Yakuza: Like A Dragon’s Kume Is The Villainous Face Of Capitalism

I had never played a Yakuza game before Like A Dragon, but I knew all about the colourful cast of characters I was in for. I certainly got that with protagonist Ichiban Kasuga, Nancy the Crawfish, and the group of adult babies, but by far the most interesting character of the bunch was Kume. That might come as a bit of a surprise to anyone who has played the game, given that Kume has the personality of wet bread, but that’s exactly why Kume is such a perfect villain: he’s the drab, boring face of conservative capitalism.

We meet this little Ben Shapiro wannabe when he is the leader of Bleach Japan, an organisation ostensibly created to clean up Japan, but actually there to make life a living hell for anyone who does not uphold their conservative values. He’s cancel culture made flesh. When we meet him, he wants to eradicate the soaplands (Japanese massage parlours) from the city, and with Ichiban being born in a soapland and currently living in one, that sets the pair on a collision course. It’s easy to draw the comparisons between their attitude to soaplands and the faux-outrage around WAP last year.

The worst thing about Kume is he’s irritatingly prepared. Ichiban could easily beat Kume up, but that would change nothing. Unlike most antagonists in the game, Kume is not there to be fought. In fact, he goads Ichiban into swinging for him, knowing then that he then has legal grounds to escalate proceedings, ensuring even swifter justice upon the soapland. Though fights do break out, they are typically with the regular Bleach Japan members, with Kume only getting the smack down very occasionally. Even then, defeat is not the end for him, because capitalism cannot be defeated with your fists alone.

Most of the problems Ichiban faces in the game are incredibly grounded. He is betrayed by the people he loves the most, he is made homeless, and he’s alone and lost in a new city. These are very human issues, but the game has him solve them by getting into fights with mechanical diggers, giant vacuum cleaners, or man-eating tigers. Don’t get me wrong; I love how nonsensical it all gets, but Kume stands above the rest of Ichi’s foes because of how plain and normal he is. It would be great if all of society’s ills could be solved by a himbo, a hostess mama, and a homeless man with an umbrella whaling on a wrecking ball, but Kume is the grim, dull face of reality there to remind you that things are more complicated than that.

Of course, this is a Yakuza game, so you get to throw a bucketful of jizz soaked tissues at him, but capitalism cannot be defeated by jizz soaked tissues either.

It’s not just the soaplands Bleach Japan is interested in though. Their real mission is to eradicate the ‘grey zones’ of Japan, and as a result, Kume sees the world in very black and white terms. In short, the game casts Ichiban as a criminal doing the right thing, but that’s not a viewpoint Kume can square. Ichiban is a criminal, and therefore only does bad things. Bleach Japan on the other hand are the good guys, so everything they want is for the greater good. As the good guys, they are incapable of doing wrong, in Kume’s eyes. Kume is positioned as Bleach Japan’s leader, but it becomes clear that actually, he’s only the leader of this local chapter and is a minor figure in the organisation overall. Kume’s rigid beliefs show him to be a hypocrite, in that he both ignores Ichiban’s good deeds and the less-than-pristine actions of Bleach Japan’s leadership, but they also highlight the problems with modern day conservatism. You pick your team first and your beliefs second, not the other way around.

To some extent, this problem exists across the political spectrum, but with Kume eager for everyone to uphold morals his own leadership fails to represent, all while Bleach Japan is entirely invested in the interests of the capitalist class, he’s a pretty clear analogy for the right.

It later emerges that Kume is only the leader of this local chapter, an admired but ultimately minor part of Bleach Japan overall. The true leaders of Bleach Japan are heavily involved in high-level government, elite corporations, and police leadership, with corruption rife across all three sectors. In true, black-and-white Bleach Japan style, this union of handshakes and kickbacks has allowed the police to all but eliminate the Yakuza, but has left those in power unchecked. Eventually, Kume is elevated through the ranks of the organisation, but the higher he rises, the less autonomy he has. He’s useful as an agitator, as a passionate recruiter happy to ignore the corruption and hypocrisy of the leadership, but he is never valued for his intellect. They lift him up so it is easier for him to hear them, not for them to listen to his ideas. If he wants more importance, he must trade in his values, his sense of decency, and his moral compass. His team is Bleach Japan, and they now dictate right and wrong.

This is arguably why Kume is such a powerful villain: he’s ultimately powerless. Though he lays it on a bit thick, it does seem like he initially joined Bleach Japan for the right reasons; to make the world a better place. But like so many people today, he allowed his beliefs to become tribal, with Bleach Japan and their hierarchy consistently in the right, regardless of whether that means Kume must accept the existence of a ‘grey zone’ of morality.

Kume shows how easy it is to be swept along by a charismatic leader, how promising change often only means reinforcing the status quo, and how conservatives have weaponised morality. Police corruption, corporate lobbying, and back door politics are all fair game, but we’ll step on your neck if you don’t meet our Puritan standards of a good society. Embezzlement yes, jaywalking no. Kume is one of the few villains in the game that can’t be pummelled into submission, and that’s because he represents the game’s most powerful foe: the unfeeling face of conservative capitalism. Neither punching nor jizz rags can bring him down.

Next: A Love Letter To My Final Fantasy 14 Free Company

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Stacey Henley is an editor for TheGamer, and can often be found journeying to the edge of the Earth, but only in video games. Find her on Twitter @FiveTacey

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