Street Fighter II:V
I feel hate burning within me. Between me starting this series, at two tapes per week, and finishing it some little pond scum stole volume 10 from the video store. It was there when I started, and gone when I got up to it. The tape cost a dollar a week to rent and you had to steal it? So as a result this review is going to be incomplete... and likely to remain so for a while, as finding complete copies of this old series isn't easy.
Meet Ken and Ryu, the boring vanilla (as in plain) characters from the Street fighter II video game. One's Japanese, has huge muscles, and is poor but earnest. The other is American, has huge muscles, and is insanely rich but earnest. Hey, these guys come from a video game, how much personality did you expect? But they do start to develop some when, after picking a fight in a pub with some off duty soldiers, they get soundly thumped by a fighter named Guile. A fighter who has moves and an attitude that seems a world away from the polite world of martial arts competitions they'd lived in up till then.... he's a true street-fighter.
And for the two youths, since this series is set well before the game, getting the snot beaten out of them is the most exciting thing they've ever experienced. Their eyes opened to a new world, a place full of dangerous people with exotic martial techniques, they pledge themselves to travel the world. Through finding, and learning from these fighters they can push themselves to new levels. Sadly, had they known who's currently at the top of that chain, they might well have decided that staying well away would have been a much better move.
Anyone who has played the game will be able to spot exactly how this script came about. It's a real minimum effort translation. In the game there was a world map with various exotic fighters, representing the region of the world (sort of), to be fought and defeated. Each of them had signature moves and distinctive appearances, costumes and backgrounds. If you beat them all you got to meet the boss characters who, since I was never any good at it, basically cheated outrageously. This script, from a high level, is almost a direct copy of the game progression. And that isn't a compliment, it's fairly simplistic.
The funny thing is that it's actually sort of cool. Oh, it's no dramatic masterpiece, Ken and Ryu really don't get that deep and the dialogue and plot at its best is simplistic and obvious. But it works in context, the story of two muscle-bound fighters maturing as they travel the world meeting exciting people, fighting them, and learning their techniques. It's an old story, a traditional part of so many martial arts films, but that's because it works. Add in a 15 year old Chun-li, introduced as a tour guide in Hong Kong but basically a major character, for some visual appeal. Top it off with the discovery of Chi/Hadou, which is basically the energy moves from the game, as the underlying quest and you have everything you need.
This is how it goes, and it's quite watchable. Just like in the game we get to see new places, for example some gardens in Hong Kong that might well be real, meet a new opponent, in this case Fei Long shooting a martial arts movie, and have a nice extended fight scene while they thump one another. In this way we get to meet Fei Long and Chun Li (Hong Kong), Dhalsim (India), Sagat (Thailand) and Vega (Barcelona). Sadly it becomes fairly obvious that, given the number of characters in the game they're either going to run out of time or have a 100 episode series on their hands. And slipping a couple of other characters into the background isn't helping much.
As a result the story changes about two thirds through. It becomes much more about the development of Hadou (the energy attacks) and the boys run in with the evil organisation shadowlaw. And sadly both of these story developments prove to be a lot less interesting than you might think. For example by the end of the show I was sick to death of Ryu doing the "hadou ken" signature move. In the game he just shoots them off, here it apparently takes about 20 minutes of repetitive animation, specifically waving his hands in the air, to gather the mystical energies of the world. An effort which is incredibly boring to watch and requires his opponent to basically read a book while they wait for the attack to hit. The fun was in the motion and creativity of the physical moves, which these tedious attacks actually reduce. Likewise the "slow mastery" ends up being pretty damn fast. Ryu has the basis of Hadou explained to him, is told it takes years to master, and then 5 seconds later he's letting out blasts like a plasma cannon and the main problem is the damage to the scenery and anyone within his blast radius.
The story involving shadowlaw is no better. For a criminal organisation they don't seem to have much of a clue, and the story is full of groaningly stupid events. Then again the head villain, who if you know the game is a no-brainer as to their identity, is clearly insane so I guess it's not too surprising. With a monstrous face, his chin seeming to be about a foot wide, the guy spends half his time doing his evil laugh and the other half radiating energy and looking implacable. The problem being that, both in terms of character and action, these are not very exciting. Even when he fights, because he relies on his powers rather than physical moves, he's boring. And the things he says are so over the top it almost becomes painful. His evil army also seems to consist of a bunch of faceless extras, one henchman and Zangief who wanders round doing some comedy relief work and hitting people. On the other hand he does turn Chun Li evil (don't ask) so she can stop being the cute schoolgirl and instead start hurting people. And since she doesn't have tedious energy blasts it's probably fun to watch. That's really why I hate the guy who stole the last tape incidentally, the second last episode was shaping up as a Chun-Li fight.
So in summary the end result is definitely on the low end of average. The initial parts, where it starts off on a story based progression, is quite watchable. The end episodes, which basically relies on an unlikely serious of coincidences to set up a sequences of fights, is distinctly less interesting. And over it all is the laziness of the production. They could have done more with the characters, with the story, with the fights and the emotions behind it all. But instead they go through the motions to generate a really unexciting experience. It's all just too simplistic, too obvious and so dependent on knowing the game to care about who these unlikely people are. It could be argued that this is what the fans wanted, their heroes from the game coming to life in a story as close to the game as possible. But I can't help thinking that after watching this they'd wish the producers had been a little bit more imaginative.
Of course a fighting anime ultimately lives or dies on the quality of the fights. And once again we are left with an uneasy mixture. On the one hand the characters are true to their in-game appearances, but it's also pretty obvious that all that muscle, which at times is quite over the top, is really hard to animate. As a result most fights will do everything in their power to avoid showing detail. Using broad moves, hiding the action, re-using sequences, using the tedious energy attacks and eventually just putting visual filters over the tedious energy attacks. It's almost as if they ran out of money because some of the later episodes have very little action. On the positive side it is obvious they do have the skills, every so often there'll be a sequence of physical moves that looks great, but they're so rare. And unsurprisingly most of these moments end up being in the opening sequence to the episode, so in the first 2-3 minutes you've seen most of the highlights for the entire series. It does work though, there's enough skill to keep you watching, you just wish they could animate the whole series as well as those special moments.
Other than that it's pretty simplistic. Ken and Ryu are nothing exciting as characters, Chun li alternates between cute little sister, romantic interest and deadly killing machine. She also gets to be the victim in one scene which is then remorselessly repeated about 10 billion times. The dialog is real meathead stuff and lacks dramatic interest, and the plots are simplistic tending to stupid as time goes by. The voice acting is pretty decent and the music alternates between being sort of gamey and some light mood music. I almost get the feeling the music was pasted over the top well after production. The lip synching seems awfully close to the English, was this produced for the American market perhaps? That would help explain the plots being kept almost insultingly straight and simple. The opening and closing music is pretty cool though, real anthem stuff and quite catchy. Oh yeah, and a last slap for the ridiculous titles which are so laughably over the top.
A real minimum effort translation as the most boring characters from the street-fighter game (ie. Ken and Ryu) and the sole female fighter (Chun-Li) go through the motions in a plot of rice-paper thinness. It starts off okay, focused on learning the techniques of the world, but gets sillier as it goes along. The fights are animated with skill, but not with sufficient budget to use that skill over the long duration needed. In the end it's a really average and simple title, but then that's exactly what most people who bought it would be expecting.