Street Fighter Alpha Anime Review
ストリートファイターZERO -THE ANIMATION-
Street Fighter Zero The Animation
US Release By
Superpowered Street Fighting
2 60-minute OAVs
2000-04-26 - 2000-06-24
Ken and Ryu, two street fighters raised as brothers by a martial arts master, have taken different paths: Ken is a practical, fun guy, while Ryu lives for the fight, always attempting to better himself. But with the power of the Hadou, Ryu has also gained a curse; the evil energies of the Dark Hadou hide within, threatening to consume him.
When Ken and Ryu's master dies mysteriously, the two are reunited, and meet the young Shun; he claims to be Ryu's brother, and has the martial arts prowess to prove it. But at the same time, the powers of the Dark Hadou seem to be building within Ryu, and there is something suspicious about Shun... is he who he says he is, and does he harbor demons even greater than Ryu's?
When Shun is then kidnapped, Ken and Ryu are joined by Chun-Li, an Interpol agent seeking to avenge her father's death by infiltrating the evil Shadowlaw organization, and the group are sucked into a dangerous journey seeking answers, a journey leading to Dark powers and a confrontation with the evil Akuma...
Quick ReviewSwitch to Full Review
Street Fighter Alpha is almost a really good movie. It looks flat-out awesome, has some spectacular fights, unusual but creative character designs, and even manages to build up a reasonable amount of emotional drama around the collection of likable heroes. Unfortunately, it lacks a solid core to hold the different aspects of the plot together, instead mixing a shallow premise with underdeveloped mysticism. The result lacks focus and feels like it's trying too hard to give meaning to the characters' actions.
Action movie fans will, nonetheless, find lots to love, as will fans of martial-arts movies in general, and a diehard Street Fighter fan couldn't ask for much more. Personally, I came close to really liking it, but again and again I felt like it cast a shadow on its strengths with something entirely unworthy of the characters and potential of the emotional heart of the story.
Full ReviewSwitch to Quick Review
Street Fighter Alpha is almost a really good movie. It definitely gets things done in the action department, and comes close to pulling off a decent story. I generally enjoyed it, but, again and again, I felt like it cast a shadow on its strengths with something entirely unworthy of the characters and the potential of the emotional heart of the story. I am not, admittedly, a big Street Fighter fan, and so may not be appreciating the story as a part of a greater whole, but I'm approaching it as a stand-alone work.
Street Fighter Alpha is effectively a franchise reboot of Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie; it's not a sequel or in any way connected apart from most of the same characters.
That said, there's an interesting parallel between Alpha and its predecessor. Both have exactly the same plot and almost the same heroes. What's different is that II is made like a Hollywood action movie, where Alpha does the same story as an anime movie. The former features more even characters, a flashy, grimacing bad guy, simple progression of the story, and a very straightforward directing style. This one has a wider variety of characters (Sakura, etc), several notably creepy sequences, a smattering of supernatural influence, and a lot of inner turmoil about the proper control and peaceful use of energy flow and martial arts, and it has the visual flash and creativity of anime. Alpha also trades a square-jawed soldier for a kid. It's fascinating to me how different the feel and message of the two is, despite plots that are nearly identical in essence.
Okay, with that out of the way I'll start right out with what's good: Street Fighter Alpha has looks. All the art is top quality and there are a variety of well-conceived, attractive, richly drawn locations. The character designs, though, stand out the most due to their creativity; there is a wide range of very different looks, from the fairly standard friendly anime guy Ken and cute girl Sakura, to the more rough-hewn Ryu, to Chun-Li, who looks outright exotic--extremely exaggerated slanted eyes, very angular features, and an appealing but definitely hard edge.
Even more than its art, action is Alpha's greatest strength. Almost every fight is spectacular, with plenty of hard-hitting pummeling, and although there are plenty of not-on-this-planet moves and some magical Chi-type stuff, the superhuman strength is rooted in reality. For me, though, it's the all-too-brief Chun-Li fights that flat-out rock--slick animation, creative choreography, skirting the edge of Hong Kong-enhanced reality, and the way she moves has a precision and fluidity to it that I really can't say I've seen matched anywhere else. Wow.
