Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Those Tits Won't be Necessary Part V: Pretender to the Throne



[This is part 5 of an 8 part series. For parts 4, 3. 2. and 1 click on the respective number. Or if you want more in depth discussion, try the bonus chapters: The Myth of  Selective DiversityThe Fat the Lean and Everything in between and Lingerie may not be armor (but it's as thin as your arguments)]

Welcome back, reader. It's been a while, hasn't it? If you've been following this mini series, you've seen a lot of different and bizarre means of mental gymnastics being used to justify covering Bakeneko, Succubi, Kunoichi, and British operatives who happen to dabble in Gymnastic based martial arts. So far, every redesign attempt that we have seen, just seems like a half-hearted attempt at trying to "Correct" the characters for showing either some form of expression. Those expressions, be it Personality or Sensuality are often deemed taboo by the writer, and are called out in a strange, yet somewhat comical way.

It's reminiscent of the old "How do you say, ah yes" SNL skit where Chris Kattan hilariously impersonates Antonio Banderas, and rips off his shirt, at the behest of Horatio Sanz and Jimmy Fallon.

"Too sexy, too sexy, nooooo!"

And to that, we should always respond by looking at the camera, unbuttoning our shirts and whispering...

"But, I must!"

So let's button down and get cozy, dear reader, because this one is going to be a.... How you say? Ah yes.. "doozy".




For your masochistic pleasure, I present to you, once again.. The Swampvicket article, it's redesign and  explanation for why these changes had to be made....



"Another Street Fighter character, Elena has a lot of potential to be really memorable, barefoot, white-haired and acrobatic. But wearing a bikini that seems to be made of bandages. I kept bandages theme, but let the bra become a top. The base had to be replaced by a pair of loose trousers, while I kept all her arm and benringar, and his bare feet."

Way to erase someone's culture for the sake of making an African woman look like a censored baked potato! Strangely enough, this is pretty par for the course, as we'll notice that so far, It's a mindset that seems to really stem from people projecting their own self image onto the character without learning anything about that character in particular, and this clearly shows in this instance.

As always, it's our job to push through the red tape of ignorance and mindless censorship to find the truth of the character and explain why the design exists in the first place, but before we get to that, there is a little matter that needs to be cleared up.

In researching the origins of Elena, This particular image was found, which led me on a secondary objective path.

                         

If you have been on message boards before, you often come across this line of thinking, and while everyone is entitled to their opinion, it's often fascinating when an opinion is placed out as an absolute truth,and is purported as such. Sol_Stitum claims that Elena's design is objectively bad, Not “elegantly simple” (which means that the term “elegantly” needs to be further elaborated on due to the subjectivity of the term.) and is just a “Diaper and a top with some bangles thrown on because they realized er silhouette was snooze inducing”. The very end of the statement pushes the belief that she, like Makoto and Ibuki are just praised for their womanhood, and are pushed in via vocal majority for this and otherwise would be dumped due to little to no redeeming qualities from game play to design.

Claims like these aren't really objective truths as they seem to be and usually come from a personal bias, or just ignorance of how the character's design came to be. Much like our “clever girl” reporter, above with her misconceptions, Sol_Stitum, here seems to follow the same logical path without doing any of the legwork, and otherwise maintains a dismissive tone with just enough description to give his opinion some form of weight. It's opinions like these that beg to be challenged, because if they are challenged, you'll find that most of the things stated are actually subjective truths – which are just truths created in the poster's head, instead of an objective truth based on any fact or result of research or empirical data.

TL;DR – It's easy to say something is “crap” without any further exploration, but it's better from the perspective of a designer or artist to figure out the inspirations and design choices that lead to the final product in order to fully understand the significance of why this came to be.

But of course, that's why we are all here, isn't it?

Oh, and before we move on, We should highlight the fact that Elena's High/Low game is good for mixups and her range is good for zoning and pressuring, and she definitely has a good setup for footsies as well. Her EX Rino Horn is a good “Shoryuken” (DP) with good airborne, juggle capabilities and priority against projectiles. Not to mention her healing super is basically a “do over” option if you got punished for making mistakes prior. This is information that when used properly could make her a rather deadly adversary. No redeeming qualities... pish tosh, sir, pish tosh!



