Mushroom Soup For The Pixelated Soul
It’s about time I dedicated something fun to this blog again, which is why I feel now’s the best time to introduce a new category: Jawsome Japanimation.
I did mention in my About page that I may talk about anime, and I’m making good on that. It’s a safe bet, after all, that if you’re into videogames, you may also be into anime. Heck, one of the main reasons I got into gaming during the beginning NES days was because of the cool artwork, whether it was anime-inspired or westernized; It looked cool, and it played cool.
With Street Fighter IV soon to be available to everyone (and damn those who managed to secure a copy before the official street date. damn you all), I’ve decided to dedicate a pre-launch post talking about the various anime adaptions created to honor the world’s most popular fighting series.
To spare my sanity and your attention span, I will only be covering Japanese anime adaptions of Street Fighter. There’s a ton of comics, cartoons, and a certain movie that has each done their part to further ridicule a series where bear-wrestling Russians fight highschool girls with no mercy (and in two weeks, Smallville’s Lana will step up to ruin Chun Li’s image the same way Van Damme did for Guile), and I won’t be covering all of them in one post.
Okay, fine, here’s everyone’s favorite part from the movie.
Once you’ve decided whether to go home, or go with him, read on.
Oh, but a word of warning: There’s quite a bit of partial nudity in this post (double warning: it’s not all pleasant), so consider this kind of not safe for work. Moving on.
Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie:
In the 90’s, GameFan magazine were quite the masters of generating hype, often filling their pages with large screenshots and artwork along with large rants about a certain product’s awesomeness. Particularly memorable examples include their constant reports on Final Fantasy VII (which eventually earned a score of “100++” from their reviewers) and Evangelion (A++). Because one plus just isn’t enough.
They were also the first ones to break the news of Street Fighter II’s anime adaption, and didn’t skimp on their journalistic standards; they described the fight scenes moving at “over 100 frames per second”, and this was long before fps terms became routine in forum trolling.
They also made this movie all the more appetizing by telling us we couldn’t have it, mentioning that Capcom had no immediate plans to bring this to the US. Quite convenient, since their magazine also featured advertisements from an importing service that frequently advertised the same games and anime they covered, along with their outrageous prices; the Street Fighter II movie was available for purchase (without subtitles, to boot) for a good $80. And that’s not covering their shipping fees. I’ve fallen victim to them on more than one occasion, but that’s an embarrassing story for another time.
In any event, GameFan was fortunately wrong on this one, because several months later the anime was brought over here in two VHS versions, PG-13 and “Uncut”.
Having limited funds, I had to resort to the PG-13 cut, available for rent at Blockbuster (and later copied thanks to this handy double-VCR hookup my Grandmother set up long ago). That was irrelevant, as only less than five minutes of violence were cut out; there was still plenty of punching, kicking, and hadouken’ing left in, and man was it glorious.
Every character from Super Street Fighter II Turbo makes an appearance in this movie, and nearly all of them are memorable moments. We’ve got Fei Long taking on Ryu in a crowded betting arena, E Honda fighting Dhalsim in Calcutta, Blanka going against Zangief in Las Vegas….the movie skimped out on plot in order to show off one fight after another. Just like a good Kung-Fu movie should.
But probably the one fight everyone will remember the most is the encounter between Chun Li and Vega. The former is attacked in her apartment just after a lengthy shower…..
Sigh, I suppose I have to stop and talk about the shower scene. One of the earliest and finest displays of fanservice transitioning from video game to animated form, young males across the world were treated to a full on shower sequence, where quarter-munchers everywhere were treated to a clear, extended look at Chun Li’s wet, dripping assets.
Provided you had the right cut of the movie, at least. The PG-13 version only gives you a small bit of back-boob action, while the “Uncut” tape wasn’t entirely uncut at all, which kept in a shot of her rear but left out the “breast” part (sorry). Aside from importing tapes (and later, the internet), the shower sequence was never shown in its entirety in the US until Manga released a new “definitely uncut” edition of the movie on DVD, also featuring the original Japanese dialog and score.
Back to what I was saying, the Chun Li/Vega fight is the most memorable in the movie due to its unwavering brutality and all around ass-kicking awesomeness. Clothes are torn, boobies are sliced, furniture is tossed around, and beautiful faces are ruined in one of the most entertaining fights ever created for film.
Of particular note is the differences in audio between the English and Japanese versions; The former featured a rocking song from KMFDM to really pump up the hormone levels, while the Japanese original featured a slower, romantic-like song, giving the sequence a more artsty feel, like a violent ballet between the two fighters. It’s quite eerie, and gives off a different feel from the screaming death metal of the US track. Your preferences may vary.
The majority of fights in this movie follow suit in their brutality and realism, and that’s thanks in part to the surpervision of actual accomplished martial arts fighters. Capcom doesn’t just use violence to lure in fans, though, as we are also treated to landmark moments such as the original battle between Ryu and Sagat (the one moment where it’s vital to watch it uncensored), his training days with Ken, and even the origin of his trademark headband.
