Food For Thought: The Secret of Sakura Kasugano

Street Fighter: The Official Street Food Cookbook has been released, and it holds over 80 recipes inspired by the characters and real-world locales that make up the Street Fighter universe. The author, Victoria Rosenthal, has plenty of experience writing gaming-related culinary literature. She has also written Fallout: The Vault Dweller’s Official Cookbook and Destiny: The Official Cookbook, both of which were embraced by their respective communities. After reading the third of this series of offically licensed cookbooks, I realized something about one of the characters in Street Fighter I hadn’t seen before; as you can tell from the title, it’s Sakura.

Now, this cookbook is a bit of an oddity within the Street Fighter universe, considering that along with the many Asian-inspired delicious recipes you can find in the book, it also contains character lore that the author herself lovingly crafted, and she does a great job regarding the interactions between Sakura, the star of the book, and the other characters who are featured in their respective sections. The author did much research on both the recipe- and lore-fronts, and as such, her creativity is something to be struck by. That being said, this cookbook has one major question that needs to be answered: is it canon?

For some people, the idea that the author made it up proves to them that this is nothing more than officially licensed fan fiction, and therefore not canon. Certainly, the same could be said about other officially licensed Street Fighter products, including the many shows and movies based around the game, from the Jean-Claude Van Damme movie and U.S. cartoon to the Street Fighter II animated movie, Street Fighter II V, and the Alpha OVAs to Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist, Street Fighter: Resurrection, the Versus games, the Udon comics, and the list goes on.

What sets this cookbook apart from all of these other things, though, is that the story that unfolds throughout its pages are contained within the world and canon of the game; everything we see in the cookbook is already canon to the characters it spotlights, from the attitudes certain characters have to references to other Street Fighter-related media (including a wonderful reference to the manga Sakura Ganbaru!, which was responsible for several elements of Sakura’s character as well as leading to the canonical creation of Karin Kanzuki). Outside of some minor characters who anyone could encounter in real life, such as a storeowner who tries to keep Sakura from talking about the Illuminati, Rosenthal isn’t creating new, non-canonical characters from scratch like most other licensed projects do – she strictly uses who is there and who we already know about and uses their canon stories to create the lore within the book.
In brief blurbs, several stories emerge that are fascinating to read, and certainly make for an entertaining, if fleeting, distraction from the book’s primary function – cooking food. Still, the question of its canonicity needed to be resolved, and so I did the only thing I could do: I asked the author herself. Her answer?

The author herself can’t say if it’s canon, but it is an officially licensed product written with the game’s lore in mind, meaning that the ultimate decision is up to Capcom, and they haven’t said anything on the matter. However, considering that people who are interested in the lore of Fallout and Destiny like what Rosenthal did and have seemingly wholeheartedly accepted those cookbooks as canon, there just wouldn’t be a good reason to say the Street Fighter cookbook isn’t, especially since Capcom approved of everything in it. So, unless Capcom says otherwise, the book is canon.

With this out of the way, now we can finally focus on Sakura’s story, and what we find is an interesting, yet disturbing look at a young woman who is on the brink. Sakura maintains a generally happy, stable personality, but upon deeper scrutiny, we see that Sakura is struggling to hold her very hectic life together. In order to maintain it, she has no other choice but to use a common crutch to get through it all.

Basically, Sakura is an alcoholic.

This is a very good time to note that I am by no means making light of substance abuse, and the subject of alcoholism is a touchy subject for a lot of people, especially those who have lived through it. Having members of my own family subjected to substance abuse, a few who died from it, it’s a deeply personal matter. Still, the evidence that is there leads me to this conclusion, and as always these theories follow the threads that are found. Usually, this leads to some twisted stuff, and this theory is no exception. Therefore, if the subject matter is uncomfortable for you, I would recommend you not to read any further. However, if you are willing to continue reading, I will present the evidence that is there as clearly as I can and you can make your own decisions.

In regards to the evidence I have, the first thing that needs to be noted is that there are no scenes to be found in the main series of games where Sakura can be found drinking anything. Instead, the focus is on her attempts to meet Ryu and not what happens in the duration between them. This makes it very difficult to determine whether or not Sakura has a drinking problem since she is never shown drinking.

The cookbook, however, brings Sakura’s situation to light. While there are a lot of recipes in the book for food, there are more than a few recipes for beverages. In fact, there are 13 drinks in the book a person can make and a whopping SEVEN are alcoholic: Charging Buffalo, Sonic Boom, Aura Soul Spark, Gohadoken, Fuharenkyaku, Psycho Blast, and Hadoken. All of these recipes were collected after Sakura hung out with other drinkers – Guile, Chun-Li, Rose, Juri, and Ryu. The interesting part is that Sakura somehow had time to make these drinks herself, two of which she outright states to have invented.

