Sunday, January 25, 2015

How does your beam katana swing?: gender identity and sexuality in No More Heroes - part six: Steel Python/Pleather for Breakfast

This is the sixth 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.

Steel Python

While much of this series has been focused on the female characters in the No More Heroes games, I’d like to focus these next portions on some of the male characters. I previously covered Letz Shake and Harvey Moiseiwitsch Volodarskii as examples of nontraditional, possibly androgynous or bisexual characters respectively. In these particular segments, I will be shifting the focus to the complete opposite – male characters who display masculine traits and how this reflects upon other characters as well as the multi-layered themes of No More Heroes in the narrative of the game world, as well as two games’ purposes as commentary on the video game industry circa the late 2000s.

The first assassin Travis squares off against actually occurs in the intro sequence, the eleventh-ranked Helter Skelter, who is referred to as ‘the drifter’ as something of a sly means of getting Travis wrapped up in the business of the UAA. As Sylvia explains some time into the first No More Heroes adventure, Travis essentially has to continue fighting onwards and upwards, lest some new challenger attempt to usurp him from his current ranking in the UAA. It’s a deadly game, and once someone takes that first step on the road to glory, they are essentially locked in until either they make it to the top, or someone cuts them down.

The first fight that is properly playable, however, sees Travis square off with the gruff, tattoo and piercing-decorated Death Metal, whose mansion effectively serves as the game's tutorial segment. The mansion itself is extravagant and quite sizeable, as Travis circles around a number of hallways, winding his way up and down staircases as new doors open and more goons pour forth to challenge this young pompadour-sporting punk. Marble pillars stretch toward a high-rise ceiling, and one particularly large room boasts paintings of Death Metal with beautiful blonde women clinging to his legs.

This lavish lifestyle is everything Travis hopes to find when he reaches the number one rank, and yet, despite his oceanfront property complete with pool and gazebo, Death Metal informs Travis that what he sees before him is “no paradise” – that everything in this mansion is effectively a façade, that championing the cause of becoming a skilled assassin comes at a higher price than most would be willing to consider. Death Metal has become disillusion with the UAA ranking fights, and responds to Travis’ being so impressed with his estate with the following: “I am free of desire. So long as I have this scenery to look upon, I need nothing more. Please leave me be.” Later in the game, Travis witnesses this firsthand through the death of Holly Summers, and it strikes a particular chord with him, serving as one of the first major moments that leads him to change and mature as a character. Here, however, Travis is naïve and cocky, and does not heed Death Metal’s warnings, instead telling him to make way for the new generation. Death Metal and Travis’ exchange continues thus:

Travis: “You’re the one leaving – in a body bag!”
Death Metal: “I’ll only say this once more: leave here, now!”
Travis: “Heh, me leave? You obviously don’t know me!”
Death Metal: “You don’t get it, do you?”
Travis: “Hey, you know what paradise is, right?”
Death Metal: “Paradise?”
Travis: “This is paradise; the place where dreams are fulfilled. Well you’ve had your dream, old man – time to wake up!”
Death Metal: “This is no paradise.”
Travis: “Alright, then what is it?”
Death Metal: “A place to die.”
Travis: “Heh. I’m glad you and I are on the same page, here.”
Death Metal: “So naïve. You have no idea, do you? What a pity. You make an old man cry. Arrogant crude little shits like you come around from time to time. Listen well, young one: the wall is high, higher than you will ever know.”

This theme of Travis being the arrogant youth challenging are far more seasoned and disillusioned competitor carries over to the ninth ranking fight with Dr. Peace, who Sylvia describes as, “a dirty and unscrupulous detective with plenty of dark secrets about him – illegal investigations, illicit sales, black marketing. He is your one-stop shop for marketing illegal goods. And, on top of that, he is a trained assassin. He’s been doing some work for the mafia, and before you know it, he’s up there, ranked ‘ninth’ on the list.” The fight with Dr. Peace takes place in Santa Destroy’s baseball stadium, and is preceded with a musical number by the good doctor, as he was allowed to request whatever he wanted from the UAA, courtesy of Travis’ hefty entry fees.

