Julien Neaves, Editor
Plot: Tyrannical Shadowlaw leader M. Bison hunts the globe for legendary fighter Ryu to induct him into his evil organisation.
Context: In the mid-90s the world was caught up in the grip of arguably the greatest fighting video game ever, Capcom’s Street Fighter II, and it was inevitable that it would get a film adaptation. In December 1994, Hollywood stepped into the ring with their live action version Street Fighter (no “II”) which starred the very Belgian Jean-Claude Van Damme as the very American Colonel Guile. It was 12 flavours of campy awfulness and other than the late Raul Julia’s gloriously scenery-chewing performance as big bad M. Bison, the film has no redeeming qualities.
But earlier in ’94 there was another Street Fighter II film released with much less fanfare, an anime movie simply called Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie. It was written by Kenichi Imai and directed by Gisaburō Sugii (Astro Boy, Dororo, Lupin III films, and Street Fighter II V anime series). And you know what? It was pretty dang cool. So today we take a look back at The Animated Movie and see how well it holds up today. With a bloody and bruised SPOILER ALERT let’s break it down in three rounds:
Round 1: The Animation
The Animated Movie’s animation is almost three decades old but still looks very good today. It is a buoyant but sober style that strikes the right balance between the bursting hues of the video game and the more subdued look of anime of that time.
And hats off to Group TAC (Street Fighter II V, Superman: The Animated Series, Street Fighter Alpha: The Animation) for the character designs. The film could have suffered a two-round knockout if the 16 characters featured (the Super Street Fighter II roster) did not effectively resemble their video game counterparts. All the designs here are on point but not slavishly so, imbuing the fighters with less exaggerated qualities as necessary. From the time you spot Ryu battling Sagat in the dark in the opening sequence both are instantly recognisable.
And there is a fluidity to the character movements that also harkens to the video game. This is apparent quite quickly in the early scene of hypnotised MI6 agent Cammy White brutal assassination of the Justice Minister. Cammy moves like a sexy lightning bolt as she dispatches the minister’s security and snaps his neck in a move so iconic it has been added to her move set in the upcoming game Street Fighter VI.
Whether it is the beastly Blanka, the beautiful Chun-Li, the stretchy Dhalsim, the bulky E. Honda, or the buff Zangief, video game fans should be more than happy to see how well their favourite fighters are represented here. And it would be a relief after the bargain bin versions we got in Street Fighter. Ugh!
It would be remiss of me not to mention the voice work (I watched the dubbed version) which is solid across the board. Though John “Beau” Billingslea, who voiced Jet in acclaimed anime series Cowboy Bebop, sounds about as Jamaican as Dee Jay as an American whose sole exposure to the Caribbean nation is washing down a piece of jerk chicken with a bottle of Red Stripe while watching Cool Runnings on DVD.
Round 2: The Action
It is a movie based on a fighting video game, so it is key that the various fight sequences work. And the action overall is very good if not perfect. One of the drawbacks of stuffing 16 characters into an hour and 42 minutes means that the majority of the fights would be over faster than a Flash Kick to the face. So while it was cool seeing Blanka grapple with Zangief, E. Honda hug it out with Dhalsim, and Ken teach T. Hawk some manners they are all just a smidge too short to be truly satisfying.
But there are other battles that more than deliver on the action cravings. Ryu is the film’s protagonist and by default gets into the most dust-ups. And all of his fights are satisfying to varying degrees. The opening fight with Sagat is quick but impactful, with the bloody Shoryuken being a highlight. His tussle with Fei Long (aka not-Bruce Lee) is visceral. His battle against a hypnotized Ken has the added emotional dimension and is ferocious. And his team-up with Ken to take down Bison is a fun time.
But the fight that lives rent free in my brain (and I suspect the brain of anyone who has seen the film) is Chun-Li versus Vega. Everything comes together brilliantly for a masterpiece of a sequence. The build-up of Vega sneaking into her apartment while she is bathing like some slasher movie villain. Guile speeding through the streets to reach her in time. Chun-Li sexy fighting in her underwear. Vega acting like the murderous psychopath that he is and slashing away with his claw. It truly feels like Chun-Li is fighting for her life, and with the blistering choreography and sound editing you feel the crunch of every punch, the force of every kick and the rip every slash. And the fight also skillfully incorporates Chun’s original special moves, her Spinning Bird Kick and Lightning Kick, in way that feels organic. If there was one reason to recommend this film to anyone, it would be this glorious battle.
And speaking of special movies, I will give the film props for incorporating many from the video game, even in the shorter fights. It is something that the fans want and an aspect that was severely acting in the live action version. And I swear this is the last time I will be bagging on Street Fighter in this article. Outside this article, I make no promises.
Final Round: The Story
The film’s writer Kenichi Imai decided to ditch the set-up of a tournament for a more convoluted story. Bison is looking for the best fighters for his crime syndicate Shadowlaw (a bastardisation of Shadaloo) and has cyborgs searching the globe. When one of his ‘borgs comes upon Ryu the pupil-less one becomes obsessed with finding him, going so far as to kidnap Ryu’s longtime friend and training partner Ken and brainwashing him. We also have Ryu wondering the globe, getting into fights, helping people and meeting other Street Fighter II characters. And we also have Chun-Li teaming up with Guile to try and take down Bison and Shadaloo. It is quite a lot going on for a video game movie and is really just an excuse to set up various action sequences and encounters between different characters.
It was a wise decision to position Ryu as the hero seeing that he is the face of the franchise. And the character is written like the stoic loner that fans will recognise. It was also nice spending time with the fun-loving Ken, perky and determined Chun-Li and grim Guile. And Bison and the other three original bosses (Sagat, Vega and Balrog) are the main bad guys in the film, which fits. Bison is the power-mad, theatrical megalomaniac that we all love to hate, and fills each scene with his Psycho Powered presence.
It is a decent enough story that gets the job done, though by the end there is the dangling plot threads of Sagat going to discover Vega’s fate and assassinate Cammy under Bison’s orders. I for one would have loved to see a Sagat versus Cammy fight (or even a rematch between Sagat and Ryu). But alas, we never get to see what happens. And while Balrog is in the movie, he does little other than burst out of his shirt while sizing up Zangief and grappling for a few seconds with E. Honda. Dude barely gets to throw a punch, which is kind of important for a boxing character (based on American former professional boxer Mike Tyson, if you didn’t know).
But of all the fighting game franchises Street Fighter has never been strong on story (Mortal Kombat has always held on to that crown) so I doubt many people would be checking out The Animated Movie and expecting an award-winning plot.
So does Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie hold up today? While not perfect, I would say it does. I enjoyed seeing all these characters again and the cool fights, especially Chun-Li versus Vega. And speaking of Chun-Li, there is an extended version which shows a whole lot more of her during the shower scene, but it does feel gratuitous and kind of disrespectful for the first lady of fighting video games. And the pacing of that versions drags more than once, so I would recommend the regular version.
In terms of video game adaptations, it is easily one of the best, delivering the look and feel of the source material while adding original elements that work (for the most part). And if it were to compare it to the much more recent fighting video game adaptation Tekken, which was released by Netflix last year, I would say The Animated Movie pwns Tekken like a noob.
Score: 7.5 out of 10
So are you a fan of Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie? What’s your favourite scene? And you can check out more great content below:
Julien “Editor Jules” Neaves is a TARDIS-flying, Force-using Trekkie whose bedroom stories were by Freddy Krueger, learned to be a superhero from Marvel, but dreams of being Batman. I love promoting Caribbean film (Cariwood), creating board games and I am an aspiring author. I say things like “12 flavours of awesome sauce”. Read more.