Recently I got an email from a reader interested in knowing why the Rockstar Games Franchise, "Midnight Club" use a "Wangan" Kanji character, and how they're affiliated since the original Midnight Club game never even featured any expressway racing, but had the character anyways. I thought this was a pretty good question, so I did a little personal investigation, through which I contacted some friends in the games sector, and some friends back in my home away from home, Japan. The results of my investigation were surprisingly interesting.
This was the email "Adam" sent me:
"thank you so much for putting up this information i've been a long
time fan of the Mid Night club once i learned about them through
ironicly games like Tokyo Extreme Racer and Midnight Club. i was
curious as it's been a theory of mine that someone within the Mid
Night Club was tied to those games coming out, that and the fact that
the Midnight club logo has the same japanese in it as for the video
game/ series wangan midnight. have you heard of any such connection?
And this, was my response, after messaging around and doing a little private investigating of my own.
The Midnight Club game series came out in 2000, which was a year after Tokyo Extreme Racer debuted in North America. In TER, you race on Wangan for top speed supremacy. Although priced less than other better racing simulator games, it sold just as many as the big guns due to it's low price and customization, and the cool little features it had that other higher end games didn't incorporate.
When Rockstar Games noticed its success (and how the game series went even further back in terms of age in Japan, all the way to 1994), they realized that they could market their new game in Japan by utilizing the original Japanese Best Seller Shutoku Battle Series "Wangan Dead Heat" kanji characters. This was because these characters meant "Gulf" to a translation, but in native Japan were known as "Wangan". Having some Japanese members on their staff explain that "Wangan" is where street racers raced in Japan "around the city", Rockstar decided to incorporate the Kanji into their games to lure it to potential Japanese customers new to the Rockstar franchise, as they were aiming on taking it international, unlike their previous Grand Theft Auto 1 and 2 games which were not originally sold in Japan. As for the name of the game, they chose the most popular "Gulf" racing teams name, to lure in more customers, and because it was a pretty bad ass name.
They didn't want to infringe heavily though, and took away the space between "Mid" and "Night". Seemingly, they didn't actually do enough research to actually find out what Wangan racing actually incorporated (top speed expressway loop racing).
Furthermore, as time went by, more and more staff became familiar with the term "Wangan" and based certain aspects of future Midnight Club titles on the idea of Highway Racing. If you play the original game, there is none.
Even today, their knowledge and thankfulness of Wangan (After having some staff sent out to Japan to check it out) seeps into their games. In Grand Theft Auto 5, if you purchase and modify an Elegy RH8 (R35 GT-R Clone) you will notice a silver bumper sticker on the rear bumper, tilted to the side, that says "Bayshore" - a certain nod to the group that popularized Wangan, and enabled the series to sell so many Midnight Club games in Japan in the first place, which also allowed them to bring Grand Theft Auto 3 over the year later and be recognized as a popular games company.
The rest as they say, is history, since Rockstar has since sold millions of titles in Japan and has garnered a name for itself for its success of quality games. They've also created a highly popular racing franchise that grew in popularity on the Japanese front by having nothing more than 2 characters on the front, and some ridiculously addicting gameplay.
Furthermore, many Western fans of the tuner subculture of Wangan were sparked into it by their interest as to what the characters signified on their games as teens. After looking up the translation on google, they would further go on to find out about Wangan racings origins, and personally popularizing famous Wangan shops and teams on this continent. This sharing of information was all due to one little club that flipped the Japanese street racing world upside down, popularizing Wangan racing in Japan so long ago.
And that club is the "Mid Night Club".