Another thing worth mentioning on the visual front is a collection of particularly creepy locales and corresponding situations; I wasn't expecting anything so creatively unsettling out of a Street Fighter movie, to be sure. In particular, I liked the scene in Akuma's lair, theoretically one of the movie's centerpieces. Taking place in a valley strewn with simple but somehow eerie wooden statues, that scene made use of quick cuts and strange angles to create more tension than any of the physical battles in the movie.
That wraps up the more or less unarguably positive points in this movie--everything else is a mixed bag.
Fundamentally, my issue is this: It has a solid emotional heart, and (at least by action movie standards) a good balance of butt-kicking and martial-arts philosophy (a lot of Dark/Light energy references very reminiscent of Star Wars), but it seems to be missing some important core that gives meaning to the inner turmoil of the characters and the apparent gravity of their situation. In the end, it feels like a good movie looking for a plot device to build off of, and not finding one.
Take the characters, for example. The main heroes are a relatively well-developed lot, a likable, eclectic, anime-style group with plenty of personality to go around; they certainly feel like more than mindless thugs who live to fight. More important to the movie's emotional center, there's an appealing brotherly relationship portrayed between Ken, Ryu, and the mysterious Shun, with enough of their relationship demonstrated instead of explained to make it work. Perhaps most surprisingly, this Ken is actually a likable guy--rather than a hot-rodder, he's fun-loving but practical; this balances Ryu's heavier, more philosophical personality. For his part, Ryu has plenty of inner demons (albeit rather unexplained demons if you look at this movie alone), bringing more to his live-to-fight personality than just wanting to better himself.
Unfortunately, there's also a villain. A villain who has a secret, scary lab and unlimited resources, which he uses to suck energy out of street fighters and pump them into a cyborg puppet to beat people up, for absolutely no apparent reason whatsoever.1 Although he technically has a name, he has no dialogue, and essentially just grins evilly at key points. He is, simply put, the most empty and utterly unworthy opponent for a group of honorable and reasonably likable street fighters I could imagine without putting a considerable amount of effort into it. Yes, Akuma shows up briefly and acts uber-creepy, but he has nil to do with the actual plot aside from a vague Darth Vader, Dark Side of the Hadou reference.
Similarly, the oh-so-mysterious Rose (to her credit voiced distinctively in Japanese by Ai Orikasa) shows up a few times to say something vague and then disappear. Why or how is anybody's guess, and she, like Akuma, seems to serve no purpose other than a half-hearted attempt to lend an air of mysticism or deeper meaning to a plot that, when you boil it down to what's pushing it along, is downright lame.
All that said, I admit that many, particularly those more invested in the story of the Street Fighter franchise as a whole, may not see things as harshly as I did. Perhaps if you read up on the backstory (or play the games, or watch other anime incarnations) and get yourself fired up for the bits that mean something, you'll find more depth in it, and won't mind the way it's tied together.
Personally, not being the biggest Street Fighter fan, I found it lacking. There's appealing character development, a modicum of mystery, and if you look past the unfortunate technicalities of the plot, it's based around a solid "martial arts for the purpose of self-improvement, not to hurt people" philosophy... but I just couldn't find where its deeper meaning had any connection to the events in the story. Perhaps as a result the characters seem to stumble around without much focus.
The battle at the end is also way too long. Huh? I'm complaining about too much fighting at the climax of a Street Fighter movie? Yes, because that fight--a full twenty minutes of it--amounts to a quarter of the movie. (If you really want to savor the drama, skip this paragraph, but I don't think I'm giving anything away that isn't obvious.) The problem is that the big fight consists entirely of one really long, painfully drawn-out whupping. Ken, Chun-Li, Ryu, and a random guy with a mohawk named Birdy that suddenly becomes the center of empathy take turns getting brutally thrashed by a big, grinning robot. The first five or so minutes are dramatically tragic, but at some point the tension and rambling about the true meaning of the Hadou gets so thick it's somewhere between boring and funny, particularly since it's painfully obvious we're just waiting for Ryu to launch a big ol' Hadouken and get it over with.
