These next nine are especially hard to describe, because they rely on atmosphere and context a lot more than dialogue or physicality to get their messages across. I better not starting thinking about that now, though, or I'll run the risk of getting a sudden case of writer's block and never finishing this thing.
I'm just going to jump into it, figure it out as I go along, and hope it makes sense to somebody. That's probably what Suda51 would do, and it seems to be working for him. So hit the jump and see what I poop out. Oh, and watch out for spoilers and stuff.
The Million Gunman: A shameless stereotype
From what I can tell, this guy is by far the least liked boss in No More Heroes 2. Unlike most of the other bosses in the game, he's just sort of... there. His motivations for being an assassin, his feelings toward anything, his overarching goals -- all remain unknown. That said, he's not particularly mysterious, either. He clearly likes money, comes off as a snob, and runs away from a fight. Also, he's British. Basically, he's Scrooge with a golden gun.
All that is pretty bland on its own, but it makes sense when you think about who he's fighting. Shinobu is a black woman, and at the point in the game where the Million Gunman shows up, she has taken the role of central protagonist away from Travis Touchdown. To my knowledge, this is a first in videogame history. The closest a black woman has come to this before was when Sheva sort-of co-starred in Resident Evil 5, though I personally have never played the game using her (always left her to be AI-controlled). Still, I was only certain that Sheva was black because she outright announces it in the game. She easily could have passed for Latina or a tan Italian. Shinobu's different. She may be rocking the white 'fro, but she's clearly black.
Okay, before I go on a rant about race and videogames, let me get back to the Million Gunman. What makes him interesting, at least to me, is how far he takes the "white guy" stereotype. If we lived in a society where people of Anglo-European descent suffered from a history of damaging discrimination, and were therefore more sensitive to being ridiculed or mocked for their cultural idiosyncrasies, the Million Gunman would definitely have spurred some protest from civil rights advocates. Everything about the guy -- his expensive stuff, his high-class accent, his cocky tone, his love of money, and the fact that you fight him in a bank -- all fits perfectly with the stereotype that individuals in minority groups sometimes hold against Caucasians.
I guess that's fair. Even to this day, most black characters in videogames (and movies, and TV shows, and music) have either a "gangsta" or other "ethnic" attachment glued onto them. The Million Gunman is the flip-side to that. He's the Black Baron from MadWorld, except in white-face. Whether that's supposed to be funny, offensive, ironic, or just some revenge for minorities that have put up with offensive depictions of their respective races since the dawn of modern entertainment, I can't say for sure. All I know is, it would have been even better if the Million Gunman's name was "Mr. White," like the villain in Petey Wheatstraw: The Devil's Son-in-Law.
White She-Devil wouldn't have been bad, either, if a little less accurate.
New Destroyman: Both sides of a bad man
If The Million Gunman is Grasshopper Manufacture's take on making a character who's "super-white," Destroyman is their take on the "super American male," and specifically, how men often make women feel. Almost any woman will tell you that when she meets a guy for the first time, no matter how nice he is to her face, she's guessing that in his mind, he's talking to her about something... less nice.
That's New Destroyman in a nutshell; he gives both the nice and not-so-nice sides of a man's mental process at the same time. In the first No More Heroes, he showed us the split between the pristine image of an American superhero and the ugliness that likely lies beneath that image. In No More Heroes 2, he works to show us the same thing, but specifically in relation to how men treat women. Travis split Destroyman in two at the end of their fight in the first game. Now he's back, with each organic half supported by a robotic prosthesis, and neither half lacking in mean-spirited horny-ness.
One half of the man seems to want to keep up a facade of genuine respect, while the other is constantly degrading Shinobu and openly planning some sort of gang bang. Out of all the potentially disturbing scenes in No More Heroes 2, these cut scenes with New Destroyman and Shinobu were the only ones that troubled me a little bit. Something about the way that New Destroyman (or more accurately, the New Destroymen) related to Shinobu rang true to me. I felt intensely protective of her, and all the more gratified when she overcame his/their advances and dirty tricks. I imagine that as Travis heard her story, he felt the same way. That's what made it so satisfying to kill Destroyman. Having him dead signaled Shinobu's victory, and her safety as well.
