Saturday, May 9, 2015

Kitana Retrospective - Part V: Closure


And now we come at last to the final part of my retrospective on Mortal Kombat's Kitana. Who'da thunk I could write so much about a video game character? Hell, I originally planned this to only be three parts—yet here we are.
I chronicled her humble beginnings in MKII and her development into a major character. I looked at her downward spiral into mediocrity and finally bottoming out in MK9.

When we last left Kitana, she'd been retconned into oblivion, reduced to a victim, and stuffed in the proverbial fridge. A sad, sorry end to what had once been an engaging protagonist and strong hero.
That, among many other things, led me to give up on Mortal Kombat as a whole. The story, as far as I was concerned, was dead. There was nothing to look forward to, and I was left with a strong bitterness about the whole thing.

But Mortal Kombat 9, lousy story aside, was a major success. From what I understand, it had probably the best core gameplay in the series' history. I can't comment on that—didn't buy it or play it. And although the story itself was lousy, one couldn't argue the quality presentation.
So of course the franchise machine rolled on. After a diversion with Injustice: Gods Among Us, the developers began moving forward with Mortal Kombat X.

And it's here, shockingly, we might find a happy ending.


Oh...and since MKX is still fairly new as of this writing, SPOILERS ahead for those concerned.

She's Back..?
Like I said, I was done with the MK franchise. But that isn't to say bits and pieces of info wouldn't cross my path regarding Mortal Kombat X.
Scorpion and Sub-Zero were back—because of course, why wouldn't they? Some stuff about it taking place over 25 years or something. One of the new characters was Johnny Cage and Sonya Blade's daughter. The story was going to feature a new emperor of Outworld.

Blah-de-blah-de-blah—aside from a vague curiosity lingering from my years as a fan, nothing to really catch my attention. Besides, I wouldn't be able to play the game even if I wanted to. I own neither an X-Bone, nor PS4, and I've no ambition to get either system.

Finally, a couple months ago, I sign onto Facebook and see in the newsfeed corner: Kitana returns in MKX! To which, honestly, my immediate gut reaction was: "Haven't they done enough to her?"

But I had to look, and to my shock...she looked good.
I dig her new attire. A departure, yes—but it's also not taking place in the past. This is a new look, and it's supposed to be a new look. More important, she actually looks like a fighter again. Her design seems reminiscent of the kind of ninja Street Fighter's Ibuki is, and although there are elements to denote she's royalty, it informs her character, rather than dominating it.

This also carries over into her gameplay and pre-fight dialogue. There are references to her being royalty and she has bit of an attitude, but it's not overbearing. There's more to it than "stereotypical snobby princess." It—and even her alternate outfit—is done right.
All in all, it looked like Kitana finally had some balls again (figuratively speaking).

Based on her appearance, it appeared Kitana would be resurrected in the story. Not surprising—as said, death in MK has become bit of a revolving door. More interesting was the backstory behind her "Mournful" fighting variation, which states she's honoring Jade by using her staff and glaive in battle.
Nice little touch, I thought. It's interesting that, between this and her reactions to Goro and Liu Kang's death in Deadly Alliance, Kitana is pretty much the only character in the franchise to exhibit emotion (besides anger) when someone dies.

She certainly looked good, but even then, I couldn't get too excited. After all, this was still the rebooted Kitana from MK9. A vast improvement, sure—but not the Kitana I knew and loved.
And her aside, I had little interest in anything else with the story. Some of the new characters looked pretty cool, but I hate Johnny Cage, Sonya, and Jax—what do I care about their daughters? Too many Special Forces characters, in general. I've no use for Liu Kang or Kano. Other returning characters have that "reboot" taint to them. And honestly, I don't know how anyone can still like Raiden after the way he was portrayed in MK9.

Anyway, then spoilers started to come out.
The story of MKX picks up with Shinnok's invasion from the Netherealm with the fallen heroes as his revenant slaves. Although Jax and Sub-Zero (and Scorpion, shockingly) are ultimately resurrected and returned to normal, Kitana and other characters like Liu Kang and Kung Lao remain undead minions.

