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Sunday, November 17, 2013

How does your beam katana swing?: gender identity and sexuality in No More Heroes - part three: A Tale of Two Assassins

This is the third 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.

A Tale of Two Assassins


Of all the ladies in Desperate Struggle, I received the most masculine vibes from Alice Twilight. At first glance, it might seem that Suda 51 intended to give this character much sex appeal, as her cleavage is displayed between a bikini top and sleeves without a proper shirt to attach themselves to, as well as pink shorts beneath ass-less chaps. But at the same time, her hair (though a vibrant shade of pink) is jagged – it may not be unkempt, but it’s certainly not the straightest, cleanest cut either. What stands out the most about her outfit, though, is the Doctor Octopus-style backpack that sports a half-dozen metal arms, each with an individual beam katana at the end. It’s metallic, cold, mechanical – presumably a parallel to Alice herself. When Travis finally reaches the second ranking fight in Desperate Struggle, Alice comments on how she wishes he hadn’t come at a time when she was so close to striking down Jasper Batt Jr.’s reign over Santa Destroy, before clarifying that she has no intention of going easy on Mr. Touchdown as she unfolds the arms of her backpack and the fight commences.

Prior to the start of the actual fight, Alice is seen tossing photographs into a fire she has been burning in an oil drum. These pictures include one of her with a man and a child, implying she was once married and had at least one kid. What became of them is not clear. Perhaps more intriguing, however, is the fact that she holds in her hands two pictures of the by-then-deceased assassin Margaret Moonlight. One of these pictures displays Margaret alone in front of house, arm extended toward the front door, with the implication being that Alice could be the one snapping the photograph. The other is of Alice and Margaret together, standing close to one another and smiling. The camera is focused close on both their faces, meaning it’s quite likely that one of the girls is holding the camera as they lean in together for the shot.

Some fans have theorized that the two are relatives. After all, they bear the last names ‘Twilight’ and ‘Moonlight’ respectively, which could open the possibility that they are cousins, step sisters, etc. (though they appear quite close in age, effectively ruling out any chance that Margaret could be Alice’s daughter). But it’s the photo of the house that is most perplexing. It wouldn’t be so unusual if Margaret was a child in the picture, but she’s a grown adult, and it seems unusual that she would be excitedly showing off a house at her age, especially when we have no indication that anyone else is at the house at the time the picture was taken. Were there other individuals displayed, I might be inclined to believe Margaret was visiting family, but there is no such indication here. In fact, I quite buy into another theory – one that paints Margaret and Alice as lovers. If Alice’s husband died at some point in the past, it would provide her with a solid motive to seek revenge on the individuals responsible (assuming it was a murder scenario, similar to Bishop’s death). If her child was kidnapped (or also killed, if we want to tread a more morbid path) by Jasper Batt’s thugs, it would make sense that she would devote herself wholly to the idea of dismantling the UAA and Jasper Batt’s crime syndicate in the same fashion as Travis did.

If Alice and Margaret were in fact romantically involved with one another, I don’t think it was in a traditional manner. While I did state that I consider Alice to carry more masculine traits than most of the other female characters in the No More Heroes titles, that doesn’t necessarily paint her as a ‘male figure’ in this hypothetical relationship. Similarly, Margaret’s frilly lolita gown and starkly contrasting makeup are not necessarily indicative of her filling a feminine role. Both characters are shown to be highly capable on their own, and utilize significantly different tactics that ultimately have a similar effect – they both have ranged and close-quarters attacks, as well as solid means of defense to counter Travis’ typical beam katana strikes. Whether Margaret had any tales of love and loss prior to entering the UAA rankings or not, it’s quite possible that these two women happened to be quite the forces to be reckoned with on their own, developed a mutual respect and admiration for each other, and continued to strive for the top of the rankings.

The fact that Alice is burning the photos as Travis arrives indicates that she already knew of Margaret’s death and anticipated Travis’ arrival. She is not crying or even sullen when Travis walks up behind her, but it could be that she is in fact grieving in her own way. Burning the photos and putting the faces of those she once knew and loved may be easier for Alice than dwelling on them and trying to understand the ‘why’ of the matter. It makes even more sense if Margaret was one to follow in the steps of Alice’s former husband and child – this idea that there’s no sense in pouting over what she can’t change, so she might as well do her best to proceed with her plans to strike down Jasper Batt Jr. After all, one of the first things she says to Travis before they begin their duel is, “How unfortunate – right when I am about to reach the top, you have to find me. I was hoping we’d fight after I became number one.” She then goes on to state that she will not make Travis’ victory easy, as her “role as the second rank requires that much.” The exchange then continues as thus:

Alice: “I’ve seen a lot in my journey up the ranks – an endless cycle of violence now broadcast as a spectator sport. Why, Travis? Why do so many assassins join if we are all going to end up killing each other in the end?”
Travis: “Does it really matter why?”
Alice: “To me, it does. It matters more than anything. We’ve all become trapped, don’t you see? Addicted to the violence – to a life in the shadows. Once we join the ranks, we can never get out.”
Travis: “Don’t be stupid. If you get tired of the battles, just fucking quit!”
Alice: “But that’s why we all want to fight you – to learn your secret. Don’t you get it?”
Travis: “Get what?”
Alice: “You are the crownless king, the one who got out. You reached the top, then walked away.”
Travis: “Well I’m back now, aren’t I?”
Alice: “With you, it is different. You are the No More Hero! Show me your passion! Release me from this cycle! Free us all in a crimson sea!”

Moments before Alice’s death, she makes a request of Travis – to never forget that there was once an assassin named Alice. This is a wish that he promises to make good on, and has only been requested by one other assassin in the past – Holly Summers. Whereas with Holly it was out of a combination of Travis’ being attracted to Ms. Summers and his respect for her skill level, with Alice it seems out of both respect for her battling skill and admiration for her having vowed to carry out the same ideals as Travis himself had. Also, Alice states that the battle she and Travis shared was “everything she had hoped for,” which, (in keeping with my theory) would indicate that she can rest easy knowing that Travis has both the strength and conviction necessary to finish the job of destroying the UAA. Alice came so close to facing Jasper Batt and besting him in battle, but following her death, it is now Travis who must carry out that final task alone. Clearly, Alice’s death is not something sits easy with Travis, as he lets out a roar after slicing her in half – a clean cut that I think is no coincidence, but rather representative of her life before and after the UAA.

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