I'd love to hear what an actual African-American woman thinks of the Million Gunman and New Destroyman. That's not to say that my assessment is any less valid, but it would be interesting to hear how these two villains, whom I feel were tailor-made to stand in opposition of gaming's first black female action hero, appear to a black female. Too bad all the black girls I know who play videogames think the Wii is totally lame.
Ryuji: Travis's mysterious brother in combat
Ryuji isn't all that complicated. He's sort of the Boba Fett of the game, intentionally lacking in characterization so that we can project any personality onto him that we want. Low on personality as he may be, he still serves a pivotal role in the development of Travis Touchdown.
On the surface, Ryuji is like Travis. He rides a motorcycle, he fights with a beam katana, and he has a set of unique, stylish moves. He's also very different from Travis. He's not from this continent, and doesn't seem to buy into the Santa Destroy way of competition. He fights like a sumo, on equal ground, and without dirty tricks. Like Ryu from the Street Fighter series, Ryuji fights for enlightenment. He's not a common thug or a killer. He's achieved the status of a "true warrior" -- not through "gimmicks" or "technology," but through the strength of his will.
Ryuji's advanced status as a human fighter is something that Travis finds in himself during their fight. It's not likely that Travis would have killed Ryuji at the end of their battle. We'll never know for sure, though, because right after Travis defeats Ryuji, Sylvia guns him down in cold blood.
I'll get more into this on a separate post on Travis and Sylvia's relationship, but I'll say now that I think Sylvia represents both the best and the worst sides of the way videogames are made today. In this instance, she shows how little she respects the life of the gamer. Ryuji is just another player in her UAA game, and when he loses to Travis, his existence is no longer necessary. She doesn't value him as Travis does. Worse, she chastises Travis for seeing Ryuji's life as something of worth. She doesn't want Travis to play the game for any other reason than to kill. Death is the only thing she values.
It takes Travis a little while to build up to doing something about Sylvia and her disrespect for the participants in her contest, but in time, the death of Ryuji culminates in something that changes both of their lives for good.
Henry: Travis's better half
Henry is Travis's twin brother, and in the first game, he represents everything that Travis could be if he were just a little bit better. He's the "mysterious, slightly more powerful rival character" that has made its way into so many power fantasies. Henry is to Travis as Zero is to Mega Man X, or Racer X is to Speed Racer. He's there to make Travis feel bad about himself, and to give him something to aspire to be.
That hasn't really changed in No More Heroes 2. The only thing that's different is that now, Travis makes peace with Henry. He's okay with the fact that Henry is probably better than him. He's still competitive with his twin, but he's not so threatened by him that he feels the need to kill him. Before, Travis's only method of dealing with a threat like Henry was to make it die, but in No More Heroes 2, he finds a better way. He joins him.
Part of that "joining" happens when Travis allows Henry to stay in Travis's motel room; specifically, in his bed. Henry needs to thaw out after being frozen in carbonite by Dr. Letz Shake, and during his thaw time, he's totally defenseless. Travis could kill him right there, but instead, he not only lets him live, but passively helps him come back to life.
Cut off from the physical world, Henry still isn't totally safe. He ends up in a battle that takes place in the world of his unconscious mind. That's where he meets Mimmy.
Mimmy: The gatekeeper to the Garden of Madness
If Travis is Suda51's brazenly immature, enthusiastic gamer side, Henry is his calmer, cooler, more adult side. Apparently, he's also the side of Suda51 that's able to tap into his subconscious and make something of his dreams. While Henry's unconscious, we find that he has an intimate bond with the embodiment of all subconsciously derived ideas for videogames: Mimmy.
Mimmy is more than just a prepubescent girl with robotic battle-arms and a head like a radish. She is the representative of an imaginary world, born of all the things that Suda51 has taken into his mind and uses later in videogames. We see this on the wide-screen TV that Henry and Mimmy watch together, as it plays cut scenes from earlier in No More Heroes 2. I bet that's the same internal TV on which Suda51 watches a lot of his future games.
