Terry Bogard is one of the most popular characters in fighting games. From his debut in 1991’s Fatal Fury: King of Fighters to his appearance in 2010’s The King of Fighters XIII, he has been firmly established as an icon of the genre. Yet, as just another blond-haired American in bluejeans, he comes across as a little generic. With SNK being known for their great character designs, how has such a simple depiction of an American stereotype managed to endure for 20 years?
Being such a strictly Japan-centric company, it’s not too surprising that SNK’s view of the “average American” is somewhat superficial. In fact, despite being American, he still speaks with a thick Japanese accent. However, as with most of SNK’s character designs, there’s more depth than is immediately apparent.
Let’s begin with Terry’s bio (taken from SNK’s official King of Fighters website):
NAME (OFFICIAL): Terry Bogard
MODE OF COMBAT: Martial arts
BIRTHDAY: March 15
BLOOD TYPE: Type O
HOBBY: Video games
PERSONAL TREASURES: His father’s keepsake. Vintage jeans.
FAVORITE FOOD: Clubhouse sandwiches
FORTE IN SPORTS: Basketball
There are a lot of details here that seem intended to represent Terry’s nationality. He’s into basketball, vintage jeans, and clubhouse sandwiches, all of which are decidedly American. A couple of interesting details to take note of are his blood type and dislike of slugs. In Japan, there is a belief that a person’s blood type reflects certain personality traits. Type-O suggests that Terry is a friendly, outgoing fellow who can occasionally be full of himself. That seems to describe his character fairly well.
As for his dislike of slugs, well, it comes off as somewhat random. Does he have some strange phobia? Is it just filler because the character designer couldn’t come up with anything better? Actually, if we take into account cultural perspective, then it turns out that sea slugs (or sea cucumbers), have special significance in Japan. Sea slugs are slow, calm, efficient, and quiet, all of which are associated with the Japanese lifestyle, and quite the opposite of the loud, aggressive, wasteful lifestyle that America is often associated with. Thus, if Terry dislikes slugs (assuming this implies sea slugs), then perhaps it simply suggests that he prefers the opposite of the Japanese lifestyle, further accentuating his American personality. (If so, it’s quite ironic that deeply rooted Japanese symbolism is used to express his American attitude.)
And while we’re talking about animal symbolism, how about Terry’s nickname, “The Hungry Wolf?” I was unable to find any specific Japanese cultural associations with wolves, but the animals have represented a wide number of things in different cultures throughout history, from vicious monsters to noble protectors. A hungry wolf perhaps suggests that Terry is untamed with a strong drive to get what he wants. However, as we’ll soon see, he is also protective and nurturing.
Terry’s back story revolves around him and his brother Andy striving to avenge their father’s death at the hands of crime lord Geese Howard. The original Fatal Fury ends with Geese falling to his death from the top of his own skyscraper. Of course, as is typical in video games, it’s later revealed that he survived and lived to fight again in the sequels. In a repeat confrontation in Real Bout Fatal Fury, Geese once again falls from the top of a tall building, but this time, Terry attempts to save him. Geese refuses the help and plummets to his death (again).
The twist in this case is that Geese leaves behind a young son, Rock Howard. In a way, this bends Terry’s story back around on itself. Geese was the murderer of Terry’s father, but in exacting revenge, does that make Terry the (almost) murderer of Rock’s father, thus causing him to become that which he hates? Terry’s last minute act of redemption is the loophole that just barely avoids this conflict, but it still leaves behind an orphaned child for whom he is responsible.
Terry proceeds to raise Rock himself, and becomes something of a father figure. He teaches Rock to fight, but also tries to teach him morality, lest Rock grow up to be like his father (a conflict that is explored in the last Fatal Fury game, 1999’s Garou: Mark of the Wolves). Thus, Terry is able to avoid repeating history
Aside from Terry’s burning hatred of Geese Howard, he comes across as a very wholesome character. He’s laid back, but motivated. Confident, but not arrogant. His likeable demeanor and positive portrayal makes it easy to overlook his stereotyping and generic appearance, and his nonsensical Japanese accent turns out to be more endearing than off-putting. Add to that a great move set, and it’s easy to see how he has become a favorite among fighting game fans.
1. Slug Obsession? – http://www.paraverse.org/obsession.htm