Over the thirty years that Street Fighter has existed, our culture has become more tolerant and accepting of people from all walks of life, and the game itself has changed to accommodate the world’s ever-changing perception. However, there has been one constant in Street Fighter’s long history: the seeming fear of its creators on the topic of sexuality. Granted, there have been very revealing costumes for their characters, for both men and women (Ryu, Chun-Li, Cammy, Urien), but outside of fanservice, there has been very little talk in canon on the topic of sex.
The fear is justified, if the controversy over the character Poison is any indication. When it was revealed by Yoshinori Ono that Poison was a male to female transgendered woman, there was enough public backlash where Ono recanted his statement and declared that Poison was “whatever you wanted her to be.” This didn’t stop Capcom from keeping Eagle a homosexual character, Ken and Hakan from being married to beautiful women with children, or stop them from the creation of the overtly sexual Juri Han. Capcom’s actions reveal that they want to imbue a sense of the real world within the world they’ve created. However, to prevent them from receiving negative responses to their characters, they only go forward with what is considered “acceptable” by the fanbase at large, so while there may be a homosexual or bisexual character from time to time, they don’t hook up with anyone, instead getting their frustrations out in the heat of actual combat.
This has left the creators in a tough spot. Since sex is considered taboo, they need to find a way to keep the sense of the real world alive while keeping the coveted T rating. In other words, how do you bring real world sexuality into a “children’s” game?
Animators have done this for years, sneaking in visual or audio gags as easter eggs for parents who watch their children’s cartoons. Certainly, this has been done in games as well. The real challenge, though, is making it part of the story. In the times we live in now, there is a demand for video game culture to be more aware of sexuality, and for the inclusion of the LGBT community. In other words, sexuality needs to not only be present, but it also has to be family-friendly, and the term “family-friendly” is different for everyone.
So how do you appeal to everyone without alienating anyone? You do things subtly and never reveal your true intentions.
Capcom has been telling this type of story for years under everyone’s noses. In fact, it’s so subtle that the most overt clues need to be scrutinized heavily to get a clear picture of it. Street Fighter is more than just a game of people fighting. It’s about a sexual coming of age for some of its most prominent characters.
And it’s all been told through the story of the Satsui no Hado.
(While the Satsui no Hado was expanded on in the Udon Street Fighter comics, especially within the Dark Sakura timeline, and holds many design details that can pertain to the topic at hand, for the purposes of this theory we will stick only to the main games and official first-party lore.)
Wielded by Akuma, the Satsui No Hado is one of the most powerful elements in Street Fighter lore. As it is the literal desire to kill to become stronger, it is the pinnacle of the power of darkness, and is shown to not only be corrupt, but to also have the ability to corrupt others (this was, again, shown prominently in the Dark Sakura storyline in the comics). Akuma’s role in the storyline is as a tempter; he wants Ryu to succumb to the Dark Hado to be able to fight him to the death as a test of strength. Ryu’s journey is his battle with the Satsui No Hado and his ability to conquer it. However, it can also be looked at in a different way: Ryu’s journey is also his own battle with his sexuality.
This is not to say that the Satsui no Hado is the state of being homosexual within the world of Street Fighter. It isn’t. What the Satsui no Hado actually is is the manifestation of the perception of a predominantly heterosexual culture that considers homosexuality immoral. In essence, the Satsui no Hado IS Ryu’s struggle with his sexuality, as canonically, the Satsui no Hado is the embodiment of conflict. Since the Satsui No Hado can be accessed by anyone, regardless of martial art, this is why Ken, Hakan, Eagle, Sakura, Poison (if we accept that she is transgender), and Dhalsim are not affected by it in-game: they have all accepted their own respective sexualities.
This brings us to another point: Akuma is questioning HIS own sexuality, and it is this that is the source of his power.
Homosexuality is seen as a forbidden state of being, if talking to certain members of our own families isn’t already proof enough. This is the same for the Satsui No Hado, if Gouken’s warnings to Ryu about using it are any indication. Being homosexual and using the Satsui No Hado are two sides of the same biased coin.
