Monday, July 25, 2016

The Street Writer Podcast, Episode 7

On the previous blog I had talked about the Bancho, Japanese school delinquents that knew how to fight. They were made popular in the '80s thanks to manga and anime. In the '90s they would be incorporated into fighting game design. We begin today in the early '90s. The stand alone King of Fighters franchise hadn't been born yet and SNK was a crossroads. Should they keep taking chances in the fighting game genre or branch out with other formats? The studio had found moderate success with their fighting games but they wanted to create a breakout hit, like Street Fighter II or Mortal Kombat. In order to do this they had to take some chances with the genre and introduce some new blood to the lineup. They had done some experimentation previously, the ability to jump between the foreground and background in Fatal Fury was revolutionary. The large scaling sprites in the Art of Fighting gave it a cinematic feel. Budgets were tight during the development of the King of Fighters '94 (KoF) and risking it all on a completely new cast was out of the question. It made sense to bring together the Art of Fighting (AoF) and Fatal Fury (FF) groups. Those titles had both evil and heroic fighters that audiences were already familiar with. Reaching out and including the Ikari Warriors and Psycho Soldiers would ensure some non-fighting game players would check out the title too. As the teams were being finalized the studio decided that they had to take a chance on some new faces. They did not want to place either the AoF or FF teams as the stars of the game but rather a new group which the plot would focus on. The designers bet that the new teams would become as iconic as the previous franchise characters. Well the studio was half right. Team Japan would grow a tremendous following. These fighters would become pivotal in the canon of the series while the members of Team USA would fade into obscurity.


As the first generation of fighting games tapered off the developers began looking for new influences. Team Japan and Team USA were pulled mainly from pop culture rather than fight culture. The references worked in favor of Team Japan. The team captain was Kyo Kusanagi was a young and handsome high school student. His design was was very clean cut but deceptive. His uniform looked like a traditional gakuran, yet there was something unique about his design. Think about a character like Ryu, he certainly looked like a traditional karate fighter, yet most traditional fighters did not wear a gi with torn sleeves and frayed pant cuffs. Nor did they let their hair grow too long and unruly. At first glance you were supposed to know that Ryu was a karate fighter, but the details of his costume told a story. Similar details applied to Kyo's design. His hair was long and held up with a headband rather than a cap, his jacket was open allowing him a wide range of movement. His sleeves were rolled up and he wore fingerless black gloves. He was certainly a fighter more than a scholar. His teammates represented other aspects of Japanese culture. The flamboyant Benimaru Nikaido, whose crop-top, earrings and tall blonde hair were very counter-culture. The character had a unique fighting style and the ability to generate electricity and shock his opponents. Benimaru was modeled closely on Jean Pierre Polnareff from JoJo's Bizarre Adventure. The third member, Goro Diamon, was the bruiser of the team and the one with the closest traditional fighting style. He was a Judo gold-medalist yet also had the ability to perform some superhuman feats of strength. When deciding who would represent Japan in the KOF global tournament there was an MMA tournament. Kyo defeated his two partners and became team captain.


The team that represented the USA was based on basic knowledge of the US. If anything they were stereotypes of Western culture. The team captain was a street boxer named Heavy D. possibly after the rapper with the same name. His partners were a basketball player named Lucky Glauber who was not unlike Kobe Bryant, even wearing the Los Angeles Lakers gold and royal colors. He even had a distinct "swoosh" logo on his cheek, certainly without Nike's knowledge or consent. He could summon basketballs to throw at his opponents instead of fireballs. The third, Brian Battler, had a football shoulder pad and a few tackling moves. In the KoF manga by Gamest the character was introduced as a stock car driver that was seemingly indestructible. Having walked away from a burning car crash just a few moments after being introduced in the series. It was obvious that the US team didn't have the same level of forethought that SNK had used when creating Team Japan. There was no doubt that international audiences would understand that they were typical "American" characters with their focus on sports. Past that there was little that made the US figures interesting. Each character had a few neat moves but none really looked like a fighter except for Heavy D. One character couldn't really carry the team and that was part of the reason why they faded into obscurity. The members were seen after KOF '94 but weren't the stars that SNK had hoped for. That gamble had only partially paid-off.

 

Team Japan and Team USA were planned as being the counter points to the Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting teams, so that no one country (or series) could claim to having the best fighters in the SNK universe. In canon Team Japan was written as the winners of the first three KOF titles. It was obvious from the onset that the team had some staying power. None of the new characters introduced had a bigger following than Kyo. The bancho had finally found a mainstream fighting game. Like Ryo Sakazaki and Terry Bogard before him there was a star that would help keep SNK on the map and give audiences somebody to root for, somebody to follow and most important somebody to play as. With the introduction of Kyo something was missing. He lacked a rival. In promotional material Team Japan was featured sided against Team Italy, the Fatal Fury group. Yet many players didn't see that as a balanced lineup. Terry was an older and more experienced brawler, his brother Andy had mastered the Shiranui ninjitsu art and Joe Higashi was also a muay thai striker and not a grappler. None of the men were as outlandish as Benimaru or as large as Goro. Also, despite being teams of three the team captain was usually recognized as the most interesting or most popular character. Whomever was going to rival team Japan needed to have someone as interesting as Kyo. This was going to be a problem.


Kyo wasn't just a really good fighter, he had the ability to project fire from his hands. It was the special attack that allowed him to hold his own against Ryo or Terry plus it was a very well animated effect. As the series grew it was revealed that Kyo had mastered the art of fire at the age of 15. It was a secret technique known only to the members of the Kusanagi clan. At a young age he had passed all of the trials of his family and had even surpassed his father Saisyu in fighting ability. Yet in typical fatherly (stubborn) fashion Saisyu would never admit that he was no longer the greatest warrior in his clan. Just as Takuma Sakazaki would never admit that he was ready to defer the throne to Ryo. Both men felt that they still had something they could teach the next generation. Saisyu would turn up in King of Fighters '95 as a sub-boss. He had an interesting design, his costume was closer to a fighting monk with the family crest, an eclipsed sun on the back of his robe. Kyo had the same logo on the back of his jacket. Yet Saisyu was not a great rival for Kyo. The animosity was not there. The two would never be rivals like Heihachi and Kazuya Mishima from Tekken. The studio had to dig a little deeper in order to create just the right rival. It turned out that the SNK had made a similar design error previously.

 

In 1993 the studio had released a smash hit called Samurai Shodown / Samurai Spirits in Japan. It was one of the first and best weaponized fighting games ever developed. It had very bold character designs, inspired by fictional and real sword fighters from the feudal era. The star of the game was the hard-drinking, wild-haired Haohmaru. A wandering swordsman very loosely based on the actual Miyamoto Musashi. While the first game had many other sword fighters none really matched the design of Haohmaru or could be considered his main rival. A year later the studio finally crafted a rival that was beat-for-beat every bit as interesting as the main character, if not more so. Genjuro Kibagami was the red-haired rival with a nasty scar running the length of his back. It was given to him by his mother after Genjuro killed her lover. In return he killed his own mother. There was a whole lot of drama in the series and I might talk about it some day, but the main beef among the cast was between Genjuro and Haohmaru. They used to be friends but that friendship turning into a rivalry. It made things difficult for the star of the game, knowing that not only did he have to deal with the main villain, usually a demon of some sort, but that there was another sword master out there looking to take his head. SNK looked at this rivalry and found the missing ingredient for the King of Fighters. It didn't really matter if Team Japan had a person to balance out Benimaru or Goro as long as there was somebody for Kyo to deal with.