Going back to her roots..

Now that we're getting back on track I want to start with the wiki backgrond information.
Elena is a princess of an East African nation that has a cultural tradition of fighting. Her father, chief of the region, is a traditional healer who also qualified in France for a doctorate degree in medicine. 
 
Elena desires to travel around the world, meeting new friends along the way. She studied as an exchange student in Japan, where she met her best friend Narumi. She later continued those studies in France. 
 
Elena is uncommonly tall for a female, has dark skin, short silvery-white hair and blue eyes. She is barefoot while fighting and has long, powerful legs. Many official artworks, mainly the SFIII ones, depict her finger and toenails painted sky-blue. Her attire consists of a white two-piece bikini-like outfit with pale red, sky-blue, gold and purple bands on her neck, arms, wrists, shins, and ankles. This makes her attire the most revealing for a playable female in the Street Fighter series' history.
Much like Gill and his asymmetrical body, her revealing attire and the numerous colorful bands that adorn her body were likely designed by Capcom to display the graphical power of the CPS-3 board. 
  
In her 2nd Impact ending, she was wearing a Japanese school uniform similar to Sakura's, she has this outfit as her alternate costume in Street Fighter X Tekken. In her 3rd Strike ending, she was wearing a white high-neck sleeveless shirt, red pants and black shoes.
Elena is a young girl with a strong, pure spirit and a cheerful "tomboy" personality similar to Sakura, Ibuki and fellow rival Makoto (though not as brash and fiery-tempered like the latter), as she is normally seen smiling or laughing sweetly. While very energetic and golden-hearted, she is also smart, sociable, and culture-adaptive, always eager to learn more about the world, which is part of the reason for her travels. She also has an unusual accent, which she refers to as something she got from her travels around the world in one of her win quotes in 3rd Strike. Elena is also able to hear and comprehend various rhythms as well as the voices of the wind and trees.
Elena's views of fighting and martial arts differ from most due to her light-hearted personality allowing her to befriend some people and annoy others. She is a very cheery person who looks to makes friends which motivated her to join the 3rd world tournament to meet new people and hopefully make friends.
Elena is able to tell when she sees a pure evil person, seen in her win quote against M. Bison in Street Fighter X Tekken ("I don't need the wind to tell me that you are a very bad man!").

Emphasis is done by yours truly, as always.

The first thing that needs to be noted is that Elena and Gill are both characters that were used to display the graphical power of the Capcom CPS III board to detect asymmetrical design features like Gill's two toned body, his Secretary's asymmetrical hair design, and Elena's high frame rate and extensive animations in her stance/victory poses and moveset. Elena is the only character in SF III: New Generation to have a very animated stance, likely due to Capoiera being an intensive motion based martial art.

While there are no design notes in her Wikipedia or Wikia description, after some digging, there seems to be some possible influences in Elena's creation. Fightingstreet.com claims that there is a similarity between Elena and the titular character Nadia, from the anime “Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water”. On first glace, they do have similar looks, with their style of dress, blue eyes, and a similar color palette. Nadia also adorns her arms with bracelets and bangles, whereas Elena's ornamental necklaces bangles and anklets are colorful.

                    

Another comparison would be Ororo Munroe, or Storm as she's more commonly known as. Elena and Ororo both hail from Kenya, both have the same signature white hair and blue eyes, both are from prestigious backgrounds (Ororo is born from a lineage of African Priestesses while Elena is a daughter of royalty). It would lead one to believe that these two are a large part of the makeup that lead to Elena's initial design, but I suppose more research and possibly a talk with Street Fighter designers, Kinu Nishimura (Who for the sake of argument happens to be a very talented female designer and artist ) and Daigo Ikeno, would be required in order to learn more.
As a side note, because information learned is information shared (and vice versa), blue eyed African and Black people are said to be a product of Waardenburg syndrome; A group of genetic conditions that can cause changes in pigmentation of the eyes, hair and even the skin. Those who have Waardenburg syndrome can develop pale blue eyes, as well as permanently gray or white hair. While fascinating as that is, people who have Waardenburg syndrome may also suffer from moderate to profound hearing loss which is present from birth, through this seems to only happen in more rare and extreme cases.

