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February 11, 2016

Waifu Wars: Loyalty-Tier


So Destructoid is in the middle of a waifu war or something -- which is news to me, because I was under the impression that waifu wars never end.  Then again, I wouldn’t really know; I’ve never exactly been an active participant, because it’s not like I have a horse in that race.  But it’s funny, because the call for waifu soldiers came right around the time when I started watching RWBY (RIP Monty Oum) -- and based on its premise and art floating around, you’d think that it’s a verifiable waifu distribution service.

I’m really early into the show, but it’s already won me over.  Weirdly, it’s not for the reason I expected -- i.e. a bunch of sick anime fights.  True, those are in there, but the first eight or so episodes are less about the combat and more about the characters.  Or, more precisely, it’s about the comedy.  I guess I shouldn’t be surprised when each episode reminds you that it’s a Rooster Teeth production, but I found myself tuning in for the jokes instead of seeing girls -- and the occasional guy -- go at it with the forces of evil.

Still, the show does raise an interesting question: what, exactly, is a waifu?  Let’s break down into semantics for a bit -- and delay the announcement of mai waifu, but whatever.  The wait will make the reveal that much more satisfying.


Not to jump to conclusions, but I would think that at this point, people all over have named one of the RWBY girls as their waifu (or one of the guys as their husbando).  As long as it’s not taken to extremes -- i.e. bringing physical or mental harm to oneself or others -- then I’m okay with that.  Call me optimistic, but I’ve taken “waifu” to mean “my favorite female character of the bunch”.  That’s a positive spin that I can get behind; in a cultural climate where we can’t always count on good fictional female characters, we have to take what we can get.  And we have to show the bigwigs that it’s possible to care about fictional female characters, no matter our gender, race, status, orientation, or favorite Street Fighter character (mine’s Guile). 

It’s too early for me to say who my favorite member of Team RWBY is.  By sheer principle, I’m supposed to like Yang Xiao Long because she uses punches and kicks augmented by what I assume are shotgun gloves.  But then I found out that Blake Belladonna uses a kusarigama, which -- as a fan of Guilty Gear’s Axl Low -- is an immediate plus…albeit one complicated by the fact that Yang is a blonde Potemkin.  But it’s hard to ignore Ruby and Weiss’s combat prowess, and more importantly, I should pick favorites based on weapons (and looks, by extension).  Personalities are important, too.  Arcs and character development certainly help.  Basically?  In an ideal world, every last facet of a character should be considered.

It’s more than a little important.  Naming a waifu means pledging one’s loyalty to said waifu.  That’s kind of a given, since there’s literally a “Church of Chie” out there on the internet.


So in a way, maybe it’s good to have waifu wars.  Again, I’m guessing (or maybe hoping) that those who take part are being civil, and resisting the urge to roll out the heavy artillery.  In which case, it’s not about building oneself up, putting others down, or creepin’ all over drawings/3D models.  In its ideal state, waifus and the wars that they spawn are about fans actively engaging with a story.  They’re using their wits to think -- superficially, critically, or otherwise -- about characters in the media around them.  Thanks to that, they’re getting plenty out of their stories of choice, even if they aren’t always 100% aware of it.  Honestly, I think that’s awesome.

To be honest, though, even the superficial reasons why someone shouts “mai waifu” have their merit.  As an example: I’d bet there’s a guy (or girl) or two out there that claims the Sorceress from Dragon’s Crown is their waifu -- and they do so for precisely the two reasons you’d expect.  That may be cringe-inducing in some respects, but on the other hand?  It’s a testament to just how effectively George Kamitani managed to craft the character.  Sure, that was done by saddling a redhead with what might as well be fleshy bowling balls Andre the Giant would’ve had trouble lifting, but his gutsy maneuver paid off.  Well, for the fans, at least.  They help make the Sorceress into someone worth idolizing -- someone who stands out from the pack, and demands loyalty.

And with that all said, the question remains: who is my waifu?  Who am I loyal to until the end of days?  And the answer to that is -- drumroll please -- Makoto Sako from Devil Survivor 2.


For those of you reading this and going “Who?  Who?”  I’ll gladly explain -- though this shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, since I’ve already claimed Makoto’s mai waifu in passing.  Admittedly this is going to delve into spoiler territory for the awesome Devil Survivor 2 (and use screenshots from the DeSu2 anime, which is unthinkably awful), but I feel like there’s no better choice for me.  Also, it gives me a chance to talk about DeSu2 again.

