Kim Kitsuragi Is a Fantastic Example of a Mixed-Asian Character (And Why It Matters)
"It belongs to me as much as it belongs to you."
It took a very measured and patient campaign of waiting, but eventually, the popular video game Disco Elysium went on sale, and I finally got a chance to give it a shot. I knew I’d probably end up loving it as much as everyone else, but by extension, I was curious to see why everyone loved the character Kim Kitsuragi so much.
Kitsuragi is the protagonist’s “sidekick,” but the role he fills is much more than that. He’s Harry’s rock, and often the voice of reason and sanity that can pull a dangerous and nonsensical situation back to baseline. What I think people love the most about him, however, is that he’s largely nonjudgmental, or at the very least he’s very tolerant. While he may not always approve of what Harry does or says, he’s pretty steady with his loyalty to his partner; of course, whether or not Harry respects that loyalty can affect many important plot points down the line.
But if we were here to sing all of Kitsuragi’s praises, we’d be here all day. What I want to focus on is a very specific aspect of his character that often goes under the radar: his mixedness.
I assumed (like many, I’d imagine) that he was fully Asian, simply because of his name, and also because the portraits in Disco Elysium are fairly intentionally abstract. People also just don’t talk about mixedness very much in media, because … well, most people don’t care. It’s something I’ve learned after a lifetime of being mixed: people don’t care, and they don’t want to feel like they have to care. Most people find discussions of race so exhausting, they want them to be limited to what we already know and believe; mixed people put these discussions in jeopardy, because they call all preexisting conditions into question just by being alive.
Bearing this in mind, I wanted to take an opportunity to talk about Kim, and how his mixedness should raise the bar of representation within our community. Because Kim as a character, and Kim as a reflection of the game’s overall context, is a brilliant example of how to write us right.
Welcome to Revachol
En route to the strike in Revachol, in search of the Union boss Evrart Claire, Harry and Kim will pass a lorry driver. The game skips all pleasantries: as soon as you click on him, you’re greeted by the portrait of a seedy-eyed creep who’s simply named, Racist Lorry Driver.
Also as soon as you click on him, he’ll say to Kim, not to you, “Welcome to Revachol!”
At first glance, you’re not really sure what’s happening. But Kim goes on to fill in the blanks.
Don’t you “Welcome to Revachol” me. My grandfather came to here from a three-thousand-year-old racist-isolationist culture, while your ancestors came to this island a mere three hundred years ago.Kim Kitsuragi, Disco Elysium
There is a lot to unpack here, so we’re gonna go step-by-step.
Most obviously, yeah, right on Kim, feed this guy his own ass! Kim was born and raised in Revachol and ultimately loves the city like it’s his own blood. He takes a lot of pride in his family’s exodus from Seol, which is meant to represent a catch-all East Asian nation (barring China, which is represented by Samara) that is completely submerged in fascist ideologies. In popping back at the lorry driver, Kim is establishing that while the lorry driver’s family were just mere settlers with no sentimental meaning assigned to Martinaise, his family was brave in seeking out a better life for themselves. More than that, while this man’s relationship to Revachol was more of a vague, shallow thing, Kim’s relationship to it was a hard-won, well-earned display of love.
All his life, Kim was bullied for looking different, and subsequently acting different. But Kim didn’t bend. Kim grew and took life on the chin, because he loved his family, and he loved his city.
I can’t fully articulate how much I love this. Not only is it one of the best representations of an Asian immigrant story I’ve seen in a video game, it also hits close to home for me and, I’d assume, many other players. While I’ve always benefitted from a degree of “white-passing privilege,” my mother and her family had to struggle in San Francisco after immigrating from Hong Kong. There wasn’t really an Asian community in the city back then like there is today, at least in the neighborhood she lived in, and she experienced her fair share of racist bullshit that she, too, just had to take on the chin.
Moreover, they immigrated because Hong Kong was no longer the Destined Land. At the time, it was still occupied by the British, but with all the turmoil going on in mainland China, my family decided (perhaps wisely) that staying just wasn’t worth the risk. They have the perspective of those who’ve experienced other hardships and are therefore more reluctant to add fuel to the political flames, so to speak. I only mention this because I see a lot of white fans of Kitsuragi criticizing his pro-Moralist (i.e. centrist) views, and as someone who identifies as a lefty yet has a tempered reaction to these sorts of things due to my familial history, I wanted to take a moment to say that he feels very authentic to an older generation of immigrant families. And in a game with charged politics, which therefore attracts people with charged political opinions, I want to gently remind you guys that some people come from histories where they couldn’t afford to be academic about these things. I could, because I was generationally removed from the strife. But my parents and my grandparents couldn’t, and my great-grandparents definitely couldn’t.
Is this a good opportunity to mention the time an old friend of mine, a white anarchist, once criticized and patronized me for holding a somewhat negative opinion of Mao, because Mao “had some good points” and it was therefore ignorant of me, a person with Chinese family, to be even just a little critical of him? Because Disco Elysium very well could have gone down this road, since it’s a game that takes the piss out of everyone, and I’m so glad it didn’t when it came to Kim. (And before anyone even starts, I took multiple classes on Mao and Chinese history, I agree he “had some good points,” but in what world is it appropriate to lambast someone for sharing their personal history?)
