I have significant trouble writing theories on certain characters in Street Fighter, especially if there is a lack of any mystery or if there are no small background details to tie anything together. Dhalsim was difficult. Cody was difficult. Even the Secret Society was hard because, admittedly, there wasn’t enough there – I wasn’t satisfied with the conclusion of that theory, but you have to go where the evidence takes you. I knew that Dan was going to be hard right from the outset: he’s a parody character, which means he does outright goofy things because Capcom is trying to make him funny. He’s a joke, plain and simple. He’s not meant to be deep. He’s not meant to have a mystery. He’s just fun, and that’s all Capcom wanted with him.
Unfortunately, behind Dan’s buffoonery is one of the most tragic characters in video game history. He lost his father, Go, at the hands of Sagat, and his entire life is based around making his father, or at least his spirit, proud. His attempts at martial arts are pathetic, and everyone who fights him knows just how terrible of a fighter he is. Dan appears to be an optimist, and he seems to always be able to bounce back with a goofy grin and charismatic energy.
However, this is far from the case. Dan Hibiki is an angry, bitter, hypocritical man, and everything he does is a way to cover up his own insecurities. Everything from chasing Sakura as a student to helping Blanka go through life to shaking G’s hand is a way for Dan to protect his own ego and make him seem better in everyone else’s eyes.
You may think to yourself, “Ok, he hasn’t really done anything that bad. Like you said, anything bad he does is because of the tragedies he’s had.” This is true, but there’s a line, and he’s crossed it many times over. Certainly, it’s funny to see a man who seems to be completely oblivious to his own failings. However, at best, he’s an egotistical jerk. Take his ending in Street Fighter IV, for example. When Ryu and Sakura save him and Blanka from a massive fire in Shadaloo’s base, he scolds them, telling them to be careful because “we may not be able to stand up to the next wave”. https://youtu.be/9R-HvhcS44s?t=5
It’s clear he’s being incredibly snobby to cover his own weaknesses. However, he goes beyond simple childish behavior into borderline predatory, especially when it comes to Sakura. Aside from desperately wanting her to be his student, it may be that Dan has a bit more of an uncouth mind than he lets on. In his Ultra Street Fighter IV intro, Dan has created a commercial to promote his Saikyo dojo, and there’s one line that’s… well… creepy:
“Everyone from high school hotties to Brazilian beastmen have benefitted from his [Dan’s] awesome instruction!” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=496-NyqJ7FU
That “high school hotties” line should be more than enough to raise an eyebrow, as the only high schooler that we’ve seen Dan attempt to train is Sakura, so it’s clear he thinks of her in a more intimate manner. Now, Street Fighter is made in Japan where the age of consent is lower than it is here, and it’s also entirely possible that Dan’s trying to attract a younger demographic for his dojo, so the line makes sense in context. It just sounds wrong coming from him, especially since he tells M. Bison in Street Fighter 4, “You’re evil and you laugh like a pervert!”
Let’s give Dan the benefit of the doubt, however, and say he’s just an oblivious and goofy idiot with no tact. This doesn’t explain another one of his negative traits: his aggression. The trauma from his father’s death along with the idea that he wants to honor his father’s memory by spreading Saikyo across the world is the catalyst for his intensity. It drives him so much that he believes that Saikyo, with all of its flaws, truly is the greatest martial art, especially since his dad was the inspiration for it. Therefore, it makes sense that Dan would be egocentric and aggressive – his dad was involved. Again, it all comes back to his father, and in the end, he seems to be trapped in a cycle: his arrogance stems from the idea that his father inspired his martial art, but when he thinks of his father and his death, he gets angrier, and when he gets angrier, he becomes more arrogant, and the cycle begins again.
How do we know he’s angry? It’s outright shown! Gouken, Rose, and Sagat all see the anger in his heart:
“Until you rid your heart of anger, your growth will remain forever stunted.” Gouken – Street Fighter IV
“You will not improve as long as you allow anger to fester in your heart.” Gouken – Super Street Fighter IV
“Let go of your grudges. Dwelling on the past prevents you from moving forward.” – Rose, Street Fighter IV
“Your bitterness does not interest me. A true warrior needs to have pride!” Sagat – Street Fighter IV
All three would know: Gouken was his teacher, Rose is a seer, and Sagat is the reformed villain who killed his father. Dan himself even hints at this anger when he defeats Sagat in Street Fighter IV: “Now I can finally visit my father´s grave without being ashamed…” In Super Street Fighter IV, he expresses his joy in beating Sagat: “Father! Did you see that? I finally did it!” The sheer guilt of being unable to save his father from death, even after beating Sagat, continues to gnaw away at him.
However, as stated by Gouken and Rose, if he were to somehow break the cycle he’s in and drop his anger and hatred, he’ll finally be able to progress past his weaknesses and become strong. The good news is that he’s actually doing this. He wants to teach a decisive useless martial art to people around the world, but the idea that he wants to teach at all is a pretty good starting point. In fact, teaching seems to be how some characters in Street Fighter make peace with themselves, as Feilong did it in Street Fighter II: The New Challengers and Chun-Li did it in Street Fighter III: Third Strike.
More so, Dan’s ability to teach seems to be working, as Blanka, of all people, states in his Super Street Fighter IV prologue, “Dan taught me how to be a better man.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SWniQVKKvaQ
In fact, Dan’s influence is so strong that in Super Street Fighter IV, both E. Honda and El Fuerte want him to join THEIR ranks.
“You oughta try sumo! I bet a unique fighter like you would be popular!” – E. Honda
“You’d make a great luchadore! What do you say?” – El Fuerte
So, what makes Dan Hibiki such a good teacher despite being a poor martial artist? What makes him become so well-liked amongst a certain circle? I’ve already revealed that everything Dan does is a way to cover up his bitterness and insecurities. It’s all an act.The truth behind Dan Hibiki is far simpler, however: he’s actually incredibly intelligent.
While he can’t fight, it isn’t the fighting that makes him stand out. Rather, it’s his ability to create and adapt as the situation demands it. While Saikyo is an amalgam of different martial arts, the idea that he’s able to create it at all means he’s done his research regarding multiple forms of martial arts. In fact, as his Wikia page states, “Although weak, Dan seems to still be somewhat intelligent and knowledgeable, possessing some knowledge of fighting styles; he acknowledges in Super Street Fighter IV that E. Honda uses moves that wouldn’t actually be considered legal in Sumo.” https://streetfighter.fandom.com/wiki/Dan
Moreso, Dan makes a number of appearances in games as an instructor, the most recent being Street Fighter V. He’s so knowledgeable, in fact, that he can break the fourth wall at times. That being said, his placement as a tutor is an acknowledgement by Capcom of his greatest strength – his brain.
Yes, Dan is goofy, but behind it all, he is an angry man who, if he can finally get it under control, will be able to become one of, if not THE smartest character in the entire game.
Any man who can come up with multiple creative ways to taunt an opponent and tell them they suck must be smart.