   

Heavy D from the USA did not seem interesting enough to merit a rivalry with Kyo. Team captains Terry and Ryo had their own rivalries and their own villains to contend with, not to mention that they were older and more seasoned fighters than Kyo. SNK decided to create an age-appropriate and culturally similar rival. This young fighter was Iori Yagami, like Kyo he was a high school student, a bancho without a gang to lead. He had his own unique spin on the school uniform, with an un-tucked long shirt, bright red pants and suspenders tying his knees together. His look was so bold that audiences instantly knew that he was the perfect rival for Kyo. Nothing had to be stated in canon in order for audiences to see that this character was going places. As the series went on it was revealed that the fire powers of Kyo, and odd blue fire of Iori were from their respective clans. The two were part of a lineage that was destined to battle the Orochi, historically this was an eight-headed, eight-tailed serpent from Shinto mythology. In KOF canon it could instead be represented as a human. The original creature was an Earth god and required a sacrifice every year. The sun goddess Amaterasu (the star of the Capcom game Okami) cast her brother Susanoo down from Heaven for tricking her. While on Earth Susanoo found out about the sacrifices and fought the Orochi. First by getting each head drunk and then cutting the monster into pieces. There was a fantastic science fiction retelling of the legend in the manga titled Orion by Masamune Shirow. But I digress...

There was tremendous symbolism involved with the design of both Kyo and Iori. The fire techniques that each held were not scientific but spiritual in nature. The Kusanagi house symbol was a sun in eclipse. This unbroken ring represented both Amaterasu as the sun, but also symbolized the return of the Orochi. The eclipse was the moment that her light was no longer touching / protecting or enlightening the Earth. It was fire that would subdue the Orochi again. This layer of design was a bit more heavy-handed with Kyo's father. Saisyu had prayer beads, tabi socks and a robe that looked closer to that of a Shinto priest. The sun on the back of his costume was much more pronounced. Iori was a representative of the Yagami clan, they had built a blood feud with the Kusanagi clan going back untold generations. The Yagami had also been put in charge of keeping the Orochi at bay, and were also masters of the sacred fire techniques. At some point in the past they were seduced with promises of power. So they released the Orochi and in doing so they did gain more power than the Kusanagi. The family symbol on the back of Iori's gakuran was a crescent moon. The moon was a celestial counter to the sun, it was also mysterious to the ancient tribes on Earth. The silver globe in the sky seemed to have magical properties of its own. It illuminated the night and could even be seen during the day. The logo was more than the balance to Kyo's family crest. The sun was in heaven and the Orochi was bound to Earth. The Orochi could only break out with the help of the moon, the gateway between the Earth and the Heavens. It did this by blocking the sun during an eclipse or by following an opening at night. The crescent moon of the Yagami clan was specifically a waning moon. This was a moon that was on its way to becoming completely dark. The circle was broken, letting the darkness out, or perhaps in the case of the Yagami letting the darkness in.

 

The power that the Orochi promised was delivered but it came at a price. The sacred flame the Yagami created now turned blue. This supernatural power drove the Yagami members into a frenzy and shortened their lives in the process. Iori came from the same cursed blood and was a ticking time bomb. It wasn't high school pressure, nor was it runaway hormones driving him mad. The only thing that could satiate his bloodlust was the destruction of the Kusanagi lineage, at least that was what the Orochi promised. Kyo may not have believed in the myth or he may have been so confident in his powers that he actually seemed bored with his role. Kyo was young, the era he was living much different from ancient Japan. Bullet trains now criss-crossed the countryside, every phone had internet access and cars practically drove themselves. The superstition of the Orochi didn't quite fit in with his world view. It made sense that the high school student was being a little immature at the start of the KoF series. He was looking for a purpose and he found it in a girl, a classmate named Yuki. The sudden love interest was something that happened to bancho manga heroes Takagi Yoshiyuki and Taison Maeda in Osu Karate bu and Rokudenashi Blues. As Kyo grew up he also learned that his gift could be shared rather than coveted. Again, like Takagi and Taison there was a lot of growing and teaching happening in the series. Kyo and later-on his father, began teaching his classmate Shingo Yabuki their secret fighting techniques. Kyo would have an apprentice whereas his rival would have none. It seemed that the wisdom of Amaterasu did manage to get through to him.

Kyo matured into his role. He discovered other beings with inexpiable powers in the King of Fighters tournament. He discovered that cults and demons were real. The tournament was a front to bring together the greatest fighters and recruit them or kill them once learning their secrets. Kyo became central to the plot of NESTS; militant extremists bent on controlling the world with their super-powered clones. They were able to extract Kyo's blood and give other fighters some new powers. Iori was in the tournament not to represent his country but to finish the Kusanagi lineage. He didn't care for his teammates, opponents or anyone else in his path. If he could destroy the previous champion. If he could do it on the international stage with the world watching then it would be his perfect outcome. Kyo had an unnamed style of fighting but it was very direct and smooth. By comparison Iori fought like a wild man. Slashing at his opponent with his long fingers, stomping on them and just shy of biting their faces off. He would even slash at his own throat and draw out his blood for the temporary power boost it provided. The raw energy coursing through his veins made him one of the most dangerous fighters in SNK canon. Some villains tried to offer Iori a "cure" by allowing him to transfer his energy to them but that would leave him powerless to stop their agenda. At least one character, Ash Crimson, was able to steal part of his abilities and use it for his own devices. Ash would become a fighter that both Kyo and Iori would unite against.

   

SNK wanted to create a fighting game that would become a phenomenon. One that would steal the thunder away from Capcom, Sega, Namco and Midway. They took many chances, team battles, mixing old characters and new faces, and expanding the plot to make it more cinematic. Many of the risks they took paid off. The new stars of the series would hold up to the first generation of fighting game all-stars. The bancho hero and villain were definite Japanese character tropes. It turned out that fans around the world and not just the Japanese loved the duo. Kyo and Iori ended up eclipsing the popularity of the entire USA Team. Their inclusion worked out better than another pairing of martial arts masters. It was one of the first titles that brought the concept of the fighting master into the 21st century. SNK taught the industry that a great rivalry could make or break a series. For more than 20 years the most heated rivalry in the SNK universe wasn't between an orphan and a businessman, nor was it between two sword masters that used to be friends. The greatest rivalry was between two kids right out of school. No one could have predicted it. Especially not the Generation-X players that grew up living that rivalry.