Mimmy is also a temptress. She begs Henry to stay with her forever and watch the ideas that float through Henry's subconscious, to spend the rest of his life connecting with his own subconscious. I can relate. It's a lot easier to just sit around and dream up ideas than it is to actually try to make them into something real. That's exactly what Mimmy tempts Henry to do, but due to his indomitable will, he fights the urge, and comes back to the conscious world. He disintegrates Mimmy, cutting off his connection to the subconscious, and potentially to his imagination as well (which is maybe why from here on out, the game is a lot less weird).
Mimmy may be gone for now, but I bet we'll be seeing her again in future games. If there is one thing the No More Heroes series hasn't been lacking so far, it's imagination.
Margret Moonlight: Servant of Death
Margret represents both the dead, and death itself. Her theme song; her mini-scythe weapons; her intimate connection to the pale, dead moon; her ghost-like appearance and abilities -- they all tell us that she is more connected with life than death. Travis has had a close relationship with death on a symbolic level for a very long time, but his meeting with Marget is where we get to see how Travis and death really get along.
So, what's Margret's motivation? What do death and the dead actually want? Nothing much, really. All Margret wants is to be remembered. Before trying to kill him, she asks Travis to hear her song. Then, as she is about to leave this world, she asks him to remember it. Travis abides, and as he walks away in the blinding moonlight, he whistles her song to himself, casting a long, black shadow in his wake. With that, Travis has taken up the mantle of death from Margret.
He's the reaper now, but then again, I guess he always was.
Captain Vladamir: The soul of a lost gamer
Through most of No More Heroes 2 -- and most videogames, for that matter -- the developer asks the player to bravely step into a mysterious, unpredictable world. The developer has total control, while in return, the player is given the opportunity to explore an undiscovered country. Sealed in the casing of our in-game characters, unable to really touch or feel the game world, we enter each game as an explorer.
Captain Vladamir the Cosmonaut, a refugee from lost space and time, is on the same kind of journey of exploration. He even has a game pad on his chest to prove it. His problem is that he's not able to play the game. His wires have been cut. He's out of control. While struggling to get a handle on himself and his surroundings, he constantly asks for help from a higher power. For Vladamir, that power is an unseen satellite that can bring down death like the wrath of God. However, Vladamir's overseers must not have cared for him that deeply, or else he would never have become so lost. He's pressing the buttons and he's giving the commands, but this is a game he isn't going to win.
In the end, it's Travis who sets him free. After he hits Vladamir with the death blow, the blinded explorer can see again. He sees that Earth, the place he's been trying to find for God knows how long, was under his feet the whole time. With that, he can rest in peace. Travis has ended his game.
Alice Twilight: The Last Ascetic
As Matt Helms tops off a Resident Evil 4-themed level, and Cloe Walsh a Metal Gear Solid-style stage, Alice Twilight is found in a world that reminded me a lot of Grand Theft Auto. Keep in mind, ,though that I don't really like the Grand Theft Auto games, largely because I find the simulation of petty (and not so petty) crimes to be rather dull. Running around a painfully realistic city, with no thematic music to accompany me (only the same crappy radio stations I can get in real life), and no grander purpose than to cause trouble and make money, is my idea of a soulless, bland experience.
I often wonder what people who love the GTA games would think of the series if they shared my perspective, if they didn't get any fun out of simulated car thefts and hooker murders. Well, one way I could find out is to ask them to play around in the overworld of the original No More Heroes, or play Alice Twilight's stage in No More Heroes 2. Most of Alice's stage looks like a real place, has no "unrealistic" use of thematic background music to keep things interesting, and takes place in a large, city-like area that's both repetitive and easy to get lost in. That's exactly how I feel about the GTA games, although at least in No More Heroes 2, it doesn't take too long for the level to turn into something more fun.
If Alice's stage is GTA without the vice, Alice is a player who takes no joy in vices. She's a follower of Asceticism, a spiritual belief that allows for no worldly pleasures. Bettering one's self is the only goal of the Ascetic. It's a joyless life that presumably calls for no pleasures or attachments whatsoever. One might guess that such a lifestyle might make someone question the meaning of life, or even become severely suicidal.
