead an army of supernatural-themed Mutos Reploids, the Four Kings are said to command a legion of supernatural creatures.
As for the individual kings themselves, it doesn’t appear that the Big Four were based on any particular King. It would be easy to draw some parallels, such as the fact that Virupaksha, Heavenly King of the West, is red, and he’s the leader of the nagas, dragon-like creatures. Fefnir, likewise, is the red-themed Guardian named for a mythical dragon. But at the same time, those dragons control the ocean tides, which could also be linked to Leviathan’s ice serpents. So rather than trying to find arbitrary links between the individual Kings and the Guardians, we’re going to look at the other mythical references found among the Big Four.
The leader of the Four Guardians, often referred to as Sage Harpuia, the Intellectual Commander. He was designed as a terraforming unit and was crucial in the restructuring of the Earth after the Maverick Wars. Mega Man Zero Official Complete Works details that although he does control significant weather-based abilities on his own (such as the wind and lightning witnessed in-game), he must take on his second form to operate at full capacity.
He often is depicted as merciless and cruel, such as the time he slaughtered Colbor’s unit and the incident in which he strapped mind-controlling devices to Resistance Members and had them attack Zero.
Harpuia is based primarily on the harpies of Greek mythology. These bird-women are wind spirits, quite often very cruel and associated with the underworld. This cruel and killer nature is easily associated with the merciless storm-based Guardian. He even has a rather interesting description in Mega Man Zero 2, spoken by the Resistance spy Hirondelle: “I saw a green wind blow in the sky for a moment, just when you were being carried here.” That description fits perfectly with the theme of Harpuia as a wind spirit.
In the earlier myths, harpies are described as being quite beautiful; it’s only later on that people began to think of them as hideous beasts. Likewise, in Harpuia’s early days working to rebuild Earth, he would have been considered a savior. It was only after time passed on and the reign of Copy X began that Harpuia would have been considered so horrifying to the Reploids.
I’ve read on the net that Harpuia was also partly inspired by the Valkyries of Norse mythology, mostly due to the wings on his helmet. I was hesitant to apply this label, given that numerous deities have had winged helmets, but the more I researched, the more parallels I found.
Valkyries are said to have served the Norse god Odin. Their job was to scan battlefields for those worthy to enter Valhalla, the Norse heaven of sorts. Often they rode horses through the air while on their mission. This is wonderfully similar to the events in the intro stage of Mega Man Zero 2: As Zero finally fell in exhaustion after his year of constant battle, Harpuia swept in from the skies riding the Mutos Reploid Aztec Falcon. Harpuia pondered to himself what he should do with Zero, before making the decision that Zero was worthy enough to be saved. He swept Zero up and brought him to the Resistance base, just as a Valkyrie would have done.
The Valiant Commander of the Scorched Earth Squadron, Fefnir is the fire-based Guardian. He is the most hot-headed Guardian with a strong lust for battle. He values his battles against Zero, giving up only when all hope is lost.
Fefnir is named for Fafnir, a dragon from Norse mythology. Fafnir began his life as a mighty dwarf and a powerful warrior, the strongest of three brothers. He had an eye for greed, eventually killing his own father in order to obtain a vast hoard of gold. He violently protected this gold and, as he did so, he transformed into a terrible poison-breathing dragon.
Fefnir of the Big Four shares several resemblances with his namesake. If you consider the Guardians siblings, then Fefnir and Fafnir both are physically the strongest of three brothers. Fefnir is also remarkably greedy. His greed may not be based on gold or treasure, but it is focused on battle. As Zero is his strongest enemy, he obsesses over one-on-one combat with the Resistance’s famed combatant. And just like the dwarf-turned-dragon, Fefnir began his life as a great hero, only to become a greedy monster under the dark influence of Copy X.
Although Fafnir breathed poison throughout the land, most dragons tend to be fire-based. The flames are represented with Fefnir’s twin cannons, Sodom and Gomorrah. His guns are named for two Biblical cities which had completely turned their backs on God and were beyond redemption. God eventually destroyed the cities by raining fire and brimstone from the heavens. This is particularly represented by one of Fefnir’s moves, in which he charges up and fires a barrage of fireballs into the sky—which then rain back on the battlefield like fire from heaven.
In another unique attack, Fefnir slams the ground and sends a pillar of energy against Zero. In the first game it appears as electricity, and in the second it is a pillar of fire. This could be related to the fact that Lot’s wife, when looking back mournfully at Sodom and Gomorrah as they burned, was turned into a pillar of salt (but a salt pillar attack from Fefnir wouldn’t pack quite the same punch).
The only female member of the Four Guardians, Leviathan is a force to be reckoned with. Mega Man Zero Official Complete Works highlights her ability to control both water's currents and its temperature, explaining her ability to summon ice underwater.
