Samurai and the code of Bushido are entwined with the soul of Japan. The image of a stoic, katana wielding warrior is famous throughout pop culture, highlighting the timelessness of figures from feudal Japan like Minamoto no Yoshitsune and Tomoe Gozen, fighters who embodied all the virtues of Bushido.
Many fictional characters have been modelled on the image of the samurai, with one of the most interesting being Vergil from the Devil May Cry franchise. Stoic, powerful and complex, Vergil is a modern-day samurai that has redefined the term for a new generation.
Falling from grace
Developed by Hideki Kamiya, Vergil was created to be the antithesis of his twin brother and Devil May Cry protagonist, Dante. While Dante became known for his cocky, laid back personality, Vergil was defined by his cold and ruthless nature.
As the sons of the demon knight Sparda, Dante and Vergil grew up in a world of danger. Their human mother, Eva, could only protect them until their eighth birthday. The demon king, Mundus, sent his minions to kill Dante and Vergil, though Eva paid the price instead. At the time, Vergil was alone when he was attacked. After seeing his house burning, Vergil awakened his inner demon, killed the monsters who had come for him and went on the run. Believing his mother to have abandoned him, Vergil carried a lot of resentment that fueled his darker side.
Years later, Vergil remerged, hungry to obtain his father’s power. He reunited with Dante during the events of Devil May Cry 3 and the two of them battled. Dante managed to defeat his older brother, though he failed to convince him to give up his lust for power. Vergil threw himself into the demon world, where he was eventually corrupted by Mundus and turned into the deadly Nelo Angelo.
In Devil May Cry, Dante came face to face with Nelo Angelo, but didn’t recognise who it was beneath the mask. After their final battle, Nelo Angelo left behind an amulet that had belonged to Eva, which caused Dante to realise where his brother had been for so long.
Vergil’s most recent appearance happened in Devil May Cry 5. Weakened and free of Mundus’ corruption, Vergil tracked down his son, Nero, and took back his sword, Yamato. Then, Vergil used the weapon to separate his demonic half from his human half, causing the birth of two new beings. Vergil’s demon half, Urizen, sought to become the new king of the Underworld, while the human personality, V, teamed up with Dante and Nero to stop his evil counterpart.
Eventually, both personalities were fused together, and Vergil returned to full power. He engaged in fierce battles with his family, but ultimately decided to help them prevent the Underworld from merging with the human world. Vergil and Dante trapped themselves in Hell, protecting the world from further harm.
A modern-day samurai
Vergil’s background shares many similarities with the path of a samurai. His stoicism and warrior mentality are two obvious connections. Vergil is defined by his quest to be the most powerful person in existence, refusing to let anything stand in his way.
But like a samurai, Vergil values honour. He refuses to use dirty tactics in a fight and sees no victory in defeating a weakened opponent. Even as Nelo Angelo, Vergil didn’t resort to underhanded tactics when fighting Dante. Instead of attacking him from behind, Vergil waited until they were face to face, wanting to test Dante’s strength.
Samurai were known for their sense of control, but they weren’t like that all the time. Neither is Vergil. The eldest son of Sparda has an underlying vulnerability stemming from his abandonment issues.
Throughout the franchise, it’s implied that Vergil was deeply wounded by the loss of his mother and his failure to protect her. His desire for power could be perceived as him wanting to never feel that loss of control again. Vergil echoed the sentiment in Devil May Cry 3 when he told Dante “might controls everything, and without strength you cannot protect anything, let alone yourself.”
Vergil’s human side, V, showed a lot of remorse for his past crimes.
Vergil’s vulnerability also manifested in his human side, V. The character represented the humanity that Vergil repressed all his life. V demonstrated great remorse for Vergil’s actions, recognising his counterpart’s quest for domination as a cry for help. V implied to Nero that Vergil only wanted to be protected and loved, but because he was alone, he had no choice but to survive however he could.
Japanese society expected samurai to be gifted in disciplines beyond fighting. They were meant to enjoy art, music, philosophy and poetry. For example, it was common for samurai to concoct death poems that reflected on the transience of life.
In Devil May Cry 5, it was revealed that Vergil had a fondness for poetry as well. V carried a book of poems by William Blake and frequently recited lines throughout the game. An example occurred when V quoted Blake’s Infant Joy to Dante by saying “I have no name, I am but two days old.” V was being sarcastic and literal, referencing Vergil’s duality.
Vergil’s clothing and weaponry are influenced by the Japanese warrior class. The most obvious connection comes from the fact that he wields a mystical katana called Yamato. In Japanese, Yamato translates to ‘great harmony,’ symbolising Vergil’s allegiance to control, honour and tradition. He inherited the sword from his father and favours it over the firearms that Dante uses. When out of the scabbard, Vergil wields the blade with two hands in the traditional Japanese style.
Yamato features an ornate bronze guard, traditional gold wrapping and black ornaments. The sword has several magical abilities, such as being able to cut through any material and open portals in time and space.
Sparda used Yamato to separate the human and demon worlds from each other, a feat that Vergil emulated years later. He used the sword to separate his demon and human sides by stabbing himself in the chest. The act bore similarities to seppuku, ritualistic Japanese suicide.
During his time as Nelo Angelo, Vergil wore armour reminiscent of traditional samurai attire. According to A-Jainaka Japan, samurai armour was made up of several components:
· Dou — Chest armour made out of iron or leather.
· Kusazuri — Iron or leather plates that hung from the front or back of the dou. Meant to protect the lower body.
· Kote — Armoured sleeves made of cloth and iron.
· Sode — Large shoulder pads.
· Kabuto — A helmet that was usually accompanied with a neck guard called a shikoro.
· Mengu — Facial armour that was designed to intimidate foes. They were often inspired by demons and monsters.
· Haidate — Thigh guards.
· Suneate — Shin guards.
The Nelo Angelo costume may have been inspired by the sode, mengu and kabuto portions of samurai armour.
With his relatable backstory and complicated personality, Vergil is one of the greatest game characters of all-time. His conflicting traits reflect the lifestyles that many samurai led in their pursuit of Bushido.