The thrust of the game is that Japan gets rocked by a sudden outbreak of demons.  To counter them, people -- like the playable characters -- make use of the demon summoning app added to their phones to fight fire with fire.  It’s not enough to completely quell the raging storm, especially since the situation goes from bad to worse; not only are there demons to clean up, but the Septentriones appear over the course of several days.  These unusual alien invaders -- geometric, incomprehensible killing machines -- dish out damage and death wherever they go, and it’s up to you and the rest of the demon tamers to put a stop to them.


The plus side is that humanity has a secret weapon: JP’s (rhymes with “chips”), the Japan Meteorological Agency, Geomagnetism Research Department.  It’s a mouthful, but their mission is pretty simple to grasp: they’re members of a militant organization that uses the demon summoning app to fight against enemy invaders and keep the peace.  Protecting key points in the city, stopping riots, managing food reserves, and more -- it’s all in a day’s work once the demons start stomping around town.  Or towns, as it were; the player takes teams of demon tamers to Tokyo, Osaka, and Nagoya.

In any case, Makoto is one of the first JP’s members to show up.  Granted, she doesn’t make the best first impression for the starting trio; she’s simply called “Tall Woman” at first, and her default art makes her look ready to snap someone’s neck. Plus, she comes off as hostile and threatening, and ready to use force to extort information out of them (or worse).  Even later on when she’s ostensibly trying to help them, it almost feels as if they’ll be the next targets after she crushes the demon squadron du jour. 


It would’ve been easy to Makoto the stoic, badass soldier and leave it at that.  But they didn’t.  She’s capable of an emotional range; by default she’s very serious and doesn’t suffer fools, as expected.  But despite her airs, it’s more than possible to leave her rattled or embarrassed thanks to the foolishness she does end up facing over the course of the game.  (I guess it’s that “gap moe” thing the legends speak of.)  But the striking thing about Makoto is that even if she’s serious and scary, she’s also one of the kindest and most sincere members of the cast -- if not the number-one member.  Despite making her debut on the DS -- a system with small screens and modest horsepower at best -- her smile is enough to melt even the toughest gamer’s heart. 

But is that really enough to make Makoto a waifu?  Well, yes and no.  It could be enough for some (assuming she had the popularity to even rank -- which I strongly doubt at this stage).  Still, I’d say that there’s more to it than just “has a nice smile” or “summons angels to fight on her behalf”.  Like I said at the start, declaring a waifu is an act of loyalty as well as a show of praise.  But what if we turn that around?  What does the concept of loyalty mean to a potential waifu?  To some, it might just be another word.  To Makoto, it means the world and more.


Now, let’s clear up something first.  I’m not saying “loyalty” in the unfortunate sense.  You know what I mean; there are enough characters out there in Japanese media that metaphorically pledge their loyalty (love, adoration, what have you) to characters that don’t really deserve it.  If we’re being cynical, the reason why is obvious.  They’re not declaring their loyalty to the character in the story; they do what they do so that their love will project onto the audience.  If you need a video game example, then look up Rem Tokimiya from Final Fantasy Type-0 and bear witness to one of the least believable romances in history.  If you need more, then look up…well, an incalculable number of harem romcoms in the past few years of anime history.

But Makoto’s loyalty is the real deal.  To be fair, it wasn’t something she was born with; it just became a key trait of hers thanks to dire circumstances.  She started out as a synchronized swimmer, and someone who’s good enough to represent Japan in the Olympics -- that is, until she gets hit by a car.  Her chances of going for the gold vanish in an instant, least of all because she’s reportedly got a gnarly scar on her shoulder.  With her dreams shattered, she’s left lost and without purpose.  But you know what they say: when God closes a door…


Makoto becomes a stalwart member of JP’s, and is high enough in the ranks to earn the personal respect of its prickly chief, Yamato (along with a customized uniform so she doesn’t have to walk around in a banana-yellow jumper).  Given that he helped pull her back into the world and gave her a new purpose in life, the blue-haired battler is loyal to the man -- relatively speaking, since he’s almost a decade her junior -- the organization, and the cause.  “The cause” in this case is making sure Earth makes it past the Septentriones’ assault.

