Battle Arena Toshinden Anime Review
Legend of the God of Battle
US Release By
Fighting Game Action
2 25-minute episodes
1996-06-21 - 1996-08-21
The Toshinden Tournament ended a year ago, and was sort of a draw; Eiji and the mysterious Gaia were in the middle of their final showdown when an even more mysterious villain, Uranus, showed up out of nowhere to betray Gaia and take control of the criminal organization he lead. Now Gaia is in hiding and Uranus is busy on a project to rebuild people into super-powerful cyborgs with an advantage over just strength--they can copy all those cool special moves you have to push a bunch of buttons to do in video games, and all they have to do is watch the original in action. The prototype (who looks too much like Sho, Eiji's long-lost older brother, for comfort) starts attacking people from the tournament and using their own moves against them (starting, of course, with the less popular characters), then using his newfound skills to try and start World War III just for good measure. Pretty soon it's a race against time as Eiji and Kayin try to track down the evil Organization before they put the finishing touches on the vengeful (and now cybernetic) Chaos.
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Battle Arena Toshinden is yet another entry in the crowded genre of fighting game-based anime, this one based on the first couple of a largely forgotten series of Playstation games and spin-offs. What passes for a story--random evil organization (called, creatively, "The Organization") building cyborgs that can copy the moves of skilled fighters--is a functional excuse to get everybody some screen time and a fight, and it at least manages to bring the rather random collection of characters from the games together without seeming painfully forced. On the positive side, a few of the characters actually have enough humanity to care at least a bit about; on the negative, the backstory-light plot feels rather like a sequel to something that doesn't exist. As for what counts: The art is sharp looking, while there aren't any big meaty fights it also never slows down enough to get boring, and everybody does the right moves (and yells out the right names) with an added bit of animated flair.
Not highly recommended to anybody, but if there are still any fans of the games out there they'll probably get a kick out of it, and if you like yourself some superpowered fighting, it's a decent way to waste an hour.
Full ReviewSwitch to Quick Review
Battle Arena Toshinden, yet another fighting game-based anime, is based on the first couple of a largely-forgotten series of Playstation games. It's only two episodes long and its main claim to fame was being the first US anime DVD on the market, but it does manage at least a functional amount of characterization between the long string of superpowered swordfights.
The plot consists of a random evil organization (called, creatively, "The Organization") building cyborgs that can copy the moves of skilled fighters. So, of course, they go around beating the tar out of every character in the game to collect data. I can't remember if I've seen this exact plot several times before or it's just so cliched that it seems that way (at minimum it was used in both the Street Fighter II and Alpha movies), but regardless it's a functional excuse to give every character at least a quick brawl and build up an "unbeatable" supervillain to fight at the end.
The story may be tissue-thin, but it does manage to set up relationships between the rather wild collection of fighters that almost seem to make sense, and at the very least give them all reasons for being involved with each other. The games weren't plot-heavy, but this sort of feels like a sequel; the character list comes straight from the second Toshinden game, and so far as I can tell it's something like mix between a direct sequel to that game and an alternate telling of the story in the third one.
The focus is mainly on Ryu/Ken clones Eiji and Kayin, who are stereotypes but at least feel reasonably human. Sofia--sexy street fighter with amnesia and a serious maternal streak--has just a bit of substance as well. Rungo, Ellis, Fo, Mondo, and Duke all make brief appearances (Duke is onscreen for all of about 15 seconds, and some of the others don't fare much better). If you're a fan, at least they show up.
The relatively "realistic" (I use that word loosely) characterization is a strong point of the whole thing, and had me almost caring about these folks. The other strength is that the drama isn't heavy enough to bog it down--the feel is relatively light.
That's the good. The bad: All three-and-a-half villains seem to have had their backstory edited out for time. Gaia is the most substantive, and while he has the potential to be some sort of mysterious antihero, he doesn't get nearly enough screen time to do anything more than pose and sound cool. Sho (Eiji's long-lost "evil" brother... apparently) is worse--he gets talked up a lot but seems to be a totally random excuse for unnecessary additional drama. As for Uranus and Chaos, the latter is just a skinny, cackling maniac and the former is completely devoid of backstory: She's an evil mastermind. Why? How? Who knows.
There's also the question of why these people walk around with claymores and katanas and can fire massive energy waves from their weapons. Sofia gets the "former evil experiment" excuse, but there isn't so much as a mention of "secret family techniques" or "chi flows" to explain everybody else. As a final insult the plot is left wide open at the end, though that's par for the course.
Let's face it, though: Most people don't watch this sort of thing for the deep story. You're expecting see the characters from the game fleshed out a bit and doing all those moves you love, with a little bit of added flair and a lot less button-mashing. On that count, Toshinden gets the job done--the distinctive character designs are sharp-looking, attractive, and recognizable, as are all the moves (and everybody yells the right thing when doing them). The fights are short, but most are reasonably exciting and the animation is consistently decent. It's worth noting that, being based on a weapons-based fighting game, there's more swordfighting than fisticuffs in the action. The backdrops are rather bland, but then the games weren't known for their spectacular arenas, either. The two episodes fail to serve up any big, meaty showdowns, but it's never standing still long enough to get boring, a definite plus. The only unusual thing about the visuals is the high percentage of scenes with colorful lighting--sunset, night, cyber-lair, or just weird--normal daylight is the exception.
Shina Kensuke's music is completely forgettable. The exception is the oddly spunky end theme sung by Ellis' voice actress, Kyoko Hikami.
