Street Fighter Legends: Ibuki

(Editorial note from Johanna: I have been trying to decide for months whether to run this review by Ed. I was originally asked to review this PDF in early December. As soon as I saw the character’s outfit, as shown on the cover, and how it’s missing most of the normal coverage below the waist, I sent back a note saying that this impractical costume indicated I clearly wasn’t part of the target audience, so I wouldn’t write about it. This upset the writer, who began discussing the issue on Twitter. He found my refusal “frustrating” and “snarky” because he felt it was a snap judgment and the costume was no worse than any superhero outfit.

(I should say that, clueless as this sounds, I didn’t realize that Ibuki was a video game character. The costume is controlled by Capcom, who owns the copyright. The writer felt it was unfair of me to refuse to read his work when he couldn’t do anything about the look of a licensed property. I later got an email from the marketing rep, the person who first emailed me, apologizing for not making her origins clear in the request. The rep went on to explain that they usually have to deal with fans complaining that this teenage girl isn’t “sexy enough”, so they were surprised by my reaction. Personally, I have trouble reading comics where I have to willfully ignore a significant part of the art. I found the costume inappropriate enough that I knew I wouldn’t be able to get past it.

Ikubi explains her underwear

(Here’s an image that sums up the whole problem for me. Ibuki is talking to the reader, telling him that she does too wear underwear. While the art is nice, if you have to have your character explain this to the reader, then your book is clearly not attracting the kind of customer I am. The marketing rep told me that this page exists “as an online rebuttal by the artist to requests for more fan service-style images — it was meant to combat efforts to sexualize the character, although that’s clearly not how it read to you,” again illustrating that their context was very different from mine.

(The marketing rep went on to tell me that their goal was to release “the story of a strong, fun, action-oriented female character who is coming of age and learning about who she is as a person. It doesn’t pander to sexualized visuals, doesn’t treat its female characters as objects, and has content that is safe for teenagers.” We might debate that, but apparently, quite a number of teens are part of the target audience for the game. At this point, Ed stepped in and agreed to cover the book, although he also thought that it was troublesome for the costume of an intended teen role model to be Not Safe for Work, at least in his workplace.

(Anyway, I’m sharing all that in this very long aside because I think it’s important background for how and when this review was written. I can appreciate the writer’s desire to have his work judged on its own merits, but it’s very difficult, perhaps even undesirable, to separate the visuals from the text in a comic that should work together as a whole.)

Review by Ed Sizemore

Ibuki is in her final year of secondary ninja training. Once finished, she will have to decide if she wants to continue on as a ninja or not. She is also trying very hard to be a typical high school girl. In the midst of struggling to balance the competing demands of these two lives, a transfer student named Makoto is causing more complications for Ibuki. To say she is having a very active senior year is putting it mildly.

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room first, Ibuki’s costume design. It’s hard not to notice Ibuki’s pants with their, ah, well-ventilated crouch. (I notice that all the male ninja wear standard pants.) Incorrectly called a “gi”, anime and manga fans will quickly recognize them as hakama with exaggerated side vents. These pants are most commonly seen on shrine maidens, but they are also worn by men. Hakama are meant to be worn over a kimono or other long garment, so that if the vents open, the only thing someone sees is more of that garment. Obviously, Ibuki is not following the traditional Japanese dress code. Suffice to say I find the costume design ridiculous.

Street Fighter Legends: Ibuki cover
Street Fighter Legends: Ibuki
Buy this book

Let’s move on to the story. There is an axiom that I wish more writers would live by, “Tell one story at a time.” Unfortunately, Street Fighter Legends: Ibuki is trying to tell at least three stories, and each suffers greatly for it. We have a coming-of-age story, a “how I met my friends” story, and an origin story that has its own subplot. Because there is so much going on at once, parts of the book feel very rushed, and we are told about the conflicts that Ibuki has instead of experiencing them.

Most notably, there is a four-page montage starting on page 50 meant to demonstrate the conflicting demands Ibuki experiences between high school and her ninja training. The sequence falls flat. For readers to really sympathize with Ibuki’s struggles and divided loyalties, we need more than snapshots and narration. We need to go through a few of these obstacles with her. The problem is there is no room in the story to allow us that time.

This would have been a much stronger book if Zubkavich had focused solely on the coming-of-age story, culminating with Ibuki’s final test to complete her ninja training. The origin story is unnecessary and adds nothing to our understanding of Ibuki or her motivations. Likewise, the character of Elena could be dropped from the story without being missed. You really only need Makoto to serve as a high school friend and outside training partner. Plus, Elena’s fighting costume is more ridiculous and salacious than Ibuki’s.

