As an even cursory inspection will make obvious, this site focuses mostly on figures from Japanese anime culture, and so we don’t spend too much time looking at figures made for white people. Every now and then, though, we’ll make an exception. Today is such a day; here we’ll take a look at Kitana, the ten thousand-year old princess of Edenia and leading lady of the Mortal Kombat series.
Like many genres reliant on 2D graphics, the side-scrolling fighting game has struggled to maintain its place in contemporary video gaming. The three major franchises from the 1990s – Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, and The King of Fighters – floundered through much of the Nintendo 64/PlayStation and Xbox/PlayStation 2 generations, yielding virtually all their ground to technologically impressive 3D fighters like Virtua Fighter, Tekken, and Soul Calibur. Facing increasing irrelevance, Capcom, Midway, and SNK attempted to redefine their core fighting game properties to better fit a changing game market. Capcom rolled out a variety of versus fighters and even made a furtive attempt at incorporating 3D graphics into the Street Fighter EX series. Perhaps their boldest move was introducing an almost completely new character roster in Street Fighter III, their flagship fighting game; unfortunately, it went unappreciated by almost everyone but fighting game purists. Meanwhile, SNK actually went bankrupt in 2001, losing control of their game titles for several years before reforming as SNK Playmore. Midway’s Mortal Kombat, usually one of the more commercially successful video game franchises, fared better, at least in terms of initial sales, but the series descended further into self-parody, leading to a peculiar mash-up featuring characters from DC Comics. Midway then went bankrupt themselves, with control over Mortal Kombat passing to Warner Brothers.
Interestingly, all three franchises were resurrected at around the same time, and in much the same way: each company went back to the roots of their respective series, reinventing their games as stripped-down, technically-competent fighters (even Mortal Kombat, which, like Dead or Alive, has never been highly regarded for the precision of its gameplay). Capcom dropped Street Fighter III’s parry system and dispensed with the tag team-based insanity of the Versus games; SNK gutted their game’s roster (perhaps too much, as KOF XII is less well-regarded as KOF XIII). NetherRealm rebooted the plot of Mortal Kombat, incorporating an elaborate and lengthy story mode while dropping much of the over-the-top silliness of its predecessors.
It is odd that Mortal Kombat is not just one of the most influential games in video game history; it is also one of the least influential fighting game series as well. Its importance is well-known to anyone who grew up in the 1990s; for one, it prompted Congress to scrutinize video game violence, which instilled a greater awareness of politics amongst video game players. (As a leading advocate of video game censorship, Sen. Joseph Lieberman was particularly reviled by gamers. Some years later, he would serve as Al Gore’s running mate during his presidential campaign, and one wonders if memories of his crusade against video game violence might have caused a few hundred voters in Florida to stay home on election day.) It convinced many gamers to buy a Sega Genesis because the Super Nintendo port of Mortal Kombat lacked red blood and fatalities (shortly thereafter, Nintendo dropped their proscription on graphic violence). At a time when video game playing was still considered a nerdy activity, it was one of the few game franchises to enter mainstream culture, spawning a couple of movies, television shows, a cartoon, a well-known techno theme song, and various comic books.
Within the fighting game genre, however, Mortal Kombat’s influence is less significant. That would have been difficult to predict back in the 1990s; indeed, between 1993 and 1994, a high-profile Mortal Kombat derivative was released on every console (Eternal Champions on the Genesis, Killer Instinct on the SNES, Kasumi Ninja on the Atari Jaguar, and Way of the Warrior on the 3DO). Tellingly, aside from the 3DO game, all of those games were developed by first or second party studios: testimony to the respect held for Mortal Kombat’s commercial success. Numerous, lesser-known games followed, and for a while it looked like Mortal Kombat represented the future of games. A number of developers attempted to replicate Mortal Kombat’s use of digitized sprites, incorporating video-recorded footage into their games. (It may be difficult to remember or even believe that full-motion video was a big, huge thing in video games back in the 1990s, but it really was.)
Then the PlayStation, Saturn, and Nintendo 64 came out and 3D graphics became all the rage. Suddenly, Mortal Kombat’s digitized sprites looked silly. The FMV genre vanished overnight and with it went the real-life actors. At around the same time, id Software released Doom II, popularizing the first-person shooter; gamers could now inflict graphic violence in a far more immersive and visceral experience than they could in a side-scrolling fighting game. Without two of its signature elements, Mortal Kombat had little left to influence other fighting games. Even its control scheme has faded out; while every fighting game fan knows what a fireball or dragon punch motion is, Mortal Kombat’s unusual move system – based on discrete joystick taps to initiate special attacks rather than quarter or half-circle movements – has, to my knowledge, not been used in any other significant 2D fighting game. (Perhaps Mortal Kombat was simply ahead of its time, though; its joystick inputs, as well as its usage of a standalone block button, have become core features of many 3D fighting games.)
