Thursday, January 22, 2015

How does your beam katana swing?: gender identity and sexuality in No More Heroes - part five: Gorgeous Blues

This is the fifth 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.

Gorgeous Blues

Of all the assassins Travis Touchdown crosses paths with, there are but a select few he allows to live. The first to be spared is Shinobu Jacobs, who puts up what is arguably one of the most challenging fights in the first No More Heroes. Travis cuts off her hand, realizing that if he does not stop her, she will continue with her obsessive belief that Travis is responsible for her father’s death. But he also believes that she can provide him a greater challenge down the road, once she’s matured. Travis does not write her off as a child, per se, but his sparing of Shinobu is not terribly dissimilar to his sparing of Kimmy Howell in No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle.

Whether designed as an intentional parallel or not, Kimmy similarly has obsessive tendencies. In the years since Travis made it to the number one rank of the UAA and then disappeared, he has grown into something larger than life, an urban legend dubbed ‘the crownless king’. Kimmy is nothing shy of absolutely giddy upon meeting Travis face-to-face, handing him a letter which reads:

“To my dearest Travis the Great,

       Hi there, Travis the Great! I am the girl who loves you the most in the entire world. But in order to prove I am your number one fan, I need some kind of evidence, because no matter how much I insist that I am your number one, any other chick or bitch can approach you and say the exact same thing. That is why I have decided that I should become strong. By doing so, I knew that someday I would be able to get closer to you. Putting my title as ‘Travis the Great’s number one fan’ on the line, I embarked on this path and ended up winning the National Student Assassination Championship. I really did my best. But you know, in hindsight, it was a cinch. I guess I’m just blessed. I can master in one day techniques that would take others years to do. Pretty awesome, right? And then, I got greedy - a new urge, a vision that just maybe I could win a fight against Travis the Great. Now my goal is to behead Travis the Great, therefore surpassing my hero. Whoops! Did I actually write that? It’s kind of embarrassing, you know. Well anyways, I’ve made up my mind. I made an oath. I won’t be killed by anyone. I shall defeat Travis the Great in battle – only then will Travis the Great become mine and mine only.

Love, Travis the Great’s number one fan, Kimmy Howell”

While Kimmy Howell’s fight certainly mixes up the routine just enough for players, it doesn’t offer many strikingly different patterns from previously-faced assassins. She shoots a stream of bubbles at Travis that can briefly stun him, and she has a decent range with her Darth Maul-inspired woodwind-instrument-turned-double-edged-beam-katana, but she’s not a particularly challenging foe on the whole. I believe this portion of the game was deliberately designed to give Travis an easier win than with much of the rest of the competition, reflecting Kimmy’s overconfidence and being in over her head with the business of fighting in the big leagues of the UAA. Just like with Shinobu, Travis spares Kimmy, knocking her out with a suplex, and proclaiming: “Screw this! I can’t kill a co-ed! Come see me after you graduate, and I’ll school you again!”

While it’s clear throughout both No More Heroes titles that Travis has no qualms about engaging in this UAA-sponsored death sport, he also has some degree of morals or standards. He is unwilling to kill younger, starry-eyed competitors, and it seems he is similarly not okay with Shinobu’s coming on to him in the sequel, as he informs her he cannot accept her advances on account of it making him feel like “a pervy teacher in a porn.” That said, it is not entirely clear if the age difference is truly what leads him to shoot down Shinobu, or if it is due to their history together and the fact that she has molded her new identity around Travis’ legendary status.

I already covered the respect Travis displays toward Alice Twilight in a previous part of this series, but there is one final assassin Travis expresses a particular fondness towards, and his word choice and body language indicate that he conveys both a respect out of honor toward Holly Summers, as well as some deeper emotional connection. Holly’s entire strategy revolves around setting traps for Travis to keep him at a distance, and yet she constantly throws him teasing phrases and cute looks that indicate she has some degree of interest in him, whether it is emotional attraction or simply that she is entertained by his taking their fight so seriously. Though we as players are informed of Ms. Summers name before the battle begins, as is tradition with each ranking fight in the first NMH title, Travis does not learn her name until after her suicide.

Holly: "A bud that will never blossom, a sad truth. Goodnight my sweet seventh."

Interesting about the relationship between Holly Summers and Travis Touchdown is that, despite his having clearly bested her, Travis seemingly has no intention of finishing her off. He views her as someone special, someone who stands out among all the other assassins he’s faced thus far. And yet, while Holly expresses that she has a thing for “stupid men” like Travis, and that she can see he has “budded” into something more than what she first gauged him to be, there is an order to things, a code that must be followed, and thus she pulls the pin on one final grenade which she places in her mouth. Hugging her now-decapitated body, Travis expresses that he loved Holly’s soul, indicating that even if there was not a mutual romantic energy between the two, there was certainly something valuable Travis gained from this fight. The conclusion of Travis’ fight with Holly Summers is the first major step we witness him take toward maturing as a man and as an assassin.

Holly: "Thank you. The moment you hesitated... I felt your embrace."

Holly is the only assassin that Travis provides a proper burial for, and he carries her body to the hole in the sand, a physical parallel to the weight he carries knowing that their time was cut short, that whatever he could have gained in terms of knowledge, emotional growth, or spiritual exploration from Holly Summers is forever lost. Though he refers to her as ‘Number six’ prior to her death, Travis asks Sylvia for her name, but stops Sylvia before she explains Holly’s life in further detail. It’s a sign that, as much as Holly’s death pains Travis, he realizes getting involved with any of these assassins will result in more than just physical pain, and that he needs to remove the human factor from the equation. At the same time, many of the assassins Travis faces from this point onward and even in the sequel are treated to some display of respect from Travis (Letz Shake, Ryuji, Margaret Moonlight, and Alice Twilight, to name a few). It’s a signifier that Travis understands that his role as an assassin is more than just a silly title as her initially believed, but that there is some strange thread of a common fate that connects him and all of the other assassins registered with the UAA.

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