Has it really been 25 years since the release of Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie? Wow.
Growing up in New Zealand, the “spacies” section of the local takeaway or the select few video game cabinets at a video store always had some version of Capcom’s iconic fighter. The game that effectively revitalized the video game industry.
It was as much of a cultural phenomenon as Pac Mac was back in the 1980s: soon you would see a myriad of merchandise from the series find its way into the marketplace. Trading cards, pogs, comic books series from Malibu comics that ended up being cancelled after three issues due to Capcom not being enthused with it.
Heck, I recall going to the annual Easter Show in Auckland one year and picking up a Street Fighter II keyring, showing Guile’s Sonic Boom and Flash Kick animations.
Us video game geeks always yearned for a film or television adaptation though of the video game. The idea of seeing our favourite characters team up and defeat the megalomaniac M. Bison (who in later life I learned borrowed heavily from Yasunori Kato of Teito Monogatari series).
In 1994, we got our wish. Not one but two film adaptations of the video game franchise. The more visible of the two happened to have a hot action star by the name of Jean Claude Van Damme take on the role of William Guile in Steven E. de Souza’s Street Fighter.
This film probably deserves a podcast entry rather than go into specifics here. Commercially it did well; of course, it did, given how hot the video game was, the anticipation for a movie and the drawing power of Van Damme in that era.
Critically it was mauled though. The fanbase didn’t like it either due to it’s “campy overtones.” Credit where credit is due though as Raul Julia was pretty impressive as M. Bison. That’s not me being biased either, given The Addams Family is my happy place movie I enjoy watching annually.
The other adaptation that came out that year though was Gisiburo Sugii’s Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie, released four months before the Hollywood take.
Animated by Group TAC, who were responsible for the hugely influential Space Battleship Yamato series and written by Sugii and Kenichi Imai, this take on the franchise was met with overwhelming praise and became part of the pantheon of anime distributed in the West, alongside titles such as Akira, Fist of the North Star and Ninja Scroll (amongst another more controversial and widely satirized title.)
Though, in true anime fashion at the time, it wasn’t without its controversy…
*** SPOILERS AHEAD ***
We open to a battle in a lightning-lit grassy area between the series protagonist, Ryu, and his arch-rival Sagat. In the space of five minutes, we get our first bit of bloodshed, revealing how the Muay Thai king received his trademark scar, followed by Ryu channelling his power to unleash a Hadouken, reminiscent to the appeal screen of Super Street Fighter II.
We then head to the United Kingdom, where we meet British Minister of Justice Albert Sellers leaving an anti-drug rally. Evidently someone isn’t a fan of this cause, and we meet Cammy (Super Street Fighter II) – who proceeds to destroy the security details for the minister and assassinates him in brutal fashion; breaking his neck then using the momentum to pop his knees, landing in a dragon sleeper position (one for our wrestling fans.)
Cammy is tackled to the floor and restrained, leading to being introduced the first of our three main protagonists in the anime: Interpol agent Chun Li. Li reveals that Cammy was an MI6 agent who cannot remember the last three years of her life, and all fingers are pointing to evil overlord and leader of Shadaloo (“Shadowlaw” in the West localization) M. Bison.
Bison, asides from all the nefarious criminal activity he gets up to, is also using cyborgs to scout out the most powerful warriors across the world (get it? He’s looking for World Warriors! That was the byline for the original Street Fighter II!). He already has in his employment disgraced boxer Balrog, the ever vain Spaniard Vega and a character we’ve already met – Sagat.
Bison knows who he wants though; Ryu. By finding Ryu, he hopes to induct him into Shadaloo. By any means neccessary.
Chun Li will be partnered in her assignment to bring down Bison; Captain Guile of the US Marines. Guile refuses to team up as things between him and Bison are personal after the death of his best friend, Charlie. But when Chun Li reveals that her father was also killed by Bison, their mutual grief brings them together to take down Shadoloo once and for all.
