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Analysis: Gaming’s Midnight Bliss – Gender Swapping Made Fun

How does a strange finishing move in a fighting game fit into a now well-established mini-genre of in-game character gender swapping? This column examines Darkstalkers' Midnight Bliss, and the fan response.

Zoran Iovanovici, Blogger

October 19, 2009

9 Min Read

[In this column, writer Zoran Iovanovici looks at how a strange finishing move in a Capcom 2D fighting game fits into a now well-established mini-genre of in-game character gender swapping.] It started a niche cultural phenomenon that has lasted well over 15 years. Fan artists from all over the world have come to regard it as a staple theme of their portfolios. It’s known as the Midnight Bliss and it was born from a cult classic 2-D fighting game series from the mid 90’s known as Darkstalkers. While the Darkstalkers series has remained pretty low-key over the years, there’s no questioning the innovation of the series. It was Capcom’s first original fighting game since Street Fighter II. Featuring creative interpretations of some of the most prolific horror movie monsters such as the vampire, mummy, and werewolf, the series just bled coolness. Best of all, it was a brilliantly balanced and fun fighting game with some of Capcom’s best talent at the development helm. The Darkstalkers series had creative characters, stages, music, and special moves, along with one particularly interesting artistic feature that would leave its mark on gaming history. That feature would come in the form of the Midnight Bliss, a finishing move wherein series lead vampire Demitri Maximoff would toss a rose at the opposing fighter, transform them into a hapless maiden, then completely drain them of their life energy. It's an ultimate finisher, much like Akuma’s infamous Raging Demon, and a great way to show clear domination in a match. Turning the opposing player’s iconic horror monster into a helpless young mortal is considered by many as the perfect coup de grace. The damage inflicted is ungodly and, even better (or worse if you’re on the receiving end), the move is unblockable. genderswap_terry.jpgEt Tu Ryu? At the turn of the millennium when fighting game crossovers were all the rage (Capcom vs. SNK , X-men vs. Street Fighter, Marvel vs. Capcom), SNK decided to have fun with the Midnight Bliss when it put Demitri as a selectable character in SNK vs. Capcom (otherwise known as SVC Chaos). This meant the development team would get a chance to create female sprites of every male character, giving the gaming world its first glimpse of gender swapped iconic fighting game characters like Ryu (Street Fighter) and Terry Bogard (Fatal Fury). With its huge roster of characters, SVC Chaos helped move the Midnight Bliss even further into the mainstream. It single-handedly gave the world its first peek at previously unimagined gender swaps. Who would have previously entertained the idea of gender swapped Balrog, Sagat, and M. Bison of Street Fighter fame? Capcom upped the ante a few years later when by including Demitri in its roster for Capcom Fighting Jam. Ever curious to see gender swaps of male fighting game characters from other series (Samurai Shodown, Guilty Gear, King of Fighters), fans decided to take matters into their own hands in the form of fan art. This phenomenon extends far beyond mere scribble drawings as some of most talented independent and professional artists have taken a stab at the Midnight Bliss. Ever wonder what a gender swapped version of Blanka would look like? It’s out there and an internet search for gender swapped video game characters proves that nothing is off limits. Some gaming communities have even taken to making original in-game sprites of Midnight Bliss characters for M.U.G.E.N. games. Pretty much anything goes in M.U.G.E.N. games, so it’s really no surprise that niche indie fighting games of gender swapped characters would be out there. For the uninitiated, M.U.G.E.N. is an independently developed 2-D fighting game engine that allows for user generated sprites and backgrounds. It’s the ultimate crossover gameplay engine that paves the way for any matchup imaginable. Nonetheless, M.U.G.E.N. is about as underground as it gets and it’s unlikely it’ll ever make commercial headway. Eventually, fan artists took it a step further by applying the Midnight Bliss treatment to male characters outside of the fighting game genre. It’s quite common to see female versions of Link from Legend of Zelda or Dante from Devil May Cry on fan sites. Even the most vicious male characters like Kratos of God of War fame have received the treatment. That’s part of the beauty of Midnight Bliss reworks: it’s all up to the artists to create stunningly convincing works, even if the results are oftentimes busty and voluptuous renditions of some of gaming’s most celebrated male heroes. genderhuh_bridget.jpgThere's Always An Odd Case Every once in a while you find a fighting game character that is already so feminized that the Midnight Bliss treatment seems almost irrelevant. This still hasn’t stopped artists from gender swapping characters like Remy from Street Fighter III or Amakusa Shirow from Samurai Shodown IV. No character represents this ultra feminized minority of game characters better than Guilty Gear’s very own