Yes it’s this topic. I honestly didn’t want to come back to this however I have a different angle with which to approach this. I’m not here to repeat what anyone’s said nor am I here to fan the flames of controversy. I’m actually just here to be real with you guys.
Quick background to this issue; Sakurai revealed info on Smash 4, including the new characters, returning characters and modes that will be coming to it. One of the returning characters was Zero Suit Samus, now her own unique character, with new jet boots and a slight visual makeover from her look in Super Smash Bros Brawl. Right on cue, the internet exploded with different opinions over her design because why wouldn’t they. This hot topic of female character design in games isn’t going away any time soon. Some opinions were neutral, some were positive, and a lot were bad, including this rather bothersome article.
Point is, the controversy is back and this time the girl had all her clothes on. Luckily, the comments on that article are very balanced and don’t just eat up the author’s point of view, in fact a lot of them are very distressed that he would even think that way. YouTube users also began to express how they felt that this negative reaction to her design was absurd, including Gaijin Goomba’s very well worded video. But as I said, I’m not here to repeat anyone. I’m here to answer the question I asked In the title: Why ARE people so mad about this design? To answer that, or at least attempt to, we have to look at this issue as a whole.
Thing is, I get why a lot of people’s knee jerk reaction is negative. Simple: opinion. And no, this article doesn’t end here. Everyone’s opinion is different and often it’s informed by various conditions and circumstances that led to them believing what they believe. To a lot of people, a sexy character in a game isn’t something that they’d take seriously, because in other contexts such as in the real world, that’s how they would see it. It’s no one’s fault that anyone thinks this way, it’s a perfectly understandable thing to think. For example, it’d be hard to take someone seriously if they showed up to a business place wearing their underwear. Often on TV, in movies, music videos and, yes, even in games, women who are dressed provocatively are seen to be there for eye candy and nothing else. So by association, you assume that a character created for sex appeal isn’t as serious as a character designed to be taken seriously, wearing ‘appropriate’ clothing. It’s why it’s easy to write off the Dead or Alive girls as brainless fanservice even if you’ve never played the game or realized that they have stories/personalities. Same reason why people caused a fuss over Quiet’s design in Metal Gear Solid V, stating that it’s ‘unrealistic’ for a sniper character.
Problem is, this rather binary way of looking at things is very prevalent and it’s why people are quick to criticize sexualized character designs. In regards to Samus, many feel that she’s a character of importance and honesty, a space bounty hunter who is fearless in the face of danger. When a character like this is given a look like Zero Suit Samus’ in Smash 4, people will immediately assume that the depiction has switched roles; from bad@$$ fighter to brainless eye candy. Say you design a character to be important based on their actions, people will then expect them to be designed to reflect that, instead of being designed where their body is the focus. This is what creates that binary of either seriously-looking serious character or sexualized eye-candy. Except more often than not in games, this binary doesn’t exist, since female characters are often sexualized but also well written and interesting. Not just games too, the concept of femme fatales stretches to all mediums, from movies like James Bond to animes like Black Lagoon. The ladies can kick butt while looking good doing it, just like the pretty boys like Marth (also coming to Smash 4) do all the time. But this concept clashes with the perceived notion that dolled-up women are merely there to be looked at, glamorous only for the sake of attracting guys. Sure, the look is something that attracts guys and often these characters are designed to appeal to guys, maybe even women too.
But an artist’s choice to depict a character as sexy or otherwise is completely up to them, but as a result they have to deal with people’s conflicting opinions. Games are a medium that exist in a paradigm where design choices such as skimpy clothes and over-emphasized body parts aren’t used to make a character any less important unless the designer chooses so. Anime and comics are very similar, in the way that how a character looks doesn’t determine what the character is, and vice versa. However, since people are quick to judge things based on appearance (human nature really), opinions are quickly formed based on that alone. Artists have to struggle with how their works will be perceived, regardless of what their intention was.
The bottom line is, it’s hard for people to separate the stigmatism that sexiness is just an empty and cheap aspect of characters, from the narrative depth and gameplay importance of a character. Once again, it’s no one’s fault directly but instead a result of various factors that led people to believe this sort of thing. Is this something that can be changed? Not really. There’s no simple solution. Primarily because the issue itself isn’t simple. How any one person views not only female character but also male character design is entirely up to them, and as an artist you can’t please everyone. In the end, Samus will be in Smash 4 regardless and she’ll probably be a great character (maybe not high tier but who knows) but controversies like this won’t stop happening. I personally liked the design and I didn’t think there would be any fuss made over it, but when it happened I wouldn’t say I was surprised. My only hope is that when incidents like this inevitably do happen again, the conversation surrounding it will continue to be balanced and everyone expresses how they feel about it on a personal level. At least that way we can tell that there’s no wrong or right in all this, it’s art after all.