Spiker, Christina M. “Recasting the Indigenous: Virtual Ainu Ambassadors in Japan’s Samurai Spirits, 1993–2008,” paper delivered at the Console-ing Passions: International Conference on Television, Video, New Media, and Feminism, University of Notre Dame (June 16-18, 2016).
With the 2014 release of Never Alone (Kisima Inŋitchuŋa), a puzzle-platformer developed by Upper One Games in conjunction with the Alaskan Cook Inlet Tribal Council, academics and gamers alike examined the potential for video games to explore native culture as both entertainment and interactive storytelling. In Japan, where its indigeous Ainu minority was recognized as recently as 2008, the relationship between the Japanese and Ainu population remains strained. This paper investigates the role of gaming in creating an accessible version of indigenous culture repacked for the Japanese mainstream. Focusing on Ainu sisters Nakoruru and Rimururu, featured prominently in the fighting game Samurai Spirits (1993–2008), this paper examines these battling shōjo heroines as virtual ambassadors of culture. While these two characters are marked as Ainu through their clothing and relationship with nature, their indigenous identity often comes second to their portrayal the shōjo, or “young girl” archetype; what Sharalyn Orbaugh has called the role of “busty battlin’ babe.” Ainu-ness is thus represented as a form of narrative excess that the character can don as a costume and remove just as easily. By analyzing Nakoruru and Rimururu’s official representation in the francise in addition to fan interpretations as presented in self-published comics (dōjinshi), and the erasure of their Ainu backstory upon import to the United States, this paper negotiates various representations of indigenous Otherness against the backdrop of Japanese racism and indigenous activism in the late 1990s and early 2000s.