If you’ve been paying attention at all to the tournament circuit this season, you know how great Echo Fox’s Hajime “Tokido” Taniguchi has been. Starting with a brand-new character in Season 2 — Akuma — he has struck at just the right times this year. Emerging from the losers bracket in top 8 of Evo 2017, he absolutely dominated the bracket, getting straight into runner-up Punk’s brain during the Grand Finals.
Tokido’s masterful play completely sealed his place in not only the annals of fighting game lore, but Capcom Cup as well. Does he have enough gas left in the tank to win it all in December?
The Murderface Returns for Blood
Last year, I called Tokido a favorite to make it to Grand Finals of Capcom Cup. I was decidedly wrong, given that he lost his only two matches at the event. The big upset was his first-round match against the Dominican Republic’s DR Ray in a result that no analyst would have ever predicted, and he didn’t have any more luck against Eita in losers bracket. While this exemplifies that not a soul who makes Capcom Cup can be slept on, it also shows some flaws to Tokido’s game.
While he was one of the best examples of how to properly play Ryu in Season 1, by Capcom Cup, he had hit his ceiling with the character. You could tell that by how hard he was having to scrape to win his matches. Tokido has always been known to desire to not only win, but do so efficiently. This is exactly why he picks Vega (Claw) in Super Street Fighter II Turbo, and why he is credited for the invention of the Akuma vortex in Street Fighter IV. Ryu had no such tech that allowed for efficient kills like this. While again, you cannot take anything away from DR Ray or Eita for their wins against Tokido, the fact that he was stifled by a cast where the character that most fits his profile doesn’t have the creativity he needed was becoming evident.
His switch to Akuma has breathed new life in Tokido. He has certainly unlocked the potential of the character, and thus unlocking the potential for him to close tournaments. While he will be humble enough to say that he doesn’t take a lackluster tournament seriously, that 0-2 will hang on his head. He will definitely be aiming to do better this time around.
How Deadly is a Demon Exactly?
After Evo, the sky is the limit when it comes to Tokido’s Akuma. People had to go back to the drawing board after seeing what he did with the character at Evo 2017. He was tested so many times, both on potential match-up inexperience (vs. Filipino Champ’s Dhalsim), and facing the player that had dominated everyone all year, in Punk. Every test he faced proved he had studied hard enough to ace it.
His spacings were amazing. He had setups that no other Akuma had been exhibiting. He read like an encyclopedia of Akuma tech, incorporating not only his discoveries but things posted on the internet by the likes of KS Tali and RagingStormX to his advantage. This just shows how much Tokido had worked on the character since his release in December.
He understood the limitations of the character. He has low health just like always, but also featured many other disadvantages, such as no full screen fireballs, no jump back fireballs outside of V-Trigger, and not being able to perform a true vortex like in Street Fighter IV. He not only accepted his disadvantages — he made them disappear.
Now that he has had almost a full year with Akuma, what might Tokido be waiting to unleash in Capcom Cup? We’ll all be waiting with bated breath to find out.
Out of the top 5 on the Capcom Pro Tour rankings to date, Tokido has won the least number of events on the CPT circuit. Even if you factor in his Brooklyn Beatdown win, that only puts him tied with Haitani, who has won the second least. While his track record of top 8s is impressive — only falling outside two of nine — that still doesn’t speak to his ability to close, Evo be damned. Outside of CPT, he has also fallen short twice at Chinese invitationals, losing to Xiaohai at Uleague and losing to Xian at Lan Story Cup for two runner-up finishes.
I’m not going to sit here and say that winning Evo is something to be scoffed at. Given his run through losers bracket, it’s worth it to say that he can close. The question is more or less how many times does he do it? Is he capable of doing it again?
A lot has been made of Tokido’s training, which he has constantly been modified since last year. Last year saw him training the physical side of the game more, with him decreasing the amount of time he spent in game as opposed to studying his opponents and setups he can find online. But this year has seen the biggest shift in his game, and is what I believe has helped lead to the success he found this year.
Tokido has talked a lot about the mental aspect of the game, and controlling opponents. He isn’t just a talker, he’s a doer. He has began training his mind, most notably for being in a position to control his opponents. To that end, he has begun to practice meditation and deep breathing techniques. He now practices karate, helping balance him mentally, but also teaching him to problem solve in high-pressure situations. He has even gone as far as to adopt a new snack of walnuts at events, which are packed with nutrients that help foster good brain health.
Another thing that he has changed that not many people have talked about is his change in posture. He got his Murderface moniker for his slouched-over serious look before, which caused him to look more menacing. However, menacing doesn’t always make you stronger. Lately, we have seen him sit further upright, and while this may seem to be a small change, it is actually a big one. People with bad posture tend to see a decrease in blood flow. By opening up his posture to a more upright position, this increases blood flow and allows enough oxygen to get to his brain to keep his mind sharp as well.
It seems that Tokido’s claims that his training regimen may be stronger may actually be true. But it takes going to a deeper level than just playing to make those changes necessary to win.
Everyone within the top 5 on the CPT leaderboard is a killer right now, with a high percentage chance of winning everything. Tokido is right there in that group.
The problem is that to get there, he will have to face the strongest players in the world. That will be the deciding factor, it will totally depend on who is fully focused enough to bring it home. He’s probably starting to focus on Capcom Cup as his goal right now, but he’s fully aware that everyone is doing the same thing.
It will be hard to make it the year of the demon, winning both Evo and Capcom Cup. But if anyone has a chance to do this, he’s the most serious threat we’ve had.