Street Fighter II V – episodes 19 to 29

February 24, 2005 on 10:35 am | In Street Fighter | 1 Comment

Despite the realisation that the last fifteen-odd episodes of this series chronicle maybe two days, that episode 23 of 29 is no place for a recap and a constant fear of sliding into the void, Street Fighter II V manages somehow to barely pull it off.

There is perhaps too much focus on Vega here. The best moments in the latter part of the series are set in the real world, not in the fortress of doom off the coast of Barcelona. A particularly impressive episode is one that deals with two plotlines and three battles.
The fights in this series are interesting but not enough to sustain entire episodes. Creative editing is used to maximum effect, with punches flowing from one scene to the next.
One of the most entertaining battles is that between Cammy and Fei Long. It is difficult to understand why the narrator makes constant reference to Cammy’s green eye, but less so to see why almost every scene featuring her shows her lounging at a pool in a variety of swim suits.

The strength is that Guile comes back with his partner Nash – a character not in the games, and therefore totally expendable – to save Ken and Ryu. This is, of course, full circle, as it was Guile who inspired the two to take their street fighting world tour (which ended, quite disappointingly and without ceremony, here in Barcelona).

Guile fights against Zangief, and the presentation of the communist wrestler is interesting indeed. Perhaps because he’s big, or even because he comes from the U.S.S.R – despite the fact that the union had disbanded by the time Street Fighter II was published – Zangief is stupid, or the logical extension of such: innocent. Naturally, he works for Shadowlaw. Notice that, in the course of all the violence he commits, he never refers to killing. He has no concept of right and wrong, only of duty. Even as he tries to clothesline a man, he will refer to them as “my buddy”.
The idea of the “gentle giant” – as gentle as a man who will show someone the wall can be, anyway – is not new. One might expect Zangief to be tough, but he is not really. Zangief is just strong, and that is an important difference.

So, while quite a few interesting, even cool, things happen, there is an unsurprising problem: Vega. He is a giant megalomaniac. The power he wields is Psycho Power, of all things. However, he is slightly more efficient than your next leading world conqueror; he is more likely to explain his plans for world domination after brainwashing his captors rather than over a gourmet meal.
Come to that, his plot doesn’t even make sense. Shadowlaw is essentially a crackpot organization, and one never gets a feel for what it is they are after. Vega has no eyes and an insane smile; unlike the lust and pride motivating Balrog in their fight, or the cowardice behind all of Bison’s actions, all you get with Vega is a desire to see wrong done. Or something like that; his plans aren’t even convoluted, they just don’t make any sense.
In the context of what Street Fighter II V is trying to be, the character of Vega is out of place, here only because he is expected. When Vega is not inviting people around to fight each other so that he can claim control of the world’s strongest, he’s just an insane man in a suit – and it’s not even red, here.

What you have to love about all of these sorts of programs, it has to be admitted, is the technological equipment. There are machines around to measure Ryu’s ki, a power unknown to Shadowlaw before they saw him on the beach. The readings are right off the scale, which suggests that they have not studied hard enough to even begin looking at this unknown quantity – but at least they have got a start!
Better even than that is the fact that Vega’s scientist – and really, he has only one actual employee – can perfect a mind-control chip overnight. This time frame pushes the limits of believability to the very edge, so it is best not to think about any of the events inside the fortress of doom. They’re a wash.

Basically Street Fighter II V was a series with an entertaining first half, that ended up mired in its own sense of “truth” to the Street Fighter universe. The balance that it attempts to strike between original and adapted material stumbles when it comes down to a key player, Vega. The ending is fitting enough for a Street Fighter property – and really they all end this way when it comes to Ryu – but even lines like “It’s times like these I thank God that my old college room mate went on to become director of the CIA” can’t elevate Street Fighter II V to its past glories.

Street Fighter II V – episodes 8 to 18

January 28, 2005 on 9:06 pm | In Street Fighter | Comments Off on Street Fighter II V – episodes 8 to 18

In many ways, this series rocks. Not least of these ways is its simplicity; there’s not a lot of stuff like this out on the popular market. Street Fighter II V has, for a globe trotting anime, a distinct focus. The series has been set into story arcs, but they are logically connected. As in many good series, every episode contributes something to the whole while being able to almost – almost – stand for itself.