The Japanese acting is forgettable as well, despite a cast packed with A-list names. The casting is fine, it's just that nobody has enough lines to call the acting good or bad. Consummate studly-male-lead veterans Tomokazu Seki and Takehito Koyasu make Eiji and Kayin sound reasonably likable as antagonistic partners, and Yumi Touma gets just a bit of drama as Sofia, but that's about it. You can, however, hear one of Kikuko Inoue's rare turns as a villain in her handful of lines as Uranus. On the annoying side, somebody decided to have Ellis' trademark "I won't give up!" line from the game make up about half her dialogue for no particularly good reason. I didn't bother with the English version.
Bottom line: If you remember the Toshinden games, this anime gathers the characters from them, gives them a bit of humanity, and has enough decent-looking fights to satisfy. If you don't, you're going to feel like you're watching a sequel to something you've never seen, but the story is too thin to care anyway--what counts is that the characters are likable enough and the drama doesn't get in the way of the short-but-consistent battles. Not highly recommended to anybody, but if you like yourself some superpowered fighting, it's a decent way to waste an hour.
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As you might expect, Battle Arena Toshinden has quite a bit in common with the Street Fighter II movie (and Alpha--the plot is nearly identical), though that one is definitely higher quality. It's also a little like the first two Fatal Fury OAVs (less so the movie, even though it was directed by the same fellow).
Notes and Trivia
Battle Arena Toshinden is based on the series of fighting games of the same name. Although the anime adaptation is a pair of OAVs, USM sold it as a "movie."
For those unfamiliar, Battle Arena Toshinden (just "Toshinden" in Japan) was the first of the 3D weapon-based fighting games, and something of a showcase game for the original Playstation when it first came out. By Tamsoft/SCEA, it was ported to the Sega Saturn and Windows, and the first of the three sequels and some spin-off puzzle games also showed up in arcades. The series has been pretty much forgotten now.
In one pleasing development, unlike a lot of older fighting games, all the characters retain the same names in both Japanese and English versions of the games, so there are no annoying issues with "Balrog" being called "Vega" in the subtitles or such.
The original US Manga Corps DVD, which hit the street on 1997-05-19, was the first US-released anime DVD, narrowly beating Manga's Street Fighter 2: The Movie (ironic), and Pioneer's Armitage III. It's also the first bilingual anime DVD (the two competitors were both dub-only). It was not the first-ever anime on DVD--that title belongs to Ninja Cadets, which hit DVD on the first day of 1997 in Japan--although in general Japan was way behind in the DVD revolution, having taken much more strongly to LaserDiscs than elsewhere.
US DVD Review
The original DVD (cover and menu shown here) was US Manga Corps' first digital effort, and was the first anime to make it to DVD in the US, period. It was also among the earliest anime DVDs anywhere in the world.
The DVD includes Japanese and English stereo soundtracks, and English subtitles. In fact, since there was no subtitled version on VHS, the DVD was the first example of the way the multi-language abilities of the DVD format changed everything for sub fans. The menu is limited, but functional and illustrated; there are language selections and a scene index, as well as short introductions to the main characters and some previews of upcoming releases. On the down side, because of the way the main menu is set up it responds very slowly every time you change the selected item (on a first-gen DVD player at the time the disc was released, just selecting an item was downright glacial). The transfer on the disc isn't bad at all; the audio is very crisp and the video looks decent as well. Generally quite impressive for one of the first efforts in the medium.
A bit of trivia: USMC's early DVDs were produced by two different companies, one of which used DVD keepcases (the kinda odd cardboard ones that you never see anymore) while the other used the now-standard plastic clamshell ("Amaray") cases. Although this disc was done by the latter, it came in a keepcase (they standardized after it).
There was also a much-newer re-release that apparently adds some special features: An art gallery, a retrospective video, and a fight montage video. The cover for that version is at the top of the page.
Qualifies for the high end of the 13-up USM calls it on account of a bit of onscreen flesh and gore; sans a couple of short scenes, would be OK for most viewers.
Violence: 3 - Plenty of bloody violence, but nothing really graphic.
Nudity: 2 - Some pretty revealing outfits, and one brief shower scene.
Sex/Mature Themes: 2 - One brief provocative scene.
Language: 1 - Nothing notable.
Staff & Cast
Original Japanese Cast
(Japanese cast, but not crew, listed family name first)
Eiji: Seki Tomokazu
Kayin: Koyasu Takehito
Gaia: Gohri Daisuke
Uranus: Inoue Kikuko
Chaos: Tachiki Fumihiko
Sofia: Touma Yumi
Ellis: Hikami Kyoko
Duke: Shiozawa Kaneto
Tracy: Neya Michiko
Fo: Nishikawa Ikuo (only known anime role)
Rungo: Tsuji Shinpachi
Mondo: Kishino Yukimasa
English Dub Cast
Eiji: Ted Lewis
Kayin: Hideo Seaver
Gaia: Alfred DeButler
Uranus: Emma Rayda
Chaos/Sho: Chirs Yates
Sofia: Debbie Rabbai
Ellis: Lisa Ortiz
Duke: Billy Regan
Tracy: Apollo Smile
Fo: Carter Cathcart
Rungo: Greg Wolfe
Chris: Teri Muus
Mondo (uncredited): Kim Carrell
Producers: Taka Nagasawa, Nagateru Kato
Director: Masami Ohbari
Screenplay: Jiro Takayama, Masaharu Amiya
Original Story: Takara Co.
Original Character/Costume Design: Tsukasa Kotobuki
Animation Character Design/Chief Animator: Masahiro Yamane
Music: Kensuke Shina
Produced by Animate Film