Spiker, Christina M. “The ‘Nakoruru Problem’: The Malleable Ainu Image in Samurai Shodown, 1993-2019,” paper delivered on the “Queered Through the Foreign, Fictional, and Fetishized Body” panel at the Mechademia Conference for Asian Popular Culture, Minneapolis College of Art and Design (September 27-29, 2019)
Very little scholarly attention has been given to the visual representations of Native peoples in popular culture, even though media circulation has a role in forging most stereotypes of indigeneity. This void of scholarship is exacerbated in Japan, where the indigenous Ainu were only recognized as an indigenous group in 2008 and legally recognized in 2019. Even before their recent acknowledgment by the Japanese government, images of the Ainu steadily trickled into Japanese popular culture. Before the recent success of manga/anime Golden Kamuy (2014–present), two female heroines from the arcade fighting game Samurai Shodown—Nakoruru and her sister Rimururu—formed a dominant expression of Ainu identity in visual culture beginning in the mid-1990s. This paper examines their complex representation from three distinct angles: (1) the “official” image of these sisters as found in the game franchise, (2) the fetishized image of the women as coopted in fan-produced dōjinshi comics, which plays upon indigenous stereotypes of closeness to nature to further zoophilic rape fantasies, and (3) the adoption of the Ainu women as a local mascot to support Japanese environmental policies related to deforestation and clean water. In exploring the flexibility of the Ainu image as embodied in these two characters, this paper examines the ambivalence of desire and derision that exists between fan and official cultural productions, and the Ainu community response to what Ainu researcher Chupuchitsekor calls the “Nakoruru Problem” (Nakoruru mondai).