Secret of Mana Redux




February 28, 2021

The official Super Famicom art of Popoie: a clay figure
The official Super Famicom art of Popoie: a clay figure

[Popoi] acts as the go-between for Randi and Primm, and…always [prioritizes] everyone [else]’s happiness… 

Koichi Ishii, the Art of Mana

Height: 3’1”
Weight: 71lbs.
Age: ????

Popoi is one of the most memorable characters in the game, if nothing else because…what is Popoi?  Not only is Popoi an undefined Mana Spirit, but there’s an eternal gender debate, which we’ll address in the Localization Notes. 

Popoi fills the role of both a black mage and comic relief, being an easily disgruntled mini friend for Randi and Purim, but also providing much needed motivation at times. Found washed ashore in the dwarf village at Gaia’s Navel after a flood, Popoi suffers from amnesia, with no memory of home.

The sprite is caught off guard in the dwarf village

Cut content from the remake explains that the recent shifts in Mana were affecting the power of the Wind Seed, ushering in a “Time of Calamity” for the sprites. As a result, Popoi is sent to inform Luka of this, but then the flood happens. It’s not up to us if this is canon or not, but it makes for a nice little backstory.

Once Popoi gets Randi’s money, pride sets in:

POPOI: Geh heh heh! Thank ya, I’ll take that. …What’s your problem? Hurry up and go home.

While this is going on, some earthquakes have been happening in the village and it turns out to be the work of Tropicallo, a sort of mutant pineapple that can detach its head.

Popoie listens as Grandpa laments the state of Mana

Popoi joins Randi after the battle, and eventually returns to the sprite village in the Upper Land. Upon entering, he finds it empty, and only hears the shriek of a demonic bird in the vicinity. After defeating it, they find that Popoi’s grandfather is the only survivor; the attack is the work of the Empire. Grandpa, as he’s called, tells Popoi more about the sprites and their relationship to Mana:

GRANDPA: Humans are dissolving the seals on the Mana seeds and trying to once again resurrect an ancient evil…If Mana disappears, we sprites will also vanish from this world…

POPOI: Alas…So that everyone can come back to the village, I’ll show them that *I* can protect Mana!

Here we see that Popoi is part of a group who are at odds with humans, who misuse mana and affect the the sprites’ livelihoods. I see some similarities between the sprites and characters from other Square games of the time. In Final Fantasy VI, we have the Espers from a separate world who are exploited for their abilities. In Chrono Trigger, there is tension between the humans and mystics, and also between the Enlightened Ones who can use magic and the Earthbound Ones who they exploit. Also, Popoi is likely the spiritual ancestor of Charlotte in Trials of Mana.

Sadly, Grandpa’s words ring true when Randi must defeat the Mana Beast, which will cause the world of humans and the world of spirits and sprites to split in two. The exact reason for this is not clear. It seems that the balance of mana keeps the world in harmony. The Mana Beast is trying to restore the mana that was taken by the Fortress and with Randi defeating it, that mana is not fully rebalanced and the worlds must separate. The final image of Secret of Mana is of Popoi looking back at the world.

Randi finds Popoie on the sandship

Localization Notes

  • Popoi is referred to as, “chibi”, “chibi-chan”, and “chibisuke” throughout the Japanese script. We’ve left this untranslated on the site. It’s close to, “little one”, or “squirt.”
  • Different releases of the game have approached the gender issue in various ways.  Ted Woolsey’s SNES translation used masculine and gender neutral pronouns. In the French translation, Popoi is male, and in German, female. The 2018 remake used the singular “they” for Popoi, but the 2020 Art of Mana reverted to “he.”

    Much discussion centers on Popoi using gender neutral third person pronouns in Japanese. This is not the same in English, as just about anyone uses these pronouns regardless of gender. On the other hand, Popoi uses a first person pronoun that’s understood to be masculine, and characters refer to Popoi with words that are generally used to address men.  

    Further confusion comes from the creators using a word that’s close to “genderless” when the game was released and also this from the Japanese manual:
  • As one translator explained, the words here that indicate unknown gender are likely referring to the question of what is Popoi, rather than a matter of gender expression.  In other words, Randi is a human male, Purim is a human female and Popoi is a _______? I’ll borrow a quote from a Japanese person in the fan-made Secret of Mana: Reborn commentary who explains the tricky situation succinctly:

    “Popoi’s gender self-identification is ‘male’ by our standard according to how he behaves and presents himself.  The sex/biological classification is ‘unknown’ or even nonexistent because he is not necessarily an organic being.  He is more of a manifestation of Mana/magic.”

    As you can see, this is a difficult thing to get “right.” He, they, or a combination of the two can all be justified.

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