“El Fili-boom panis!”: Assessing reactions on “Josie Rizal” and its impact on the Pinoy public

[Left] A photo shared by Gelo Arellano on Facebook, [Middle] an illustration by ViperXtreme on DeviantArt (©2015 ViperXtreme), and [Right] Tekken producer Katsuhiro Harada‘s Twitter profile picture.

Last week, Tekken fans and Filipinos alike witnessed the unveiling of a new character which is said to be based from the Philippines itself — the character was Josie Rizal. Dressed in a way that symbolizes the Philippines as a whole, Josie is named after writer Jose Protacio Rizal, the country’s national hero (he is also a doctor but as zenithkim mentioned in the comments, he is not a licensed doctor but a practicing one).

YouTube player

The said character was consulted to Mad Catz community manager Mark Julio, designed by Bayonetta character designer Mari Shimazaki and was announced at a Tekken 7 event streamed on Sunday last week with Italy-based Yuriko Tiger as her official Cosplayer. Josie has the traditional martial art Eskrima and Kickboxing as her skill set, and everytime she wins, she cries.

Reactions from Social Media

Josie was welcomed by the Filipinos with skepticism and mockery online, especially on Twitter, where she gets into the trending topics for that day. We have curated some tweets on Twitter. Our reader Sharl finds the retweets cringing, while Anime blogger Omar Gomez seems to be amused and Yuki is hyped to try Tekken 7.

https://twitter.com/thejaninski/status/582124267652825088

On Facebook, Lycean Foreign Studies student and debater Danielle Hill made this “brain fart”:

We’ve also asked our readers about Josie Rizal at the time the news is slowly seeping through everyone — from the six or so comments that we have received, majority says they are okay with Josie.

Tekken Producer Katsuhiro Harada said that she is welcomed by more than 90 percent.

He answered some of the complaints hurled at Josie — this one is a reply for a comment saying that Josie does not speak Filipino:

Some are saying that Josie isn’t the first Filipino on Tekken, but Mokujin. Harada says:

He even approves of the Jollibee alternate costume that is sent to him:

News on Mainstream Media

Online and Mainstream media has been booming with their versions of the news, like Rappler, GMA News Online, PhilStar.com, Inquirer.netWhen in Manila and YugaTech. On television, GMA News and ABS-CBN News has their reports — GMA even has man-on-the-street interviews with gamers approving of the character. Among the coverage of mainstream websites, we found GMA News Online’s take on this more interesting than the rest.

The first article, “NCCA official unhappy with Tekken character ‘Josie Rizal’,” they spoke to what they described first as an official for the Philippine National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) with the name of Dr. Leodenito Cañete. They were told afterwards that Dr. Cañete is not an NCCA official, but a “coordinator” for the commission’s “Bayaning Bayan” program in the Visayas [See tweet below]. They changed the description of the person in question, but it cannot change the fact that people have already reacted on this. The article is now titled “Cultural educator unhappy with Tekken character ‘Josie Rizal’.”

Back2Gaming‘s Eiji (Edward) has posted his sentiments on the issue altogether. The post, entitled “Josie, Pepe and Our Misdirected Nationalism,” has referenced other foreign works such as Sengoku Basara and Street Fighter — Sengoku Basara’s cast of characters are based on Japanese warriors such as Date Masamune and Oda Nobunaga, while Street Fighter’s Juri Han, while being Korean, is “just Juri Han.” The rest of the article has not yet been updated as of this writing.

PhilStar.com also had their take, interviewing a professor at the University of the Philippines, with the professor in question Gonzalo Campoamor II stating that developer Bandai Namco Games has a lot of resources to do research but did not utilize it.

“(It’s) offensive and unsuited for a big company like Bandai because they have the money to do research,” Gonzalo Campoamor II, professor of Life and Works of Rizal in UP Diliman, told The STAR.

[…] “Happy to see a Filipino representative in probably the most famous fighting game in the world. But ‘Josie Rizal’ seems too tokenist,” he said.

“Tokenism is when you represent the minority just for the sake of representation,” he added.

Josie does not even look like a Filipina, even though the colors of her outfit did adhere to the red-blue-white of the Philippine flag, he said.

“The closest (characterization of a Filipina) is when she cried after winning. That’s Maria Clara. It doesn’t matter if she’s happy or sad. She will cry,” he said in Filipino.

Janvic Mateo, “Tekken’s Josie Rizal gets flak,” April 2, 2015

April 1st came, and Definitely Filipino “definitely” added wood to the fire by sharing their prank post (dated March 31, 2015) stating that the NCCA has asked the removal of the said character, to which Harada replies:

He reiterated that Tekken is a game, and the characters that are depicted are not real. From his replies to people on Twitter, he knows which are the gamers and which aren’t.

Assessment and Thoughts

Through these updates, we therefore conclude the following:

  • The reactions gave me an understanding that people have welcomed Josie Rizal with criticism, comic reactions and / or mockery;
  • That the effect of media to the community is still far from helping the community;
  • That Tekken producer Katsuhiro Harada interacts with the community as a whole, and is not swayed by the reactions in the first days since the announcement was stated; and
  • From Harada’s replies, we can determine who are Tekken gamers from the rest.
  • We turn a hostile face on content creators.

Assessing the situation as it happens helped me figure out that we are just not yet used to the usage of our national history in popular culture. Sure, Josie Rizal has skimpy shorts welcoming perverted remarks; or that the name affixed to the character might be wrong. I have joked a thing or two about expecting a reaction from either the Knights of Rizal (which aims to embody Rizal’s ideas) or the Rizalistas (who deify Rizal), but I do really expect them to react.

One thing’s for sure — there’s no turning back for the Tekken community and its producer, as everything has been set up according to plan. What I recommend everyone, even though I am not a gamer, is to try playing as Josie first and see for themselves what they have planned; then they can complain all they want. Harada has already explained his side of doing this, and he even consulted a Filipino for this.

We could get used to how today’s pop culture depict heroes of the past, as exemplified by Nobunagun, but it will take a long time for Filipinos to get used to such a beauty like Josie Rizal.

On my perspective, I just laugh at the reactions. I don’t have any warranty to comment on her either, since I haven’t sought her for myself.