Kitana herself seems to revel in her new state. At one point, the revived Jax wonders if she actually enjoys being a revenant, to which she declares: "I am a victim no longer!"
Can't help but wonder if that's directed toward fans (like me) who criticized her victimization in MK9.
They remain undead revenants, blaming Raiden for their fates, and MKX's story ends with Kitana and Liu Kang becoming the new rulers of the Netherealm after Shinnok's defeat.

So apparently, Kitana in the canon storyline is still dead and the outfits she wears as a playable character are a non-canon, "This is what she would be like if she had been resurrected" sort of thing.
Bit of a bait-and-switch, but actually not without precedent. Back in Mortal Kombat Trilogy, Smoke's human form (he'd been turned into a cyborg in the story) was among the playable characters—his bio stating his human form exists only as a memory, and therefore isn't actually involved in the story.

Thus it would seem Kitana in MKX is a similar situation. Her primary outfits—depicting her alive, mourning Jade, etc.—are non-canon "what-ifs," and her alternate undead outfits are the actual canon.

Whatever. Didn't mean much to me...until I saw her arcade-mode ending. And suddenly...


Time Travel Shenanigans
Okay...let's talk about time travel. And canon semantics.

If one is going to utilize time travel in their story—or base their story entirely around time travel—it is wise to have a sense of "rules" regarding how changes to the timeline will play out.
In Back to the Future, for instance, changes to the past override events of the future—hence, when Marty changes things in the past, he risks erasing himself from existence. Certain movies, like 12 Monkeys, employ a closed time-loop, where time cannot be changed, erased, altered. The Terminator movies tend to switch back and forth between whether time can or cannot be altered depending on the sequel.

There is also an interpretation of time travel employed in Dragonball Z and, later, the Star Trek reboot—which is multi-verse. Here, time travel doesn't override the original timeline, it creates a separate one. Basically, an alternate reality.
Therefore, in DBZ, no matter what Trunks does with his time traveling, when he returns to his present, his history is unchanged. In Star Trek, no matter how different things become, Spock Prime doesn't fade from existence—and theoretically, it should be possible for him to return to his timeline, the original Trek continuity.

DBZ and Star Trek also used this to hand-wave differences between the timelines that couldn't be attributed to any ripple effect. For instance, in Dragonball, the androids the heroes fight in the present are stronger and less evil than the androids Trunks fights in his time. Why? Because it's a different timeline, apparently.

At a certain point in the Star Trek reboot, Spock basically stops the movie to explain this is a different timeline and therefore anything can be different. This was essentially the filmmakers telling the audience, straight-up, it's the same characters and same basic premise, but everything beyond that—backstories, certain events, character motivations—is up for grabs, don't try to figure out why.

It's a hand-wave and probably not how time travel—if it actually existed—would work.
But at least they're being clear on how the story is going forward. I'm sure someone more knowledgeable of Star Trek lore can point out the various ways things are different that could not be attributed to Kirk's father dying, but the concept is clear: different timeline, different rules.

Still with me on this? 

When Mortal Kombat 9 came out, the developers claimed the only changes to the timeline would be the result of Raiden's altering events. They even cited Back to the Future as a reference. Obviously, this turned out to be not true at all.

As I said in the previous post—multiple times—I could've accepted the new storyline if it had been a real reboot. I still wouldn't like it. I still would've been disappointed how the original storyline ended—with everyone just dying in a desert.
But as I watched MK9's story-mode, I couldn't help but wonder how much trouble the developers might have avoided—and anger I might have been spared—if they just went the Star Trek route and embraced "different timeline/different rules" instead of trying to push this idea everything was the same, sans Raiden's dicking around.

It's semantics and, given this is all fiction, pretty stupid, I know. I just don't like them jerking my chain, is all.

With all that out of the way, when you beat arcade-mode with Kitana in Mortal Kombat X, you get her ending:

"Kitana found herself walking the streets of a magnificent, shining city. This was Edenia, a realm freed from Outworld, and Kitana was its beautiful Queen. This was the timeline unaltered by Raiden. Earthrealm had been destroyed by Shao Kahn, but Kitana had survived Armageddon and united the other realms to destroy him. Long-lasting peace was the result. 
"Kitana awoke from this vision to find herself in the Netherealm. She was not the Queen of Edenia, but a revenant of Hell. And she hated Raiden for it."