In honor of Ryu, her mentor and unrequited love, Sakura created the Hadoken, a citrus-flavored shochu and blue Curaçao beverage that was meant to emulate Ryu’s signature attack. As she states in the cookbook, “I came up with this blue drink to share with Ryu to remind me of the lengths I went to get stronger.”

By now, you might be asking yourself, “Wait, Ryu is a drinker?” He is, and he apparently knows the differences between beverages. On the same page as the recipe for the Gohadoken, Sakura writes, “After my duel with Ryu, we stopped by a local place for drinks. He ordered a sangria, fruit immersed in a beautiful red swirl…. Using Akuma as a cautionary tale, he warned of the murderous intent, the Satsui no Hado, that he’s always struggled with. The negative effects can grow stronger, similar to how the fruit in sangria that grows more alcoholic the longer it sits.”

“This proves nothing,” you say. “It’s clearly a way to transition into the recipe. This is just the story in the cookbook. Ryu is very healthy, watching what he puts into his body, and a martial artist like that would never-“

From the canon Street Fighter IV: The Ties That Bind, we see Ryu drinking at a bar called the Caribbean with an unspecified drink in a red cup. Based on the size of the cup, it’s likely a hard liquor. We get a better view of the cup from the trucker Ryu has a conversation with in the same scene.

In other words, several people that Sakura admires (and Juri) love booze. It’s pretty clear to see that Sakura would fall into the habit pretty easily. However, there’s a huge difference between being a social drinker and using alcohol regularly. So how do we know that Sakura is coping with life through alcohol? There are some signs.

In Sakura’s Street Fighter IV: Aftermath trailer, Sakura herself states what it’s like for her both as a fighter and as a person.

Sakura is very impulsive, and runs into a perpetual cycle of chasing her goals, failing, and then getting up again. The problem is that there’s only so much a person, fictional or otherwise, can take before they would need to rely on some kind of outside help, be it a drinking habit or otherwise. Sakura’s trailer does end with a positive note, showing her optimistic personality. When asked why she fights, she states:

She pushes herself to become better and stronger, and wants the best for herself. This is fine, but this drive has also brought her into some very dangerous situations, one of which we see in her ending in Street Fighter IV.

Sakura is nearly corrupted by Seth’s BLECE Project as it tries to fill her body with the Satsui no Hado. Ryu ends up saving her by blowing it up.

Going back as far as Alpha, Sakura fought Bison head on (with Ken) to rescue Ryu from being overtaken by the Satsui no Hado. Sakura, having had a taste of both the Satsui no Hado and Bison’s Psycho Power, would have first-hand experience of what both are like, and her description of the latter in the Street Fighter cookbook paints a telling scene.

As Sakura states, “The few ties I’ve had to face him in a fight were terrible experiences, and I almost felt intoxicated going up against his Psycho Power.” This quote is taken from Bison’s section above the recipe for the second drink she said she created, Psycho Blast. It’s interesting that Sakura would create a drink that reminded her of Bison and named another one, the Gohadoken, after one of Akuma’s Satsui no Hado-powered attacks, but I suppose that’s the nature of the cookbook. That being said, the idea that she “almost felt intoxicated” fighting Bison is an interesting phrase, as it implies two things: that Psycho Power made it feel like she was drunk and that she knows what it’s like to be intoxicated.

In other words, she’s been hammered before.

“Well, we should expect this,” you say. “She’s a social person. She’s had to have gone out and partied with her friends. You pointed out that she hangs out with drinkers. What’s the problem here?” The problem is that she’s probably been drinking a long time. This is present in her knowledge of creating drinks from scratch. However, there is one scene in The Ties That Bind that points to the idea she’s been drinking since she was young.

Sakura shows up at Ken Master’s estate, where to her delight, she is treated with sandwiches and a tall drink. The question, however, is what is she drinking in this scene?

“Oh come on!,” you scream. “That’s obviously some kind of juice! You can see the straw!” That actually proves nothing. In fact, as I was doing research on this theory, I happened to find this article from the website Taste Translation.

It talks about the Junmaishu Cup, an on-the-go sake product of which you can drink through a straw. You can see what it looks like on the original Japanese website as well, and as you can see, it’s specifically designed to appeal to women.

“Ok, that’s a cup. What about the huge glass she’s holding at Ken’s place?” Well, it wouldn’t just be any sake she’d be drinking – it’d be the kind only people like Ken could afford. Koshu sake is a hard-to-find type of sake that is aged for several years, with some of that time being spent aging in oak barrels, much like bourbon. This process not only gives the spirit a more robust flavor, but also gives it a distinct amber color, the same color as Sakura’s “juice”. The aging process is what makes it so rare and so expensive, and why only someone like Ken could pour a guest, like Sakura, a huge glass of it.

And before you say anything, yes, she drank it really fast. She also showed no signs of inebriation, and was later even willing to go undercover as a call girl with Chun-Li to infiltrate Seth’s cruise ship without any loss of motor skill (although you could argue you would need to be inebriated to do something like that willingly; also, considering that some time does pass between Sakura emptying her glass and the infiltration of the ship, it could also be argued that the alcohol was already out of her system, even though it appears it took place within a 24-hour period). All things considered, it seems that Sakura has a very high tolerance for alcohol, and needs a lot of it just to feel a buzz.

