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PostPosted: Tue Mar 8, '11, 2:43 pm
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The paper door slid off to the side, leaving a large opening for both men to enter. It was a small, but comfortable room inside, decked only with a small table, about knee height, and a pair of straw mats, one on each side. In the corner of the room knelt a young Geisha, dressed in a traditional kimono. Her hair was done up with in traditional style, with many pearls and trinkets hanging down from her hair. Her face was painted white and her eyebrows had been shorn off, with new ones “painted” with dark black paint. The woman sat serenely, holding a koto, a traditional stringed instrument, waiting for her next clients to enter so that she might play to entertain them. A second Geisha, most likely one whose function was mainly to serve, stood next to the table.

Two men entered the room, side by side. Each of them removed their sandals as they did so, bowing at the entrance as a demonstration of respect. One of them was dressed in a karategi, a pair of white garments—pants and a robe which opened at the front—and black belt which kept the robe closed. He was an older man, already approaching 50. His jet black hair now had splotches of grey and white near the ears. The second man appeared to be a little younger, though not much. He wore a male kimono, which was a dark navy blue color with long, baggy grey trousers. His dark hair was pulled back into a ponytail, something not seen in the country since the days of the last shogunate.

Once inside, the two men looked at each and laughed out loud, shaking hands and clasping each other’s elbows with their other hand.

“Well, well,” spoke the man in the karategi. “If it isn’t The Ninja...or should I be technically correct and call you the shinobi?”

The ninja bellowed out loud. “Har! Save that for Joe. So, here we are: the Ninja and the Black Belt together again.”

With a strong pat on the shoulder, the black belt pointed to the table and said, “Come, old fried. The time draws near.”

The ninja nodded. “Indeed it does,” he said with a gravelly voice. “Geisha, bring us our meal.”

“And don’t go easy on the sake,” the black belt added with a delightful grin.'

The serving geisha nodded and quietly slipped out of the room. Both men sat on the mats on each side of the table. As they did so, each of them produced a thin object wrapped in white cloth and set it on the edge of the table to their respective lefts. The ninja looked over at the geisha stationed in the corner of the room, who sat patiently, waiting for her clients’ attention. With a kind smile and a quick nod of the head, the ninja gave the young lady the signal. Said signal was understood, and soon the calm serene notes of the woman’s koto filled the room.

In a few moments, the other geisha returned, carrying a tray. She knelt to the side of the table and placed a large plate of sushi on the table. She followed through placing a bottle of sake, two small cups, two pairs of chopsticks, and two small plates on it as well. Moreover, there were two other dishes filled with wasabi and a small jar of soy sauce which were placed on the table with everything else. The young lady almost ritualistically poured each man a glass of sake and then resumed the kneeling position next to table.

“So my friend,” started the ninja, taking a sip of the powerful rice wine. “ How long has it been since our last gig together? Six years perhaps?”

Stuffing a roll of sushi into his mouth, the black belt shrugged. “Nine or ten, I think,” he replied after chewing for several seconds. “It was ’89 when we did Budokan for Electronic Arts. That was a great gig.”

“Ah yes, good times. So much accuracy wasted in a game I don’t think anybody remembers.”

“It’s barely appreciated now, unfortunately. These modern games, with their mid-air combos and fireballs and whatnot.” The black belt laughed. “And don’t get me started on fatalities.” There was a tinge of sincerity in his voice as he laughed out his last sentence. The black belt reached over and poured another cup of sake for his companion.

“Thank you. Ah, here comes the old rhetoric again. Black Belt: the original forerunner to the fatality.” The ninja spoke with a playful sarcasm.
The black belt slammed his fist on the table and then gulped a cup of wine. “I tell you it’s not fair! Mortal Kombat gets all of the credit for ‘inventing’ the finishing move...bah! Look at me in level five using Rita as mid-air punching bag until she was dead. That was the original brutality.”

The ninja raised his cup mirthfully. “To the original brutality!”

The black belt raised his own in a toast. “Here, here!” Both men downed their sake quickly. “So, ninja. Do you ever get mad at Joe?” He munched another sushi roll as he waited for his friend’s response.

The ninja chuckled. “For what? For getting a gig in a game that ended up not only having a two-version remake, but two more sequels and a Game Gear game?” His voice raised with each achievement that he catalogued. “Nah. Joe was always a good kid. He had the moves, the charisma, and the magic.” With a smirk, the ninja mused, “I’d much sooner get mad at Hayabusa than at Joe, but that’s just me.”

“And the turtles?”

The ninja swallowed a piece of sushi. “Can’t blame them. Because of them and Dudikoff, my game was able to sell as much as it did in the States.”

“To Americanized ninjas!” yelled the black belt in a toast.