But we still haven’t touched on the mixedness quite as much as his overall Seolite heritage. Don’t worry, I’ve got much more to yak about on that front.
“Model Minority” = White?
When I think of other mixed-Asian characters in pop culture, my mind doesn’t go to particularly positive places. From fully-white actors playing what’s meant to be mixed-Asian characters, to their mixedness barely meaning anything to their character, it’s become pretty clear to me that most people create mixed-Asian characters in order to make a character more “exotic,” and to make their story more “diverse,” without having to do much research.
Of course, YMMV, and the differences are pretty stark between mixed-Asian characters created in the East, and mixed-Asian characters created in the West. But I still think the motivations are fairly similar. For instance, Japan has a pretty notoriously awful reputation when it comes to how it treats “hafu” people, yet characters like L from Death Note and Jill Valentine from Resident Evil are mixed, with the connotation that their mixedness is just one more thing that makes them “exceptional” compared to others around them. Conveniently, L is an overly-logical orphan with no real interest in his personal history, and Jill is a badass boy’s girl written to be a badass soldier … which to be clear isn’t good writing so much as it is a way to circumnavigate conversations they don’t know how to have. So it goes, unfortunately. I have never spent any time in East Asia so it’s not my place to comment further.
Meanwhile in the West, depictions of Asian mixedness are just … not really a thing. Western media tends to treat Asians like “spicy whites” because of the whole “model minority” myth. Why do you think Emma Stone was casted to play a “hapa” character in fucking Hawaii, the place where hapas make up over half the population and then some? I really gotta temper myself here, because the amounts of times I’ve been told I’m “just a white girl trying to earn diversity points” is absolutely infuriating. To quote that one Vine: “Am I wrong? You’re gonna look at me [and my family] and tell me that I’m wrong????” Ugh. I digress.
The point is, to create a GOOD mixed-Asian character in the West, one has to acknowledge that we exist, and that we have to jump through a lot of hoops to identify the way that we do. I mean, shit, I’ve met more mixed-Asians who find it easier to assimilate and just pretend that they’re one or the other, than those who are like me, who want to just be themselves without having to justify anything. It’s really tough to constantly be denied your own identity and feel like you’re forced to pick a lane and stick in it, a consequence that I honestly can’t blame people for. But people are more complex than that by default, and I know from experience that choosing a lane that doesn’t quite encapsulate your entirety is akin to suffocation.
And this is what makes Kim Kitsuragi so, so good. Kim feels like an earnest reflection of us. Kim feels like someone who, on the surface, picked a lane—that of a proud Revacholian and nothing more—but he’s really much more than that. Kim has no Seolite community. He has no reason to feel proud of his Seolite heritage. Yet he never really demonstrates any animosity towards it, either.
And why would he? Kim has had 43 years to sort out his feelings, and by the time we meet him, he’s done so and come out of it feeling like a more whole version of himself. He’s done feeling conflicted over his heritage. He no longer feels any way over it at all, save for a humble pride for his family and for himself, for all they’ve overcome. He is not fully Seolite, and he is not fully Revacholian. He is a product of racial mixing. He is mixed. And that makes him Kim Kitsuragi: an irrefutably unique and fantastic character.
When I see Kim in media, I feel a sort of warmth that I’ve never felt for another character. This is because Kim feels real. He feels like he was directly pulled from my life, and that both in life and in looks, he could be my uncle. It can be awfully lonely, navigating such a racially charged world while existing in a null space. But having characters like Kim make me feel more seen; they remind me that my life is real, that my experiences are real, that I exist, and my story, in its entirety, has inherent worth, is inherently worth telling.
My only real complaint about his narrative is he’s the only Seolite in the city, and that he never gets an opportunity to talk to someone like him. But hey. Ain’t that the truth.
Alright, so I’ve yakked and yakked, and now ye of hard hearts might be asking: “So what?”
Here’s the what: we need more Kim Kitsuragis in Western media. Pure and simple. I got a lot of flack just for asking for better Asian representation in Western media, and that told me all I needed to know, that people still don’t seem to recognize that Asians exist in their own subcultures outside of the East, and that they don’t want to, they don’t feel like they have to, for whatever reason. And if that’s the case, imagine how it feels to be mixed.
So, to all creators out there, and to anyone with power as a creator, I implore you: if you’re thinking of making a mixed-Asian character, remember that Asian culture isn’t so weak that it crumbles in the face of others’. Doesn’t matter what the other parent’s race is, they’re still half-Asian. And being half-Asian doesn’t mean that the bulk of their experience should be relegated to shit only you’ve experienced, like anime or ramen or whatever. Being half-Asian is having an Asian parent. It’s having Asian relatives. It’s driving hours to get to the nearest Asian supermarket just to make one dish. It’s explaining to your friends that they’re treating you like a receptacle for their emotional problems because of racial biases. It’s having men leer at you because of all the Asian porn they’ve watched. It’s the crushing loneliness you get, sitting in a circle of friends who consume your culture but will never fully understand you, and you’ve just gotta take it on the chin because fuck, what else are you gonna do about it?
At the very least, do it for Kim.
(Featured Image: ZA/UM)
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