Kyo and Iori had most of the elements that I had talked about throughout this series. They were well balanced, they represented unique styles, were visually interesting and had contrasting purposes. Both were headstrong, talented and dangerous fighters. They were assembled from various pop culture cues. They celebrated a cultural archetype, the roguish delinquent that just so happened to work perfectly for the genre. SNK also knew that they should plan a unique back story so they could keep bringing these fighters back. Best of all Kyo and Iori divided the community. The best rivalries always began with fans choosing a side. Some rooted for the hero and some for the anti-hero. Most rivalries I had talked about had fans siding with the hero. Great gameplay, great animation and great control were the things that kept fans coming back. After 25 years the King of Fighters tournament was still alive. Proof that a great fighting game could withstand the test of time. The feud between Kyo and Iori could now be enjoyed by a new generation. SNK would have it no other way. I would like to thank you for following me on this journey and I have some final questions for you. Through this series which rivalry was your favorite? Do you think that Kyo and Iori were the most memorable rivals in the SNK universe? Which series handled the rivalry best of all? Which rivalry do you want me to talk about? Please let me know and take care. As always if you would like to sponsor me please visit my Patreon page and consider donating each month, even as little as $1 would help make bigger and better recordings and videos.

 follow the Street Writer on Patreon!

Monday, July 18, 2016

The Street Writer Podcast, Episode 6

 
Today we are going to look at the culture that inspired some of the most unique rivals. Japan created many of the the best fighting titles, this cannot be argued. Part of their success was due to being at the right place at the right time. The genre was relatively young in the mid '80s and every idea was fresh and unique. As soon as the developers figured out that a fighting game could be more than video boxing the world opened up. We can credit the various Japanese studios for many other "firsts." They were the first to place fighters from different martial arts schools against each other. They created a narrative for the main characters. They added a way to track health, the ability to perform special attacks and even the ability to destroy the environment on each stage. These details helped pull the audience into the experience. The character designers working on these titles were influenced by a number of sources. Many of the early fighting game heroes were based on movie characters or even popular real world fighters. Some were based on tough guy archetypes. In Japan one of the popular tropes was the young rebel, a sort of gang leader that talked with his fists.

 

Movies about gangs, coming-of-age, fighting and violence are nothing new. The whole rebel identity is celebrated around the world, especially in pop culture. Cult movies like the Wanderers in the USA and modern films like Crows Explode in Japan capture a portion of the colorful and sometimes brutal side of life in a dysfunctional (rather than dystopian) society. The gang leader with a powerful sense of loyalty is someone to be admired. It doesn't matter if this is a novel, short story or comic book figure. There are actually many positive features with the rebels in these works of fiction. In the USA the leather clad motorcycle rebels from the '50s, the "greasers" were one such archetype. Often they were runaways, young enough to be in school they often rejected authority. They felt smothered by the establishment and wanted to be free to the run the streets. They lived hard, loved hard and fought hard. They were essentially the replacement for the open range "cowboy" from the previous century. Hollywood told their story and in the process they created icons like James Dean in film and The Fonz on TV. In Japan there was a variation of the heroic rebel as well. These figures were often modeled after high school delinquents.


In Japan there is a tremendous pressure to conform. Conform to family customs, societal expectations and especially to authority. Just because a kid is in school doesn't mean they can't get habitually in trouble. This is something that US inner-city schools know all too well. Troublemakers are sometimes perceived differently in Asian countries. In Japan people don't always associate a group of rebels with a gang, instead they lump them together as a more benign group of delinquents. In pop culture the leader of these gangs is known as a bancho. They are usually the toughest guy or the best fighter. They don't actually deviate much from from the look of typical high school kids. In fact they can often be found sporting crisp school uniforms, or gakuran. They might have a pompadour, or perhaps shaggy hair which shows a hint of nonconformity. These guys are magnets for trouble and of course the good girls girls who want nothing more than to fix a bad boy.

The first video game fighter to exploit this look was Kunio-kun. The game Nekketsu Kōha Kunio-kun, which translated to "Hot Blood Tough Guy Kunio." It was released by Technos in 1986. The character was named after Technos' former president Kunio Taki. This game could be considered the Godfather of the brawler genre. The arcade game was localized as Vigilante in the USA. The look of the hero and bad guys was changed from Japanese high school to more generic motorcycle gangs in order to make them appear more Western. People in the USA didn't really remember Renegade but they did remember the NES version based on the series.You might know it better as River City Ransom. The characters were there although they became shorter and more cartoonish in the process. Series creator Yoshihisa Kishimoto went on to design Double Dragon for Technos. The title from 1987 became a huge hit and established the birth of a whole new genre.


Taito published a different sort of bancho fighting game in 1988. Kageki featured a heroic street boxer taking on every member of a local gang. Just about every gang and delinquent archetype from Japanese manga and cinema was represented here. The chubby low-level goon, a slacker, a chisel-jawed heavy, a weasel-like henchman, the dirty fighter, and of course the super-cool gang leader. These characters included the various motorcycle and car freaks that identified with the bosozoku or "violent speed tribes" in Japan. Remember that the seminal AKIRA, the manga first published in 1982 by Katsuhiro Otomo started with the futuristic bosozoku gang lead by Kaneda and his rival The Clowns. Being a delinquent was not only cool, it turned out that a group of them could save the world. Anyhow the various tough guys from pop culture all had to be defeated in Kageki. If a player scored a knockout their opponent would be dropped down a manhole. It was easily the coolest way of disposing a body in a video game.

 

The bancho had a sort of peak in popularity in the mid to late '80s. One of the first breakout manga titles was Osu Karate Bu - "Karate Club" by Koji Takahashi. The series was first published in 1985 and ran through 1996. The story featured the mustached tough guy Takagi Yoshiyuki. He was the overseer of the various gangs that used to take part in his "club" which was really a front for organized no-holds-barred fighting tournaments. Think of it like a high school Fight Club where even mobsters and actual karate masters were allowed to compete. There was much more comedy and over-the-top fighters than the actual Fight Club movie of course. A young character named Matsushita Tadashi would become the most famous person in the series and end up being its narrator. When he started school he would get beat up all the time. He joined the karate club in the hopes that he would learn how to fight. He got even more beat up by the club members but over the years he grew stronger and learned how to fight back. The series hit a peak in 1994 when the manga was turned into a Super Famicom (Super Nintendo) fighting game by Culture Brain. During the rise of the fighting game genre Mr. Takahashi noticed that boxer M. Bison from Street Fighter II had an eery similar haircut to Takagi. He was sure to point it out when he created a parody cover in his comic.


Young anti-heroes and the delinquents were made cool in AKIRA and Osu Karate Bu but those weren't the only series focused on outsider culture. Previously in manga, anime and live-action shows the heroes were straight-laced good guys. The outsider, the rebel of the group was still popular but was never meant to be a replacement for the main hero. All that changed when manga and anime began featuring more anti-heroes and more stories that weren't set on campy henshin or sentai characters like the Power Rangers. Possibly the hottest and strangest manga in the mid-'80s was JoJo's Bizarre Adventure. The series which began in 1986 revolved around Jotaro Kujo and his friends. Jotaro's uniform was a fashionable take on the gakuran, with a big gold chain punched through the collar, a decorated cap and multiple belts on designer slacks. When he and his friends battled they used supernatural abilities against all sorts of crazy-looking characters. The series by Hirohiko Araki was influenced by Western pop culture; character names included musical acts Chaka Khan, Ronnie James Dio, Cameo, ZZ Top, Mariah Carey, Iggy Pop and DEVO. And it featured characters and costumes inspired by international fashionistas. His hero and allies were far from the traditional bancho, the words that would best describe them would be colorful, flamboyant and eccentric. JoJo was on the extreme end of fantasy, yet there was another comic that was grounded in a more realistic world.

