Welcome back to a new article from our exclusive column: Player One! Last week we talked about Claptrap, a bizarre character characteristic of Borderlandsbut today we take a long journey back in time. Our destination is the distant 1987, the year in which Street Fighter debuts in the arcades and its iconic protagonist: the quintessential Shotokan warrior Ryu.
Ryu is not just a Capcom symbolthe studio that conceived, designed and made it famous, but is the very emblem of arcade fighting games. A character whose fame rivals that of sacred monsters like Super Mario and Sonic, to the point of having appeared not only in all the chapters of his saga of originStreet Fighter precisely, but also in an avalanche of cameos both in the world of video games and outside of them.
I think a name like Ryu’s really needs no introduction and I’m certainly not here to explain who he is. If you’ve played at least one game in your life, you already know who Ryu is. No, it’s not my intention to tell his story or gameplay either within the various chapters of Street Fighter. What I want to do instead is dig behind the scenes and talk about what allowed Ryu to carve a place in the pantheon of memorable characters.
The Origins of the World Warrior
Every story starts from a beginning e Ryu’s is to be found in a comic. The original concept behind its design comes from Karate Mastermanga that romance the exploits of the karate master Masutatsu Oyama and his pupil Yoshiji Soeno. In the latest issue the two leave for Thailand to face Soeno’s great rival, the strongest Muay Thai Reiba fighter (on which Sagat’s design happens to be based).
The name Ryu comes from that of its creator, Takashi Nishiyama. Takashi’s first kanji, in fact, can also be pronounced Ryu. The real “fathers” of this character are, however, two other historical figures of Capcom, namely Manabu Takemura and Akiman. He was the first to establish himself because Ryu was a symbol of the perfect Japanese martial artist, a real budoka. Furthermore, it was always he who requested that he have a very massive physique, to symbolize his nature as a warrior in constant search of perfect physical form.
Two of the most characteristic elements of Ryu are owed to Akiman: her short hair tied in a bandana, but above all her characteristic fighting pose hired since Street Fighter II. In fact, if in the first game Ryu used a purely karateka style, from the second chapter onwards he assumed movements more similar to those of Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon (and well before Fei Long’s debut).
What makes Ryu so memorable?
Ryu probably has one of the most recognizable aspects of the video game world. His simple and minimal attire consists of a simple scruffy white gi, a black belt and a red bandana for his hair (which actually belonged to Ken, but so much it is). The rest of his possessions fit in a simple gym bag. An aspect that well suggests that for Ryu the only thing that really matters is fighting. Four kanji are recurring in its design and they are the ones that form the Furinkazan.
Although its appearance is iconic, what made Ryu so memorable is his character (although this was even suggested by a few details). Ryu is a silent, respectful and meditative warrior. Inside he is a kindhearted, honest and pure person, but often has a gruff attitude derived from the fact that his only reason for living and the only thing that succeeds in satisfying him are training and fights aimed at improving himself. Ryu is the emblem of the monastic warrior for whom the martial art is absolute and sacred and for which there is no point of arrival, only an eternal path.
However, even a pure character like Ryu has a dark side. He is indeed the bearer of a powerful dark energy which resides in his soul and which many wish to call Satsui no Hado. This devours him from the inside pushing him to burn his own life in order to win and be the best. He feeds his passions so that he can consume them together with his soul. Much of Ryu’s meditative character is due to being constantly at war with his inner self, albeit over time he has learned that he can trust his friends to be able to calm down in times of difficulty.
There are two big misconceptions in popular culture regarding Ryu. The first is that he is poor, but, by word of his creators themselves, if he were really poor he could not travel the world. His having few possessions is simply a consequence of the fact that material things are of no interest, as he himself often testifies in games. The second misconception is about character. In many spin-off products Ryu is portrayed as a typical male protagonist of a manga, a bit clumsy, too innocent and always smiling. In short, to Son Goku to understand each other. As mentioned, Ryu actually has a diametrically opposite character and precisely this substantial difference has allowed him to carve out a permanent place in the hearts of fans.
A roundup of curiosities
What better way to close this article than with a good dose of trivia and trivia about the world warrior?
- Ryu has appeared in ALL crossovers that have minimally involved the Street Fighter franchise.
- Canonically it is one of only two people who managed to beat M. Bison in direct confrontation (the other is Charlie Nash).
- Up to the Alpha game series, Ryu’s internship was the only one who didn’t have someone watching the fight.
- Ryu shows the typical styles of shotokan karate, but in reality his fighting style blends various spectacular techniques from karate, judo and taekwondo.
- The sleeves of his gi have been ripped off by himself for convenience and to avoid being easily grasped. Furthermore, Ryu walks barefoot by his own choice since he says it’s more comfortable (mah).
- Ryu has the same birthday as the aforementioned Akiman!
- Ryu suffers from arachnophobia, as shown when facing Spider-Man in Marvel vs. Capcom 3.
- Despite being the protagonist of Street Fighter, Ryu is undoubtedly very passive since it basically does nothing but travel and react to what is happening around it (often due to Satsui no Hado).
- The motion Kaze no Kobushi, a powerful direct punch, is the realization of the philosophy of Masutatsu Oyama that the best way to win a fight is with just one solving attack.