For the most part, Dogan’s artwork is well done. He has a nice clean style. He does an excellent job bringing Ibuki to life. You feel like you’re looking at a real person with her body language and facial expressions. I also like that he mixes up the page layouts to make the book visually interesting. However, there are occasional problems in the fight scenes. There are panels when I’m not sure what is going on. It happens when he uses narrow panels that are meant to highlight horizontal action, but instead cause a sense of vertigo. I don’t know if characters are doing sweep kicks or falling. I can’t tell where the ground is and what angle I’m viewing the action from. It’s a minor flaw to otherwise solid art.

Street Fighter Legends: Ibuki has a lot of great ideas, and all of them of are poorly executed. Reading this, I kept thinking about how I could clean up the storyline. There is enough material in here to tell a nice multi-volume story. I wish Zubkavich had an extra three or four books to tell the epic story he appears to have envisioned. It’s a shame to see so much potential squandered. I’m sure people who are already fans of the franchise and the character will enjoy this work. Outsiders, like myself, will find little to like. (This review is based on a PDF provided by the publisher.)

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8 Responses to “Street Fighter Legends: Ibuki”

  1. takingitoutside Says:

    I find it kind of ironic that the artist is crying foul because the costume design wasn’t his when he’s the one who drew Ibuki in that cover. Is the original game also responsible for posing her so that her g-string is showing? He even seems to have modified the original underwear (fundoshi, I believe) in order to make them more salacious. If he wanted to skate on the costume design, he shouldn’t have sexed it up even more.

    Aside from this particular comic, though, I’d like to see redesigns for a fair proportion of the older female video game fighters. Whenever a new film/TV show/comic/whatever comes out and anyone complains about a female legacy character’s outfit being too revealing or sexist, the response is always that change would be inaccurate to the source material. Meanwhile, every new Batman-whatever features a redesign of his costume to some degree. The recent Wonder Woman redesigns are a good start, but let’s see some more. As the recent hubbub over Sailor Moon has shown, there’s a large audience waiting for realistic female superheroes in outfits that at least manage to regularly cover their underwear.

  2. Charles Knight Says:

    That’s one of the oddest pages I’ve ever seen “Dear reader, I’m not actually pantless, here’s a diagram of my underwear to indicate that”.

    Maybe they could do a whole series (Like the old Punisher Armory) where different Street Fighter characters explain about their choices.

    Ken: I wear boxer shorts with pictures of Kittens on them.

    Ryu: I’m wearing Chun-Li’s panties.

    Ken: Wait.. what now?

  3. Johanna Says:

    TIO, just to be clear, it was the writer who told me to get past the costume design because it wasn’t his. I didn’t have any conversation with the artist. I suspect the cover was done by someone other than the interior artist, as well.

    Charles, yeah, when I was telling someone about all this, they said “any comic where the character talks about their underwear is clearly problematic”.

  4. Stacy King Says:

    Thanks for the coverage, Johanna & Ed. Although there are a number of constraints related to licensing which led to some of the problems you both identify, I agree that a work should be critiqued based on what it is, not with caveats in mind.

    One note: the artist’s name is Omar Dogan, not Dugan.

  5. Johanna Says:

    I’m so sorry! I have corrected that name. And thanks for all your help with this, Stacy.

  6. takingitoutside Says:

    The writer, then. Either way, while licensing is a pain and involves a lot of requirements that one might not necessarily like or agree with, at some point it becomes a question of responsibility for the overall work put out. You can’t just say that all the bad aspects only involve one thing, and that it somehow doesn’t detract from the entirety. (Okay, maybe you could if we were talking about the lettering on the back cover or something like that, but this is the art – it’s half the product!)

    As a sidenote – just realized this, but this comic that “doesn’t pander to sexualized visuals, [and] doesn’t treat its female characters as objects” seems to have been written and drawn by two men, based on a design that all admit was skimpy to begin with. Any idea whether the target audience included women? If it didn’t, then we ought to give credit to the company for at least making an attempt at better representations of women in a comic that seems to be aimed at men.

  7. Johanna Says:

    The target audience, at least in part, was teens, and from the comments I saw about role models, it did include girls.

  8. Grant Says:

    Just when I think I’ve seen everything comics have to offer, along comes a comic book character making the argument to comic book readers that she’s wearing underwear to prove me wrong.

    “Ibuki is talking to the reader, telling him that she does too wear underwear.”

    “Him”? Not “Her”? ;)

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