They refer to the original, unaltered timeline as if it's still there. So this ending—which I'm accepting as canon, fuck you, I don't care what anyone says—pretty much confirms "different timeline/different rules."
The rebooted Kitana from MK9, the one that died and wound up a revenant—let's call her Nu-Kitana—IS a separate and different character from the original Kitana. It's not a dream—she sees it in a vision. The actual ending also shows the spirit of Jade, suggesting it's Jade who is giving her this vision, somehow. But either way, the original timeline still exists.

Not only that, the original Kitana—let's call her Kitana Prime to take a page from Star Trek—it turns out, survived Armageddon. Remember, we only saw her hand in MK9's intro movie. It's perfectly reasonable she was still alive—wounded and unconscious, but still alive.
And she apparently went on to unite the realms, destroy Shao Kahn once and for all, and became the Queen of Edenia.

So...yeah. I won't say, "That's all I wanted," but...fuck it, I'll take it.

Last Hurrah
So here's a thought: her MKX primary outfits are not "what-if" costumes, but rather, they represent the vision of the original Kitana. She's the one wearing this new ninja outfit and mourning Jade. Therefore, I suppose, that technically makes Kitana Prime playable in this game, like Smoke's human form in Trilogy.

Screw it...I'm going to run with that.

If we go down that road, and accept the playable living Kitana in MKX is Kitana Prime, I suppose that also confirms Jade did not survive Armageddon either.
What I find interesting is, out of everyone who died, it is Jade who Kitana chooses to honor with her fighting style—and not, say, Sindel or Liu Kang.

But, if you think about it, that actually makes sense. Sindel was her mother, true, but she was also dead for the majority of Kitana's life. And when they were reunited, Sindel was kind of evil at the time. Kitana also may have loved Liu Kang, but they only met relatively recently and never really got to develop their relationship.
Jade, on the other hand, is the one person Kitana has known for most of her 10,000 year life. She was more a sister than Mileena ever could be, and she was likely the only constant throughout Kitana's life.

So perhaps it is fitting—and kind of touching—that, although I'm sure she mourns Sindel, Liu Kang, and all her other friends/allies that perished, it is the loss of Jade that hurts most, and it is Jade she misses the most.

Kitana taking Shao Kahn down is an appropriate—perhaps the only appropriate—ending to her story. It goes without saying for the most part. He conquered her realm, destroyed her family, and basically made her what she is. Everything wrong in Kitana's life can be traced back to Shao Kahn.

I would even go so far as to say Shao Kahn's death at Kitana's hands is the most fitting end to his story, too. There's dramatic irony in it being the step-daughter he raised and favored being his ultimate downfall. And although there are/were plenty of characters with grudges against him, none in my opinion that "deserve" it as much as Kitana.
Liu Kang, despite being the Chosen One, never had a personal stake in the battle with Kahn—except for the broad, "If I don't beat him, Earth is doomed" thing. Raiden, despite being set-up as the counterpoint to Kahn, didn't either.
The only characters that come close are Mileena and Reptile—neither of which, when push came to shove, had it in them to stand up to him.

Kitana finally destroying Shao Kahn herself is the end of her journey. By killing him, she will have allowed the thousands (or millions) of souls he's taken throughout the years to rest in peace—including the soul of her father, Jerrod. Also, if you want to accept guilt and remorse are a part of her character, the souls of people she herself killed in Kahn's service.
With his death, Kitana is not just avenging the fallen and ensuring peace, she's making peace with herself. That is proper closure.

And to take it back to the second act downfall stuff I discussed in Rebel to Princess. Kitana's second act ends with the disaster of Armageddon and Shao Kahn's victory—leading to her third act, where she picks up the pieces and finally sets things right.
They're not specific with details, but perhaps Kitana's quest to unite the realms and take down her step-father once and for all was an epic journey that spanned years? There's a story there...Kitana rising to the occasion and finding a way to overcome a stronger-than-ever Shao Kahn.

But that's for the fan fiction writers. For what it's worth, in my personal head-canon, it was all pretty epic.

In the end, after years of turmoil and fighting, Kitana finally gets her happy ending. Bittersweet, I suppose—Earth was destroyed and most of her friends and allies are dead—but she finally gets to live in peace.
Like I said...I'll take it.

