If you’re a longtime fan of the Metal Gear franchise like I am then it’s no surprise to you that I’m talking about the fact that series creator Hideo Kojima has drawn a large inspiration from David Bowie and his body of work throughout the years, going as far to say that the visual look and feel of each game could be linked to Bowie in some way, shape or form and it wouldn’t be that far of a stretch. It wasn’t until The Phantom Pain that the influence would be made so obvious that it couldn’t be ignored, what with the references to Diamond Dogs, The Man Who Sold the World, Ziggy Stardust as a whole, and more. However, it could be a fair assumption that Bowie had a strong influence on the franchise as a whole, felt strongly once the Metal Gear Solid series of games started and became even stronger since Snake Eater and forever became something attached to Big Boss and his comrades.
David Bowie’s Visual Influence
While I’m extremely loathe to do it, I have to show it to you as it’s probably the best example of what I mean: Kotaku posted an “article” a while ago showing that there’s a strong case to show that David Bowie visually influenced a great number of characters in the Metal Gear Solid series of games. I wasn’t able to get anything showing Kojima stating that Bowie was an influence, visually, for his characters in these games but there are in-game references to Bowie, especially where Raiden is concerned: Rose actually, in the original script for the game, commented on Raiden looking like a young David Bowie.
However, this could be a general statement of Japanese characterization as a whole as David Bowie was an artist that was constantly reinventing himself musically, personally, and visually: he was the perfect embodiment of androgyny and ambition. Like any Japanese national in game development – or, by proxy, animation, because in a lot of properties, the two industries share a lot of the same cultural elements – these are elements that work extremely well and that image is probably buried in the cultural image of what the ideal American looks and acts like. Would it be fair to assume Bowie inspires a lot of people in Japan, creatively? I would think so.
There’s just one problem with this, though: he’s been known to use blatant visual references before that had absolutely nothing to do with Bowie and it didn’t seem like that influence was really present in Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake, especially the latter, where some of the references shown above become very obvious. The androgynous references were almost completely missing and you can tell there was a clear draw from late-eighties and early-nineties action films.
There was quite a few years between Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake and Metal Gear Solid and it would appear that the latter was a great example of how Kojima was transitioning in terms of his influences and inspirations: case in point would be strongest in the characters of Solid Snake and Liquid Snake in Metal Gear Solid. Two characters meant to be complete opposites to one another, Kojima needed an influence to be an antithesis to his very clearly American-raised Solid Snake: British raised and generally androgynous Liquid Snake found a great influence from a man like David Bowie. Think about it for a second: if Mel Gibson, and later Kurt Russel, were the influences for Solid Snake – a character with very masculine features, very gravely and masculine voice, and a personality that was meant to be a stand-in for the player – then Kojima needed to think of someone with the opposite of those direct features. Bowie, a purposefully androgynous and constantly adapting man in all aspects, was meant to rub players in a strange way. While there weren’t many more direct references to Bowie in that game, it was very clear at that point that Kojima knew of Bowie and enjoyed his work. This only grew as his entries in the series continued and it increased, especially, in the prequels, outlining the career of Big Boss, peaking in The Phantom Pain where a cover of a Bowie song was used, two very clear references to Bowie’s work were made, and other references to Bowie were made and driven home.
Would you say that Kojima was always influenced by Bowie in his work on Metal Gear? I would say that Kojima was always inspired by his work but the references most certainly didn’t start until Metal Gear Solid.
David Bowie’s Musical Influence
These influences are felt a little stronger, in my opinion, as his songs and albums have drawn influences in a great deal of the games in the Metal Gear Solid series: from the latest in The Phantom Pain with the album Diamond Dogs being a strong influence in the story and its characters all the way to mere humorous mentions of Space Oddity in Snake Eater and others in Sons of Liberty, Kojima has clearly been influenced, musically, by David Bowie.
However, it was probably felt most in Snake Eater and The Phantom Pain, directly influencing the characters and story in the latter and gaining strong reference and influence in the former: Major Zero refers to himself as “Major Tom,” The Fury references a cover of “Space Oddity,” Para-Medic references “The Spiders from Mars,” albeit only somewhat, not to mention two Bowie songs were supposed to be featured in Snake Eater – “Space Oddity” and “Ashes to Ashes,” the latter probably being way more relevant than the Starsailor song they chose for the ending, in my opinion – and then there’s some more subtle ones that I may have missed from Snake Eater; and I shouldn’t even have to tell you that practically the entire story of The Phantom Pain is inspired by the song “The Man Who Sold the World” and various other bodies of work from Bowie in showing the extreme need for vengeance and adaptation to culture, norms, and disaster.
This one is pretty obvious, I think, and it kind of leads into my next topic for this one…
Les Enfants Terrible
Beyond all the references, the hints, the visual representations, we have the pinion for pretty much everything Metal Gear: Les Enfants Terrible, the government project put forth by the Philosophers to clone Big Boss, considered, at that time, to be the perfect soldier. What does this have to do with David Bowie, might you ask? It’s actually probably a pretty big leap to get from one to the other but try and bear with me here: in everything leading up to this point it’s pretty clear that Bowie has a strong cultural and literal influence on Kojima’s work up until this point and by the time the series met its canonical – as far as we know, currently – end, the influence was incredibly strong and quite obvious; I would wager that Big Boss and the Les Enfants Terrible project were meant to, in a way, represent the many faces and personas of David Bowie.
This might seem like kind of a weird concept to you but if you consider some of the circumstantial evidence I’ve brought up alongside some that others have dug up in the past, it would make for a good debate, I think: Bowie’s evident direct influence didn’t start until Solid did and neither did the reveal of Les Enfants Terrible, for one. Liquid was meant to be the antithesis and was considered the dominant twin between him and Solid and Liquid was very clearly a representation of Bowie in many regards. Solidus showed traits of both but the case was made strongest in Venom and Big Boss, both of which showed evidence of a case of mistaken identity, a lack of belonging, but showing the perseverance to carry on and make the best of a bad situation, all concepts explored in Diamond Dogs and, one might say, through the body of Bowie’s career. Big Boss had always had kind of a sock-puppet problem, just being a soldier who was really good at doing what he did, training with the best, not really standing up for what he believed in until someone pushed him in the right direction, as shown in Snake Eater and in Bowie’s early career, never really finding his place as a solo artist until his agent pushed for that and sold Bowie on his talent. From that point, their talent and renown eventually grew, on their own and eventually building up a following who appreciated what he was trying to do and what he was trying to represent, which was constantly adapting and getting through turmoil of all sorts. In the end, as shown as a last parallel that was probably very much unintended, Big Boss and Bowie both died exactly how they lived: fighting and exercising his ideals and talents.
Like I said, it might be a stretch, but I think there’s enough there to consider it. I think Kojima has always been a huge fan of David Bowie and for good reason: he’s an amazing musician and has always had a good grip on his mind, his heart, and his soul. He’s inspired some of the most creative and talented minds of our time and he has influenced so much. Metal Gear Solid will, however, along with a good portion of Nine Inch Nails’ work, stand as a legacy left behind by the legend that is David Bowie.