 

Rokudenashi Blues featured heavy hitter Taison Maeda. He was a scrappy boxer whose first name was reminiscent of Mike Tyson. Different spellings of course. Anyhow Rokudenashi Blues was as classic a bancho manga as there ever was. The series started in 1988 by Masanori Morita was a straightforward look at the life of delinquents trying to survive high school and of course the girls that loved them. There were many encounters with various gangs and other school troublemakers. The fights lasted several panels and the results of which would last for months. Unlike other manga where the heroes could be on the brink of death in one issue and then be perfectly fine the next Taison and his friends were left battered and bruised over the course of several story arcs. Jotaro and Taison were the types of heroes that school kids could identify with, making them very popular with young audiences. It only made sense that the bancho would turn up in fighting games a few years later as the audience began consuming different forms of entertainment. Osu Karate Bu found it's way to the Super Famicom in 1994 but so too did Rokudenashi Blues. Bandai developed and published the game. What made it unique was that the fights in the story mode happened the same order as the encounters did in the manga. This level of accuracy would be used in the Dragon Ball Z fighting games by Bandai as well.


Fighting Vipers was a lesser-know Sega fighting game from 1995. It revolved around youth culture, with skateboarders, rock musicians and motorcycle thugs taking part in a tournament. The control and combo system were fairly easy to pick up and you could imagine that the game was meant to be the younger brother of Virtua Fighter, the more popular 3D fighter from the publisher. The main character in Fighting Vipers was 17-year-old Bahn. A large bruiser whose costume was modeled after Jotaro's. His costume was part gakuran and part samurai armor. He wasn't the only bancho to turn up in the genre. In 1997 Capcom released Rival Schools: United by Fate. That game was set entirely in a world where the top students, the most popular, or most delinquent from a half dozen schools also happened to be excellent fighters. I don't mean traditional fighters either, but more like young versions of the Street Fighter all-stars. A few characters wore traditional Japanese school uniforms but Daigo Kazama, the big brother of motorcycle rider Akira Kazama, was the leader of a gang and central to the plot of the game. He had been brainwashed and was going around attacking students and teachers alike. The other students had to figure out why and get to the bottom of the conspiracy. Daigo's long coat, spiky hair and nasty scar over his eye made him look like that baddest bancho there ever was.

The bancho was the hero that a new generation was following. They were the stars in the comics and cartoons and fans wanted to see them represented in fighting games. But the fighting game still had to do some evolving. The kung-fu films and comics of the late '70s and early '80s inspired the development of Street Fighter and the other first generation fighting games. The Japanese designers would try to create characters that had an international appeal, especially in the US where they could make lots of money in the arcade and home consoles. So they took influences from cult Western movies and mixed that look with the Japanese manga aesthetic. The results were characters with very strong looks. Karate fighters that wore the traditional gi, muay thai fighters in shorts, kung-fu masters in wushu clothes and literal street fighters that wore jeans and sneakers. This was what people expected to see. The bancho star wouldn't appear until later.

 

SNK was doing very well at telling the story through a fighting game. They had a gritty theme in the original Art of Fighting. You could almost imagine this game was based on a pulp '80s film. With its seedy villains, imaginative locations and twist ending. They also had the more animé friendly Fatal Fury, which also had a great story and over-the-top villains. By the mid-90s the studio knew that they had to come up with a radical new idea in order to compete against Capcom, Midway and the other studios that were red hot. That was when they decided to formalize the King of Fighters tournament in 1994 and create a game that united the various fighters. For fans of the first generation of fighters there would be both a team Fatal Fury and a team Art of Fighting. Each represented a nation, in this case Italy and Mexico respectively. SNK was not happy with the idea of Terry or Ryo being the solitary star of the game. They did not want fans to think the studio was telling them who were the better fighters, or who they should root for, they would let fans decide. To help make things interesting SNK went way back in their catalog of characters and brought back a few arcade pioneers.


China was represented by a trio of Kung-Fu masters, the leader was a pink-haired Athena Asamiya. Her psychic powers lead to the state-sponsored team being known as the Psycho Soldiers. From Brazil there was a trio of mercenaries, two of the figures looked very familiar to arcade veterans yet the one with the eyepatch was new. It turned out that the guy with the blue baseball cap was Clark Still and the one with the red bandanna was Ralf Jones. The two were better known as the Ikari Warriors, an arcade title that shared the same name. It was one of the pioneering run-and-gun shooters in the arcade. The Ikari Warriors were a mix of Sylvester Stallone's Rambo and Arnold Schwarzenegger's Commando, they could topple any dictator with their nonstop barrage of weapons and combat skills. In the early game the characters wore a red headband or blue headband so players could tell them apart. The game was revolutionary because it featured an octagonal joystick that could be rotated to aim in different directions while running. Prior to that characters might have been able to shoot left, right or diagonally but the joystick had to be pointed in that direction as well. Gamers could suddenly strafe opponents while moving between cover. Seeing the mercs return as fighters was a welcome surprise. Perhaps they were the best brawlers in the KOF universe instead?

 

It turned out that the Chinese Athena and Sie Kensou had appeared previously as well. They were in a game called Psycho Soldier which didn't see much popularity in the US. It was a side-scrolling action title but instead of flying a spaceship as was the case with most side-scrollers this game had Athena and Sie using their psychic powers through the real world and underworld. The game was actually connected to a previous title called Athena. It was based on the Greek goddess and had players building her armor and fighting to reclaim Olympus. That game was an action platformer in the vein of Capcom's Black Tiger or Ghosts n' Goblins. The modern Athena was descended from the goddess. Both Ikari Warriors and Psycho Soldier were released in 1986 and both represented SNK's older and more cult-favorite titles. It was great that SNK was acknowledging their legacy and putting the various characters into one continuity. Yet something was missing. It was great to see the fighting game stars and other arcade stars introduced in a tag-team battle but the groups were found lacking. The studio needed to introduce a new team, or a couple of new teams that would represent the franchise and stand up to the stars from the other titles. These characters would have to become the next generation fighting icons. Once again the studio looked at pop culture for their inspiration. They had done what they could with classic movie heroes and villains and they needed to find something more contemporary. They found that the bancho was a hero they hadn't yet considered. An amazing rivalry would grow out of this character choice. We'll explore this story in the next entry. I hope to see you then! As always if you would like to sponsor me please visit my Patreon page and consider donating each month, even as little as $1 would help make bigger and better recordings and videos.

 follow the Street Writer on Patreon!

Friday, July 8, 2016

Why is Street Fighter playing with Dolls?