Wrapping up, there's the acting and music. The acting in Japanese is mostly good. The most memorable performance is Kane Kosugi, who sounds unusual but makes for a rather stiff Ryu. The English version isn't bad, though none of the performances stuck in my mind, either. The music is orchestral and rich enough to match the visuals, but if anything is a bit on the sappy (or at least mellow) side.
The final word on Street Fighter Alpha: The Movie will depend quite a bit on your taste. If you're all about action, it's a bit skimpy but what's here is great, and Chun-Li's brief Hong Kong-style brawls are easily worth watching the whole thing for. If you're into Martial Arts philosophy, you might enjoy it even more, but try to ignore the placeholder villain. And if you're a diehard Street Fighter fan, you can't go wrong. If you prefer more balance in your anime, though, I just can't highly recommend it as a stand-alone movie--it's got too many subtle things going wrong to be worth watching for the good parts.
Have something to say about this anime? Join our newly-resurrected forums and speak your mind.
I mentioned above the significant similarities between the stories of this and Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie, and despite stylistic differences they also both share quality action. The only other fighting game-based movie really on par in quality is Fatal Fury: The Motion Picture, though the Fatal Fury OAVs and Street Fighter TV series are obviously other similar options. Battle Arena Toshinden also has a similar feel, aside from its shared fighting game pedigree.
Notes and Trivia
Street Fighter Alpha is part of the lengthy Street Fighter franchise, based loosely on the video game of the same name. It is not a sequel to any of the Street Fighter II anime adaptations; it's essentially intended as a franchise reboot.
On that note, the Street Fighter games and movies have developed quite a bit of backstory over the years, much of it contradictory, but Capcom apparently decided to try and develop a more coherent plot from the pieces, much of which is present in this movie.
Some notes on the translation: "Hadou" is a normal Japanese word meaning something along the lines of "surge" or "energy wave," although it seems to be ascribed a mystical meaning more along the lines of "Chi" in the translation. Similarly, "Hadouken" means something like "wave fist." The phrase translated as "Dark Hadou" in the dub and subtitles is "Satsui no hadou"--literally "hadou with the intent to kill," a much more blunt explanation of what was going on: Ryu was trying to resist the urge to use his energy to harm.
As in many other fighting games and earlier Street Fighter entries, there are also some name adjustments. In this case, most notable is Akuma (meaning "Devil" in Japanese), whose original name was "Gouki" (it is changed in both the subtitles and dub).
A bit of trivia: Kane Kosugi (the voice of Ryu in Japanese) has been in a number of live-action action movies but doesn't ordinarily do voice work.
Footnote 1: If this sounds familiar, it's because both the older Street Fighter II anime movie and Battle Arena Toshinden have exactly the same plot.
US DVD Review
The DVD is loaded with good stuff. It starts out with "remastered" standard-aspect video (not quite sure what's up with the remastering, but in any case, it's mostly quite nice looking), Dolby 5.1 English and stereo Japanese audio, plus a reasonably accurate subtitle track (with the standard name changes). There are also a passel of cool extras: a wide variety of interviews with the original production staff and several of the Japanese voice actors (neat stuff), a short on "The making of Street Fighter Alpha," character bios, an art gallery, and the original Japanese trailer.
Some brutal fighting, but not severe enough to rate over a 13-up.
Violence: 3 - Several brutal and relatively bloody fights, but not overly gory.
Nudity: 1 - Nothing past some revealing costumes.
Sex/Mature Themes: 0 - None.
Language: 1 - Nothing noteworthy
Available in North America from Manga Video on bilingual DVD; the original edition was re-released as an "Essence of Anime" edition, and is also available in a "special edition" set with the Generations prequel. Was originally also available on subtitled or dubbed VHS.