I don’t really want to say much more about the film, as I’m hoping the majority of you have each experienced it for yourself. If you haven’t, do so as quickly as you can. Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie was one of the earliest attempts of a Japanese Animated Videogame Adaptiom (hey, that’s an acronym for JAVA. Maybe I should trademark that), but it’s also to this day the most successful. This isn’t just one of the best Anime films ever made, it’s also one of the best Martial Arts movies ever made, worthy of standing alongside Enter the Dragon and Drunken Master.
Street Fighter II V:
Shortly following the success of the animated movie, a 29 episode TV series was released and quickly brought over by Manga Entertainment. Funny enough, the original animated movie was released in America after the dreadful live movie, and this anime series followed suit shortly after the equally dreadful cartoon series from USA Network. Could Capcom be trying to cover their muddy tracks?
Anyway, this series is notable (and often hated) for creating an alternate take on the SF lore, showing Ryu, Ken and several other characters during their early days. Ryu is just a 17 year old country bumpkin who just recently mastered his martial arts style, but hasn’t perfected it. He gets an invitation from Ken to meet him in America, followed by a round trip across the world in order to meet new challenges to test their fighting skills.
The series is often bashed by fans for depicting Ryu as a naive, almost doofus-like teenager who arrogantly picks fights just for fun. It also suffers from a limited budget, often repeating the same frames of animation several times per episode (especially noticeable whenever someone is making a mad dash toward the camera).
But personally speaking, this series is a bit of a guilty pleasure for me. I believe it’s well aware of its cheesy premise, and intentionally runs with it. We’ve got drunken army soldiers, the hockey team from hell, drug smugglers with chainsaw hands, and psychotic Spanish bullfighters serving as opponents for young Ryu and Ken. And if you think it’s a bit arrogant of them to just drive around starting fights, you may enjoy their immediate knockdown from their high horse when a certain Army Sergeant schools these kids on the lessons of street fighting.
As someone who was getting into martial arts during the time of watching this, SFIIV also served as a male fantasy: Who wouldn’t love traveling the world with their improbably rich best friend to beat down assholes in steel cage matches? You even get a super hot Chinese tour guide along the way.
The series was also amusing for its random product placements. We’ve got Ken drinking Avian water, Chun Li shopping at Georgio Armani, and then there’s Ryu’s shoes….
And like the animated movie, there’s plenty of brutally realistic fights, and the animation usually keeps up with the deadly speed and blows (but still repeat frames edgewise). A particularly gruesome encounter is between Ken and Vega.
Serving to pay back Vega for giving Chun Li a roofie kiss during her sleep, Ken steps into a steel cage match with the master of steel cage matches. He gets a solid blow to Vega’s face, which he prides over.
He doesn’t like having his beautiful face scarred.
Unfortunately, the series takes an unfortunate wrong turn after this fight, dedicating the next half of its length to focus on Bison and his plans for world domination.
For a series that took a lighthearted approach to fighting across the globe, things get way too serious and way too slow at this point. Bison abducts Ken, Chun Li, and Ryu, and we’re left with several dragging episodes with no fighting and a lot of repeating scenes.
Ryu practices wavy hand motions, Ken screams “See Ya Sen!!!” a hundred times, and Bison laughs maniacally ten minutes per episodes. He also talks to an eagle head statue, which is the source of his Psycho power. Even the Kali statue from the USA cartoon made more sense than that.
Still, it’s quite interesting to see the beginning points of canon material here. This series was made before Street Fighter Alpha, and while Capcom has given most of the credit to the first movie as inspiration, a few elements must have been taken from V as well. For instance, here’s the first look at Charlie Nash, Guile’s best buddy and future Alpha character.
The plot to turn fighters into mindless servants may also have given way to Bison’s DOLL soldiers. Unfortunately, Cammy’s role in V is quite maligned, to the point that there’s almost no resemblance whatsoever. Hired as an assassin to take out Chun Li’s father, Cammy’s story is basically the opposite of her role in the games; instead of starting out as Bison’s mindless assassin and later working with MI-6, the Cammy in SFIIV is a former MI-6 agent who later became an assassin. Also, she appears much older, which is counfounding since this is supposed to take place before the original games.
She’s also got this thing where she prays to a cross before pulling out a hidden wire to strangle her opponents. That’s even further removed from Cammy. What the hell.
But worse off is Chun Li, who was a cute, spunky character in the first half of the series, but is later reduced to a damsel in distress after being abducted by Bison.
This isn’t the first time Chun Li had to take down some asshole while barely keeping her clothes on, but in this instance she’s not only facing someone way out of her league, but she’s continuously shamed during the whole ordeal. As Bison’s douchebag assistant is filming her shameful appearance, Bison makes due with comments like “whore” and more ten minute laughing.
To be fair, Bison is always entertaining as a magnificent bastard, the one thing that every iteration of Stret Fighter has managed to have in common, but it goes a little overboard here. The coup de grace is Chun Li’s final role as a mindless warrior, wearing a slave-like version of her trademark Chinese dress.
