Monday, August 15, 2016

Fighting with a disability, part 1...

Fighting games make the fantastic possible, but sometimes they make the real-world fantastic as well. It's one of the reasons we love the genre so much. They can turn a boxer into an unstoppable force of nature, they can turn a wrestler into a cast-iron robot. There is a part of us that believes in these characters because we know there have been men and women throughout history that have done legendary things. One of the things I enjoy most are seeing the unorthodox, whether it's a technique or personality. This time I want to feature fighters that were unique because of their disability. There have been athletes and fighters born with all manner of physical and mental conditions. This did not stop them from achieving personal success and I find their stories inspirational. But what about the fighting game characters with disabilities, what do we know about them? What can they tell us about the developers or nations they came from? I want you to think for a moment about characters in fighting games that were presented with a disability. How many could you name?


One of the longest-lived character designs, really a trope at this point, is the eyepatch-wearing fighter. Many games have featured a character with this disability. Usually in the form of a villain. But there were a few heroic characters that wore the patch as well. Many of these characters, including men and women, were based on the true story of Jubei Mitsuyoshi. While the actual Jubei had use of both eyes the authors that turned his story into legend often embellished his look and said he wore an eyepatch on the count that he lost it while sparring with his father. It made for an interesting character. One of the first fighting game characters to poach the look was Jubei Yagyu, who appeared in the original Samurai Shodown / Spirits in 1993. What made the series great was that several of the sword masters were inspired by fighters from different feudal eras. The scruffy hair, square chin and rugged looks of the SNK character were no doubt inspired by the actor Toshiro Mifune who played a swordsman in several films, including the phenomenal Seven Samurai.


Characters with eye patches were nothing new in the Street Fighter series. The original world champion, Sagat, had a patch. More recently Juri was also presented with an eyepatch as well. When it came to other memorable traits there were several characters covered in massive scars. Eagle, Cammy and Abel were three blondes that each had facial scarring. Abel and Cammy of course also suffered from amnesia and brain washing. These designs and themes would turn up in the Rival School series as well. Some of the characters were covered in many grotesque scars, even over their eyes, like Kairi and Gouken. The bare-handed one-eyed fighter was quickly becoming a trope for the genre.

A character blind in one eye was interesting enough but films and comics had turned completely blind characters into stars as well. Hong Kong and Japanese cinema both featured fictional heroes and villains that were both blind but lethal as well. None was more popular than Zatoichi. Created by Kan Shimozawa in the early '60s, the character of Zatoichi engrossed movie audiences for several decades. There was even a television series featuring the character that went on for 100 episodes. Zatoishi was a travelling masseuse and hired sword. His fighting ability seemed superhuman as he would often take on dozens of men at once. He often dealt with and for unsavory characters, including yakuza bosses. There was something sympathetic about the character and the actor. Shintaro Katsu poured himself into the role. Shintaro played the character in almost 30 films. You may have seen a more recent remake of the character featuring cult film star Beat Takeshi. In China there was a villain that was as awe-inspiring as Zatoishi. Unfortunately this character would appear in only one film; the Master of the Flying Guillotine, aka the One Armed Boxer part 2.


Whether the character was a good guy or a bad guy did not matter as much as their martial arts prowess. Zatoishi set an incredible standard. Fung Sheng Wu Chi was just as lethal, taking out masters of various fighting arts with his throwing weapon. The creators of both blind characters demonstrated that their other senses were heightened so that they could anticipate the moves of their opponents. They could hear and even smell opponents, which came in handy while fighting in the pitch black of night. Hong Kong cinema made sure that the myth of the blind master would spread around the world. When the west saw these figures they were engrossed by them. Some of the blind master retellings worked well. Such as the USA take on Zatoishi called Blind Fury. Other retellings were a little more humorous such as the Blind Kung-Fu Master from Mad TV.


In some instances the blind warrior would become the mentor for the star of the series. Think of the blind Shaolin priest from the classic television series Kung-Fu. Or Jedi Kanan Jarrus from Star Wars Rebels and even Chirrut Imwe from Rogue One. They were great warriors filled with wisdom despite their physical disability. Everything they knew could be passed on to a star pupil that would change the world. The west found these archetypes appealing and began creating new heroes from their legends. In the Mortal Kombat series there was Kenshi Takahashi. He had moves based on Tai Chi and Judo while wielding an ancient sword. Audiences could tell from the red bandage covering his eyes that Kenshi was a blind master. He had telekinetic powers that allowed him to throw opponents around and retrieve his sword without having to move. His initial costume and design was rooted slightly in the comic book and cartoon icon Snake Eyes. While Snake Eyes is not blind, he was disfigured and is mute and wears a mask. He was trained in the secretive arts of ninjitsu and became an elite member of G.I. Joe. He was the deadliest hand-to-hand fighter in the group comprised of the best soldiers of every branch of the armed forces. Mysterious characters like Snake Eyes and Kenshi always go over big in the west.


Kenshi was far from being the first blind fighting game character. That honor would go to Voldo. He appeared in Soul Blade / Edge, the first successful 3D sword fighting game from Namco. Voldo was an assassin from Palermo in the Kingdom of Naples from ancient Italy. He fought in an unorthodox style, twisting and flipping at opponents. He fought in an odd costume, wrapped in leather and other bondage elements. He even fought with an unconventional weapon, the three-bladed Jamadhar Katars. Voldo wore a strap across his eyes but he was not completely blind. He suffered from an eye condition that severely limited his vision. Whether it was due to an accident or birth defect he was presented using a telescopic device which allowed him limited visibility. The version he wore predated modern medical devices by more than 400 years. I think this would qualify Voldo as the first and as far as I can remember only character to wear a low vision optical device. Score one for the visually impaired community!


Characters come in a variety of sizes and abilities. We have just talked a little bit about those with disabilities. Differences in physical to mental conditions make certain characters more interesting. They add dimension to the figures and can turn an ordinary fighter into a memorable one. In the next entry we will look at those that had slightly more physical challenges. I hope to see you back for that! 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 better blogs and even podcasts!

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