Complete Works also claims that Leviathan is not particularly fond of violence, despite her enjoyment of battling Zero. This is an interesting description, because for all intents and purposes her dialogue makes her the most violent of the lot. She is so addicted to her battles with Zero, in fact, that in the second game she boldly claims that she doesn't even care if the Dark Elf destroys the world, as long as she can defeat Zero. And even though she manages to redeem herself at the end of Zero 3 by fighting along his side, the drama tracks record her as saying she will never maintain a friendship with Zero.
Leviathan has a tremendous issue with pride. Perhaps it should come as no surprise then that the Biblical Leviathan for which she is named is considered the “king over all the children of pride.”
The Leviathan described in the Bible is a sea monster, described extensively in the book of Job as having extremely thick scales and fearing nothing; battling against it is futile. Isaiah 27 (in the New Living Translation) refers to it as a “coiling, writhing serpent,” and the “dragon of the sea.” This clearly aligns with the ice dragon which the Guardian Leviathan summons. The sea monster attributes are also represented in her Armed Phenomenon form in the second game, where she takes on a form resembling a great manta ray.
The inspiration for Leviathan’s weapon, on the other hand, is a bit of a wildcard. The dictionary in Official Complete Works names it the Frost Javelin, despite the fact that javelins are meant to be thrown. Granted, she does generate smaller spears from it, so perhaps it is a javelin in that respect.
At any rate, another section of the book calls her weapon a halberd (a weapon that’s not designed to be thrown). As it turns out, the halberd does play a role in Japanese mythology. Amenonuhoko is the name of a jewel-encrusted halberd which was used to churn the sea, creating the first island. Perhaps Leviathan’s jewel-encrusted halberd finds its origin there.
As for her design, Leviathan is noticeably not a hideous beast. She’s quite pretty and delicate in appearance. In English we call her Fairy Commander Leviathan, but a better translation would be Siren General Leviathan. The Sirens hail from Greek mythology as beautiful women with enrapturing singing voices who rather enjoy luring sailors to shipwreck along the rocky cliffs by their islands. This could be related to the fact that the first fight with Leviathan takes place among the rocks and jagged spikes underwater. It should be noted that originally the Sirens were considered half-bird rather than simply beautiful women with nice voices— but Leviathan just wouldn’t look quite right if they’d followed this tradition.
Unlike his siblings, Phantom is not based on clear-cut mythical gods or beasts, but on ninjas. This is the part where you inform me that ninjas were real people, not myths— and then I make the counterpoint that in the centuries since ninjas were viable threats, an air of mythology has evolved around them.
Real ninjas were spies, assassins, and bodyguards— and Phantom was each of these. Phantom wields a sword resembling a katana, the sword of choice for ninjas. His is interesting in that it’s not energy-based like most swords of the Mega Man series, but is instead metal. This may be to keep Phantom hidden in the darkness. Phantom also carries kunai in his arsenal, a knife-like tool used by ninjas. While they could serve as weapons, they were actually primarily used by ninjas for digging holes in walls to use as footholds or perhaps for better eavesdropping. Ninjas even practiced kayakujutsu: The art of gunpowder. This was the basis for their ability to “disappear” in a puff of smoke, as Phantom fancies, as well as their use of bombs in the more traditional sense. Not only is it Phantom’s purpose to blow up the factory in Mega Man Zero 1, but he also has a tendency to drop small explosives during combat in Zero 3.
Phantom carries a massive shuriken named the Dark Cross. Giant shurikens very much go against the nature of true shurikens, which were small weapons employed by ninjas either at close range or, if at long range, as a distraction. I’m not sure where giant shurikens came into the picture, but they’re all over the place in pop culture, from Naruto to Super Mario 3D World. I also wonder about the nomenclature of the Dark Cross here, as the shuriken isn’t exactly a cross shape. In history, ninjas were employed in warfare during the Shimabara Rebellion, in which they eliminated a Christian uprising in Japan. Could this be the source for the title of the Dark Cross?
As for mythical ninjas, well… they can do pretty much anything, so much so that it’s hard to pin down any of Phantom’s other abilities as having any historical significance. This super-boosting of ninja powers isn’t a recent occurrence, either, as ninjas have been glorified as having supernatural abilities since the Edo period in Japan (1603-1868). Among the many mythic abilities granted to them, Phantom employs disappearing completely, summoning darkness around him, and illusionary tactics such as splitting his body. Ninjas are even said to have been able to summon animals; this is probably why the body doubles Phantom summons are actually disguised mechaniloids.
A discussion of Phantom would be incomplete without mentioning his name. A phantom, of course, is another term for a ghost. The invisible and dark qualities of ninjas liken them very much to ghosts. Phantom presses this even further with the skull-like mask that hides his face. And while the developers weren’t originally planning to bring him back when they killed him in the first game, it did turn out quite perfect that he was able to return in a ghost-like form in Mega Man Zero 3.
Whew! This was a big one. Tune in next time for an analysis of the top of the Neo Arcadian regime— with a look at the forces who oppose him!
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