I've been very critical of Yoshinori Ono's direction with the Street Fighter franchise on Capcom-Unity as well as my personal blog. Street Fighter IV and V keep rehashing old characters and old themes which I believe makes them more in tune with the Street Fighter Alpha / Zero series. A "true" sequel should feature a new plot, new characters, new boss and maybe one or two returning faces. It was the rule established in Street Fighter, and observed in Street Fighter II and Street Fighter III. Yet when half the team left Capcom after the development of Super Street Fighter II the studio was left with a void. Remaining senior member Noritaka Funamizu was tasked with creating a new sequel. It was near impossible to do with a lot of the best talent gone. So instead of trying to come up with a new plot, new characters and new boss he went back and connected the various games in the Capcom universe. This way he would not disappoint fans of the franchise by creating a sub-par sequel because technically it was something entirely new. The result, the Street Fighter Zero series was creative genius.

   

Final Fight, Street Fighter and SF II characters were all part of the same canon. Explaining how the characters crossed paths in between each series was inspired design. The art direction and creative risks they took were bold. Lead artist Bengus created an entirely new look and feel for the cast. They were younger, more cartoonish in proportion and presentation. They looked unlike characters from any other series and really stood out because of this. The entire game was a love letter to the respective franchises and a not so subtle nod to the Street Fighter fandom. As the series progressed it became more and more rooted in dramatic characters and over-the-top plots. Street Fighter was no longer about being the best fighter in a tournament, it was instead about saving the world from Shadowlaw. The fighters became like GI Joe special agents. It worked for the Zero series because it was very cartoonish, very animated. Design elements were pulled from typical anime shows. Otaku or nerd culture became a contributing factor in the design choices. Where I take Mr. Ono to task is that those ideas were fresh in 1995, reusing the formula 20 years later but putting the graphics in 3D was not revolutionary. His ideas of putting oily men, fat men, effeminate men and ugly minority caricatures in the series were poorly conceived.

 Look back at the legacy that Street Fighter Zero created. The young schoolgirl Sakura would become the breakout star of the game. She was introduced in Street Fighter Zero 2 in 1996. She would be joined by Cammy in Street Fighter Zero (SFZ) 3, released in 1998. She was presented younger than their original Street Fighter II versions. Young female leads were going over well with audiences, Karin Kanzuki (the rival to Sakura), R, Mika, Juni and Juli were also added in SFZ3. The reaction was so well to this influx of female stars that the studio decided to flesh out the origins of Cammy and explain her connection to Shadowlaw. This was when Bengus and the team introduced us to the infamous Dolls.

 

Vega / M. Bison (Dictator) had surrounded himself with young highly trained special agents. Cammy was his star pupil nicknamed Killer Bee. The other Dolls were named after the months of the year. Juni and Juli were German for June and July. Each of them wore tight costumes with small ties on. As if they were some sort of military school uniform. Each Doll was a highly-trained assassin whose appearance was meant to be deceptive. Most were brainwashed and programmed to be specialists, some were naturally gifted, others had gone through genetic modification so that they were stronger or faster than any normal soldier. The girls were around 16-years-old making the Dictator seem like a creep but there was a precedence for his young apprentices. Japanese comics, animated shows and OVAs often revolved around teenage heroes. This went back to the earliest days of Japanese animation. The stars of the shows often tended to be much younger than heroes in western media. Comic book heroes in the USA were often adults and teenagers were sidekicks. That formula was almost opposite in Japan. The greatest pilot, race car driver, magician, or warrior in the stories were usually young and sometimes girls. This made them extremely popular with school-age audiences.

 

The designers at Capcom were all too familiar with the teenage tradition and created the Dolls as a sort of homage to the female leads in pop culture. Rather than just create a group of Cammy clones they decided that they would each come a different nation, each one would specialize in something. The studio didn't really have enough time to make Juni and Juli more unique than they had planned but the seeds were definitely planted some 18 years ago. Here's some news that certain to make a lot of Street Fighter fans feel old. There is a good chance that many of the new Street Fighter IV and V players were not born when the series began. They might have not even been around when the Alpha series ended or Street Fighter III was released. There are many characters that they are unfamiliar with from games they didn't know existed. It's likely they are wondering where the Dolls featured in Street Fighter V's Story Mode came from.

 

The Dolls had been featured in the Street Fighter comics by Udon and had cameos in the licensed comics in Japan and Hong Kong as well. However I believe that the definitive fan illustrations of the Dolls came from Ataru (NSFW) almost 20 years ago. He took the notes for each character and sketched out versions of each Doll that captured their personality and origin. Enero specialized in communications yet she was presented as a sort of idol character, hence the microphone. Many animé characters want to be idols in their own series. There are models and spokespersons but the singing kind of idol is the most popular. A good portion of the entertainment industry in Asia, including K-Pop from Korea and C-Pop from China, revolves around finding the next idol. Février was an expert at firearms and while she has a more traditional-looking firearm in Street Fighter V in Atatu's version her pistols were more like the science fiction revolvers that could be found in a classic animé series like Space Pirate Captain Harlock or Cobra.

   

März was an information specialist and she kept her laptop with her everywhere she went. There were many hyper-intelligent / nerdy characters in animé. März filled in the role of hacker / genius for Shadowlaw very well. Aprile was a medic and cute nurse characters always went over well on both sides of the Pacific. There was a long-standing tradition in animé however where nurse characters often attacked lecherous boys with a bazooka-sized syringe. No word if Aprile could use one of those in combat.

 

The first half of Dolls were spies or specialists of some sort while the second half were fighters. Each one studied a different form of combat and often used a weapon. Satsuki was the ninja of the Dolls. She had the familiar flowing scarf, It was seen countless times in manga and anime. In video games the scarf was synonymous with the assassin's fist. Galford and Hanzo in Samurai Spirits each had the long scarf, Capcom icon Strider and Sega mascot Shinobi also had a scarf. Santamu was originally Vietnamese but changed to Ethiopian. She was a sort of jungle girl trope. She had a spear and even small monkey when she went into battle.

   

Of course no girl fighting team would be complete without Kung-Fu masters. The two Chinese characters each specialized in a particular weapon. Xiayu used a nunchaku and Jianyu used a staff. When Ataru sketched out the characters he made sure to get the subtlety of each character. The nunchaku was a non-traditional weapon that had actually been adapted from equipment used by rice farmers to separate the rice from the chaff. It was used by peasants to fight off bandits thousands of years ago but was made popular more recently in the Bruce Lee films. Lee was an unorthodox master that incorporated Eastern and Western fighting arts and conditioning into his regiment. He represented a break from tradition, the new form. Xiayu was symbolically cut from the same cloth, the new school kung-fu master. Her haircut and weapon reminded audiences of that. By comparison Jianyu used one of the oldest martial arts weapons ever created. Her costume her form was very traditional, she had more in common with Chun-Li than Bruce Lee. Both characters and even Chun-Li could be considered derived from the Pooh sisters. The enemies of Strider known as the Kuniang Martial Arts Club. Ataru did a fantastic job of conveying this in his illustrations.