Mortal Kombat can’t really lay claim to having the most innovative character designs in fighting games, either – at least, not initially. Street Fighter’s characters are iconic, and if Ryu, Ken, and Chun Li seem a bit too familiar, it is because they set the pattern followed by almost every fighting game developer thereafter. SNK and Namco have some of the most interesting, stylish, and unique character designs in fighting games. In contrast, Mortal Kombat’s characters look pretty much like an American take on Japanese ninja stereotypes – which is, of course, exactly what they are. Kitana is certainly no exception; she and her counterpart Mileena were initially designed as less-dressed female analogues to Sub-Zero and Scorpion. Her design also has parallels to the X-Men’s Psylocke, another ninja from American pop culture. The Wikipedia article for Kitana includes a quote from series co-creator John Tobias that her name was created by combining a couple of Japanese words to form a generically Asian name; comically, there is a kanji for “kitana”, which means dirty or impure, among other things. (Another note regarding Mortal Kombat’s take on Asian language; my dad, being Japanese, used to crack on the game when he heard “Raiden wins”; he’d always mutter, “Morons, it’s rye-den, not ray-den!”)
In the Mortal Kombat universe, Kitana is the daughter of Queen Sindel and the rightful princess of Edenia. Initially, she serves the evil tyrant Shao Kahn; after learning of his deceptions and atrocities, she turns against him. In the most recent Mortal Kombat game, she’s depicted as resolute, fearless, and caring, but also rather headstrong and impulsive. She is close friends with Jade, who serves as an advisor and bodyguard. Mileena is an evil clone of her who constantly seeks to usurp her throne; their sibling rivalry is a core part of their storyline together.
There is a longer, game-by game look at the Mortal Kombat series up at Hardcore Gaming 101; it makes for very interesting reading for anyone who is into video game history.
With that lengthy bit of historical exposition out of the way, let’s talk about this statue. Kitana is manufactured by Pop Culture Shock Toys, who’ve been in business for a while, making statues and busts of mostly Amreican properties (although they’ve also done one of the few Cammy figures of her in her Delta Red uniform). This statue is 1/4 scale but to say that it is large doesn’t really do it justice; compared to most PVC figures, it is absolutely enormous. Let’s compare it with Buddy, a fairly average-sized 1/8 scale figure.
Buddy’s total height is about level with Kitana’s knee, and that’s only because Kitana isn’t standing up straight. Not including the base, she’s about 40 centimeters in height to the top of her head, and in excess of 50 centimeters tall in overall height. She is really, really big.
Unfortunately, she’s also really, really fragile. For one thing, her hands are separated from her body for ease of packing, and they attach to her body by magnets. Unfortunately, the magnets don’t seem to be very strong, and the fit of her hands into her wrist sockets is suspect at best. When I first set up this statue, her right hand fell off, scratching the paint on her leg. My attempts to repair the damage exacerbated the problem (note to anyone who owns this statue: do not use rubbing alcohol on it), and I e-mailed Pop Culture Shock to see if they would be able to repair the damage. Much to my surprise, they offered to replace the entire body, for free. I was pretty happy about that and I have to give their customer service a big thumbs-up, since they didn’t have to do that.
Unfortunately, I can’t give the same praise – or any praise, really – regarding their quality assurance process. The replacement body looks great but doesn’t seem to fit the old body’s hands, base, or loincloth part (which I kept). The hands are particularly problematic; while photographing this statue, her right hand fell off again, breaking into four pieces. Happily, it didn’t scratch the paint, and the breaks were clean enough that I could glue them back together again. That’s why her wrists are wrapped up in black tape here; I want to present all the figures I review in their natural state, but I’m not dumb enough to tempt fate three times. I figure athletes and fighters are always wrapping various body parts with tape, anyway, but I’m probably going to need to find a better solution for keeping her hands in place.
Similarly, her front loincloth flap is a separate piece which doesn’t quite fit properly on this body, though it did on the old one. This is less of a problem to me since the risk of detachment is not as great as it is with her hands, but it’s still annoying, as it is obvious that the waistband strap doesn’t line up correctly.