To get to the point where alcohol barely affects her, Sakura must have been drinking from an early age and built up the tolerance over time (or she’s somehow mastered the natural poisons in her body like F.A.N.G to the point she can’t get drunk ever). Underage drinking is a thing in the real world, so it would make sense that it would exist in the Street Fighter universe as well. So do we have any evidence of Sakura being an underage drinker? No, but we don’t need it, because the only thing we need is evidence that underage drinking exists in the Street Fighter universe, with or without Sakura’s presence. As it turns out, we not only have that, but it all comes back to Sakura anyway.

Karin has a tendency to throw lavish parties, and she spares no expense in refreshments. Being a young woman of refined tastes, she opts for fancier brands of spirits, as can be seen from this shot of the real-life champagne Moët & Chandon.

She keeps her Moët & Chandon in her pretty cabinet, but it’s not very clear what else she buys considering many of the bottles in this scene are unlabelled. What we can identify, however, is that she’s also fond of alcohol, which means she’s going to serve it to her guests, but there’s one person in particular she serves it to that should raise a few eyebrows.

Ibuki is still a high school student in Street Fighter V, and considering the legal age to drink in Japan is 20, Ibuki shouldn’t have a glass of red wine in front of her at all. How do we know this is red wine? The bottle across from her holds some clues.

Despite my and several other people’s best efforts, it was impossible for any of us to find out exactly what the label of this bottle said. However, we know a few things, like the fact it’s a two-word brand, the first letter of each word beginning with “M”. We also know it comes in a blue bottle, which makes it more likely to be a red wine or even a rosé or moscato. The proximity of the bottle to Ibuki’s wine glass, however, is most telling, as it is the only bottle on the table and is perfectly within Ibuki’s reach. There’s enough evidence here to show that whatever is in the bottle is in Ibuki’s glass, and furthermore, it’s a red wine of some sort.

What it comes down to is that Karin and her servants are serving wine to a minor, and Karin, being Karin, will get away with it scot-free. Since this is the case, we can assume then that Karin knows she can get away with it because she has done this before. Who else could she have possibly served a cocktail to?

To be fair, knowing Karin’s character, this probably isn’t supposed to be nefarious. She would have been drinking at a young age herself and, after the hell she had been put through by her demanding father, probably just wanted a drinking buddy. So, it’s pretty easy to see a teenaged Karin and Sakura sharing some bubbly together in their high school uniforms and talking about life.

The thing is she passed on her addiction to Sakura, and is now trying to pass it on to Ibuki. That’s borderline predatory and just plain creepy. Then again, Ken served Sakura, too, so this must be a tradition among rich people in the Street Fighter universe. It turns out, though, that everyone’s choice of occupation tends to play a role in substance abuse as well.

Sports have had a long track sheet of people who ended up suffering from substance abuse problems. Sometimes, people would play a sport to get away from drugs and alcohol, become lauded for their skill in that sport, and then feel enough pressure to take those substances anyway. Basically, while sports can get people out of trouble, it can also get people into trouble, and martial arts is no exception. Take a look at the stories of UFC fighters Mike Perry, B.J. Penn, Jon Jones, and Lauren Murphy, for example. Every one of them had substance abuse issues at some point in their lives. In fact, alcoholism in particular has been a staple of martial arts for hundreds of years, going all the way back to the creations of Drunken boxing and Drunken Monkey kung fu. For a bunch of professional street fighters to turn out to be heavy drinkers isn’t the exception – it’s the rule.

Sakura becoming involved in that world would mean she would likely pick up the same habits as everyone else. While she’s seen as a pure and precocious young woman, she nonetheless could absolutely be a heavy drinker herself. She may not show the obvious signs of being in a constant state of drunkenness, but there could be a far lesser-known sign that she is – the abundant energy she’s known for. I stumbled across an interesting article from Psychology Today, revealing that “[p]eople who are energized by alcohol are genetically predisposed to drink more heavily.”

As stated by the University of California’s Lara A. Ray, “Some research has suggested that the quality and intensity of a person’s response to alcohol can predict whether they develop problems with alcohol. For example, individuals who experience stronger stimulant and rewarding effects from alcohol are more likely to drink heavily, thus increasing their chances of developing an alcohol use disorder.” If this is true in Sakura’s case, the source of her energy doesn’t come from her nature but from her nurture – drinking alcohol literally gives her the power to go through the stuff she does. She’s constantly energized from it.

Whatever the case may be for Sakura’s exuberance, it’s a good thing, at least, that she has such a positive atttitude. Sakura’s seen a lot of stuff in her time as a Street Fighter, from dictators hellbent on conquering the world to people with supernatural demonic powers, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that even she has a vice.

Everyone else does.

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