The ninja raised his glass and then gulped the wine down. “Here here!” After their somewhat rowdy spirit calmed down, the ninja spoke melancholically. “These days, if you’re a ninja, you don’t have a lot of adventuring gigs left. It’s all about the fighting games...and even then, they often prefer the kunoichi to us older veterans.”

“Consider it poetic justice for Sega having given the game to you instead of the ninja princess back in ’85.”

The ninja laughed. “I suppose so. Back in the 1980s, anything with a ninja was enough. Side-scrollers, shooters, whatever. They called me the Ikari Warriors of ninjitsu back then.”

“To Ikari Warriors!”

“Here, here.” The ninja took a deep breath and exhaled. “Times were a bit rough after the 1980s “ninja boom” died down, especially in the States. I mainly found work doing cameos or meaningless lackey rolls in some games after that. Worst part of it was that the game makers often felt that, because I had starred in my own game, I’d ask for more money than a ninja who was always worked as a low-level bad guy. So even getting small work was almost impossible at one point.”

The black belt calmly poured himself and the ninja another cup of sake. “Come now. A drink to the hard times—“

“—to the hard times,” repeatedly the ninja mechanically. “It’s your turn now.”

The black belt laughed. “Did you know that they’ve considered making Kung Fu Master nostalgia T-shirts now?”

“Sickening, isn’t it?” The ninja stuffed his face with two sushi rolls.

“Tell me about it. Five or so repetitive levels with almost no background graphics and...argh! Genre classic my eye!”

The ninja swallowed his sushi. “I feel for you, friend. Your game came out only two years later and still had better graphics, more creative enemies, a boss system that predated Street Fighter 2, the precursor to the fatality—and what do you have to show for it?”

Gloomily, the black belt responded, “Nothing. That’s what.”

“Did you ever try to go to Capcom from Sega back in ’90 or so?”

The black belt sloppily downed another cup, letting some wine run down his chin. “Yeah. But when I saw Ken and Ryu performing their ha-do-kens and hurricane kicks in front of gamemakers, I knew that it was no use. They offered me some work as a background character in Chun Li’s level, but I said, ‘One of the most important karate characters...in the background...in a Chinese level? What, do you think we Asians all look alike? You all can go to hell!’”

The ninja nodded his head in agreement to his friend’s words. “Didn’t they even recognize your contributions to the genre?”

The black belt shook his head angrily. “No!” he snapped. “They claimed to be elaborating on the model established by Karate Champ.”

“Yeesh...even the little guy from Yie Ar Kung Fu could waste those white and red-robed losers.”

The black belt smiled. “That game was true old school. It knew what it was out to accomplish.”

“To Yie Ar Kung Fu!”

“Here here.”

The two drank their cups of sake and the ninja reached for the bottle to pour each of them another cup. Nothing came out of the bottle.

“It seems that the sake has run out.”

The black belt sighed. “I guess it’s just as well.” He turned to the two Geishas, and with a clap and a motion of his head, requested the two women leave the room.

“Any regrets?” the ninja asked.

The black belt shook his head thoughtfully. “No. I beat the bad guys, got the girl, and set the stage. And I did it all with honor. You?”

A single tear ran down the ninja’s face. “You got the girl, I didn’t. After all that I went through, the bloody Shogun didn’t let me have the princess. Damned class rhetoric.” The ninja struggled to hold back his sobs. “After that, life was confined mainly to a small apartment going from one degrading gig to the next.” The ninja paused and composed himself. “Sorry. Isn’t your girl going to miss you?”

The black belt shook his head sorrowfully. “No. She left me two years ago. Said I didn’t fulfill my duty as the breadwinner because ‘everything was beneath me.’ She would’ve preferred to see me take any yen-a-day gig than for me to shoot for the stars. Left in a huff, calling me a ‘washed-up failure.’”

“I’m sorry,” the ninja muttered.

“Don’t be, I have my pride.”

Straightening up his posture, the ninja announced, “It is time for us to begin.”

“Of course,” agreed the black belt.

Both of them reached into their clothes and produced both a fountain pen and a sheet of paper. Pushing aside the dishes on the table, the got to work writing on the paper, often looking up in a thoughtful manner, as if to get inspiration. After a few minutes, both men set their pens down on the table.

“You first,” said the ninja to the black belt.

The black belt read the haiku he had written.

My foot and fist
Tired from years of fighting
Will retire tonight.


The ninja then read the poem he had written.

My life passes
Like the plum blossoms descend
Sadly forgotten.


Both men left their poems on the table and walked to an open space in the room where they knelt together. They were holding the cloth-wrapped object they had brought. Kneeling next to each other, they set the objects on the ground and unwrapped them. Inside each cloth was a tanto dagger. Both the ninja and the black belt removed their robes, exposing their belly. They slowly unsheathed their knives and, with both hands, pointed them toward their own bellies, a little below the navel.

“Ichi.”

“Ni.”

“San.”
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