 

The last two fighters had a the strongest connection to the Street Fighter II universe. Noembelu was a member of the same tribe of Native Americans that T. Hawk was. Her braid, leather vest, oversized tomahawk and headdress were also suppose to reflect the native themes. Of all the Dolls I think Decapre was the most popular and most mysterious. She was seen as an Evil Cammy. She looked like an identical clone of Cammy but wore a dark metallic mask. Ataru gave Decapre armor that looked brutal. He went one step further and replaced the braids of Decapre with chains. It was a bold stylistic choice that really made her look like the evil twin fans never knew existed. It's great that the Dolls have returned to Street Fighter. I wish they had been featured in SF Zero 4 to be honest, they seem out of place in SF V. They are undoubtedly bringing in many new fans to the series and making them wonder where these characters came from. I hope this blog helped answer some questions. You can find out more about the Dolls and see how their look changed from Ataru's fan art to the modern interpretation by picking up the Udon comics. Be sure to leave a comment and tell me what you think about the Dolls in SF V.

Monday, July 4, 2016

The legend of Blue Mary, or girls in fighting games, part 3

Fatal Fury had built a tremendous fan following in the '90s. The story, characters and fighting styles represented were very unique. SNK had done a great job of introducing characters from around the world and connected many of them to real martial arts. Even the characters that did not represent a particular style, like Terry Bogard, still fit into the universe. SNK was showing audiences that the modern masters of fighting did not have to dress up in robes or gi's in order to be legitimate threats. When the studio wanted to introduce a new female lead in the series they had a perfect template to pull from. Blue Mary had many design cues that were based on Terry. Put the two side-by-side and it's easy to see what I'm referring to. The red top, blue pants and gloves was only the beginning.


Notice how well defined Blue Mary's muscles were. Usually female characters in fighting games were slim. Some were voluptuous but none were presented muscular. Many of the early female characters in fighting games were Asian. Many Asian cultures (and many Western nations) did not consider women with big muscles to be attractive. The male stars in fighting games were always expected to have huge muscles. It made them look more believable as serious brawlers. The same rules applied to comic book heroes of course. Blue Mary changed all of that. As a female balance to Terry she maintained a certain level of athleticism and raw power. Her abs, shoulders and biceps were all well defined and much larger than the muscles on her female co-stars. This seemed acceptable on an "American" character. Her femininity remained, as did her large breasts, and to many players she remained attractive.


On a surface level Blue Mary had the same design cues as Terry. None of her moves, except for Spin Fall even remotely resembled the power moves of Terry. Blue Mary had far many different techniques going for her, not the least of which were having some of the first grapples, submission takedowns and strikes into grapples of any fighting game character. I consider Blair Dame from Street Fighter EX to be the first mixed martial arts character in a fighting game. She debuted in 1996, yet Blue Mary appeared one year earlier and had many similar techniques. So what gives? Blue Mary had moves that were more in line with combat Sambo, a Soviet-era form of fighting that gained exposure in freestyle and vale-tudo tournaments. These were the sorts of no-holds-barred contests that predated modern mixed martial arts tournaments. Sambo would be used by Russian soldiers to help subdue enemies in close quarters combat. There were many lightning quick strikes mixed with takedowns and painful joint lock techniques. The 3D fighting games would features these techniques on characters like Sergei Dragunov and Bayman from the respective Tekken and Dead or Alive series. It made sense that cops and soldiers would be masters of these techniques.


Blue Mary was a vicious grappler with amazing strength. She could hoist her opponents overhead and perform a Back Drop. It was an incredibly dangerous move made popular by the late . The move was banned in the WWE for being too risky. I could easily imagine Mary doing this to unsuspecting criminals. When she didn't go high with her attacks she knew how to shoot low for a takedown. The ankle lock called the M. Crab Clutch could snap a leg as easily as a chicken bone. These were only a few of her awesome moves. It made sense that Butch and her father had shared some of their Secret Service training with her. For opponents that were stand up fighters Mary had a way of breaking them down as well. She was equally fast and strong. She was able to cut into any defense and perform a rolling arm bar. This move would be known as the M. Spider. A variation of the leaping arm bar was given to Gai Tendo, the star of the Buriki One Tournament. His version was known as the Gai Spider. As great a character as Gai was just remember that Mary was doing some MMA moves many years earlier!

Blue Mary would grow in popularity over the years. Like some of her Fatal Fury co-stars she would eventually turn up in the King of Fighters series as well. Her moves and purpose filled a void that had been missing in the series. To be specific law enforcement officers weren't usually represented in fighting games, especially not in Japanese ones. There were heroes of all sorts but they were usually traditional martial arts masters. There were even military characters from time to time because audiences could accept them as dangerous fighters. Cops on the other hand didn't always have the reputation for being great martial artists. Chun-Li and Blue Mary certainly changed that perception while also serving as powerful female role-models. Blue Mary's distant relative appeared in Garou: Mark of the Wolves, a game from 1999. The game was set about a decade after the events of Fatal Fury 3. The new brawler was known as Kevin Rian, he was a cop, a representative of the Second South Town police force. His last name was mistranslated by the localization team as it was supposed to be Kevin Ryan. He was big with a few grappling moves and heavy hands. His design fit somewhere in between Ralf and Clark, the Ikari Warriors from the King of Fighters tournament crossed with Blue Mary. Kevin, like the other characters in Mark of the Wolves, reflected almost a decade of fantastic character designs. The studio had experimented with graphics, controls and aesthetics and was really hitting its peak by 2000.


From a physical standpoint Blue Mary had all of the same design elements that were originally applied to Terry Bogard. Many of these things were due to the Japanese trying to introduce a "cool" Western fighter into their franchise. It was mostly relying on stereotype, that white Americans had blonde hair, blue eyes, wore jeans and sneakers. The Japanese animé aesthetic paid off when combined with the trope. Mary was young, athletic, and confident. The same characteristics that made Terry appealing to the first generation of fans worked years later and would continue to work in future titles. Mary had staying power as did the better fighters from the Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting franchises. When variations of those characters turned up in Garou: Mark of the Wolves it worked extremely well.

When variations of the look turned up in pachislot machines (a combination pachinko and slot machine popular in Japanese arcades) it still worked. Take a look at Alice Garnet Nakata, the idol character featured in the game. She was a sort of crude talking cheerleader that followed Terry around. Her look was planted in between the style of Terry and Mary. The familiar red, white and blue motif, the cap, the red heels instead of sneakers. Of course you can't miss the extra-wide belt. It's almost as if somebody at SNK had wondered out loud what would have happened if Terry and Mary had a daughter. What would she look like? Well the truth is a little bit backwards. In the planning stages of Fatal Fury 3 there was a new female character in the works called Alice Chrysler (the Japanese aren't the best at making up Western-sounding names). Alice was an understudy of TaeKwon-Do master Kim Kaphwan. She had an affinity for Terry Bogard and was designed to replace Mai Shiranui as the female lead. From a design standpoint she would have beaten Sakura as the younger girl version of the star by one whole year. SNK decided against the original Alice and went back to the drawing board. She got a little older, stronger and was working with different fighting forms and a new name, Mary Ryan. All great ideas however never really die. The studio revisited the understudy of Kim and a new character came out called Chae Lim. The scrappy "secret weapon" with short feathered hair would debut in the KOF Maximum Impact Tournament in 2004. Almost a decade later the studio revisited Alice for the pachislot machine. Her long ponytail gave way to short feathered hair in her makeover. In 2016 SNK would make her a formal character in the King of Fighters XIV.