Now in Elena and also Ororo's case, the white hair and blue eyes are a means of making them stand out. Characters that stand apart from the background characters should have significant visual traits that allow you to recognize their importance in a particular story. You see things like this in Anime and comics all the time. This is also why you would see characters with more pronounced characteristics, like Afro Samurai's large flowing mane. A character with a large flowing Afro would stand out from the crowd just as much as someone with a large scar on their face would.

Now let's get down to the actual clothing. In researching various tribes, the tribe that comes to mind more often than not when it comes to Capcom is the Maasai; A highly traditionally based semi-nomadic set of tribes that dwell within Kenya and Northern Tanzania. During the development of Darkstalkers, Alex Jimenez discussed how Felicia's character was originally intended to be a tall Maasai woman who could turn into a panther at will. So, while there is no particular evidence proving so, It makes you wonder if the shelved idea could have been recycled into a basis for Elena's final design. 



The Maasai people seem happy and very friendly
The Maasai are often known for wearing cloth textile Sarongs (garments) of differing colors , and the Shúkà (Sheets and robes) they wrap themselves in. The style of dress varies between different areas, and their choice of clothing even extend to wearing Tanzanian Kangas. The majority of clothing the Maasai wear are based from textiles, having switched to them from animal skins back in the 1960's. They also wear sandals made from strips of tire and plastic. The most notable feature of any Maasai is their ornamentation; The women of the tribe regularly weave beads into necklaces and jewelry, which are worn by both men and women. Ornamentation is very important to the Maasai , being a means of communicating things like beauty and wealth, bravery and even the amount of dowry received for marriage. The beads themselves are glass beads which are received by trade via Europeans who established business relations with them since the late 19th century. The Maasai themselves are experts at their craft, and use the beads to create highly intricate color schemes.

The Maasai men are exceptionally
tall, and are known as one of the last great warrior cultures of our time. The males participate in a jumping dance which determines who is more likely to find a mate (It's said that the highest jumper gets the girls). The height translates well to Elena's long legged design, and despite culturally uncommon, she had quite a bit of jumping range as well.

Breaking down Elena's costume, you could say that the wrap she uses as a top and bikini bottom could be some form of Shúkà, or just a means of using textiles to cover the most important parts. We are talking about Africa, here, so it gets rather hot, and loose fitting or minimal clothing seems best suited for those parts of the country where the temperature stays rather consistently high (the coast of Kenya stays hot and humid all year round, yet the heat is said to be pleasant and tempered by Monsoon winds).


It is also common in Maasai clans to shave the heads of their children during differing stages of their lives. The act of shaving one's head is a metaphor for the “fresh start” that person makes as they move from one chapter of life to another This explains why Elena's hair is short, as she begins a new chapter leaving her village to begin her travels during the third Wold Warrior Tournament.

Elena's ornamentation consists of a necklace, arm bands, bracelets and anklets of varying colors. In Maa culture, these colors represent the following. 



  • Red: Represents bravery, strength, unity and the incredible challenges Maasai people face each day
  • Blue: Symbolizes energy and sustenance and the color of the sky which provides water for the people and their cattle
  • Green: Symbolizes nourishment and production, representing the land that provides food for the people and their livestock while also symbolizing the putting down of roots and the protection of one’s territory
  • Orange: Symbolizes warmth, friendship, generosity and hospitality, representative of the color of a gourd which is used to share milk with guests and welcome visitors into one’s home
  • Yellow: Symbolizes fertility and growth, representing the color of the sun which helps grow the grass to feed the livestock and sustain life
  • White: Represents purity and health symbolizing the color of cow’s milk that provides sustained nourishment
  • Black: Symbolizes unity, harmony and solidarity, representing the color of the people and the daily struggles they endure each day

In the initial drawings for SF III: New Generation, Elena has purple bands on her upper arm, but this leads one to believe that this might just have been an aesthetic that was added with no basis in Maa culture. Due to her costume being rather minimalist, there's really not much more to say, here as we've covered just about everything concerning her costume, but let's cover the issues had with the mentality behind the redesign before we attack the redesign at it's core.. 