One of the key points of DeSu2 is that it’s not just about saving the world.  It’s eventually revealed that the entire planet is being erased, with darkness and nothingness encroaching on our heroes; the only thing protecting Japan (parts of it, at least) are the towers stationed in three of its main cities -- and even those aren’t enough to guarantee safety once it hits the fan.  Their only hope: to defeat the Septentriones and head to the administrator Polaris to effectively reset and reformat the world.  But that’s only possible if he’s faced by people bearing a unified will…which is kind of a problem when you’ve got one third of the cast striving for ingrained egalitarianism, and another third advocating a built-in meritocracy.


By default, Makoto sides with Yamato and JP’s, which means that she aims to create a world of meritocracy.  That more or less implies that there’s going to be more bloodshed, even after the Septentrion war; people will battle with each other for supremacy and the right to rule, all for the sake of proving their worth.  Still, the idea behind it -- what Yamato, his sympathizers, JP’s, and Makoto are banking on -- is that those who rightfully earn their place can build the ideal world, unfettered by the plebeians holding the gifted back.  That’s an oversimplification pointed out in the game itself, but the concept isn’t entirely off-base. 

Makoto’s take on it is the most humane of the bunch.  Having witnessed riots and struggles to pilfer food -- and the general foibles of the people, whether they abuse the demon summoning app or not -- she knows how bad things can get.  And she understands that even if people can be good, sometimes they need guidance so that they can continue to be good.  They need protectors, lawmakers, peacekeepers, what have you; preserving good means preserving and upholding those that can do good.  That’s exactly the position JP’s is in during the demon outbreak, but they wouldn’t be there if society snuffed out their expertise.  And arguably, society wouldn’t need JP’s if the administrators didn’t decide that humanity had lost its way and needed to be reset.  But that’s neither here nor there.


The important thing is that Makoto is loyal to Yamato and JP’s -- but arguably, she puts more stock into other facets of life.  Or, to put it a different way, she’s loyal to ideals like nobility, altruism, and justice.  She’ll follow Yamato to the end, but that doesn’t mean she’s a sycophant.  It’s revealed fairly early on that he’s sending out JP’s members to hoard food and medicine so the organization can stay afloat in dire times.  It’s a dick move, but not without merit; JP’s needs to be in top form at all times because they’re better at fighting demons, and therefore can protect humanity a bit better when they’re not in shambles.

Makoto isn’t exactly the type for insubordination, so she’ll usually follow orders as needed.  But the key element of her story arc is whether she should follow the law (such as it is), or follow her heart -- a heart which, of course, wants nothing more than to help people in need.  That includes rioters being attacked by demons; helping them puts her at odds with JP’s, but not helping them puts her at odds with her personal beliefs.  Which one is she loyal to?  Well, it’s safe to say that she’s loyal to whatever will help make the world a better place.

Although, you could say that she’s out to believe in her own justice -- which is precisely why she’s my waifu.  Even without a personal mech.


Like I said, it’s not as if I need Makoto to be loyal to me, or be geared solely towards earning my affection.  To be fair, you could say that she kind of does that in-universe towards Yamato and/or the player character.  But let’s set aside aside the fact that even at her most affectionate, she’s only willing to show her respect and appreciation (if I remember right, the most you can get from her is a handshake).  It’s a case of her being married to the job.  The world needs to be protected, saved, and -- if at all possible -- reformed for the better.  That’s a duty best left to those with the courage and will for it; not surprisingly, Makoto is always there to fight for what’s right.  With a noble heart and limitless zeal, she’s always ready to prove her loyalty.  Always set to serve justice -- and make the world a better place.  She’s pretty cool, is what I’m trying to say here.

I can’t speak for anyone else who’s fighting the waifu war.  They’ve got their allegiances, and I have mine; trying to force anyone to march lock-step alongside me is arguably one of the worst things I can do.  So at most, I can only make my case and draw my lines in the sand.  I can argue why this character is my favorite character -- and remind myself why a bunch of drawings and pixels makes me want to pump my fists.

Though if we’re being honest here?  One of the quirks of DeSu2 is that it’s never adequately explained how physical attacks work (what with the damage being dished out in Earthbound­-style action).  That’s kind of an issue, because Makoto naturally becomes one of the team’s powerhouses over the course of the game.  So I can’t shake the image of a blue-haired woman bench-pressing dragons or drop-kicking the typical nightmare creatures into oblivion.


So yeah, that’s cool too.  Or…is it hot?  Eh, I’ll let you decide.    

Happy Valentine's Day, everybody.  Embrace all your waifus and husbandos.  
(Or if you're brave enough, all of the waifus and husbandos.  A subtle difference, but it is noteworthy nonetheless.)

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