Welcome to the very first Anime Spotlight. Each month I’ll be taking a look back at some anime which I feel need to be showcased and which mean a lot to me. I’ll mostly be focusing on anime movies from the late 80s/early 90s but I will talk about anime movies and even series from other eras as well. For this first spotlight post, I’m going to talk about the movie that turned me into the anime fan I am today: Street Fighter II: The Movie.
Fighters reigned supreme over the Video Gaming landscape in the early 90s thanks to Street Fighter II. I remember going with my friends after school to hit up the arcades or bodegas that had Street Fighter II cabinets. This game pretty much ruled my life. You can imagine my delight when I found out that an animated Street Fighter II movie was being produced. Electronic Gaming Magazine (R.I.P) is where we found out about the movie but they didn’t have so much as a screenshot. The film was going to be released in Japan so I’d have to wait a while to see it.
I remember the day my friend got a copy of the movie. This was back in the mid 90s so the only way Westerners were going to see Anime from Japan is if they bought bootlegs. We popped in that VHS tape and for the next 90 minutes were blown away by what we saw. Now, I had seen Japanese animated movies before, Transformers: The Movie being the main one, but I didn’t know about Anime until I saw Street Fighter II: The Movie. A new obsession was born.
Before I go on, I want to preface it by saying that this post is based off my experience watching the original Japanese dub of the movie. The American dub is an insult to the original and should never be spoken of. Anyway, let’s focus on what makes Street Fighter II: The Movie so awesome.
Street Fighter II never really had much of a story but the movie does a good job of taking what little narrative there was in the game and doing something with it. In the movie, Shadowloo, the crime organization headed by the evil M. Bison, is collecting data on powerful fighters from around the world to recruit them into its ranks. Bison becomes obsessed with a man named Ryu who has the highest fighting potential of any street fighter out there. It’s not much of a story but it serves to give us exactly what we’re looking for in a movie called Street FIGHTER; a whole bunch of awesome fights.
An interesting decision made for the fights of the movie was to get a martial arts movie choreographer to direct them. Because of this, the fighting in Street Fighter II: The Movie is more realistic than you would expect. Characters still throw out energy balls, do hurricane kicks, and all of that good stuff, but for the most part the fights are grounded and this helps to give them a really visceral feel.
The actual look of the movie is a bit of a departure from the game as well. Like the fight choreography, the movie has a very realistic look to it. There are still anime looking characters in the film, but they are (for the most part) proportioned correctly and don’t have the same build as those from the game. They all look “chunkier” for the lack of a better word. The colors are also somewhat muted compared to the game which also gives the film a more naturalistic feel. The animation itself is fantastic but again, it isn’t over the top at all. I could see this movie being shot in live action with minimal special effects needed.
You get to see each of the Super Street Fighter II Turbo characters fight in the movie and these sequences are all great in their own way. I could go at length about each battle but two fights in particular really stand out above the rest.
The Chun-Li vs Vega battle was a fun one for me because I could never beat Vega in Street Fighter II with anyone BUT Chun-Li. Seeing the battle play out on screen was pretty surreal because of that. As a fight onto itself it has to be one of the best in all of cinema. You know that Chun-Li is a badass and capable fighter but when she’s going against Vega you really fear for her life. She’s attacked in her apartment which is a very enclosed space and she has to use her environment to get the better of Vega. The climax to this fight is absolutely brilliant and gives us a satisfying conclusion that makes me want to cheer each time I see it.
My other favorite is the showstopper: the Ryu, Ken and Bison battle. The battle also had Guile, E. Honda, and Balrog in it and this was when the film pulled out all of the stops and had the characters just go at it with their specials and super moves. The music that accompanies the Ryu vs Ken battle is simply perfect. Here we have two best friends fighting each other and the music is appropriately tragic. When things are set right and Ken and Ryu finally fight Bison in an epic two on one battle, we get one of the best fights in movie history. To this day, I still get insanely hyped up watching this battle.
Street Fighter II: The Movie is the very definition of a classic. This is still my favorite Anime of all time since it was that turned me into an Anime freak. Not only that, but it contains everything you could want from a movie. It has a lot of thrilling action scenes but also has some heart to make the battles meaningful. Street Fighter II would also heavily influence the Street Fighter Alpha games’ art design and story arcs. These are my all-time favorite SF games due in no small part to how much they feel like that wonderful movie.
If you’ve an Anime fan and have never seen Street Fighter II: The Movie then do yourself a favor and please do so. If you have seen it, then go and see it again. It’s just as bad ass now as it was 21 years ago.