Of Culture and Character

In the previous section, the emphasis on Elena's personality was made to point out that yet again, this is another character who despite being explained as “pure and innocent”, is being censored for wearing clothing that despite her cultural origins, is deemed “
Too revealing” by someone else. This is reminiscent of something that happened to me, as a child, and can obviously be deemed as anecdotal evidence, but makes an interesting point.

------begin flashback sequence----------

In Fifth Grade, We had stacks upon stacks of National Geographic magazines in our class, mainly for cultural education purposes and to be used as reference for history projects that may come up (Keep in mind that this was during the late 80's so the only information to count on were from actual Encyclopedias, Libraries and of course magazines like Popular Mechanics and Nat Geo. ). There were a bunch of kids who were laughing and pointing in the back of the class, and of course the teacher, following the laughing, had caught the kids looking at the nude African tribeswomen.

What followed was a very long lecture about cultures to the entire class. She had stated that as much as you laugh about them being naked, they are likely to find what you're wearing to be strange and silly to them as well. To them what they are wearing is considered normal, as what you are wearing right now is normal.

--------end flashback sequence-----------

Now the lecture in the flashback has always been taken to heart as “To mock another person's culture is to show your own ignorance.” and for good reason. The world itself has an entire wealth of experiences, and ways of life from many differing perspectives. While you could just as easily choose to ignore all the experiences that are out there, It seems absolutely necessary for a person's growth as not only a great artist, but a well rounded person, as well. Culture isn't something to be ignored or avoided, nor is it something you verbally chastise a person for wanting to embrace it. Culture seeks to be embraced, it seeks to be shared, like a wealth among the people.

 In it's definition, Culture is referred to as A Way of life of a group of people – the behaviors, beliefs, values and symbols that they accept, generally without thinking about them, and that are passed along by communication and imitation from one generation to the next. If we were to ask the question of whether Elena exudes culture, the answer would be a resounding yes! If you don't believe this, let's look at her back-story for a moment. Maasai are known to know three common languages; Maa (the language of their people) , English and Swahili. She travels abroad to study in Japan, where she seems to adapt to learning Japanese , as well as furthering her studies in France by the ending of SF III New Generation. She is referenced as Culture-adaptive, and eager to learn more about the world around her, and due to this , she tends to have an “unusual accent” from learning different languages, and her goal is to meet new people and make more friends as she travels the world.

Now that this has been explained, let's take a look at the excerpt from the Swampvicket article, again. This time with the both the original and the redesign. 










"Another Street Fighter character, Elena has a lot of potential to be really memorable, barefoot, white-haired and acrobatic. But wearing a bikini that seems to be made of bandages. I kept bandages theme, but let the bra become a top. The base had to be replaced by a pair of loose trousers, while I kept all her arm and benringar, and his bare feet."

For a character who “has a lot of potential to be really memorable” , this design looks rather.........well forgettable. No dynamic range of movement, no show of personality through her facial features, or actions. Just a static, docile pose of what appears to be the result of a Storm x Rihanna fanfiction.

Elena's martial art is Capoeira, a Brazilian martial art that originated in use by slaves that takes all the elements of dance acrobatics and rhythm and combines them into a very versatile martial art. Capoiera has also been deemed an “intangible cultural heritage” by UNESCO in 2014.

Functionality over Fashion
Capoeirista gear usually consists of a tight fitting or minimalist top ( for most Capoeristas it's even common to go topless for the guys and or wear a restrictive top for the ladies) and straight legged loose fitting pants that allow for... you guessed it! A full range of movement. If we compare the image to “Pillowpants”, up there., you'll see that her “trousers” split just below the knee. With pants like that, either the artist/writer had no clue what Capoeira was about , or maybe “Elena” is trying her damnedest to make it as a background dancer for M.C. Hammer's eventual comeback...

