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Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie (1994)

Noah Davis

As a newcomer to anime and a skeptic of the video game movie genre, I was stunned at my enjoyment of this film.

Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie

Director: Gisaburo Sugii
Cast: Kojiro Shimizu, Kenji Haga, Miki Fujitani, Masane Tsukayama, Joli Nakata, Takeshi Kusaka
Distributor: Paramount
MPAA rating: Unrated
Studio: Manga Studio
First date: 1994
US DVD Release Date: 2006-07-18
UK DVD Release Date: Available as import

Manga released Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie hot on the heels of its ultra-best selling video game of the same name. The plot feels familiar as director/writer Gisaburo Sugii and fellow writer Kenichi Imai clearly constructed it from the snippets of bio provided by the creators at Capcom. The terrorist group Shadow Law, led by super warlord Bison (Joji Nakata), is kidnapping street fighters and using his physic abilities to turn them into killing machines, and Interpol sends its top operative Chun-Li (Miki Fujitani), who's father Bison killed, to stop the madman.

The depiction of the beautiful, fleet footed Chinese fighter provides viewers with a two-sided look at femininity. She is badass and she knows it, asking Guile (Masane Tsukayama) if he's "man enough to check out my other abilities?" When the arrogant US Army captain predictably attacks her, she easily defeats him. Yet she finishes the fight perched daintily on a car with her legs crossed, the ultimate female posture. Later, Chun-Li is shown nude in the shower, listening to soft music and brushing her hair, immediately before M. Bison's henchman Vega (Takeshi Kusaka) attacks her. While she calls out for Guile's help during this fight, by the time he reaches her (after driving recklessly on the highway, a typical man decision), she has kicked her would-be assassin through a 20th story wall.

As the only female of any consequence in the movie, Chun-Li is both objectified (the shower scene) and raised to hero status (her fight with Vega). She doesn't need a man, but judging by the palpable sexual tension between her and Guile, she certainly wants one. In this, Guile personifies Street Fighter's target audience. He is young, brash, impulsive and arrogant. If the captain can win the beauty's heart, there's hope for every video game player to score with a woman such as Chun-Li.

Her character is especially interesting in light of the relationship between Ryu (Kojiro Shimizu), and Ken Masters (Kenji Haga). The movie's other subplot revolves around the relationship between these two friends, who studied under the same martial arts master. Since departing the mountaintop training grounds, the pair have chosen vastly different paths. Ryu, the reluctant superhero, trains in solitude, refining his technique; he is a "vagabond who dropped off the face of the earth." In stark contrast, we are first introduced to Ken via an overhead shot in which his Porsche flies by cars on a Seattle freeway while Silverchair's "Israel's Son" blasts from its speakers. Save their similarly stunning command of martial arts, Ken and Ryu are complete opposites.

Yet we all know that opposites attract, and there's a hint of homoeroticism present between the two. In flashbacks to their training, the pair often appear as more than close friends. During one such scene, Ryu and Ken exchange a meaningful stare while the former helps the latter across a gorge. During another, Ken cuts Ryu's head with a kick. As blood starts to trickle down the Japanese master's forehead, his American friend kneels beside him and lovingly stops the bleeding by placing his red headband around Ryu's head. In the video game, this adornment is one of Ryu's chief identifying features, as he wears nothing but a simple, all white fighting outfit. During their final battle with Bison, Ken and Ryu deal the deathblow when their individual balls of flame intertwine to create a doubly powerful force. Most likely, Sugii simply meant to convey their combined power, but with these types of visuals, it's hard not to wonder what the exact nature of their relationship is.

Between this relationship and the one between Guile and Chun-LI, Street Fighter plays with the role of gender and sexuality much more than one might have envisioned. While it doesn't break any new ground, at least it's refreshing shift from typical video game movies such as Mortal Kombat, which simply combine a less than stellar plot with some action and call it a wrap.

Street Fighter is also remarkable in its animation. Many of the drawings, especially the fight scenes, are spectacularly rendered and a pleasure to watch. As a newcomer to anime and a skeptic of the video game movie genre, I was stunned at my enjoyment of this film and, judging from Internet testimonials, this opinion is shared by many. One drawback is the extreme "Americanization" of the characters facial features, especially Chun-Li and Ryu. Were it not for traditional Asian dress, the viewer would have no idea the two heroes were of Chinese or Japanese descent, respectively. In light of the film's bold and rebellious use of sex and gender, this decision comes of as a cheap cop-out.

Similarly disappointing are the extras provided on the DVD. It features only a trailer shown in the UK and a series of other Manga movies. Yet all things considered, Street Fighter delivers like Ryu-inspired Dragon Punch. It's fast paced and action-oriented, with excellent animation. More importantly, it transcends the boundaries of silly anime movie and actually makes the audience think. Now who knew a video game could make you do that?


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