Our Adultimation series hits the fifth instalment, and to celebrate, Matt Lambourne takes us back to the mid-90’s when a Video-Game phenomena was hitting the Silver Screen in two very different forms… luckily we get the good one!
By Matt Lambourne (@Lambomat)
The brand of Street Fighter II needs no introduction. It is the video-game that brought the Super Nintendo into millions of homes worldwide and every child was either playing it, or saving money to play it. By the time Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie arrived on the scene, the game series was peaking, with SF II: Turbo having already been and gone and Super Street Fighter II was just on the horizon.
More meaningfully, the live action Street Fighter movie had already left an abominable impression on the gaming fan base, as well as the mainstream movie-going public at large. For the record, I actually really enjoy Street Fighter, a movie SO BAD that it’s actually brilliant, but that’s a conversation for another day. The Street Fighter II fan base was left with a bad taste in their collective mouth and the live action movie simply hadn’t respected the lore of the game enough in the process.
Step to the plate, Group TAC, a Tokyo based collective of talented animators with a long history of creating Japanese-centric Anime, but suddenly given the task of restoring the pride of Capcom’s besmirched video-game behemoth. Needless to say, they were game for the task! TAC’s project of The Animated movie, whilst remaining faithful to the mythology that Capcom had established in the SF gaming series, did take some creative license to bring their vision of the game to life.
The movie starts with a spine-tingling opening showdown between the game’s primary protagonist, Ryu, against one of the boss characters Sagat. The lengthy feeling out process of these two deadly martial artists, combined with a thunderous hard rock soundtrack makes for a brilliant opening, in which Ryu disperses with his foe with two of his trademark moves, such as the Dragon Punch that inflicts Sagat’s famous chest scar, and the Hadoken, which perfectly mimicked the opening of the ‘then new’ Super Street Fighter II game.
“Any man that can kick the crap out of Sagat is a man that I want found!”
The movie then revolves around the recruitment of the world’s best fighters, by the Shadowlaw crime syndicate, headed by Bison (Vega, for fans of the Japanese version). He strategically deploys cyborgs that are placed across the globe to monitor fights and identify those who might become the strongest soldiers for his army. This is where the movie differs to the game’s backstory, however it interweaves the two stories well as it dips into the background of it’s various characters.
Ryu wonders the world, never stopping in one place. He is seen throughout the film climbing mountains (Mission: Impossible II style) and wondering through villages in Asia. His moves are watched by the monitor Cyborgs who pursue him, and his aura is felt by the numerous fighters that he comes across, ultimately resulting in plenty of brutal fighting action. As such, Ryu becomes Shadowlaw’s #1 target for recruitment.
On the other side of the world, Ryu’s former training partner, Ken Masters, dissatisfied with the lack of challenge presented by the professional fight game, longs to reunite with his stablemate to test his abilities. In the process of Ken dispatching yet another challenger, he is located by a monitor cyborg and identified as an equal match to the abilities of Ryu. This lures Bison out of hiding who personally abducts Ken via force and is able to brainwash him into doing his deeds using his ‘Psycho Power’ ability. This was a theme explored in the live action movie, via the conversion of Blanka from a soldier into a mutant; however this angle works much better and allows the viewer to explore the historical relationship between Ryu & Ken via flashbacks that both characters endure as their reunion edges ever closer.
One thing I particularly admire this movie for is its use of music for both fight scenes and character building vignettes. In the original Japanese dub, the movie has a very techno-focused OST, whereas the English version contained a score composed by Cory Lerios & John D’Andrea (most notable for their musical contributions on Baywatch), which was very West Coast Rock scene influenced with artists such as KoRn and Alice in Chains providing tracks with a more Grunge/Nu-Metal edge.
This works to enormously great effect and adds incredible tempo to fight scenes such as the rapid Electronic-Techno track ‘Ultra’ by KMFDM, which adorns the vicious fight scene between Vega (Balrog for Japanese followers) and Chun-Li. The Western version of the OST completely altered my taste in music as a youngster, I went from listening to Blur and the Verve, to KoRn, Silverchair and Alice in Chains almost overnight!
The movie’s finale sets up the inevitable showdown between Ryu and Ken, who has been enhanced via Bison’s psycho power and is now a mindless killing machine. However, Ken, upon seeing Ryu hurt, enters into another flashback that almost destroys his mind as he fights against Bison’s programming. This leaves Ryu alone to fight Bison, which if you’ve ever played SF II on 8 Star difficulty, you will know is a particularly hard ask!
Eventually, Ken re-emerges with his sanity intact and the 2 friends team up to dispatch Bison in an exhibition of their trademark special moves and an ultimately satisfactory end to proceedings. The film does however leave a wonderfully sinister open-ending as the 2 friends go their separate ways. We see Ryu walking the vagabond path yet again, with a Capcom truck bearing down on him, with a raging Bison at the wheel…
Where this movie succeeds over its live-action counter-part is the respect that it pays to the lore the game created, even whilst taking it in a slightly different direction. It was also perfectly in alignment in its promotion of the film as Capcom were with the new Super Street Fighter II game, with both sharing promotional content and themes (see below).
This movie is widely considered to be the best video-game/movie tie-in ever made and that is something I can’t make a case against. But not only that, it is a solid Anime movie, beautifully animated and the fight scenes are spectacularly choreographed by K-1 founders Kazuyoshi Ishii and Andy Hug. It also leaves a significant legacy, with a TV series Street Fighter II V launching not so long after, also by Group TAC and many of the elements from this film’s story were borrowed by the Street Fighter Alpha video-game series a year or so later.
This is a perfect example of the synergy that a movie and video-game should share, which is so regularly ignored when big studios get hold of a video-game IP. As an Anime fan and a gamer, Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie is a much treasured part of my youth; the sneak peek in video games magazine for the many months before its release made the anticipation unbearable!
As such it holds a much revered place in my movie collection and I implore any video game fans that haven’t seen it yet, to seek it out. Never has a finer example of video game adulation been expressed on the big screen, before or since.