The writers again give major signals to show that this is not, in fact, strict Street Fighter II. This is in evidence when Ryu gets imprisoned in Thailand and goes to the same gaol as Sagat. Followers of the games will know that Ryu defeated Sagat in the (by all accounts horrible) Fighting Street, making them lifelong enemies.
Here, Sagat and Ryu earn each others’ respect in the ring. Highly unorthodox, but definitely within the scope of this television series. Amazingly, Ryu’s time in Thailand both plays up to and dispels stereotypes: Ryu falls victim to the country’s harsh drug penalties and is beaten by the police after his arrest. However, the head of narcotics wants to help Ryu rehabilitate.
These Thailand episodes send so many mixed messages about society and foreign cultures, but there is some good character work involved. Not only is this story arc a good example of Street Fighter II V‘s independence, it’s also a healthy reminder that the viewer has to be aware of the slight ridiculousness of many of its set ups.
Ryu’s “it wasn’t me, it was the man with the scar on his face!” is even worse than the old “one-armed man” excuse.

Because this is only a 29 episode series, and not the infinity of DragonBall Z (keeping in mind that one battle in that program lasted 33 episodes), events are pretty sharp and fast in their turnover. Ryu and Ken’s visit to Dhalsim in India was good because it did not go the “cackling old man” route. Cackling old men treat their apprentices cruelly, only letting them know that it was all a test at the end. Dhalsim creates tests, but he’s not a bastard about it. He’s a very serious man, allowing Ryu and Ken to know that while he can take care of all situations, he would like to see them try.
Although the time when Ken and Ryu fought each other without realising it was quite stupid, this is somehow forgivable.

What looks like the final arc comes into place at 14. It probably won’t be final, as much as looks like everything will very directly lead into everything else from this point. It is important to note that in between the Japanese and English versions, there are several name differences.

In Japan’s Street Fighter II games the leader of Shadowlaw was named Vega, the masked cage-fighter Balrog and the boxer M Bison. This was a little too obvious, especially as Punch-Out! had to be re-issued, and to avoid legal hassles, there was a triangular movement. The dictator became M Bison, the cage-fighter Vega and the boxer Balrog. Somehow, this all seemed to work. In this, and any subsequent Street Fighter II V coverage, the characters will be referred to by their Japanese names. It should not be hard, from context, to sort all of this out.

Balrog is a deliciously insane opponent. He is the sort who, in preparation for a fight, licks his claws. He then licks his blood off the claws. Balrog could come across as a bit of a nancy, so they make him very masculine, deep voiced and in love with Chun Li. Love, amongst delusional cage-fighters in love with their own vanity, of course means drugging. Chun Li has an ethereal beauty while drugged, which is a strong warning sign.

The important part, not just the fact that Balrog’s battle lasts some time, is the introduction of Vega. Vega in his present incarnation is far too bulky. He has the hugest chin ever. There is some unintentionally humour in his dialogue. When he is overtaken by his amazing “Psycho Power” and holds Chun Li until her body goes limp, he “wakes up” and says “Have I done it again?”. Sure, it doesn’t sound funny, but there’s something about it that tickles the funny bone.
Vega, when he gets his red clothes on, will likely become the loveable general known all around the world.

Really, these are fairly compelling episodes of Street Fighter II V. The series is just so sincere you can’t help but like it. Although there are about three minutes of wasted animation at the end of episode eighteen, involving an hypothetical assassination, Street Fighter II V is a highly enjoyable series.

I am kind of ashamed of myself for trying to come off as a Street Fighter II historian. I was never good at the game, but sometimes I’m a fan of important cultural history.

Street Fighter II V – episodes 1 to 7

January 23, 2005 on 1:36 pm | In Street Fighter | Comments Off on Street Fighter II V – episodes 1 to 7

“They go to meet the mighty”. Often you can get a feeling for an anime series by the way the previews are signed off. Many, such as Rurouni Kenshin, have the generic “please look forward to it”. Evangelion memorably had Mitsuishi Kotono promising “Next time, service service!” each week until that became grossly inappropriate for the series. City Hunter 2 has Kaori delivering a different threat each week: “don’t watch it and get the hammer” eventually becomes “if you don’t watch it, you’ll get the death penalty!”, and then “If you don’t watch it, someone will look at your panties!”.
So, when you finish an episode of Street Fighter II V and the legendary Ohtsuka Akio signs off with “They go to meet the mighty” in a serious passionate voice, you know you’re in for something good. That simple phrase encapsulates the essence of this anime.

