Tekken director Katsuhiro Harada has asked Native American fans of the series for their thoughts on the designs of fighters Michelle and Julia, and what advice they’d give to him if he created a new Native American character for the series.
Michelle, a woman of Chinese and Native American descent, appeared in the first Tekken game. Michelle was included in the next games until Tekken 3, which introduced her adoptive daughter Julia. Since then, Julia has appeared in the main series instead, with both making appearances in various Tekken spin-offs.
Since their first appearances, Michelle and Julia have frequently been brought up in discussions of Indigenous representation in video games. Harada took to X (née Twitter) last week to acknowledge the characters’ importance within the topic, explain the history of their designs, and ask for the opinions of Native American Tekken fans.
Tekken was initially released for arcade machines, before being ported to the PlayStation. Arcade games and «fighting games in particular needed to convey the ‘character’s personality and charm’ within a limited amount of time,» Harada stated on X. The time constraint and polygon limit for games in the 90s restricted creativity in character designs, he continued, but it was still important to «express individuality».
For Michelle and Julia, Harada revealed Namco took inspiration from war bonnets, the feathered headgear associated with Plains Indians, and added «feather accents» to «reflect their Native American heritage» in an effective manner.
Between the release of Tekken 6 and Tekken Tag Tournament 2, Harada said he received feedback from a Native American fan who disliked the feather headband given to Julia because it promoted stereotypes. «I was a little distressed after this was pointed out to me,» Harada wrote. A character design which avoids such stereotypes could achieve the «goal of conveying ‘the character’s personality, charm, and identity'» in a longer, narrative game, he added, but said it would «probably not be achieved» in the limited amount of time for narrative development in a fighting game.
Harada asked Native American fans to share their thoughts with him on the subject and revealed he has plenty of ideas for new Native American characters but none of them have «yet been realised» due to the previous feedback he received. Neither Michelle nor Julia have been confirmed for Tekken 8, but Julia may be added in DLC as was the case for Tekken 7.
Tekken 8 will release on 26th January, and a demo is available now on PC, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series X/S which includes the first chapter of story mode, The Dark Awakens, and a local versus mode. Harada talked more about how the history of arcades shaped the series in our Tekken 8 preview, as well as his dislike of coriander.