I’m not going to go into explicit details of the movie because there is an awful lot that goes on, which is one of the very few problems with the movie itself. Plus I’d be ruining something great for everyone to watch.
Needless to say, Ryu being the world warrior that he is spends a lot of his time travelling around. By virtue of being in India, he meets up with fellow compatriot E. Honda, having just finished a battle with Dhalsim that was rudely interrupted by the assassination of another political figure – this time a composite of Gandhi.
Ryu’s friend, all-American blonde Ken Masters (my second favourite Street Fighter character), has been discovered as a pretty decent substitute for Ryu – a diet world warrior if you like. He’s just looking to settle down with his girlfriend but still loves a decent fight. He bites off more than he can chew when meeting Bison and it not only defeated but hypnotised into becoming subservient to Shadoloo.
We get to the controversial moment in the film with a Chun Li shower scene. We don’t see everything but we see enough (a glamour model shot, as it were). She is attacked by Vega, given Bison is concerned how close Li and Guile are to ruining his efforts, and we have a brilliant action scene where we become utterly concerned Li is going to be killed as Guile races to save her.
No need for a white knight though, as Li manages to best Vega, knocking him out of her apartment building window, as Guile decides to travel to Thailand to warn Ryu, who is training with E. Honda in tow.
The final part of the film then becomes a melee of fights that try to tie up the many threads within the movie. E. Honda and Balrog, both sadists in their own special ways, brawl mercilessly including rolling down a cliff at one stage. Ryu faces a brainwashed Ken, initially refusing to fight him and Bison kicks the shit out of Guile.
No way! I was hoping Guile or Chun Li would at least get a measure of revenge against Bison! As a complete “fuck you” to Guile, he doesn’t even kill him. He is unworthy of death on the battlefield, as Bison’s endgame is the capture of Ryu.
Ryu’s camaraderie with Ken throughout their years of training under Sheng Long breaks Bison’s grip of the blonde bombshell, who is then punished by the overlord with a crippling Psycho Power blast, throwing him to one side. It’s Ryu, the strongest warrior walking the earth, against the megalomaniacal M. Bison.
Ryu struggles – could it be that Bison is the one true greatest warrior (despite, you know, every possible inhuman advantage he has)? Nah… Ken manage to use his “Ki” (the movie’s take on chi, or “fighting spirit” in other words) to repair himself and join the battle against Bison.
This feels awfully familiar. A dramatic battle, perchance?
The pair strike Bison with a combined Hadouken, destroying Bison while comic relief E. Honda saves Ryu, Ken and Guile from the impending destruction around them.
Back in the United States, Chun Li has made a full recovery and informs Guile that Shadaloo is no more: mission accomplished. Ryu and Ken part ways, Ken admitting that Ryu is the better of the two and Ryu dispending sage advice to Ken about the real value of a warrior.
But who’s in that truck travelling towards Ryu?
It’s Bison! In true Skeletor Masters of the Universe fashion, he’s still alive and pissed with Ryu. Here comes another epic battle as Ryu jumps towards the truck… no… no, it’s the end credits.
I first watched Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie while in high school over here. It was the awakening of my anime love as a side-by-side feature with Akira. It is one of the animes I point to when people ask what to start with, not only because I feel Street Fighter II is part of mainstream pop culture but because the animation in the film is gorgeous.
Group TAC had been at the forefront of anime for 20 years prior to getting their hands on this property. They were lauded for their work with Space Battleship Yamato as previously discussed – but just how influential that work was is something I haven’t revealed. Macross, Gundam and one of our frequently mentioned animes on the website, Neon Genesis Evangelion all owe a debt to Group TAC, taking serious themes and pushing them in an anime setting.
The blowing of the foliage in the forefront of some scenes, the colours across the different continents Ryu travels across and the use of some stock standard anime character expressions, notably the emotion they convey with Chun Li, are all well crafted in the movie. It rightfully should sit there with the giants of anime during the West’s early love affair of the genre on a mainstream level.
