Street Fighter Alpha
|Directed by: Shigeyasu Yamauchi
||Running Time: 94 min
English Voice Cast : Henry Douglas Grey, David Lucas, Lia Sargent, Georgette Rose, Mona Marhsall, Abe Lasser, and Chuck Farley.
Street Fighter Alpha features an uncomfortably wide range of visual styles that look cool individually, but lack cohesion as a whole. Notice the high contrast, inky black shadows on a very straight, angular rendition of Ryu’s face.
Review by Jay Wilson
Sadler and Shun.
Do those names mean anything to you? I’m guessing no. Street Fighter Alpha is based on a popular offshoot of an iconic arcade franchise, jam packed with renown characters, and someone had the brilliant idea to make an anime out of a throwaway plot point from Street Fighter: The Movie of all places, only this time with original characters. I’ll forgive the mad scientist storyline, which at this point has kinda been tapped twice, once in live action and once in animation; it provides a conflict and gives the street fighters an excuse to fight. I cannot, however, forgive street fighters not fighting in a movie called Street Fighter. Who the hell is Sadler? Why does he have a pet Terminator? And why should I care about Ryu’s never before mentioned little brother who turns out to not really be his brother and will never be mentioned again?
I don’t necessarily object to original characters working their way into the story; the narrative world of a feature length anime is broader than a game designed to eat quarters as fast as possible. In Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie, for example, Bison had a scientist underling who gave status reports, and that’s fine. Status reports didn’t exist in the game, and I’d rather them invent a character for that role than try and make Sagat or Balrog or Vega fill it. In this anime, Chun-li has a partner named Wallace, who has no connection to the game. That’s fine too. Sure, I’d rather see Charlie Nash team up with Ms. Lightning Legs so another canon character makes it into the mix, but Wallace doesn’t really do anything, so he isn’t taking away anything from Charlie. He’s not replacing Charlie.
The fortune teller, Rose, appears in visions and dream sequences, dominated by pinks, purples, blues, and a dash of cream-colored yellow—a palette of soft psychedelic pastels, almost. Notice also the dominance of subtle curves, even in her zig-zagging hair.
Then Ryu, Ken, and Shun have a meal in a washed out, faded photograph, like a distant memory or a Hallmark card.
Sadler, however, is the main antagonist. And he’s not even like a cardboard mastermind who schemes to get actual street fighters to battle it out for him, so once you get past Birdie and Adon and Rolento he just melts. No. Sadler goes toe to toe with Ryu in the final battle, shirt torn off, ripped, and ready to rock the dark hadou. The entire third act is a collective battle with his cyborg juggernaut. Where are the street fighters? The original arcade release of Street Fighter Alpha 2 has eighteen playable characters—nine of them barely appear, and four are not present at all. And I’ll be honest; I have never been a Rolento, Sodom, or Guy fan because I never liked Final Fight characters showing up in Street Fighter, but they’re at least playable in a legitimate Street Fighter title, and I will take any of the above in a pivotal role over O.C. McFanfic and Mr. Robo-Hobo. Again, you put original characters in these kinds of movies as “man in parking lot,” “gossipy secretary,” and “thug #2”— roles that have to be filled but have no real significance.
To be fair, there are fights between street fighters—the movie is not completely devoid of that—but most of it happens in a brief montage or quickie one-and-done throwaway battles (two of which happen with joke character, Dan, of all people). It never sinks its teeth into real fights like Ryu versus Fei Long, Chun-li versus Vega, or Ryu & Ken versus Bison in Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie. That anime also had street fighters fighting no names, but there’s a key difference: those fights are the shortest. Yes, DeeJay knocks out a ruffian with one kick, and Cammy takes out a politician in a single graceful swoop. But take any street fighter versus street fighter battle, and it’s multiplicatively longer. In this anime, it’s the other way around. I repeat: the entire third act is a battle against no-names
Not only that, but it’s also boring. An entire thirteen-minute sequence can be described as, “Nope, no effect.” Ken and Chun-li and a weakened Birdie face off against the arbitrarily invincible cyborg. Feet and fists smash into his face with sledgehammer force, and he smiles. Two classic street fighters unleash their super duper ultra omega infinity attacks to an epilepsy-inducing shower of lighting effects, but when the whirlwind of dust and smoke settles, he stands there with a dislocated jaw ... which he fixes without using his hands before opening his mouth and projectile puking concentrated awesomeness.
Let’s not forget goofy, exaggerated anime expressions.
And stylized manga figures. Now, I call these things out, but I don’t think they’re bad. I’m quite fond of this style, though not for this particular scene nor this particular anime.
Finally, more realistically rendered figures of Chun-li & Ryu. This shot actually starts with a detailed alley in the background which fades into the blur you see, creating this surreal scene.
There’s no explanation for why nothing—nothing—can touch him, that is, until Ryu shows up. And even then, Ryu just stands there for another five minutes, eyes wide and horrified as they drag this epic dick measuring contest out even more with bargain-basement, ghetto Superman continuing to beat the snot out of Chun-li and Ken who muster the energy to, without resorting to hyperbole, shatter entire planets, but since they’re not packing kryptonite, it doesn’t even make this man-machine-thing so much as cough. I understand and even advocate proper buildup and, indeed, Sadler is trying to make Ryu angry and provoke the dark hadou for his sinister plan, but buildup has an expiration date, and Street Fighter Alpha’s is about sixty-five million years past due. “Why the exaggerated smartass tone?” you ask. Because, believe it or not, that shamelessly overstated mockery pretty much captures the spirit of this movie’s indulgence in its power overkill more accurately than a stoic, point by point analysis ever could. That and it’s nowhere near the exaggeration you think it is.
