The secret of Yoji Shinkawa
Here’s Yoji Shinkawa. It’s not widely known, but this is the guy pretty much responsible for making Metal Gear Solid so damn cool. His official title was Illustration Director, but this really doesn’t do him justice at all. He created all of the outstanding artwork that fans fell in love with, and designed the appearance of every character and mecha, including the 3D model of REX. But he also invented the game’s iconic-looking title, which was pretty big departure from the boring font that came before (and was resumed after). He had his own ideas for the game, and these ideas ended up making a huge impact.
Here, take a look at the Official Mission Handbook by Millenium Publications:
When asked about the changes that Solid Snake himself went through, Kojima says he’s, “totally different” from the old one, thanks to Shinkawa. Kojima wanted a much older, hard-boiled, and “dandy” Snake, but Shinkawa insisted on him being younger. That’s why Snake is as agile, capable and strong as he is.
If Kojima had his way, Solid Snake would have been over 40, slow, and… “dandy”. I don’t know if you know what dandy means, but it refers to being fashionable and concerned with appearances. Would he have been the kind of guy who checks himself out in the mirror and combs his hair after a fight? Maybe he’d say stuff like “Watch the shoes, kid” or “Now look, you got blood on my new suit.”
And because Kojima makes it sound like he was supposed to be “hard-boiled” but apparently isn’t anymore, that means he’s probably talking about the old definition of the word, which refers to how classic detective novels were written. It’s pretty much a dismissive, nonchalant and sarcastic way of talking about everything. It’s totally different than the “hard-boiled” we’re used to today, which means being tough, or badass.
In other words, we wouldn’t have gotten the epic blend of Wolverine and James Bond that we know and love; we probably would just ended up with Harrison Ford.
What else did Shinkawa do to make the game so cool? It turns out he single-handedly spared Otacon from being a fat, stereotypical dummy:
“After giving the characters to Shinkawa, he is a bit rebellious – he designed a totally different one! Especially the Otacon character: I wanted him to be heavier, wearing a cap, and programming while eating a chocolate bar! But he came out as a slender, smart character instead. It turned out to be good, though.”
He wasn’t even supposed to be smart? Otacon has ended up being a major character in two more games since the first Metal Gear Solid! Can you imagine a fat, stupid Otacon eating a chocolate bar becoming so popular? (Come to think of it, that explains why Kojima made Otacon “twist his ankle”. Originally he would have just been too slow to run anywhere…) In MGS1, MGS2, and MGS4, Otacon plays a central role in the story. He is the main Codec support in the Tanker chapter, and pretty much the only Codec support in MGS4! It’s fair to say Shinkawa’s bold rebelliousness is to thank for this.
So, Snake and Otacon were made cool by Shinkawa. That’s impressive. But the most important contribution was not an alteration; it was a creation.
That’s right, Yoji Shinkawa invented the Cyborg Ninja by himself. Kojima tells us the ninja wasn’t even in the original concept. Shinkawa created the character by himself because “he said it would be nice to have a ninja.” Kojima adds, “Plus, it looked really cool, so I had to go into the scenario and try to incorporate it.” Hard to believe, isn’t it?
Without Shinkawa, Gray Fox would never have made his return. His face was chosen as the cover of VR Missions, but he wouldn’t even exist if Shinkawa hadn’t the balls to invent and suggest him to Kojima.
For those who don’t know much about Gray Fox, or “Cyborg Ninja”, here’s a quick list of things he does in the game:
- Adds a mystery rival to the game.
- Questions and challenges Snake in unique ways.
- Chops off Revolver Ocelot’s hand, opening the door to a massive chain of events later on.
- Is so kick ass that he single handedly destroys any complaints about the game.
- Acts as “Deepthroat” to give cryptic advice in key areas.
- Creates an important emotional link between Solid Snake and Naomi Hunter.
- Creates an important character link between Shadow Moses and the original two games.
- Serves as a perfect symbol of the tragedies of genetic manipulation, and how it affects identity.
- Shoots lasers out of his arm like Mega Man at one point.
- Delivers the unforgettable “We’re not tools of the government, or anyone else!” speech.
- Saves the day during the Metal Gear REX fight, then dies in the most awesome way a character can.
Yes, it was Shinkawa who accidentally stole the spotlight of Metal Gear Solid.
It’s true that the way Cyborg Ninja ended up being incorporated was totally up to Kojima; nobody can dispute that. But when you really think about the amount of impact that Shinkawa had on the most popular aspects of the game, it makes you wonder whether it could have been half the success it was if Kojima had been left unchallenged.