Over the past few weeks, I've been thinking a lot about the connection between games and anime and how as a young gamer I would eagerly watch any game adaptation I could get my hands on. Sometimes (many times) I wound up entering a world of disappointment. However, other times I would come across a movie that I really enjoyed.
Despite never being a hardcore fighting gamer, I spent more than a little of my youth playing Street Fighter II. And so I was overjoyed when I randomly came across the Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie on TV for the first time in the late '90s. I also remember thinking that it was a great telling of the Street Fighter II story. And since I hadn't see the film since high school, I dropped by my local video store (yes, these still exist in Japan) on a nostalgic whim and grabbed a copy. I'm glad I did as Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie remains, even after all these years, the best fighting game movie -- anime or live action -- I have ever seen.
Good -- Excellent Choreography
As an anime based on a fighting game, good fight scenes are key. And by and large, Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie delivers. The fights in the film are numerous and well choreographed. In an excellent creative choice, the fight scenes stick closer to a realistic portrayal of martial arts than in the games; and attacks like the hadouken, sonic boom, and lightning kick are treated as rare and powerful special attacks. The Chun Li versus Vega fight and the Ryu and Ken versus M. Bison battles are especially well done -- mixing perfectly realistic martial arts with signature Street Fighter moves.
Good -- Well Managed Characters
One of the main problems in adapting any fighting game to film is the sheer amount of characters. Even the original Street Fighter II had 12 characters, and more were introduced in the updated versions of the game. The film gets around this by focusing on five characters: Ryu, Ken, Chun Li, Guile and M. Bison. This is further streamlined by having Chun Li and Guile become partners and by having Ryu and Ken constantly dish out plot exposition of their shared history.
But even though only five characters receive the movie's focus, most of the rest of the cast from Super Street Fighter II Turbo get a fight scene if nothing else -- except for Akuma who just has to settle for a brief cameo.
Mixed -- Drags A Bit at Times
When the film isn't showing awesome fight scenes is when it begins to stumble. Parts of the film -- like a one minute and 20 second scene of M. Bison walking through his base or the numerous Ryu/Ken flashback scenes -- break the film's pace and feel more than a little like padding. Of course, the numerous fight scenes with the non-main Street Fighter characters are technically padding as well, but fan service and the fight choreography keep those scenes captivating.
Mixed -- The Music
When I took a look at Final Fantasy: Legend of the Crystals last month, one of my biggest complaints is how badly music was used -- with no music at all used in several climactic moments. Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie is also an interesting case as to the effect of music on a film -- though not because the music is bad. Rather, it's that the Japanese and American versions of this film use completely different sound tracks.
While the Japanese version is scored with typical '90s anime background music (read: forgettable elevator music) with the occasional well-done J-rock or J-pop song accentuating the important scenes, the American version is a mix of grunge and techno -- it even has music from Korn and Alice in Chains -- the result of which is two very different-feeling versions of the film.
Take Chun Li's amazing fight scene with Vega (video to the left). The Japanese version starts with an acoustic guitar song; the American version with an electronica track. Then, each transitions into a new song, with the Japanese version being generic background music and the American version being the KMFDM song "Ultra". Regardless of whether you like the Japanese or American soundtrack, comparing the two is endlessly fascinating.
I was completely blown away by how well Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie has held up in the 20 years since its creation. It has excellent fight scenes and manages to be true to the game's story while streamlining it at the same time. Moreover, it manages to be a film that both gamers and non-gamers can enjoy. And, for a late '90s anime, it still looks pretty darn good -- though it could definitely use a digital remaster. If it weren't for recent films like Ace Attorney, this could arguably be one of the best game movies of all time.
Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie was released in 1996 and is currently available on DVD.