Bridget. Oftentimes the line between regular fan art and gender swapped fan art of Bridget is so blurred that it’s hard to tell which is which. It’s no surprise that Bridget has become a fan favorite over the years. It might initially seem that female characters are getting the short end of the stick when it comes to the Midnight Bliss. When performed in-game on a female character the Midnight Bliss simply turns them into docile and frail versions of themselves. While the female- to-male gender swap may not be as prevalent in the video game fan art world, a quick internet search will reveal that there’s enough material out there to satisfy curious minds. Even more interesting is how the most iconic example of female-to-male gender swapping would come from family friendly Nintendo in the now famous Princess Zelda and Sheik combo. Super Smash Bros. Brawl complicates things even further as the female Princess Zelda can transform into the transgender Sheik at will. As Sheik possesses both male and female gender characteristics this transformation hardly stands as a simple female-to-male gender swap. In fact, entire articles and internet discussion boards have popped up devoted to Sheik over the years. crossplayhuh.jpgFrom Crossovers to Crossplay Since the inception of the Midnight Bliss, anime/manga fan art communities have picked up on the art of the gender swap. Whether directly related or not, a quick search on an established art site like deviantART or notorious image board 4Chan results in countless gender swapped anime and manga characters where the essence of the Midnight Bliss can be seen full effect. Gender swap fan art has become so pervasive in the anime/manga community that internet rules in the Urban Dictionary have been devoted to it. Take Internet Rule 63 that reads: "For any given male character, there is a female version of that character." Similarly, Internet Rule 75 states “there is always a female version of a male character, no exceptions. In other words, every male persona or character from a video game, comic, manga, anime, etc. has been feminized by someone, somewhere on the internet.” While the rules may not be direct descendants of the Midnight Bliss, they are spiritual counterparts that see talented doujin artists taking storied characters from popular manga series and placing them in hypothetical gender swap situations. You don’t have to search the internet too hard to find examples from popular series like Naruto and Code Geass, with entire communities built around romantic gender swap relationships. Of course, there are a few anime series like Ranma ½ that feature characters that can change genders with relative ease, but we won’t get into those. Fan artists are far more interested in bending the rules for their gender swaps, often creating clever crossovers of multiple anime, manga, comic, and video game series. Having sunk its fangs in the world of anime and manga, the Midnight Bliss naturally had an impact on the cosplay community. One can always count on the cosplay community to take wild virtual aesthetics and apply them to the real world. Cosplay gender swapping comes in the form of crossplay and, just like fan art, crossplay can be incredibly creative and convincing. There’s been an explosion of crossplay in recent years with female cosplayers quickly leading the charge by crossplaying as some of their favorite anime and video game characters. Square-Enix RPG characters are a particular favorite due to the already feminine and androgynous appearance of the male characters that populate the Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts games. Blissful Little Goodies The Midnight Bliss eventually became popular enough to warrant official Capcom branded gashapon capsule figures in Japan. High quality PVC figures and resin kits have also been released with considerable success. In addition, Capcom went on to officially support high quality Midnight Bliss fan art, going so far as to promote art on the well respected Capcom-Unity blog. Udon Entertainment is currently putting the finishing touches on a Darkstalkers Tribute Art Book and it’ll be interesting to see how many pieces of art featuring the Midnight Bliss make an appearance. After all these years, the Midnight Bliss still stands as one of the most creative sepcial moves in fighting game history. There’s probably no better way to taunt and demoralize an opponent than turning their otherwise rugged male character into a helpless maiden who is subsequently ravaged in a grand symphony of chaos. More importantly, the Midnight Bliss has helped make gender swapping an aesthetic pastime among fan artists and the doujin crowd. While the gender swap manga art scene and crossplay scene may not be the direct descendants of the Midnight Bliss, they certainly share one valuable thing in common: they all celebrate gender swapping as a creative form of expression. Looking forward, it’ll be interesting to see if the theme of gender swapping will ever work its way into mainstream commercial games. It would certainly allow for some creative design and gameplay decisions. [Zoran Iovanovici is a freelance writer and commentator with a keen interest in just about anything that involves gender swapping - you can contact him at [email protected].]

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