In fact, it’s this perception of the Satsui No Hado that Oro discusses with Dhalsim in Part 2 of the official side story Musings on a Still Night: https://game.capcom.com/cfn/sfv/column/130258
Take a look at this abbreviated excerpt:
Oro: “Psycho Power, Ki, the power of Yoga, the Satsui no Hado…. You know what I think? These powers are all the same, when you follow them to their root.”
Dhalsim: “Ki techniques, Psycho Power, my own Yoga Power…they come from the same source of power, but the ways we achieve that power, and rise above our limits, are different?”
Oro: “Exactly. With training, we fish too may fly.”
Before this excerpt, Oro gave Dhalsim a demonstration of the Satsui no Hado. Dhalsim’s response to it, to react in a strongly negative fashion, is a typical reaction of most people who find out a loved one is gay. However, more to the point, it shows that Oro has mastered his own sexuality: canonically, he loves women, and his being able to control the Satsui no Hado shows he can control his own urges as well. Basically, with this display, Capcom wants to say that sexuality can be fashioned much in the same way as the Satsui no Hado: it can be a force for good or it can be a force for evil. (In fact, this has happened in real life. Take Billie Jean King, Elton John, and Hugh Hefner for the good side and infamous murderers Karla Faye Tucker, John Wayne Gacy, and Ted Bundy for the evil side).
With all of this being said, the question remains: how do we know that the Satsui No Hado is a budding manifestation and struggle with homosexual desire? There are two primary pieces of evidence.
The first is Akuma’s complete obsession with Ryu. He desires to fight him and only him, and to bring out the Satsui no Hado in him. In not seducing an arguably easier target in Sakura (who is younger, has far more potential, and is not as experienced to handle her own wants and needs as Ryu is his own), he projects two things: his complete rejection of women, and his preference towards male adversaries. His primary rivals are all men: Ryu, Gouken, Gen, and Bison (an argument could be made for Rose, but even then, he considers her an annoyance at best and she’s the good half of Bison’s soul anyway (which opens up a whole new set of doors on gender and good and evil)).
In fact, take a look at Akuma’s English ending in Street Fighter 4: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3MSsCZEjwu8
At the 28 second mark, he states to Gouken, “Let this be a fight to the death. The winner claims the cub.” The word “cub” is a double reference, chosen intentionally by Capcom’s English writers. It not only describes Ryu’s youth relative to Akuma and Gouken, it’s also a slang term for a young gay man.
This can be brushed off as circumstantial. However, there’s one last piece of evidence to point out, as Ryu and Akuma aren’t the only ones involved with the Satsui no Hado.
Sagat is struggling with it as well.
The strongest evidence of the link between the Satsui no Hado and homosexuality is in Sagat’s story mode in Street Fighter 5. Take a look at 3:42 on. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4kyORTGLpfY
The Satsui no Hado changes Sagat’s perception of Namupun from a caring child to a demon that urges him to kill. This was done not just to show the Satsui no Hado corrupting the wielder’s psyche, but to show exactly what it does in regards to the perception of the opposite sex. What Sagat sees in the girl is what Akuma would see if he looked at her: fear. Even Sagat says that it was pathetic he would “fear the shadow of a child”; and while closeted homosexuals don’t fear the opposite sex, this ties in perfectly with the fear of coming out: the inability to have “normal” relations as defined by societal structure and the idea that what they’re experiencing is “wrong.”
At first glance, it seems Akuma fears nothing. But with everything said here, there is one thing he is afraid of: losing to a warrior he deems to be inferior. The Satsui no Hado taints his perception that women are inferior for his needs, both sexually and on the battlefield. This ties back to how society sees homosexuality: as a forbidden choice, rather than a natural state of being.
However, in Part 2 of Musings on a Still Night, it’s Oro who states it best: “Power itself is neither good nor evil. Even in the case of… the Satsui no Hado.”
The story continues: “His final point he left unspoken; that labeling a power as evil only invites errors when working to suppress it.”
This is the message Capcom wants to send to its audience: Never label something or someone you do not understand.