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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

How does your beam katana swing?: gender identity and sexuality in No More Heroes - part two: Disaster Blaster Techniques

This is the second entry in a series of short articles I will be posting that explores the gender roles and sexuality of various characters within the NMH titles. As mentioned in the first mini-article, some of what I will be covering deals with information that is explicitly stated within one game or the other, while other portions are pulled from my own personal speculations and fan theories. Fair warning: as the No More Heroes titles both bear 'M' ratings, there may be adult language and/or content referenced in these articles, as well as spoiler content for anyone who has not yet completed the games.

Disaster Blaster Techniques


No More Heroes is not exactly the most open or obvious game when it comes to the concept of gay and lesbian characters, but it doesn’t exactly shy away from it either (here's looking at you and your extra colorful workout duds, Ryan). Magician Harvey Moiseiwitsch Volodarskii refers to Travis as a ‘nasty boy’ during their battle, which does bring some male to male sexual tension into the mix, if only slightly. Aside from the flash and flair of his blue on black outfit, shiny mask, and bright batons/swords, the dialogue he directs at Travis is the only indication we get that he might be sexually inclined to males (whether that makes him gay or bisexual). Or it could simply be that Suda51 thought it would be a nice change of pace to include a male character who was a little more flamboyant than the rest.

Letz Shake is a curious case, as he’s one of a few assassins to appear in both games. From little we do see of Letz Shake as a human, we can gather the following – he’s very knowledgeable in the technical aspects of Dr. Shake, he seems to enjoy the prospect of fighting Travis (implying that he might be sadistic), and he’s one of the least masculine-looking characters between the two games. Though Travis and Henry might not be particularly muscular, the former wears his hair slicked, dons a red tiger-striped leather jacket, and wields a beam katana that doubles as a representation of his phallus. The latter is decked out in suave and classy duds that include a grey vest and pants, a necktie, leather gloves, a spade belt buckle, and sometimes a long trenchcoat. Whereas Travis’ outfit represents a wild, daring, and somewhat goofy male, Henry’s is serious and sophisticated.

Letz Shake has a sort of 80’s rocker look going on, and while he does have a leather jacket lined with metal studs, it only covers part of his chest. He doesn’t wear anything underneath, and his lanky frame is decorated with diamond tattoos on both his pecs (or lack thereof) and along his waistline leading up to his belly button. He has a band on either wrist, one being decorated with spiked studs and the other a plain burgundy color. The loincloth addition hanging down around his pants is purple, as is the leopard print bandana that obscures his mouth. His strikingly tall mohawk is both turquoise and red, with sideburns that hang very low, almost like very thin twin ponytails, but in the front. There’s a lot of color to Letz Shakes’s getup, but the combination of purple on black and studded jacket on such a skinny frame practically cancels out any immediate gender specifications to him. For being such a visually loaded character design, Letz Shake simultaneously boils down a very neutral individual.

Dr. Shake, on the other hand, bears an undeniably phallic form that offsets both the neutrality of Letz Shake’s appearance and the blank canvas desert road where the two are set to fight Travis. While Dr. Shake is effectively a giant tan cylinder, the pink brain beneath a rounded glass dome as well as the rumbling charge sequence prior to what would have – had Henry not intervened – been the emission of a seismic blast are the factors that really identify it as representative of the male genitalia. Granted, Dr. Shake was not set to aim any projectiles directly toward Travis (so far as we know), but the blast radius metaphor is suggestive enough.


In Desperate Struggle, Letz Shake makes a surprising return as Dr. Letz Shake, his remains having apparently been gathered and infused into a seismic emitter similar to that of Dr. Shake. However, the original Dr. Shake’s form was more subtle (a term which no one – myself included – would ever think to associate with the phallic references within the No More Heroes games). Dr. Letz Shake’s body may bear a gunmetal color and sport four small ‘legs’, but the thin middle expanding at the top in a mushroom shape is unmistakably penile. Take into account the fact that the brain ‘tip’ has a clearly visible fold in the middle and constantly wiggles about, and you have what is arguably the most in-your-face representation of the phallus between either game. In all likelihood, this new body was likely carried over as something of an homage to Dr. Shake, and the fact that it relies on a similar, albeit faster charge sequence indicates that it was probably created with the same sort of technology. Still, a giant metal robo-cock leads Dr. Letz Shake to come across to both Travis and the player in a strikingly different manner than the punk rocker human body he once inhabited.

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