(updated) The problem with Shun’Ei

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(updated) The problem with Shun’Ei

Edit: Needed to add a couple more things plus some tweets. Please DM for removal.

One man’s passion is another man’s poison.

One woman’s husbando can be one man’s hernia, etc etc.

Character design is always divisive, even more so today.

It’s probably fair to say that Kyo Kusanagi was just another schoolkid, while Ryu was just a dude in a gi.  However, to me, they looked so cool, although maybe it was rather the way they carried themselves, and the things they could do, rather than their nondescript clothing.  Design is very important for video game characters, it creates a connection or disconnection with the player, either they relate to them or want to be like them or just find them entertaining.  The problem is when the design causes no reaction.  Shun Ei causes a reaction, at least, and digging in, it’s quite interesting to think about why.

Back in the day, over in the West, there was a fascination with martial arts, ninjas, wrestlers… oh yeah, just fighters in general, nothing much has changed compared with today, if we think about the average young male.  What has changed is that video game companies are no longer focused on just the average young male in the average country but quite simply everyone and anyone of any type you can think of.  People have been dissecting Shun’Ei from day one, comparing him to anime stereotypes, RPG protagonists, Chinese counter culture and even Harajuku.  Eisuke and Oda clearly stated that he was designed to be different, to appeal to female fans, to be shy, to appeal to younger fans.  They weren’t even sure if he could be a protagonist.  It was simply a bit of a risk.  I think Shun’Ei would have been super popular back in the day with his martial arts costume, but this is 2022.  Many outspoken western fans don’t like his look and don’t like his demeanour.  However, there are definitely some fans, and I do see a few players using him online, maybe they are younger?  Would love to know… should I do a survey?

While Oda believes that people were bored of ‘aggressive headband wearing’ protags, the fact is that the average anime protag still makes a lot of noise, usually via screaming at least once an episode.  Ryu has returned in SF6 with a beard, while Luke encapsulates the brash American youth and seems to have a large role in SF6 as the player’s coach.  People don’t seem to be tired of their ‘noise’ at all- (however, Luke does annoy some of his audience, much like the older players are annoyed by the youth).  In comparison, Shun Ei barely made a peep during KOFXV.  He was featured in a manga, but none of that development came across clearly into KOFXV.  Some fans want him to just step aside, while others want him dead.  Some just want him to roll down his trouser leg.  It seems to me that Shun’Ei is developing as a character, but just too slowly for us to care. He has had no interesting development and no drama to give him an edge.

Nakoruru’s birthday came around and SNK posted a new illustration.  Shun Ei got nothing.  Ironically I saw quite a lot of fan art for both (but definitely much more for Nakoruru)!  Perhaps it was timing to boost DLC sales, after SF6’s beta weekend?  One might say SNK designed Shun’Ei in a mechanical fashion, trying to get a slice of the Chinese market (he was originally going to wear traditional Chinese clothing probably like his alt skin in XIV) and female market segment in one fell swoop.  However, Oda has already said that investors have no influence on their creative process and if that was really the case, we should be seeing a Middle Eastern protagonist arriving in the next chapter to save the world.  But if we consider the timing of majority shares we can note that Shun’Ei was top tier in XIV but not in XV… wait, what?  What is going on?  If SNK wanted to promote a new protag, why not just make him strong so that people play him?    

Isla got a universally positive reaction, as far as I could see; she needs to keep her tsundere character, or tweak it a bit so we see less of her soft side.    Capcom took a risk with SF6 and aged their characters.  It’s about time SNK did the same with Kyo and Saisyu.  As for Shun’Ei, he may still grow on players but he does need some gravity in the game story (and another outfit!)!  Well, anyway, we know we won’t see that development for a while, as Terry will go play out his story with Rock in MOW2.  One thing, as they keep going on about Fatal Fury, it starts to make you wonder how much this team cares about KOF.  Shun Ei is a pretty weak arc, perhaps a finale with him on Isla’s team in KOFXVI with something really epic would finally help this character’s popularity, although with the soft themes (again, I guess they are aiming at universal appeal) and lack of blood, even with Samsho characters, I’m not holding my breath.

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