The conversation between the two sees Travis irked about his hard-earned money being used to cater to his next foe, while Dr. Peace’s more genuine responses to Travis’ inquiries reveal some interesting details about his character and his life outside of the killing scene.

Dr. Peace: “My ex-wife called me the other day, and I met my daughter for the first time in ten years. We dined at a fancy restaurant – one of those that are impossible to get a reservation for. And then afterwards, karaoke!”
Travis: “Who got you the reservation?”
Dr. Peace: “The association took care of it, of course.”
Travis: “Fuck. My entry fee.”
Dr. Peace: “What’s important is not the fact that reservations are hard to get. In fact, no one ‘gets’ reservations. The words ‘reservations only’ apply only to those outside of the circle. It’s getting into that circle that matters.”
Travis: “And the food – good?!?”
Dr. Peace: “Unfortunately, the atmosphere was a façade. Not once did my own daughter look me in the eye. ...Oh the food? Tasted like blood.”
Travis: “You’re a junkie for blood, old man!”
Dr. Peace: “Sadly, I can’t disagree. There’s only one way to live. People like us, we’re sharks attracted to blood. You smelled blood too, didn’t you? Isn’t that why you’re here?”
Travis: “You got it old man! And for some reason, I feel this sense of… euphoria!”
Dr. Peace: “Don’t die on me too quickly. I want to gorge myself on this sense of fulfillment ‘till I vomit!”
Travis: “Man, this is what I live for! Fighting your own kind – nothing’s more gratifying!”
Dr. Peace: “See you on the other side.”

While Travis’ close-quarters beam katana strikes could not be more different from Dr. Peace’s rapid flurry of pistol shots, their duel ultimately ends on a quick-draw standoff torn right out of a spaghetti western film. With one fluid strike to the gut, Dr. Peace is knocked onto his hands and knees, sputtering as he slowly bleeds out. Before he draws his final breath, Dr. Peace relays one final message to his daughter, but with only Travis and an empty stadium to hear him.

Dr. Peace: “Next song I sing, I know my… daughter will love. Won’t you, darlin’? Better practice my rap. Rap with me, Jennifer…”

Pleather for Breakfast

In No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle, there is an assassin by the name of Million Gunman who shares a strikingly similar aesthetic to Dr. Peace with his facial hair, older age, and reliance on revolvers. But aside from Million Gunman’s love of money (which he reminds Shinobu of time and time again, due to his seemingly limited pool of overly-active taunt quotes) the sequel game never paints as colorful a picture of him as the first game did with Dr. Peace. What follows below involves some heavy theory and speculation, and admittedly does not have as much direct in-game substance to back it up as my previous theory in connecting Margaret Moonlight and Alice Twilight.

While Dr. Peace is the first assassin Travis faces in Santa Destroy’s baseball stadium, he later returns to challenge Bad Girl in a separate section beneath the stadium. Bad Girl wields a bloody baseball bat, and when Travis first enters her batting-practice-room-turned-bachelorette-pad, she is seen whacking her bat into the heads of men bound in full leather S&M gear as they helplessly ride down a conveyer belt toward her, gleefully snapping the necks of each one. Upon Travis’ arrival, Bad Girl brings her routine to a halt, and says: “Phew! What a day. I need a drink – so fuckin’ thirsty. Hold on a sec.” She ignores the last gagged and bound man on the conveyer belt, walking over to her mini-fridge and shotgunning a beer before tossing the can aside, belching, and exclaiming, “Damn, that’s smooth. I feel alive again. Want a drink?”  Travis’ facial expressions in this particular scene indicate he is, at the very least, mildly perturbed by Bad Girl’s behavior, and he turns down her offer of tossing him a cold brew.

Bad Girl: “Pop quiz: why am I such an angry bitch? Seriously, no matter how many I kill, it’s all the same. They’re all going to pay – yeah, with their fucking lives!”
Travis: “You’re a bad girl.”
Bad Girl: “You have no right to look at me like that. It’s just a job, the daily grind.”
Travis: “You’re no assassin, you’re just a perverted killing maniac.”
Bad Girl: “In essence, they’re the same. Don’t go on thinking you’re better than me. You think you’re hot shit! Who the fuck do you think you are?!? Come on!”

