My previous theory got quite a few readers. I pointed out how everyone in the series was pretty much in it for those sweet, sweet fame dollars, even the ones who seemed to have no need for money. I even showed that Akuma was not technologically illiterate, having a smartphone of his own to take that infamous selfie of him and Elena. As the years go on, the characters of Street Fighter evolve with them, each character having some reference to the times they’re living in now. However, there’s one character in particular who appears to have a hard time fitting in, someone who is extremely popular, but is a product of his time – Zangief.
He hasn’t really changed much since his debut in Street Fighter II, being a patriotic Russian who fights merely for the love of his country. Sure, he’s become more and more of an iconic wrestling star in-game as the years go on, but he’s still the Soviet idealist he always was.
Or is he?
Sure, love for one’s country still exists. Americans love the U.S., Brits love the U.K., the Japanese love Japan, and yes, Russians love Russia. However, while most of these countries have been consistent with their ideals in the last 50 years, Russia is different: it went from Communist rule, one which puts emphasis on the people as a whole over all things, to a semi-presidential republic, one which still puts emphasis on the people as a whole, but allows more, albeit limited, expression on individuality and individual needs.
The two most patriotic characters in the game, Guile and Zangief, have always been forward about their ideals, but whereas Guile has always been consistent with his idea of what America is (freedom, the military, “America, F*** Yeah” – Street Fighter edition: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1rciiJSsLfA), Zangief’s ideals have evolved with his country.
And it’s changed him for the worse.
In the beginning, Zangief was wrestling simply because he believed in his country, and believed his country’s wrestling was superior to all other fighting styles. Take a look at Street Fighter II ending. https://youtu.be/ejJIILrrb0E?t=15
This ending is pretty cut and dry: Zangief beats Bison and then gets to celebrate by Cossack dancing with Mikhail Gorbachev. That’s… quite the reward.
Now look at his Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix ending. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-wUwK0CDR7A
This one goes a bit further. Zangief beats Bison, and returns home to train with bears. However, his seclusion is interrupted by the manager of the largest wrestling organization in the world, who offers him a lucrative contract. Although Zangief declines at first, stating he has no need for money, he relents when he is told he can display his power for the world.
Zangief accepts, and from here, he becomes entrenched in the glory and fortune of wrestling. While he still believes in his homeland, you begin to see his beliefs shift. Take a look at his Street Fighter IV prologue and ending. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SYO6V5x4pdU
Zangief goes from wanting to fight for his homeland to wanting to become a role model to kids and young men. That’s not a bad goal at all.
Then we start to see a few more things start to shift. He used to flat-out dislike beautiful, young women (the rumor was he was supposed to be gay). This was changed to having a dislike of beautiful, young women of a marriageable age (because he found them to be a distraction). In Street Fighter V, guess who he hangs around with?
He helps train not one, BUT TWO young women of a marriageable age: Laura Matsuda and Rainbow Mika. So, now we have an interesting dilemma. Everything we knew about Zangief is getting turned on its head. He’s gone from “fight for the motherland” to “fight for the children” to “fight with hot women.”
What is happening here? Sure, we can argue the idea that Capcom is unable to keep track of what Zangief is supposed to actually be. However, Capcom is merely changing with the times and adapting their product to whatever comes their way, and Zangief is the prime example of what Capcom is actually trying to do. His shift is subtle enough to not be noticed at all. However, he has now departed from what made him Zangief.
How do we know this? Because there’s something else that changed along with his ideals: his fighting style. Originally, he was all about Russian wrestling. According to Fandom, this has been changed from Russian wrestling to a “[m]ix of Russian and American pro wrestling.” https://streetfighter.fandom.com/wiki/Zangief
In other words, Zangief changed because Zangief became more American, and with it, the desires he suppressed for so long became more active. Now he wants fame. Now he wants fortune. Now he wants women. And now, he wants to be the bad guy for a change.
In the 1994 Street Fighter movie, Street Fighter American cartoon, and Wreck-It-Ralph, he was portrayed, non-canonically, as a bad guy. Audiences who have had little exposure to Street Fighter outside of those sources think Zangief has always been a bad guy.
Capcom’s thinking? “Let’s roll with it!” Enter The Gief.
The Gief is a masked heel version of Zangief, and an alternate costume. However, what sets this costume apart from his other ones is that this costume has different win quotes that reflect his new persona. https://gamefaqs.gamespot.com/boards/895976-street-fighter-v/77528165
There are two quotes in particular that reflect his newfound nastiness, one to Juri and one to Ken.
Juri: “Listen up! I live my life the way I see fit!”
Ken: “Gwahahaha! The Gief couldn’t care less about the fans!”
Zangief, as a heel, has become the exact opposite of everything he wanted to become. He threw away everything he cared about and embraced the excess and capitalism he was raised to avoid.
You have to think maybe this is what Zangief wanted all along. Even before The Gief was even a costume, there was already a huge hint that Zangief was different: his theme. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yc1mMZzwq-c
It’s more than just a remix. That four note sting at :09, along with the horns, is a callback to one of the most infamous video game villains of all time. This is His Highness’s theme from Mother 3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aKzRhveK7sQ
Zangief is Street Fighter’s version of Porky Minch, and no capsule is going to keep anyone absolutely safe.