I’ll try to be structured here. Promise.

25Aug11

When I recently talked about the Fatal Fury anime, I mentioned doing a whole post on why I hate Kyo Kusanagi. Part of me thinks I shouldn’t indulge that, because there’s already so much bile and venom to be found on the internet. Adding slightly more articulate rage doesn’t seem like much of an improvement over anonymous Youtube commenters. Still, it’s an idea that’s been stuck in my head, and I’d rather pull it out than try to suppress it. Especially since I already said it on Twitter, so it’s not like I’m hiding the sentiment.

First, let’s have a little bit of backstory. The first SNK fighting game was not Fatal Fury, but Art of Fighting. It’s not a game the company is particularly proud of, both because it really wasn’t that good, and because the two lead characters were basically blatant rip offs of Ken and Ryu from Street Fighter. This is also the secret origin of Dan from Street Fighter, as he was created to make fun of Ryo Sakazaki’s status as a blatant ripoff. Fatal Fury was the next series, and aside from a few gimmicks, it’s main improvement over Art of Fighting was that the characters, even though they were painfully 80s in conception, were more original.

As they got into the 90s, SNK decided they wanted to make a new fighting game series, one that won’t be Fatal Fury 5….but while Art of Fighting and Fatal Fury were nominally connected, SNK wasn’t as ashamed of Fatal Fury as they were of Art of Fighting. So they decided to basically roll up all of the best characters of those two franchises together into the core of the new game, with new characters added in. And much like they did with the transition from Art of Fighting to Fatal Fury, this new game series, called King of Fighters, would come with a new main character. That new character was Kyo Kusanagi.

Now, I don’t know about the backstory behind Kyo’s initial design. I don’t know who actually made him, or anything like that. But I can say that some of my dislike for him came just from the fact that he replaced a favorite character of mine as the main character. That’s not a rational reaction, and it doesn’t matter if he was actually a well defined, realistic person. I’d still bear a grudge over that. Having said that, the main reason I don’t like him is that he’s an asshole.

That may be strong language, but it fits the character. He appeared as a teenager who wants to show off his fire powers, which comes from a mystical family heritage. His only listed dislike? Training. So he doesn’t want to work hard, and he uses the magical equivalent of a trust fund to beat people who have dedication and skill. We are talking 80s movies level of cartoonish dickishness here, except he’s the protagonist this time around. If you ever watched the Karate Kid and rooted for those confident Cobra Kai fellows, here’s your man!

Now, to be fair, this could be used as a version of the hero’s journey. If Kyo had been humbled within the official storyline, and realized he needed to do more than just throw flames to win, it would have seemed like a brash youth becoming a mature and stable man. But there’s the rub: there is no humbling to come. Fighting game storylines are an afterthought at the best of times, and that’s when they’re not the domain of drug addled monkeys throwing up their hands and saying “Fuck it, let’s make this wrestler guy a pirate, I got nothing else.” If you’re the main character of a fighting game, you’ll be the one who beats the final boss. No one else can do it, or even contribute. So of course, Kyo beat the first boss of his game. And the second. And the third. And the fourth, who turned out to be a god that would destroy the world, if not for Kyo and his fire trust fund punches.

The story details aren’t important, even though I know more of them than I’m comfortable admitting-after all, no one plays a fighting game for the urgent character drama, and anyone who gets too caught up in it (like, for example, myself) either lacks self awareness, or always has the thought in the back of their mind that it’s just silly, and to stop caring about it. Also, going into the story details would involve remembering that I read the KoF comics, and that’s a discussion I’m actively trying to repress. What’s important is that rather than a dickish teenager becoming a responsible adult, the story boiled down to “Isn’t Kyo awesome? He can beat anyone! Even his terrible attitude is charming because he wins!” As you can imagine, when your favorite character is notable for being humble and fair, then gets replaced by someone who isn’t, it makes the already bitter taste worse. This is also where I have to note that Kyo was the most popular KoF character by most official polls, so not much hope of him getting kicked out or demoted.

This all changed with the fifth game, KoF 99, which saw a new main character. This might seem like a good sign…except the new character was a white haired clone of Kyo. And there were also two other clones of Kyo as playable characters. So in “replacing” him, KoF did their tribute to the Rise of the Supermen story. They were just missing the Cyborg Kyo, but since no one liked Cyborg Superman, I think no one cried over that omission. This is about where I dropped out of the series, though less because of an issue with the game (I could get over my frustrations about Kyo by just pounding his face in when he came up as an opponent) and more because I was getting out of fighting games in general around that time. I know that there’s some plot craziness about someone trying to steal Kyo’s powers since then, but considering he set fire to a god already, the “this makes no sense” boat had already sailed.

The question, in the end, is why I dislike Kyo Kusanagi so much. I was never going to like him-replacing Terry was enough to guarantee that. But it’s more than that, and I’d like to think my dislike isn’t just about preferring Terry Bogard. It’s not even the fact that Kyo is a flawed protagonist. I think it’s the fact that he’s not presented as one. K’ (yes, that is his full name), Kyo’s replacement for KoF 99 through 2001, was also a flawed protagonist, but he was meant to be one; his arrogance and aloofness were not considered positive qualities, and that alone made him more interesting than the man he was cloned from. Kyo Kusanagi feels like the asshole jock from high school, cartoonishly unlikeable on the surface, and with no depth below that. Having him be held up as the hero is unpleasant in many ways, and I’ll never be able to just let it go. Even though I don’t think much about these games anymore, whenever Kyo Kusanagi might come up, I will want to punch him.

Now, please excuse me while I fire up KOF 98. It has no story mode, and I love it for that.

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