My third and final day in Tokyo. By now I’d filled up another suitcase with the best souvenirs the world has ever seen, a few sex toys that would, if available here, completely empty the streets of teenage boys (and probably reduce street crime by at least 90 per cent) and two pairs of the best trainers in the world. I have eaten the best noodles in Japan (as endorsed by the emporer and prime minister), attempted conversation with the second most beautiful girls that have ever lived and I’ve seen cartoons that have made me physically sick. All that’s left to do is go to is play more Virtua Fighter 5. Not on my own, of course - with Chibita, the best Lion player in Japan and the best Virtua Fighter player in the world.
He’s not the best because he wins the most (though he does win the most), he’s the best because of the way he plays. He plays with style.
Style players are few and far between in fighting games, I find. There are people who are impressive, technically, but that’s different. To see the top tier Akira players in action when you know what they’re doing with the stick is just fucking off the hook. But even top tier Akira players have to respect Minami Akira’s stepping. When Minami Akira’s character on screen starts moving around, it moves beyond technical excellence. At once you can see that this is Minami Akira’s Akira, because he moves with style. Chibita’s Lion has exactly that effect on me.
We’ve arranged an appointment with Chibita in his arcade. His arcade. At this point I don’t know if this means the arcade he frequents, owns, or is known for being the champ of. I go for all three. We arrive in the relevant part of Tokyo via public transport (a Herculean feat in itself) and begin the search for Chibita’s arcade, Japanese-speaking friend on hand. We have around 30 minutes to find it before our allotted time. At this point we realise that there are NO STREET SIGNS in Tokyo. Not even in Japanese. Not that we know what street his arcade, Harris, is on. This is bad. We stumble around the streets looking for the landmarks in our abysmal directions as we attempt to “turn left at Seven Eleven” only to find that there is more than one Seven Eleven. We try to call Chibita but his phone is turned off. We find the same street three times in ten minutes. We stop for sushi (raw fish will show us the way) and eventually, and somewhat sadly, we give up. We collapse on the pavement nearly in tears, our hopes dashed, holding our heads in our hands. A gentle sob (strictly internal, we’re men afterall) and then we’re standing up, raising our fists to an empty god-less sky. But wait! What’s that? God has heard us! Within metres of us is a sign for an arcade on the third floor of a rather innocuous building – Arice. Arice! Not HARRIS, you dumbass! Arice! Arice! So we run, screaming, into the building and into the lift. We’re shaking now, half in jubilation, half in abject terror because we realise just how late we are. He is gonna be pissed. It’s bad enough that we’re foreign, let alone disrespectful and rude.
The doors open directly into the arcade and we bundle in, heads scanning left and right for a face we’ve seen a thousand times on screen but never in the flesh. It feels like we’re about to meet a movie star, except we’ll be trying to out-act the greatest actor that ever lived. He isn’t there. Which in retrospect, from a health point of view, was probably a good thing. The human nervous system is not designed to take the kind of strain Chibita’s appearance would have triggered at that point. We enquire and the technician tells us he hasn’t been in all day. His phone is still turned off, so we do what any self-respecting gamer would do in a Japanese arcade – we play Virtua Fighter 5.
Some challenges occur, we meet some of the local players and we even win some matches. I’m still having problems getting people to play me (apparently it’s my low rank, not my gaijin appearance) so Dan asks some Lion player to come over and play me. He says I’m a player from the west who’s come to Japan to look for serious opposition. He thinks it’ll be funny, watching a Japanese Lion player tearing me apart. He’s already done this with 3S - my Makoto lasted about 10 seconds. The Lion player challenged and I BRUCKED HIM PROPER! Manz headz was turning! Or something. Anyway, after totally destroying him he comes around the machines to say hi and we share an awkward ‘I don’t speak your language’ moment and then it’s gone. The next player beats me easily and I realise I probably was just given a match out of courtesy.
Several hours pass and it’s obvious Chibita isn’t coming. We’ve been done. He’s guided us to his arcade to spend money, like good little gaijin, and he’s not coming. We cry a second time (again on the inside) and we leave.
Several hours later and the phone rings. It’s Chibita! He’s apologising for having his phone off and not showing, he had to work (read that as: I got totally fucked last night and I’ve just woken up). He asks us to meet him at Shibuya crossing. And we’re off. It’s about eight hours since we first set out to find him, but if we can play him at VF even once, it will all have been worth it.
He’s there. And he’s FUCKING COOL. Cool everything, clothes, hair, boots, shades, everything. He actually is a star. He takes us to the nearby Club Sega and as we approach the VF machines there is a notable hush (which, if you’ve seen how little Japanese people seem to talk in public, is really quite impressive). We find an empty machine and put our money and data cards in the machine. It flashes up on screen that he is the current number one ranked player in Japan (hooray!) and that we are ranked really low on account of our poor 40 per cent win ratio. Which we knew already, thanks. And we play.
The words “we play” don’t really describe what happens, though. “Custer’s Last Stand” might be appropriate, but Custer probably managed to shoot at least a couple of Indians before he went down. Perhaps “Chibita plays” would have been a better description, because he seems to be having fun. Once he realises how slow our hands and reactions are, the real domination begins. He plays with class, taking advantage of the new cancels off the basic P combos and making VF look like Killer Instinct. He uses the knee a LOT. So I do now too. Several master classes ensue in which we realise the true depth of Chibita’s skill. It’s one thing to see him play against other top level players, and watch the speed and precision, but it’s quite another to be aware of our own choices, and to watch how fast his mind works as he makes decisions faster than we can input commands. Ten matches later and it’s all over. We have won nothing. We retire to a quieter part of the arcade and attempt to talk to Chibita, though by this stage we’ve lost our translator. We try to ask a question in English, which gets turned into French before Japanese (the worst time to play Chinese whispers) and the answer is predictably incomprehensible. Eventually one question gets through – “do you have any tips for a beginner?” His reply – “try to enjoy yourself.” We also find out he likes trance music. He signs some books, gives me his VF5 test location data card (OMFG) and we attempt and fail to invite him to dinner. So we make our farewells and leave, exhausted but elatedly so.
Later on I sleep, wake, get on a plane and fly back to London. Crying.
I really, really, really miss VF5.