The direction of the anime is also brilliant; Sugii seems to have looked at Western action films and paired them neatly with some of the hallmarks of both the Hong Kong action movie scene.
There are the buddy cop elements in Chun Li and Guile’s storyline that echoes those of mid-to-late ’80s United States, two vastly different characters brought together by a unifying personal circumstance and an overt threat to their vicinity.
Riggs and Murtagh, Cates and Hammond, Dank and Ridzic. These were all unlikely partners who learned to care about one another while perusing their united goal. These were also partnerships in buddy cop movies Lethal Weapon, 48 Hours and Red Heat, classics in the genre.
Where the Hong King action style comes in, well, take your pick. The fight scenes are meticulously choreographed as set pieces to drive the narrative along for the most part. But there are elements of slapstick in those fighting scenes akin to the wildly influential Jackie Chan’s greatest works.
Little wonder then that Chan pays homage to the franchise in a widely viewed scene from City Hunter. That and given the game’s cultural phenomena, it was hard not to parody the game – City Hunter came out a year before either Street Fighter movie.
The Western voice-actor performances can be a little hit and miss at times. The god awful moment with Dee Jay in full Carribean “I don’t give a fuck” mode is clumsy, and the gruff nature of E. Honda and T-Hawk are awkward. We do get a surprise though with Bryan Cranston voicing Fei Long.
For whatever reason, Cranston’s voice-over work would be in some form of violation of his membership with the Screen Actors Guild of America, hence being credited in the film as “Phil Williams.” In fact, most of the cast undertaking the English dub of the film did so under pseudonyms.
The English localization also sought to include a soundtrack of popular alternative acts at the time, to further appeal to Western audiences. We get the incredible intro to Korn’s “Blind” ahead of a spectacular fight scene, Silverchair’s “Israel Son” while Ken is driving his convertible and “Them Bones” by Alice In Chains… a move adopted later on by Paul W.S Anderson’s Mortal Kombat movie a year later.
But there are problems with the anime; the glaring one being “that” Chun Li shower scene. The initial Western release omitted the nudity in that scene while later reissues included it. It serves no help in trying to move away from the stereotype that anime fans were kind of lecherous, perverted types as we mentioned during the Urotuskidoji piece.
It merely serves a bit of titillation within the movie and given how strong of a character Chun Li is portrayed as in the anime, is needless. I wouldn’t even call it fan service; what self-respecting Street Fighter fan wants to see Chun Li’s breasts?
As is the clumsy inclusion of a couple of characters that all but a cameo in the movie. It was as if they tried to include all the characters in some way, shape or form. We get a bit part from Dee Jay being warned about the cyborg threat from Bison, and although the Fei Long scene is fun, it seemed a little forced.
This slows the film a little, but thankfully isn’t as haphazard as the use of characters in the live-action movie. Perhaps de Souza should have thought about that when trying to implement Blanka into his movie.
We get an epic Blanka/Zangief battle in The Animated Movie to represent the sheer bloodlust Shadaloo are involved in with a scene that apes Van Damme’s Wrong Bet (or Lionheart depending where you are in the world.) This kind of cameo works and my lord, the animation team once again scored big with how well-drawn both these characters are.
But these are more problems with the localization from East to West, and as a whole, the movie is another cornerstone in the East’s invasion of Western cinema. Both this and de Souza’s version demonstrated that there is money in video game movies, opening the door to the as mentioned Mortal Kombat film, a Saturday morning cartoon series and Group TAC’s Japanese television series, Street Fighter II V.
If you’re curious about the film, for some reason YouTube has a stream of it. Or you could do the right thing and pick up a copy. Strangely, it’s not available on Amazon Prime in the UK, and it’s been taking off Netflix… so maybe YouTube is the way to go.