From Alice, we get a little of both. She tells us that her world is just an "endless cycle of violence, broadcast as a spectator sport" that's "addicted to the violence." She wants Travis to set her free. If I met one of the characters from a GTA game, I assume that's exactly what they'd tell me about their lives, and why they may prefer to be dead instead of having to live in a game that's so heartless. Travis's response is simple: "If you get tired of the battles, then fucking quit." What Travis doesn't get is that only player characters can end their game. Non-player characters like Alice can only escape by being ended by the player.
So, what does Alice really want? Like Margret (who has some connection to Alice, according to the pictures she is seen throwing into the fire), all Alice wants is to be remembered. That's what she's really been fighting for, and as she falls into Travis' sword, she seems relieved at knowing that Travis (and you, the player) will not forget her.
Not only will Travis remember her, but he has been changed by her. By witnessing her pain, her sense of loss and of being lost, Travis sees that this kind of game is wrong. Treating videogame characters like objects, like disposable victims of deserving of endless violence, is not what he wants to stand for. He decides to betray the rules of the game, and become "a hero by [his] own standards." He denounces the game, and pledges to "tear down the UAA."
First, though, he has a video store clerk to avenge.
Jasper Batt Jr.: The new Batman
The fact that Travis still goes after Jasper Batt, even after renouncing the UAA and the assassin's life, shows how much he really hates the guy. On the surface, we're told this is because Travis wants to avenge his "best friend," Bishop. That's silly. As anyone who's played the first game will tell you, the relationship between Bishop and Travis was pretty shallow. Bishop never deals with Travis outside of two brief types of interactions (bike delivery and video rental). He doesn't even have the decency to call Travis when his porno videos are overdue. He has a confused-sounding girl do it for him.
No, Bishop doesn't mean anything to Travis. What his death really signifies is that Santa Destroy, the town Travis calls home, is being taken over by big-money corporations. The lo-fi, humble trappings of Santa Destroy are being wiped out by Jasper Batt's company. This is a parallel to the gaming industry, where the types of low-budget, small developer games that used to be everywhere are slowly getting choked out by the EAs and the Activisions of the gaming world. That's something that Travis, or at least, the player, is supposed to care about.
Batt Jr. doesn't just represent American mega-corporations. He's also a parody of one of the world's most beloved symbols for "heroic vengeance." Just as Travis fashions himself after a character from a manga, Jasper Batt takes after someone from American comics. Like Bruce Wayne, Jasper Batt Jr. is an owner of a multi-million-dollar company. He also dresses like a bat, throws little bat-shaped boomerangs at his enemies, and fights to avenge the death of his family. If Jasper Batt were just a little taller and better looking, you'd swear he was Christian Bale.
Stranger still is the idea that from Batt's perspective, Travis is the villain of the Batman story. He's the instrument of chaos, the cold-hearted killer, the root of all of Batt's pain. Though it's Batt wearing the purple and green suit, it's Travis who plays the Joker in this scenario. The game doesn't actually do that much to dissuade the player from agreeing with Batt. Travis did kill Batt Jr.'s father and brothers. Travis really did start this cycle of revenge, and in the end, he really is the bad guy (or at least, the "worse" guy). Batt had one person killed. Travis's kill count is probably in the thousands.
This last battle may not affirm Travis's status as a hero, but it does work to achieve a few other things. It drives home that Travis has, in fact, formed relationships and attachments over the course of the game, and now fights for something different. He may have killed Jasper's family for cash in the first game, but that doesn't seem to be something he'd do now. The battle also re-affirms that superheroes and giant, baby-like corporate mascots look ridiculous, something that's always fun to see pointed out. Perhaps most importantly, though, this last fight lets us see Travis's real power: the ability to channel all the hate and anger of his opponents and kill them with that. It's quite a skill, and something that probably makes sense to a lot of gamers. How many times have you played a game that killed you countless times, then focused all of that adversity into determination, and then used that determination to eventually "beat" the game?
But that does raise a question: What does Travis have after all his enemies are gone, and there is no more hate and anger (or videogame) to re-channel against the world? Without a force to push against, Travis drifts towards the Earth in a frictionless free-fall, heading face-first into the end of his life, and more importantly, the end of the game.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Discussion of the final moments of No More Heroes 2 will have to wait for my next post on the game, where I'll focus more on the relationship of Travis and Sylvia: where it starts, how it changes, and how it ends.
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