Tekken: The Motion Picture Anime Review
US Release By
Martial Arts Action
The Mishima Conglomerate has been busy buying up weapons companies left and right, and is well on its way to virtually controlling the world. This hasn't gone unnoticed: The 3WC (no, not the folks who come up with HTML standards) has dispatched Jun Kazama to investigate an island hideaway that is rumored to conceal a massive weapons manufacturing plant. Conveniently, she's a skilled martial artist and has been invited to an exclusive tournament held by Heihachi Mishima, the head of the Conglomerate; the victor will receive international renown along with a billion-dollar prize. But to get that prize, the top combatant will have to best Heihachi himself, and that's if they even survive that long--Lee Chaolan, Heihachi's adopted son and the heir to the conglomerate, sees this as the perfect chance to test some new weapons he's been working on.
Jun, joined by top Hong Kong International Police agent Lei Wulong, sets off for the island. On the journey there, the two agents meet the tormented Kazuya, the rash and vengeful Michelle Chang, and a most unlikely pair, the hulking Jack and a young girl that is his companion. Jun is also haunted by dreams of an incident 16 years ago in which a boy was thrown off a cliff by his own father as a test of strength. This boy--Kazuya Mishima, son of Heihachi--is still alive, and is entering the tournament on his own. Driven by rage, his only goal is to make it to the final challenge and kill his own father. But before the prodigal son returns, he'll have to deal with his adopted brother (and the two lethal assassins in his sway, Mina and Anna Williams), who has no intentions of letting Jun return to the fold.
Everybody has a different reason for entering the Tournament (none of which are the billion bucks), but only one will get a shot at Heihachi...
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Tekken: The Motion Picture isn't downright bad, but it has a lot of smaller strikes against it that add up. The art is generally good, but the creatures the heroes end up fighting are somewhere between hokey and downright laughable. The fights are generally good looking, but a bit sparse. The focus is on a few characters, but the central hero doesn't seem interesting enough to carry his angst. And there is a surprising amount of story, but it feels forced at times and drops the ball in several areas. Even the languages are a mixed bag; while the English dub is pretty good, it replaces the more dramatically-appropriate music with rather upbeat English rock and rap, making it more fun but also cheapening the drama.
When you put it all together, Tekken isn't likely worthy of much attention from the average viewer, though it's probably worth at least a look for action fans. If you're a fan of the games, be warned that you may be put off by the lack of emphasis on fighting, and you're likely to miss some of your favorite characters.
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Not being a fan of the Tekken games, I didn't come to this one-shot anime adaptation with any particular expectations, other than all the hype that AD Vision put into it (and that it was their first DVD effort). What I found was more story and less brawling that I was expecting--it does all the right things to try and be more than just a mindless action flick. Unfortunately, it's also sloppy and silly enough that it ends up blowing most of its potential, and I doubt even a fan of the games would find much to love.
The lack of fighting surprised me a bit; there's still enough to satisfy, but for a plot based around a tournament, there's more emphasis on story than you'd think. The pacing is generally good, with appropriately spaced bits of action and the right amount of machinating bad guys and brooding good guys in between.
The story also wisely focuses on four or five characters--much better than trying to cram every fan-favorite fighter into one 60-minute movie, or trying to work in all the fringe weirdos (that jaguar mask fellow that seems to be a hit with the fans is only on screen for about two and a half seconds, and he never even kicks anybody). The main characters are also the ones that best fit the plot, whether they're popular or not.
But, for all that effort, the story still doesn't quite work. For one thing, the ongoing theme and eventual moral is "fighting and revenge don't solve anything," a rather awkward lesson coming from an action movie based on a fighting game. This could have worked as a sort of sneaky contrast, but Tekken doesn't pull it off; the message comes across too heavy-handedly, and the main character doesn't have enough depth for the wrestling-with-his-inner-demons type. Speaking of which, my favorite character ended up being the hulking Jack, though Lei is fun too.
A bigger problem is the "spirit of martial arts" theme; the idea of an inherent violent spirit--"Tekken"--is introduced at the beginning, and brought up dramatically at the end, but the lack of development (or even mention) anywhere between makes the whole concept seem forced. Some action movies (particularly in the martial arts or samurai genres) do a very good job of getting across the "honor of battle" mystique, but Tekken falls flat on that count.
The lack of explanation of where exactly Jun got her fighting skills and mystical powers is also bewildering--she goes from being a helpless girl to one of the world's top fighters, and we're never told how or why. Guess I'll have to play the game to find out or something.
Artistically, Tekken is... interesting. The animation uses what seems to be an early example of computer compositing and background art. It isn't distracting (I never thought "that looks like a computer effect"), but it has a distinctly different look to it. On the positive side, this technique makes for very sharp lines and colors characteristic of modern anime, and much of the animation is quite nice. On the negative, there are a few shots where the foreground cels don't fit well with the (probably CG) background, and some of the objects seem very flat or simplistic. Some of the pans also look a little... off, for lack of a better word. It's a little hard to explain, but much of it looks like a well-done episode of an American cartoon (Johnny Quest on a higher budget, perhaps). The character designs are generally distinctive and nice-looking, except for the Kazuya, who has ridiculously huge eyebrows (also, his dad apparently has the same hairstylist as the boss in Dilbert).