The dialogue with Bad Girl is considerably shorter than with practically any other assassin in the first game – even Letz Shake receives a considerable amount of time to amp up the atmosphere of his battle with Travis before its hilariously tragic anti-climax. The conversation with Bad Girl is also decidedly one-sided, with Bad Girl’s responses being so aggressively defensive. Bad Girl’s disheveled hair and baggy eyes indicate that she has done quite a lot of drinking as of late, and her general behavior in battle is as fetishistic as her hobby of killing leather-bound men. Bad Girl lets her hips sway as she struts toward Travis, her pink and frilly dress a deceptive parallel to her sadistic attacks that involve lighting her bat on fire and dropping to the floor, pouting in an attempt to draw Travis close for an instant kill move wherein she beats him senseless.

Even after she’s been impaled with Travis’ beam katana, Bad Girl refuses defeat, knocking Travis to the floor to smack him as many more times as she can while she showers blood out both the front and back of her torso, shouting, “I won’t lose! I will never lose!” Travis, doing his best to take the brunt of the force from her swings with his hands, tells her, “I give up! You win!”, which prompts Bad Girl to fall on her hands and knees just above Travis. “Yes! I’ve won!” she exclaims, with an innocent, bubbly giggle before she collapses dead on top of Travis.

It would appear that Bad Girl seeks only praise, and that she does not take kindly to anyone who would dare to challenge her, immediately antagonizing them as she did Travis. Meanwhile, all of her victims on the conveyer belt have their legs and arms bound, rendering them completely incapable of escaping her swings, and similarly incapable of challenging her in any way. Essentially, she appears to feed her own ego on the idea that she is unbeatable, unstoppable, and that she is carrying out some greater service by offing these men, all while they have no visible faces – they are presented to her as targets, not human beings. The idea that Bad Girl is fueled by some hatred of men seems a bit more dark and serious in tone than many of the vices exhibited by her fellow assassins. There is, however, a theorized connection that some fans have drawn between Bad Girl and Dr. Peace, linking them as daughter and father.

As Dr. Peace explains in his pre-fight dialogue, he had dinner with his ex-wife and daughter at a restaurant, after not having seen his daughter in a decade. He states that, much as he appreciated the UAA going to such lengths to set things up for him, the dinner did not go over well, that the atmosphere betrayed everyone’s true feelings, and that his daughter did not so much as look him in the eye. Using the shared location of the baseball stadium as the common denominator for these two assassins seems perhaps a bit of a stretch, but if Dr. Peace was indeed Bad Girl’s father, it would help to explain a great deal about her.

Dr. Peace is said to be a black market dealer, someone who is involved with dirty investigations, and who is very good at what he does in both his work with criminal organizations as well as his role as the ninth-ranked assassin. The No More Heroes Wiki states that Bad Girl is twenty-three years old at the time of her fight with Travis, meaning that the last time she saw her father was when she was thirteen, undergoing puberty and dealing with all the emotional and hormonal changes that come as a result of that. If all that Bad Girl knew about her father was that he was into some sinister and bloody business, and that he had put his illegal work before his role as a father, she might be inclined to resent him and everything he stood for. While we don’t know the sort of home life she grew up in, other factors between these key developmental years and adulthood could have extrapolated upon her negative feelings toward her father to expand into a more extreme generalization that she views men as potential causes for her emotional suffering and/or threats to her well-being, or that she utilizes them as stand-ins to project intense feelings of frustration toward her father onto. Perhaps Bad Girl’s alcoholic tendencies tie into this as well, though it could also be the case that she was downing beer in excess to deal with the recent death of her father, someone who seemingly showed up out of nowhere ten years after skipping out on her to host an ill-fated attempt at reconnecting, only to go ahead and get himself killed the very next day, with nothing reconciled in the end. Again, this last portion of this particular entry is heavily rooted in fan-proposed content, none of which has actually been confirmed since the initial release of No More Heroes, but it could provide some compelling introspection on two of Santa Destroy's most skilled assassins.

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