Street Fighter II V is a rare example of good fighting game anime. This is because it does not really treat itself as such: fighting game anime tend to have overblown and/or flatly ridiculous plots (Invisible dinosaurs, anyone?), but Street Fighter II V is really a buddy world-travelling anime, a quest for self-improvement in the form of martial arts.
Ryu works as a tree-feller on an island in Japan. One day he receives a letter from his old training partner Ken, containing money and air tickets and the message “Come to America”. And so Ryu goes to America and reunites Ken, the best American who ever did live.
In a bar fight, Ryu is knocked out by Sergeant Guile. Ken goes to Guile’s airbase, and is also knocked out. Realising that there are people in the world who are stronger than them, Ken and Ryu embark on a mission to travel the world and fight them. Their first stop is Hong Kong, where they meet Chun Li. It looks like their involvement with her is going to be important, as it has gained the attention of Ashura, the evillest of all drug-smuggling units in the Asian region. Foreshadowing at this point suggests that Ashura is working for a familiar organisation. Familiar, that is, to Street Fighter fans.

The adventures that Ryu and Ken get into are fun, and this is largely because they are such good friends. They never get too serious about become the ultimate fighters, as what they really want to do is have a good time. If that involves beating people up, so be it. Chun Li is not too ditzy, and the three of them have good times together. When the series gets a little serious, it doesn’t take it too far. That makes all the difference. It could be forecast that there will be some sort of spiritual commentary involved later on, but Street Fighter II V is directed with a steady hand. This makes it difficult to be concerned about its future.

There are several key differences between Street Fighter II V and the video game that spawned it. The desire to not emphasise fidelity to its roots is something that liberates it from any doldrums. The first hint is that Ken has red hair rather than blonde. This is not a particularly revolutionary move, but it’s important enough to note that all of the characters’ backstories are not strictly the same as in the games – or that because the characters are only teenagers, they don’t have to worry about some of the terrors that have befallen them in their pixellated forms.
While I am familiar with the ideas behind Street Fighter II (note: only II, I don’t go in for all this “third impact” or “alpha” or “EX2” junk or whatever), I can’t say if a hardcore fan would like this series: that’s the beauty of it, there’s no need to have any sort of familiarity with the core influence. The only real question is why someone would let their seventeen year old son tour the world to get into fights: Ken and Ryu probably should have been aged a year. This, however, is a quibble.

The production values are relatively good, with Ken and Ryu probably at their best ever in anime. There has been a lot of ugly Street Fighter anime through the years, and while their eyebrows might stick out a little too far from their head they still look just fine. Chun Li looks attractive for once, and is in no way disproportionate. The only problem is with a few of the one-shot characters who did not have much thought put into them, and there are a few times where Ryu and Ken fight twins – therefore magically halving the character design requirements for a scene! Despite budget constraints, most battle scenes are fluid and enjoyable.
The in-show music is excellent to the highest degree. That is not to say that these are quality compositions, but they are so full of energy and add to the program’s enjoyment factor. The biggest disappointment comes not from CAPCOM’s treatment of the series, but rather Manga Entertainment’s. For a Manga Entertainment production, these DVDs are surprisingly good looking. What is unforgivable, however, is the fact that Manga saw fit to edit out both the OP and ED, replacing the OP with its own mixture of animation and set to some ultra-dramatic inappropriate composition by “Mike Egan and Critter”. The music is not terrible, but it definitely does not fit with the light-hearted nature of these early episodes.

Street Fighter II V makes liberal use of shorthand, sometimes blatantly obvious and others so blatantly obvious that they go unnoticed. Take the character of Ken: Ken lives in a mansion, surrounded by acres and acres of rich forest. When Ryu arrives in San Francisco, Ken’s parents are out to dinner with the President. Ken’s mother is Japanese, and so when his parents return home in their private jet, his father is wearing a tuxedo and his mother a kimono. She’s Japanese, you see.
The ridiculous nature of Ken’s richness is compounded when he goes to a hotel and orders the $20,000 Penthouse, that has its own heli-pad. That seems kind of dangerous, and could lead to kidnappings, but in such instances sense is not needed, only implication.
In the episode featuring Fei Long and Ken in a ridiculous outfit, there is a director character. He is not introduced at any point as a director, and it takes a few minutes to realise that the reason that you recognise him as such is because he is short, wears a beret, vest and sunglasses, has half a moustache on either side of his nose and waves a megaphone. This is a simple technique, but it is subliminally effective.
Despite all this, somehow it manages to get away without any cultural stereotyping – other than the obvious and necessary idea of Ken living the life of the inexplicably rich American.

Street Fighter II V is rare: it’s an enjoyable fighting game series. What this is is refreshing, possibly the definition of entertainment. You can’t go far wrong with this anime if you want light fun.

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