Competition between SNK and Capcom meant that both studios were taking chances with character designs. In the early days the studios were influenced by action cinema and manga. The heroes of those first games were based on real martial artists and mythical fighters. In time the studios learned that fighting games did not have to be solely about burly men trading punches. They could be about cops, soldiers, gifted orphans, girls and women. If these people had a talent, a solid design and a reason to fight then audiences were willing to come along for the ride. Through the '90s SNK had made some of the biggest advances in diversity for the genre. When the studio decided that the King of Fighters should be about team play then it meant that the roster would have to be filled in with dozens of new faces. There was no way that they could all be men. The women they started with were already well known and all the new ones introduced, both good and evil, found a following. Blue Mary was near the top of the list. She was well regarded and many fans wanted to see if SNK planned any sort of resolution between her and Terry Bogard. It was the unspoken thing that fans had wondered about all fighting games. What sort of relationship did the main characters have and would the male and female stars of the games ever get together. Capcom fans from both sides of the Pacific wondered out loud if Ryu and Chun-Li were a couple. That was the case in the licensed Hong Kong comics and of course many fan pieces.



For SNK fans many wondered if Terry and Mary ever "hooked up." SNK and Capcom avoided the question for most of their characters. This was because when they designed them they didn't have romance in mind. Each and every fighter, male and female, was a stand-alone design. They did not need to have a relationship with any other character in order to be accepted. Kevin Rian and Mary Ryan may have been related but both looked and fought very differently from each other. Even if one character were introduced because of the success of a previous icon it didn't matter. Sakura and Sean for example were not Xerox copies of Ken and Ryu despite being labeled "Shotoclones." Each subsequent fighter from the biggest studios had to hold up to the designs in other titles. When Blue Mary and Sakura debuted they were a sort of balance to the male stars of the games. They had just enough design cues so that audiences knew where they came from, and also enough originality to them as to make them unique fighters. Yet that didn't stop fans from asking the question, especially between Terry and Mary. Terry after all was a lone wolf. His brother Andy had a relationship with the busty ninja Mai Shiranui but poor Terry was all alone. Then there was Mary, she lost her boyfriend and father and was living with a dog. If there was someone in South Town that needed a new relationship it would have been her. Only it didn't come to pass. At least not in the first decade of the Fatal Fury timeline. Terry was busy raising a surrogate son and Mary was busy with her career of keeping South Town from imploding. What SNK did do however was give fans a hint of closure.

 

In the drama CD Memories of Stray Wolves Terry and Rock Howard were putting together a narrative. Where did it all begin for the main characters, why were they fighting, where did the time go? Rock was on the eve of his first King of Fighters tournament, he was a little nervous but he also wanted some answers. This story was set during the timeline of Mark of the Wolves, a decade after the demise of Geese Howard. Fatal Fury alumni Duck King, Richard Meyer and Blue Mary all made appearances. Mary was dealing with a few difficult cases and hadn't had a chance to visit with them as often as she'd like. Rock left to find his way and Terry seemed a little blue. Mary showed up on her motorcycle at the end of the story. The years had been kind to both as they still made an attractive couple. While it was never implied in the games there was a relationship between the two. Terry jumped on the back of her motorcycle to look for some fun. It was a creative risk that worked well for the canon and character development at SNK. It was something that was not introduced for the characters until years later and it made sense. It was an evolutionary shift for character designs which gave them more dimension and made the more personable. While I don't think that Ryu or Chun-Li should ever be seen the same way it would be nice to see Capcom age and mature the characters more in the Street Fighter series. There has been too much rehashing of the same characters year after year. We will see how else things have changed post King of Fighters XIV and Street Fighter V. I am looking forward to that. How about you?

Friday, July 1, 2016

The legend of Blue Mary, or girls in fighting games, part 2...

In the previous blog I talked about how Capcom and SNK were trading jabs at each other through the characters they had introduced in their own respective fighting games. The competition was healthy from a business standpoint and also for fans that were lining up to try each and every new game and update from the two publishers. SNK and Capcom both had established strong female characters early on yet SNK also did something more unique. The designers in-house created female characters that could be interpreted as counterparts to the male stars. It was a sort of symmetry that worked for the most memorable fighting games but not many studios recognized that symmetry and balance were things that helped make the cast unique while filling out a roster. When Sakura debuted in Street Fighter Zero it was obvious that she was filling in a role as a female counterpart to Ryu, as well as taking design cues from Yuri Sakazaki. Dan was a sort of balance to the cast, a way of taking two SNK-ish characters and putting them in Street Fighter continuity. Yet there was something missing. Capcom didn't realize it until comic book artist Masahiko Nakahira introduced Karin Kanzuki in his Sakura Ganbare! comics. Suddenly it was too obvious that Sakura needed her own rich, white, counterpart. Karin was officially added by Capcom to the lineup in Street Fighter Zero / Alpha 3. Audiences in the West did not see the comics that introduced her until more than a decade later when Udon translated them. It didn't matter however, the fair skin, red dress and blonde hair pretty much summed up what Karin was supposed to represent. Her unique trapping strikes made her stand out, she was not another "shotoclone." She was certainly more than a girl version of Ken.

 

SNK had established one of the most important rules in fighting game character designs before Capcom; the symmetry of female counterparts to be specific. It can be fair to say that I did not credit the studio enough for their contributions to the genre in earlier blogs. SNK was critical in the history of the genre and shaped not only their own legacy but influenced the creative decisions in rival studios. SNK developed many strong female character archetypes in every fighting game they produced. The women in these games varied in age, style and ability. Some were very young but capable, and some were closer in age and strength to the male stars of the game. The other studios developing fighting games for the Neo Geo were sometimes on board with the strong female characters but others had more sexual pandering designs in mind. Yuri was a cute character in the Art of Fighting, she was the kid sister of Ryo Sakazaki and not meant to be the main protagonist. It was a fighter in the Fatal Fury series that proved sex and strength could be found in equal measure. While developing this character the team at SNK looked at the elements that made the star of the series work. They then created a female counterpart with a similar look, down to the color schemes and nationality, but with completely different moves. In essence you could say that the studio was working on Karin Kanzuki years before Capcom or Masahiko Nakahira even thought about it. The name of this revolutionary character was Mary Ryan aka Blue Mary. She would become a counterpoint to Terry Bogard. She demonstrated that a fem fighter could be an important addition to the lineup and not just fan service.

