Monday, January 19, 2015

How does your beam katana swing?: gender identity and sexuality in No More Heroes - part four: The Crownless King

This is the fourth 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.

The Crownless King

Travis Touchdown is many things – a mold-breaker as Santa Destroy's resident goofball anti-hero, an individual with selfish desires like reaching the number one rank in the UAA, and according to Sylvia Christel, one 'otaku dipshit’. Yet, for as much of a bombastic display as Travis puts on during any give one of his ranking battles, it may very well be that fighting is the one thing he is good at. Prior to his championing the cause of climbing the UAA ranks, there is really no indication that Travis has a history of killing, and when swapping out his beam katanas, the game informs players that his default katana, the Blood Berry, was won as part of an online auction.

If Travis did indeed have some bloody backstory prior to the events of No More Heroes, one would think he might find a more reliable means of procuring his weaponry than the NMH universes’ equivalent of eBay. It might instead make sense that he purchased the Blood Berry in the hopes that it would improve the ‘coolness’ of his own image, and that it might provide a confidence boost to the red leather jacket-wearing dude. Of course, this begs the question as to why Travis might need any sort of an ego boost. Over the course of the first game, we discover just how crummy Travis’ family life has been up until this point – he has a twin brother who he never got to know growing up and who now wants to duel with Travis to prove which of them is the best in Santa Destroy, his stepsister Jeane comes after him with the intent to kill him after already taking out Travis’ father, coming full-circle after she explains that Travis’ father was responsible for all of her physical and psychological suffering when she was younger.

Lumped on top of those stressors/traumatic experiences comes the fact that Travis Touchdown is not so smooth with the ladies as he’d like to be. It is true that in the second game, Travis steps up his game, as Shinobu bats her eyes and cozies up to him, and even Sylvia shows some genuine curiosity in him. But in the first game, Travis’ encounters with Ms. Christel are overly-comical failures. Each time he eyes her up, she snaps at him, and one particular instance of too much ogling is met with a prompt high-heeled kick out the door of Sylvia’s limousine. The reason for Travis’ desperate attempts to hook up with Sylvia in the first game is a simple one – his experiences in intimacy are limited, if existent at all.

Between most of the ranking fights, Travis will return to his motel room to find two messages on his answering machine. The calls from the UAA informing Mr. Touchdown of his entry fee for the next fight are, plot-wise, the most important ones. But the calls from Diane at Beef Head Video shed more light on the lonesome protagonist. Each call that Diane makes references a series of overdue rental videos titled ‘How to Please a Woman in Bed’, as well as a couple of other seemingly less educational and more raunchy films. One of her calls even informs Travis of an embarrassing error he made in returning the wrong film to their store, one which apparently features him humping a pillow (and lo and behold, what should lie upon Travis’ bed but a large body pillow with some colorful character printed upon it).

Perhaps even more so interesting, then, is the fact that Travis and Sylvia’s roles are effectively reversed in No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle. Having spent two years out of the spotlight, Travis informs Sylvia that his reason for returning is to dismantle the UAA. And while he is briefly hooked in by her teasing him with allusions to just how flexible her yoga lessons have made her, he is quick to course-correct his plans. With many of the battles that follow in No More Heroes 2, it is Travis snapping back at Sylvia, instructing her not to intervene in his business, like when she guns down the bloodied Ryuji or her providing him a handicap by hiring Shinobu to cut down some of the competition on Travis’ behalf. She does remind Travis from time to time that the ranking fights in NMH2 are not trifling, childish matters, and that he ought to take them seriously, but her reprimanding him in the sequel appears (more often than not) to be out of concern for his success and general well-being.

When Travis and Sylvia finally do hook up, it is she who calls him from the front door of his motel room. The exchange they share conveys the sense of confusion and as-of-yet-unresolved issues they have with one another, but also the fact that neither of them can seem to deny their physical and possibly romantic attraction to one another.

Travis: “Sylvia, I can’t figure you out.”
Sylvia: “You don’t like me?”
Travis: “I didn’t say that. But there’s a lot of things about you I don’t get. You lie, you’re greedy; you’re a fucking contradiction in heels.”
Sylvia: “You hate me?”
Travis: “Well, your personality kind of sucks.”
Sylvia: “So you do hate me.”
Travis: “I’m crazy about you.”
Sylvia: “What do you mean?”
Travis: “…Fuck if I know.”

Sylvia steps into Travis’ motel room, door closes behind her. Cue earthquake rumbling and cartoonish cowboy pistol shot noises. Travis emerges on the balcony, pausing for a moment to gaze upon Sylvia now sleeping under his blankets, and then proceeds to belt out a reference to Sylvia’s prior mention of her yoga techniques, “Downward fucking dog!”, informing anyone (or no one) who might be listening of his overcoming this self-perceived hurdle.

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