Besides, the cyborg will just shrug it off anyway because, “Nope, no effect.”
So why is Ryu so damn special? Granted, he is the poster boy for Street Fighter, and as such he’s going to get special treatment—like all heroes in all media, by the way. However, in a good story, the writer will come up with compelling reasons that convince you, “Ryu wins where others fail because he’s hyper-focused on the battle, and spends every waking moment training.” Not, “Ryu wins ... because he’s Ryu.” Furthermore, even though the hero is destined to win, a good writer in a good story will convince you the hero is the underdog because we auto-sympathize with the underdog. If Ryu has to work for his win, it’s hard not to make him sympathetic. But “Ryu wins because he’s Ryu” pampers him, and nothing earns contempt like a grown man that’s pampered. I would say I wanted Ryu to lose, but that’s not true because this stupid cyborg-thing is also pampered. He’s invincible because the writer said so. So you know what? I didn’t give a shit. Win, lose—whatever—just get this stupid fireworks war with a brick-wall off the screen.
And weirdly, the movie would actually work better if Ryu didn’t participate in the final battle because the silver bullet to beating both Sadler and his Gokubot 9000 is the very thing they’re after: the dark hadou, an evil energy Ryu struggles with throughout the story. Sadler wants to harness that power for himself, nevermind the meticulously detailed thirteen-minute dissertation explicitly proving beyond all doubt that his cyborg is nothing short of God almighty. Anyway, Ryu is not the only man touched by the dark hadou. Akuma became a demon because he not only wields the power, but has mastered it. I would have much preferred an ending where Sadler and Ryu start to face off, but Akuma steps in and gives this overinflated cannon fodder a personal demonstration of his signature raging demon—just to give the movie that “Uh oh. Now you’ve done it” moment. But then again, if you’re going to fix the ending, then just go all in and fix the whole thing by making the entire plot about Ryu’s descent into the dark hadou, culminating with a final battle with Akuma—street fighter versus street fighter—and forget Sadler and his tin man ever existed.
What’s worse? Akuma is in the movie already! It opens with an entire montage dedicated to him. Ryu periodically suffers episodes where the dark hadou grips him, and he sees flashes of Akuma in his mind. But what ever comes of it? Ryu and Chun-li make a pilgrimage to see him, essentially just to ask, “Do you have a family?” Yes, really. Because Shun (Ryu’s little brother that’s not really his brother) also channels the dark hadou, and I refuse to tug on that thread because that’s only the beginning of the problems Shun introduces, and I want to keep my word count in check. Akuma never appears again except in the end credits where he and Ryu stand ready to square off. They leap at each into a freeze frame, cut to more credits, and by the way checkout Street Fighter Alpha: Generations for the Akuma fight.
Two nice little Easter eggs: Pocket Fighter on the WonderSwan (left) and a cameo by Ryu & Ken’s master, Gouken (right).
Did I mention Shun is inside the cyborg-thing and pokes his head out from time to time, and by the way, he’s also wandering a meadow as a mindless zombie and, thus, is physically in two places at once?
Sadler, the main antagonist, spends 99% of the movie sitting in a chair, grinning and laughing from behind round, ruby glasses. But when the dark hadou empowers him, the glasses shatter, and he pops up and bursts out, ready for a full-on fireball war.
Strangely enough, my favorite aspect is a side plot involving Sakura, the obligatory young, naïve, high energy Japanese school girl who I absolutely loathe in the games so much so that I didn’t like her in this very anime the first time I saw it seventeen years ago. But watching it again, she is the only character with an arc that’s logical and competently executed and not undermined by the Pandora’s Box of bullshit that is Shun. She witnesses Ryu dodging bullets to take down a thug—and my only regret to the sarcasm in the above paragraphs is that you might mistakenly think I’m being obnoxious again, but no he literally dodges bullets because “he’s Ryu.” Naturally, Sakura is inspired. She gets herself a headband like Ryu and rushes out to be a master martial artist just like Ryu, showing off her way-cool moves that she saw Ryu do ... and her shoe flies off. When some thugs come after her, she tries to defend herself with those same way-cool moves and falls on her butt. Then she has the revelation that she needs discipline and training, and by the end she makes a vow to work hard and practice so that one day she can spar with a real street fighter. Nice, simple, logical. And it only visits Sakura in tiny vignettes, which is good because dwelling on her hyperactive personality any longer than a snippet would wear out her welcome. She might be on screen for a grand total of five minutes.
But in that time, Sakura runs into Ken, and if there’s any positive thing I have to say about Shun, it’s this: Ken gets frustrated that his friendship with Ryu takes a backseat to, “Because I’m his little brother!” and so when Sakura shows up and asks him, “Do you know a guy with a headband like this one?” Ken lets out a long sigh as if it say, “Oh God, not another one.” But he does take the misguided school girl under his wing, and in one scene he carries an injured Sakura to safety while a building explodes in the background. She freaks out, wondering aloud if her hero is okay, to which Ken doesn’t bother looking over his shoulder, “Ryu? He can take care of himself.” And that moment has come to represent the entire movie for me. He might as well walk away because he’s not going to do any good. He is not Ryu.
Meanwhile, Ryu will be fine because he is Ryu.