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This is the sample piece for the March 2011 Bitmob Writing Challenge: The Real Girls of Gaming. If you have a favorite female character, than write a 400-800 word article about her contributions to the medium. Click here and read the rules.
Capcom’s Rival Schools series is unique in fighting games. Sure, there's the fact that it's about teams of high-school stereotypes beating each other with baseball bats, cameras, and, of course, fireballs. There's also the Story Mode that, while it isn't masterful writing, reveals more about the teenage combatants without using a novel's worth of text.
What's unique about Rival Schools is that most of the girls look like students instead of models-in-training. Ran the journalist is freckle-faced and nerdy. Natsu the volleyball player has a tall and lanky built like an athlete. And no character defines the series like Akira Kazama, the coolest biker girl you’ll ever meet.
Akira is the sister of Daigo, the undisputed boss of the gang-infested Gedo High School. When her brother disappears, she leads his subordinates, Edge and Gan, on a mission to find him. While Edge fights dirty with knives and Gan relies on brute strength and sumo techniques, Akira battles with the form and poise of a martial arts master.
Both her teammates and the player, however, don’t know that Akira is actually a girl as she wears a full-body motorcycle outfit and speaks in a sharp, deep voice. It’s only when you beat her story mode that Akira reveals her true identity, Metroid-style.
Well, not completely like Metroid. While Samus has a bikini body, Akira looks like someone who would sit next to you in homeroom. She also looks like someone who would fight in her spare time — a rarity for women in fighting games.
Akria’s story continues in the sequel to Rival Schools, Project Justice. This time Akira goes to an all-girls school, and Daigo has been brainwashed to attack other schools. She starts another round of violence-themed sleuthing with the mysterious violinist Yurika and Zaki, another a gang boss.
Things are different this time around as Akira spends most of the narrative without her helmet. With her helmet, Akira is a confident leader in the vein of the Japanese hero Kamen Rider, but without it she is shy and more feminine.
This duality extends to actual matches as both games let you use masked and unmasked Akira. Unmasked Akira battles with a defensive play style based around evading and counterattacking her opponents. Her entrance has her back to her opponent and looking downward like she’s willing herself to fight. Masked Akira is more aggressive with stiff strikes that knock the opponent away, and she starts bouts by channeling her strength like a black belt.
You could claim it’s sexist that Akira is a more traditional girl without the helmet, but there are good reasons for this. It’s common for people to feel more secure when they’re behind a mask, and Akira is a nice girl leading a team of delinquents; in both games Akira has to win her teammates' respect with her fists.
The Akira-Daigo relationship is also an interesting role reversal. In Japanese anime like Yu Yu Hakusho, the bad-boy older brother will fight to protect his innocent younger sister. Not only is Akira as strong as her brother, but she is the one who saves him. She also saves Yurika, who was in league with Project Justice's villains. Akira best represents what the franchise’s story is about: overcoming differences and the power of friendship.
Akira is the third most-recognizable character in her franchise, behind only the two protagonists, Batsu and Kyosuke. Unfortunately, unlike them her popularity hasn’t translated to more playable appearances other than the canceled 2003 crossover brawler Capcom Fighting All-Stars.
Her chances for a comeback look bleak: Capcom probably won’t revive Rival Schools anytime soon, and there's no chance she'll make it into Marvel vs. Capcom 3 as downloadable content over more prominent hopefuls. But if Akira does return, everyone should give respect to this true street fighter.