The animation is uneven, too. Some of the action sequences look great--a hotel-room shootout, for example. Others are just plain awkward--some of the fighting with dinosaur commandos, for example. If you just thought "Wait, what?!" that was my reaction too--they're the low point of the movie. Sorry about the spoiler, but the genetically engineered mini-T-rex creatures are downright hokey. Not only do they look like chubby dinosoid rejects from a '70s-era Hanna-Barbara cartoon, they fight more like pro wrestlers than the raptors of a certain theme park gone wrong. In fact, they fight more like kangaroos than anything... and there's a genetically engineered one of those in this movie, too. Adding insult to injury, the kangaroo looks cooler than the dinosaurs. Ouch.
The acting in Tekken is solid in both English and Japanese. The casting is a little better in Japanese, but I really like the English version of the professor. I didn't think much of the English version of Heihachi, though--he and his son both sound a little too old. Overall, though, both versions are quite good. The DVD also includes a French track, and although I don't speak any French, that sounded okay too, if a little over-the-top.
The bigger difference between the languages is the music. In the spirit of the Street Fighter 2 movie, the English version of Tekken's soundtrack has several pieces of background music replaced with tunes by American bands (not quite as high profile in this case). The original background music isn't particularly memorable, but it has a darker, slightly tragic tone to it that goes well with the movie's theme. By replacing this with some decidedly more violent and upbeat songs, the fights seem more fun, but are robbed of some of their dramatic impact--the Earth-shattering battle between evil father and vengeful son at the climax just feels different when it's set to rap music. This may please some fans--again, it does make the movie a little more fun--but I'd have to say that it hurt the production artistically.
In all, Tekken isn't an awful flick, but it has a lot of smaller strikes against it that add up. The art is generally good, the fights, though a bit sparse for a fighting-game movie, are generally good looking, and there is a surprising amount of story, even if it is somewhat forced. If you're a fan of the games, you may be put off by the lack of emphasis on fighting, and you're likely to miss some of your favorite characters, but you might enjoy it. It isn't likely worthy of much attention from the average viewer, though it's probably worth at least a look for action fans. I can't honestly say it's worth more than a rental, though, and don't come with high expectations.
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Well, of course if you enjoyed the video game, you'll probably want to have a look at this animated incarnation, but be wary. Street Fighter 2: The Animated Movie is similar in many respects, and I'd say much better overall, and Street Fighter Alpha: The Movie is even closer. The Fatal Fury movie and OAVs are (not surprisingly) pretty similar as well.
Notes and Trivia
Based, of course, on the Tekken series of 3D fighting games.
This is a relatively early example of anime produced with computer compositing; this technique makes for far cheaper production, and rapidly replaced cel-and-paint, camera-only animation in the industry.
ADV originally released both uncut and edited versions on VHS, though the situation was nowhere near as confusing as the bewildering array of Street Fighter II Movie versions. The DVD version--ADV's first digital disc--is, fortunately, uncut.
US DVD Review
This was AD Vision's first DVD effort, and although all the features for a seriously cool disc are there, this one was a real disappointment in my eyes. The menu section is great, setting the standard for future ADV DVDs. The menus look cool, are heavily animated, include sound, and they provide access to a wealth of features: English (Dolby 5.1), Japanese, and even French soundtracks; English and Spanish subtitles (that's 4 languages total); a scene selector with animated preview boxes; two different ADV Tekken trailers; the English cast list; a few slides of some choice shots from the movie; and illustrated character bios. The disc even includes 15 of AD Vision's music video-style trailers, accessed through more animated preview menus (a really cool feature--having that many extended musical trailers really is a feature, not just advertising).
Unfortunately, the down sides are pretty bad. For one, in the unfortunate tradition of older US Manga Corps DVDs, there is no Japanese (or French, for that matter) cast to be found on the disc. For another thing, the English subtitle track is just a transcription of the English dialogue; this would be fine if there was a direct translation too, but since the dialogue didn't necessarily line up right and wasn't translated very directly in many parts, this felt odd to be used as subtitles. The situation may be the same with the subtitled VHS version, but I haven't seen it and would suspect otherwise.
But the real problem with this disc is the video transfer. For the most part, the video looks extremely sharp. Until there's a quick pan, that is; it's obviously due to some kind of sloppy encoding, but most of the quick pans (and some other active parts) produce a kind of streaking effect on the moving object that, although not horrible, was definitely distracting, and really marred the otherwise beautiful video. This and the dubtitles were thankfully a one time fluke, as ADVs later DVDs are quite good.
(By the way, if you're really interested, the problem seems to be that when they encoded the interlaced fields where there were parts of two separate animation frames appearing at the same time, they either encoded them both as the same full-screen frame or just did a sloppy job of it; the end result is that in much of the fast motion--though not everywhere, since some of it coincidentally lined up right--you had two unaligned frames onscreen simultaneously for long enough to see the jitter between them.)
Probably 13-up, though it could be 16-up; the only objectionable material is a short shower scene and a few bits of overly bloody violence. There's also a slightly edited version.
Violence: 3 - Not extremely graphic, but gets pretty bloody a few times.
Nudity: 2 - One shower scene.
Sex/Mature Themes: 1 - A very short scene with more implied.
Language: 1 - Generally mild language.
Formerly available in North America from ADV on hybrid DVD, now out of print. Was originally available on dubbed VHS in edited and uncut versions.
Though long out of print, there are plenty of cheap used copies listed on Amazon at last check: Tekken DVD.