This wouldn’t be so bad if she was given a chance at payback after breaking free of the mind control, but that doesn’t happen. Ryu and Ken finally break free after ten episodes of captivity, and promptly dispatch Bison. Roll the credits.
As painfully slow as the second half is, I still recommend most of Street Fighter II V as a fun afternoon serial. Just try to look past the homoerotic undertones.
Believe it or not, the above image isn’t nearly as horrifying to watch compared to Ken’s pink shirt in the final episode, as well as the original Japanese intro.
I’ll take the Americanized version any day.
Street Fighter Alpha OVA:
Following the success of the Alpha series, another anime was released to commerate Street Fighter’s 10th anniversary. Unlike with V, this new adaption was met with a lot of excitement, as it meant the first anime debut of popular characters like Akuma and Sakura.
That hype quickly turned into late 90’s internet nerd rage, as both characters are only given minimal screen time and no fight scenes, in favor of establishing original character Shun, a young boy claiming to be Ryu’s younger brother (and quickly disbelieved by everyone).
Sakura gets a decent amount of screen time along with a few cute moments (copying her Alpha victory pose where her shoe comes flying off, along with playing as Ibuki in a tiny handheld version of SF3), but this OVA takes place before she gets into martial arts, instead focusing on the beginnings of her obsession with Ryu.
Akuma, who at this point has risen to Wolverine levels of popularity among Arcade players (to the point that the two eventually clash during X-Men vs Street Fighter), gets even less screen time, only showing a couple of times to goad Ryu into unleashing the dark side of his Hadou.
Despite that, it’s still an entertaining feature, and the animation is simply wonderful, perfectly capturing the more stylized look of the Alpha series. Purists complained at the exaggerated fights in this feature, and admittedly it does go a little over the top (Ryu dodges bullets at point blank), but the Alpha series was always meant to be that way.
The real point of exaggeration is the OVA’s original enemy character, who is an even bigger cheater than SF3’s Gil. The undead, unflinching cyborg is the equivalent of Resident Evil 3’s Nemesis, and it takes a ridiculous amount of special moves and dark hadou to bring him down.
Street Fighter Alpha: Generations
The last OVA made (at least until now) came out of nowhere, not commemorating anything with Street Fighter and released without much fanfare. On the surface it appeared promising, as it was advertised to be a full feature brawl between Ryu and Akuma, something fans have been wanting to see after the shameless teasing of the previous OVA.
One look at the animation style, however, is enough to tell you that something ain’t right with this adaption.
The director of this feature was the same one behind Robot Carnival, a movie I haven’t seen, but one I can immediately tell has no resemblance to Street Fighter whatsoever. Simply put, they wanted to take a new direction with this OVA, making it more artsy and moving, and less about mindless fighting.
Because, you know, it’s not like fans wanted a huge face-off between Ryu and Akuma, right? We can do with some soul searching instead, right?
The beginning bit that shows Akuma as a normal, not red-eyed or vein-popping fighter was mildly interesting, but it all goes downhill from there. Ryu takes a trip to the woods to get some spiritual guidance (or as I put it, hiding from Akuma because he’s scared straight), and meets up with a mysterious old man who gives him mysterious old man guidance.
He’s also one of the scariest goddamn old men I’ve ever seen.
As for characters, aside from Ryu and Akuma (and a last minute appearance by Ken that serves no purpose whatsover), the only other character to show up is Sakura, who begs Ryu for a match to help her with her training. She also begs him not to hold back.
Afterwards, Sakura takes a relaxing dip in an indoor hot tub, where her breasts magically expand on cue.
Make no mistake, the animation is an absolute mess. When the characters aren’t grossly represented as pale Asians, they take on these bizarre, contorting expressions when fighting. Akuma looks like something out of Berserk (ironic but not intentional, considering the author was the one who worked on the original SF designs) as a hulking, overly muscular demon. His actual fight with Ryu is also painfully clunky, where he swings his arms around like Zangief, and Ryu throws fireballs with flower petals attached to them.
About the only semi interesting moment is the final revelation that implies Akuma as being Ryu’s father. This would only be relevant if Capcom decided to make it canon. I wonder if they even took a look at this mess of an OVA in the first place.
Street Fighter IV: The Ties that Bind:
Packaged with the Collector’s Edition of Street Fighter IV is a new 60 minute OVA that bridges the gap between Street Fighter II and IV (and in case you forgot, IV takes place before III), focusing on characters like Chun Li, Sakura, Ryu, and the new fighters like C. Viper and Rufus. It’s been shown in bits and pieces during the various game trailers, and it looks pretty darn good. It also features, FINALLY, a Ryu/Akuma encounter that actually looks straight out of the game.
I’ll be offering my thoughts on this new OVA once I receive the CE package (hopefully, within the hour of this post), but it should make for an entertaining bonus for a long overdue sequel. Fight On.