   

Blue Mary debuted in Fatal Fury 3 - Wild Ambition in 1995. Remember that both she and Yuri were playable characters in a fighting game before years before Sakura or Karin. Mary had a complex back story that would be unveiled over the years. It made her more than just a pretty face. Her origin helped the designers know how to present her in the series, how to include her into the plot and even figure out what techniques she would be using. Mary was always presented as a fearless, completely independent woman. Yet there was a good bit of planning behind this. Her father was a Secret Service Agent as was Butch her boyfriend. Both had taught her some fighting moves as did her own grandfather. Butch and her father were both killed in the line of duty. She believed strongly in justice and became a detective, working on and off for the law. When she debuted in Fatal Fury game there was nothing to lead players into thinking she was in a relationship. The two holdovers from her earlier life were put in plain site and only revealed later on. She was sometimes accompanied by a dog to her matches. This was Antonio or Anton for short, he was a puppy when Mary and Butch adopted him. She also wore a bomber jacket to the the fights, this was a gift from Butch before he passed away. Blue Mary could sometimes be seen riding a motorcycle. It was the obvious choice for a cool American character and a trait that was unique to her. In an early build of the King of Fighters '98 Blue Mary had the trifecta introduction, the motorcycle, her jacket, and Anton riding in the back with goggles on. I'm not sure why the intro was dropped in the final build. Maybe it was too masculine for Japanese tastes?

 

Blue Mary was as far from the dainty-fighter archetype as one could get. She was not the damsel in distress and she was certainly not the prize for any male lead. This character had a lot in common with the first female Street Fighter legend. Chun-Li's father was assassinated by Balrog (Claw), one of the generals of Shadowlaw (Shadaloo). She joined the police academy to obtain justice and eventually worked her way up to ICPO officer. She was a no-nonsense character behind the badge, especially while wearing her plain clothes uniform. What made her unique among the other female icons was that she could then switch her role and appear very feminine in the Street Fighter tournament. She wore nylons and a form-fitting, pseudo traditional dress. Blue Mary did not have this second layer of design. She was more like the female leads in other fighting games. The person that you saw in the pre-round animations and at the end of the game still looked the same.

   

The design and presentation of Blue Mary was deliberate. She was the cool cop, the rogue that didn't necessarily take orders, a trope created in Western films and shows like Lethal Weapon and Miami Vice. She was a hard drinking, door kicking, motorcycle riding, crime busting bad ass. You could almost imagine the character starring in her own crime action series. Chun-Li was much more reserved. Her time in the academy made her a student of the criminal mind. She began looking at the big picture instead of focusing on stopping individual crimes as she matured through the events of Street Fighter Zero and Street Fighter II. She knew that avenging the death of her father was only one piece of a bigger puzzle. The crimes, drugs, arms flooding the streets in Asia were being controlled by a central kingpin. It was revealed that General Vega had ordered the hit on her father. She would figure out that it was Shadowlaw trying to destabilize several countries in the south. She was instrumental in revealing this conspiracy and helping international forces take down their base of operations. She became a decorated officer in the process. Blue Mary on the other hand wasn't looking for accolades. She wanted to do her job and keep scum off the streets, even if it meant taking down a powerful kingpin in hand-to-hand combat. She was fearless, if slightly foolish, in that regard.

   

The physical appearance of Blue Mary was molded very closely on Terry Bogard the breakout star of the Fatal Fury series. The Japanese designers didn't really have a point of reference for white American martial arts stars. There were a few notable fighters in the '60s, '70s and '80s that did travel to Japan and abroad. Chuck Norris, Joe Lewis and Bill "Superfoot" Wallace were some of the high-profile white martial artists that made a name for themselves. They appeared on the popular ABC Wide World of Sports broadcasts and on the covers of Black Belt magazine. They were inspiring millions of white Americans to pursue the fighting arts while Bruce Lee and Jim Kelly were opening the eyes of minorities. Yet none of the men were big enough to have their own comic book or cartoon series in Japan, like Mas Oyama and Yoshiji Soeno. To be fair Chuck Norris did have his own cartoon and toy line in the USA in the '80s and Lee had his own comic book series as well. To the mainstream Japanese and many of the artists working at both SNK and Capcom they simply didn't know what made white America unique. They had a few fashion cues from our music videos, television shows and action films. This was what they used when creating Terry Bogard, and for that matter many of the other western characters in Capcom games as well. Stop and think about it for a second, if you were born in the USA and had a reputation for fighting would you wear jeans, a bright red jacket with a star on the back and a trucker cap? Maybe you would wear something more subdued, something that didn't attract too much attention especially from gangs or even the cops. Of course the developers in Japan assumed that their customers needed to see that trope, that stereotype in order to identify the cast. The American needed primary colors that were red, white and blue.

   

The designers at SNK didn't have to try very hard when creating their new cool female character. They changed some of the colors and dropped the cap but Blue Mary had a signature style that was very much reminiscent of Terry's, The physical similarities didn't end there. Both were blonde, it reinforced the idea that white people were mostly of English descent. Think about how many white characters, especially the early ones in fighting games were blonde. Ken and Joe in the original Street Fighter, Cody in Final Fight, the wrestler in Street Smart, Guile in Street Fighter II, Galford in Samurai Spirits, Ray in Fighter's History, Paul Phoenix in Tekken, Jacky Bryant in Virtua Fighter… the list goes on. It was a bit of racial pandering on the part of the developers. They assumed that most players in the West would want to try a character from their homeland before they tried an Asian character. It was logical thinking. What they often missed were the details that made the characters really "American" or "English" or "French." But I digress. That was only part of the reason why the characters were blonde. The primary colors that were assigned to the costumes needed balance. Most of the Japanese characters practiced karate and their gi was typically white. That costume contrasted well with black hair. They couldn't assign white costumes to the white characters with blonde hair, there wasn't enough contrast. So solid colors like red, green and blue were given to these fighters instead. Blonde hair worked well with those colors and the tradition more or less stuck.


The color choices assigned to Terry and Mary were complimentary. Mary had a few differences in her uniform that made her stand apart. Her pants were not blue jeans but a darker purple with a large sheriff star on the side. She ditched the sneakers for boots and she wore a wide belt on her hips. It was a look that was a little more biker than brawler. It worked so well for her that it was considered as an acceptable alternate costume for Terry in the King of Fighters Maximum Impact game. The opposite was true and Mary could wear Terry's clothing and everything looked great. What was disappointing however was her alternate costume. Terry was given a "B" costume known as the Wild Wolf which was how he appeared in the Garou: Mark of the Wolves game. That version of Fatal Fury was set in the future where Terry was an older and more experienced fighter. He wore a large bomber jacket, boots and let his hair loose. Gone were the sneakers and over-the-top red, white and blue color scheme. Terry was given a look that was more like a biker. Sadly Blue Mary did not get the same Wild Wolf treatment. Instead she was presented in a white bikini with nonsensical jean chaps and a jean visor. Any modicum of respect the original designers meant for her went right out the window. It was unapologetic fan service that didn't fit the character, her origin or any previous appearance.

   

Blue Mary was a female fighter that defied convention. Her appearance was one thing, the moves she featured in game were something else. In the next blog we will take a closer look at the things that made Blue Mary memorable.