Fighting the Street Fighter stereotypes
2009 marked the North American console release of Street Fighter IV. It also marked the time when the game’s Lead Producer, Yoshinoro Ono, surprised Canadian fans by appearing at Toronto’s Fan Expo.
Street Fighter, the series that popularized the notion of the “World Warriors”, had been absent in the video game market the prior eight years. Fans at the Expo had one burning question in mind for Ono-san:
Will there ever be a fighter from Canada?
Ono-san skipped the translator…
… And gave out a resounding “NO”!
His rationale? Well, what would this fighter look like, a hockey player?
Though made in jest, Ono-san defends the premise of the “World Warriors”, a concept describing that every Street Fighter have a distinct national and cultural identity. We know Ryu is from Japan because of his karate Gi, or Chun-li from China because of her Tai Chi Quan fighting style, or even Zangief from Russia because…
… Well, apparently, Russians like to wrestle bears for fun.
The implications here, though not intended, are these:
- Should stereotypes continue to drive the character creation process and
- Does Canada have an identity in the global stage?
Seven years have gone in the blink of an eye and today, we come upon the release of the series’ next instalment, Street Fighter V.
Have things changed for Street Fighter V?
… is what I’d like to say but there are minor subtleties at work that may disrupt the blatantly obvious stereotypes. Let’s go through each of the new World Warriors.
Rashid—is a problematic character in that his country of origin isn’t specified, as if he is sufficient enough to represent the Pan-Arabic nations.
While this might be essentialist, the designers did add a feature to Rashid’s character—he has a deep fascination for technology, a modality more often associated with East Asia.
Laura Matsuda—sister to Sean of Street Fighter III fame, Laura is a busty Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu brawler. Although she is what I would expect from a fighter to come out of Brazil (style and looks wise), it is possibly more important to highlight her kinship with Sean.
Around the Second World War, many Japanese (in their home country and abroad) were displaced or deported and a significant number called Brazil their new home. Laura’s surname recalls this difficult time in the history of Japanese-Brazilians, however subliminal it may seem. This gives the character a degree of interest, a certain depth.
F.A.N.G.—replacing Sagat as Shadaloo’s overseer of Asia, F.A.N.G. is the newest addition to the franchise’s string of Qipao-wearing Chinese combatants. Unlike his predecessors (Yun, Yang, Gen, Chun-li), F.A.N.G. is not only nuts, he’s also bad to the bone, through and through. It is these aspects that make him interesting, despite the fact that his design has not been well received by fans.
Necalli—just like Rashid, Necalli’s country of origin has not been revealed. We can infer from his name (“Battle” in Aztec) that he may be from Central America but this is not official. Perhaps it is Necalli’s mysterious aura—in looks and in his history—that contributes to the allure of his mystique.
That said, all four newcomers, though typical physical reflections of their ethnic origins, have qualities that disrupt these conventions.
So what about these stereotypical “disruptions”?
On the one hand, stereotypical characters could be damaging to the series because they run the risk of being too one-dimensional. El Fuerte (Mexican luchador who is a bit of a joke), Rufus (over-eating obese American), Dee Jay (Jamaican kick-boxer who fights to the rhythm of a dance)…
…Are we seriously ever going to see these characters again?
On the other hand, even the recurring characters are caricatures to an extent. Part of the reason, however, why Ryu, Chun-li, Cammy, Dhalsim and all the other World Warrior mainstays remain so is because of the subtle disruptions in their stereotypical features.
The Indian Yoga master Dhalsim—the only character capable of elongating his limbs—fights the evil Shadaloo organization to prevent the deaths of innocent children. Amnesiac femme fatale Cammy joins MI-6 to halt Shadaloo’s ruthless biogenetic experiments, atrocities to which she and her surrogate sisters were subjected. Lone wolf Ryu embarks on a journey of constant self-amelioration in or
der to keep the Dark energy within him in check. There is something to be said about all these folks, how they each have relatable motivations or disruptive features that transcend their conventions.
But going beyond the risk of introducing bland literary characters, stereotypes—though convenient compartmentalizers—may also not be as relevant in the future as they are in the now. As we enter into an increasingly globalized world, identities change, borders change, and cultures continuously undergo processes of redefinition.
As Zangief has made the transition from a political USSR Gorbachev comrade to an apolitical Russian wrestler, so too is it possible that the other “caricatures” change as we delve further into the future.
Is there more to be done?
I don’t mean to be “that guy” who critiques the tried, tested, and true Street Fighter formula. The aim in raising these questions is not to instigate a topic that many fans may not even consciously care about…
… But rather to define waves that could potentially create sustainable characters.
Regarding the new crop of fighters, it is still too early to determine their longevity. They all have potential but the Story Mode update set for this summer’s release will help define who among them will be the “Juri”s and who will be the “El Fuerte”s.
In the meantime, Capcom, take note from a whiny no-name brat. It would be very nice if the next new World Warrior could shatter the stereotypes with which we fans have come to be acquainted!
No more joke wrestlers! Notice how Alex is in high demand?
No more loli school girls! High time I get to play as a granny!
No more shoto fighters!… Cancel that… you guys did a great job in this department.
Most importantly, no more snubbing Canada!