John Rambo and Sorrowful Warriors

In a prior discussion with Sub of Subatomic Brainfreeze, he brought to my attention the existence of a Sega-made Japanese arcade game based off of Rambo. Yes, the 80s Sylvester Stallone movie franchise. He told me all about how indicative the game was of how the Japanese perceived the movies and John Rambo as a character, and upon further thinking it shed light on a difference between Japanese and American culture.

According to Sub, the narration in the Rambo Arcade Game places great emphasis on how “sorrowful” John Rambo is as a person, and this idea of Rambo carrying great sadness within his stoicism is repeated throughout. Well of course that makes sense. This is the same culture which gave us Kenshiro, and Kenshiro is all about being a stoic hero who is full of emotion within.

As far as either of us could tell, in Japanese fiction stoicism acts as an indicator for emotion and sorrow, which contrasts greatly with the American idea of the expressionless badass, who while not entirely without emotion tends to be “unmoved” by traumatic events or the plights of others, though still willing to do the “right thing.” Their tears are not allowed, as they are a sign of emasculation.

I thought about the concept of the “sorrowful warrior” and any portrayals in Japanese entertainment thereof, and I recalled one in particular: Sol Badguy.

Sol is the hero of the Guilty Gear series of fighting games, and his character is quite reminiscent of Joutarou from JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. He doesn’t talk much, is quite aloof, usually has a hardened expression on his face, and is incredibly adept in combat. It’s easy to see him as just a guy who knows what he wants and acts on his own, but then I remembered a significant fact about Sol Badguy.

As with many fighting games, characters in Guilty Gear have their own theme songs/stage background music, and Sol is no exception. The Guilty Gear series took it one step further and gave all of the characters vocal versions of their respective themes, and the first lyrics in Sol’s theme song say it all:

He’s a sad soldier.

I have to wonder, is it the case where whenever Japan and America see the same stoic badass hero, each ends up having a very different perception?

6 thoughts on “John Rambo and Sorrowful Warriors

  1. It’s worth noting that in the first Rambo movie, John Rambo wasn’t the HOOAH SHOOT EM UP BLURAGH type he became in the later films. He was very much a sad soldier, lost without his war and set adrift in the United States. First Blood is very much a commentary on post-Vietnam America, and this game sounds like it’s actually pretty accurate.


  2. There’s a degree of franchise decay here. John Rambo in First Blood (aka Rambo, aka Rambo 1, aka Rambo: First Blood Part I) is fairly emotional and probably (well, definitely) mentally unstable. He’s stoic, but he has a lot of outbursts (the “nothing is over!” rant). I suppose you could compare it to Kenshiro when he gets really worked up about injustices.

    As the movies wear on he becomes some kind of action monk in a kind of “David Carradine in Kung Fu” thing.

    The view of Rambo most people get is the sort drawn from the later films and parodied in UHF ( ).


  3. The Rambo arcade game completely leaves out Rambo I: the first stage is Rambo III, then there’s a flashback where you play the entirety of II, and then you finish III. I need to post about this game, already. It has a rage meter.


  4. Even in the sequels, Rambo’s portrayal is precisely that of the “sorrowful warrior.” The sorrow may not be expressed in the shedding of tears, but in the way he views himself and realizes that he doesn’t fit in society. Politicians of the Reagan bent may have co-opted Rambo to symbolize their viewpoint on how America should be dealing with things, but the character himself never wants anything to do with people or politics. Time and again, Rambo absconds himself from Western society because he simply has no place in it. If he truly represented the ‘MERICA, FUCK YEAH mentality people assign to him, then why did he never think to go back to America after the job was done despite the fact that he has family there, as noted in the epilogue of the most recent film? Rambo’s a guy who’s been forever changed by war such that he can’t exist in normal society anymore, and as much as he tells himself how he just wants to live in peace, deep down he knows that killing people is all he’s actually good at anymore. John Rambo and Shin Kazama aren’t as fundamentally different as you might think.

    If you go back and watch even Rambo: First Blood Part II (the one most commonly parodied), you’ll realize that Rambo shares a lot of similarities with the “sorrowful warrior” folks of today’s generation recognize most: Solid Snake. In fact, a huge amount of scenarios and character archetypes from First Blood Part II were lifted wholesale and put into the Metal Gear Solid games. Snake may look like Kurt Russell, but below the surface he’s Stallone through and through.


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