Ohhh oh ohhh 

This redesign is just another example of gross ignorance of cultures other than hers. Not only is this basically a throw-away explanation for what seems to be a throw-away design, it erases everything good about the character, while copy-pasting the writer's own cultural expectations onto her. The problem with that, though is the writer's cultural expectations seem to rely too heavily on stereotypes rather than actual research. It's easy to fall into the trap of using preconceived notions to create redesigns of characters, but without research and understanding of what makes the character who they are, the result will always be a mockery of what it was.

In Part 7 of How to Design a Street Fighter Character, Mex talks about a similar situation with the design of Fei Long, and how making a caricature doesn't necessarily make for a good character. .

The look and mannerisms of real world fighters, deceased fighters, and movie characters do not make for good SF design. They always come off as uninspired and cheap. This was another element lacking in the design of Dee Jay. He was inspired heavily by the martial artist and actor Billy Blanks, but when he was placed in the game he became a silly, maracas shaking caricature of the actor. How about making Gen look like Gordon Liu's character Pai Mei from the Kill Bill movies. The DLC costumes of Fei Long in Street Fighter IV were based on costumes that Bruce Lee made famous. These were examples of pandering to the masses. A way to get customers interested in the game. These costume and revised character designs dated themselves via pop culture references. Would they mean as much a year or two down the line? What about when compared to designs in the series that still held up after 20+ years? Dhalsim had to lose the turban and costume of his Indian inspiration from the Master of the Flying Guillotine before fans would have accepted him as original. Or think about how M. Bison went from a thinly-veiled Mike Tyson to a massive boxer with little resemblance to the former champ in latter versions of SF. These changes were part of the design element of Revision, which I will describe in a later blog.

When prepping for a redesign, the core of the character should always remain intact, as you are only changing the character's costume and not the characters themselves. Any attempt in trying to do otherwise always results in creating a hollow or cartoonish version of what was intended. A caricature. In this instance, revision would definitely be needed, as the artist missed the mark, entirely.
Ask yourselves this; What type of moves would the character on the right have opposed to the character on the left? What can you tell is the character's personality from just looking at them? These are things that need to be conveyed in order to generate interest in playing the character, otherwise this would result in a failed design and a trip back to the drawing board.

The term “Suspension of disbelief” was a term coined in 1817 by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The term is a theory that in fiction, the reader is required to believe ideas that would never be possible in real life. The concept does have it's limits; as the feat or circumstance can only go so far until it becomes utterly ridiculous. A key component of suspension of disbelief is consistency. As long as the feats featured in a particular fiction are consistent with the overall universe this is happening in, the reader can maintain suspension of disbelief. This is why shows like Star Trek tend to be popular.

Applying this to Elena, her overall design works because it encompasses elements of African culture, to present a character that could be believed to be from that part of the world. Her moveset works because it takes the elements of Capoeira and caricatures them into a fantastical, yet believable fighting style. This allows the player to actually be able to enjoy the character for who she is without taking a step back and going “That's not right...”

To further elaborate, I'll leave you with this quote from Part 11 of  How to Design a Street Fighter Character. Join us next time where we will be journeying back into the land of the rising sun, to talk about a rather busty Kunoichi.
Just as Ryu was a fantastic variation of the Mas Oyama template, one in which gamers would not and could not confuse the character from the real man, so too was Marco* inspired by a real man but restyled into something that did not have even a passing resemblance to Williams. A solid character design does not need to rely on Stereotype or Nationality to have Universality. He also did not have to have a happy-go-lucky personality or go about shaking his maracas to soften his presentation. It was the Ability that allowed gamers to use their Suspension of Disbelief. The most memorable fighters from the real world possessed genuine fighting Ability and seemingly impossible strength and endurance that made them legends. These fighters were perfect models to inspire great character designs. The proper use of this Ability in game form would shape the world they inhabited.
(*Marco  Rodriguez from Fatal Fury MOTW)


- see you next Bossfight!

How to Design a Street Fighter character references

Part 7 - Caricatures
part 11 - Archetypes

Artists referenced

Kinu Nishimura
Daigo Ikeno

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