This statue is obviously based on Kitana’s appearance in the 2011 Mortal Kombat video game. Notably, there’s a heavy emphasis placed on Kitana’s musculature; her abs and biceps are strongly defined, giving her a very distinctive appearance compared to many other figures or statues of female fighting game characters. Personally, while ripped muscles isn’t that high up on my list of appealing physical traits in female character design, I really like how Kitana’s body looks here; despite being a noble-born princess, she looks like a girl who is built to tussle.
One of the interesting things about the 2011 Mortal Kombat game is that most of the female characters are next to naked, but their physical appeal doesn’t really get played up during the course of the game; they just happen to look that way and none of the characters, male or female, really remark upon it. Indeed, even though its obvious that the game designers wanted their female characters to look sexy, they spend much of their time covered in blood and gore (and getting killed, of course) that it’s sort of difficult to think too much about their appearance. I thought that this approach to character design was pretty cool, considering that there’s this odd philosophy nowadays that mandates that female characters cannot be effectively realized unless they are desexualized. I’m not sure where this puritanical viewpoint comes from or why these two things are conflated. (Personally, I found a recent television advertisement for a Battlefield game – in which warfare was labeled as “glorious” and “mind-blowing” – to be far more offensive than any female video game character design I’ve seen. But I digress.)
At any rate, Kitana obviously doesn’t wear a lot of clothes. What she does wear looks very nice; it is textured and painted with a metallic blue paint that looks beautiful. The best part of her outfit, though, is the way it shows off her body. Unfortunately, the paint of her skin doesn’t quite show the same quality; her skin is painted a flat brown which looks a little odd, as Kitana is usually depicted with a light-colored skin tone.
Kitana is posed in a combat stance, fans lifted, with her back strongly arched, reminiscent of the way many comic book artists used to draw back in the 90s. This pose highlights her rear, which is covered by just a thong. It looks great, though I wish that her character design dispensed with the front loincloth flap, as her 2P costume does; I’m not too big a fan of those sorts of front flaps.
Her face is mostly covered up by her ninja mask, and so it’s virtually impossible to read any emotion in her expression. Pop Culture Shock did sell an exclusive version through Sideshow Toys that had a separate head with no mask, but I didn’t buy that version. I think her face looks adequate, but in truth there isn’t a whole lot to look at there.
Her fans look nice, though on my particular copy, I guess I’d say they looked nicer before I broke her right hand weapon.
She comes with a very elaborate (and very heavy) base that evokes the sort of busy, apocalyptic fighting grounds that the Mortal Kombat characters do battle upon. There’s some nice looking modeled water splashing onto the shoreline, and a gigantic disembodied hand that looks like it’s going to snatch Kitana up. I can’t quite remember what stage this might be, though I do remember there being a stage with an inflowing tide. To complete the scene, a large spear and smaller wooden stick are provided that slot into sockets built into the base.
I’ll close out this writeup with this one last shot, showing off perhaps her best aspect.
Kitana is a statue that evokes love and heartache at the same time. I really like the way she looks; she looks beautiful, defiant, and dangerous all at once. Her muscular body is absolutely sexy – to me, anyway. Kitana is one of my favorite fighting game characters so I’m very happy that Pop Culture Shock made such a large and ambitious statue of her. But then there are the QA problems, which, judging from what I’ve read elsewhere, are an endemic problem with this figure. Indeed, a number of collectors wound up returning Kitana for refunds. I like this statue enough that I never really considered doing so, but it grieves me that it falls short in some very basic respects, such as being able to keep her hands stable (I’m still not yet sure what I’m going to do with her left hand, which I’ve since removed, as I don’t trust tape to be a long-term solution). I’m hopeful that Pop Culture Shock will do more statues of the female Mortal Kombat characters – they’ve announced plans for Mileena, but I’d like to see Jade – but I’m also hesitant to go all-in on a piece, not without hearing reports from other collectors first. Hopefully their future products will look as good as Kitana, without the fragility and stability problems.
I bought Sideshow’s Psylocke statue a while back, and I wound up having to ask for a replacement as well due to paint flaking (this doesn’t really say much good about large-sized polystone statues, does it?). I had to destroy my existing piece, so here are the photos of smashed Psylocke. Considering how fragile polystone parts are, I was surprised at how difficult it was to break the statue apart; even smashing it with a hammer took a good deal of effort to shatter it.