I won't say this has rejuvenated my love for Mortal Kombat. As said, I don't even own a PS4 or X-Bone, and even if I was to get the game, I doubt I could or would get as invested in the storyline as I once was. I only (sort of) followed MKX's development out of vague curiosity, but I've otherwise moved on.
...although there is still Sareena....

It is nice to not be mad at MK anymore. I'm content to know, at the very least, Kitana—the Kitana I knew and loved—got proper closure.
I imagine, if she returns in future games, it will be Nu-Kitana and they'll move ahead with this Empress of the Netherealm thing. As such, her primary designs will likely reflect that, and this game may very well be the last we'll see of the living Kitana...unless they include more bonus/non-canon outfits.
Shit...almost makes me want to play it now.

Whatever. Nu-Kitana can go right ahead and carry on. The one that mattered had a nice run and got her ending.
And I will admit, there is some satisfaction in knowing Kitana Prime—the one that figured out the truth about her past and turned against Kahn on her own—survived, destroyed her enemy, and became Queen...while Nu-Kitana—the one that needed Liu Kang to do everything for her and died—rots in hell, wishing she could be Kitana Prime.

And That's That
So that about wraps up my look back on Kitana. I'm not sure I could offer any more to say, even if I tried.
I suppose it's kind of ridiculous to spend so much thought on a video game character, but hey...I was eight years old when Kitana first appeared. Even if a lot of her depth and characterization exists only in my head, she left an impression. 

For what it's worth, through the years, she's seen some great highs and infuriating lows. She'll continue on, in some form or another, but the one that mattered—to me—got her ending and proper closure. And like I said, I'm glad to wrap up my fandom—for her and Mortal Kombat in general—in a reasonably happy place.
Truth be told, I might not have even bothered writing this retrospective had I not been able to end on this note. Imagine just leaving it with MK9 and her stuffed in the fridge? How depressing would that be?

So to cap this off, I'm not going to try make some case Kitana's a ground-breaking character that's changed history or that she should have some special place in the pantheon of women characters in fiction.
Kitana is/was just a bad-ass ninja woman, armed with a pair of razor-sharp steel fans, in a goofy fighting game franchise, trying trying to make up for her fucked up past despite a lot of shit getting dumped on her.

She was just pretty damn cool, is all.

Credit: Ganassa

5 comments:

  1. Dear Guy McNichts!
    I've read all the parts of your Kitana Retrospective and shed a few tears. Everything what I've always thought and how I've always felt about Kitana's role in the old and new games/films but couldn't express properly is here, in your article. I shared your blog on my social media and people loved it so much because there're so many of us, likeminded Kitana fans, who think the same way.
    Thank you so much for writing it.
    Now I will try to do my best and make sure the story writers have read all the 5 chapters of your Retrospective. It's a must.
    Kind regards
    Kitana Fan Page (admin Marina)
    P.S. If you ever get (or have) an account on twitter, say Hi to @KitanaMKnews. I'll be happy to be your follower.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for reading and for sharing it. Glad you enjoyed it.

      Delete
    2. Hey! I have great news! Looks like the whole team of story writers have read your retrospective! https://www.facebook.com/KitanaFanPage/posts/883334315079269

      Delete
  2. Hi Guy!

    I just want to say thank you for writing this incredible article about Kitana! I must say your article inspired me a lot. As a passionate Kitana fan myself (and as an artist), I see we share a lot of opinions about how Kitana was adapted in multimedia since her creation.

    I'm an artist focusing my studies on Sequential Art and Storytelling, and I made 3 comic book experiments focusing on Kitana.

    Here is a link to my work:
    http://luizmictian.deviantart.com/gallery/55778845/Tribute-to-Kitana

    It would be an honor to me if you take a minute of your time to take a look at them.

    P.S: I'll second the comments from Kitana Fan Page above. If you have an account on twitter, I'll be happy to be your follower.


    Kind regards,
    Luiz Mictian

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Afraid I don't have a Twitter account. I stick mainly to my little blog here.

      Thanks for the read. I'm glad you liked it. It's always good to see fellow Kitana fans who feel the same way about her.

      I enjoyed your comics. It was a good interpretation of Kitana, and I liked your versions of her outfits. You have a lot of talent.

      Thanks again.

      Delete