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Ryu SF
Image: Toei Company

If you’re into anime, you can probably remember the first movie or television show that got you hooked on the medium. Your “gateway drug” if you will. For some, it might be TV shows Dragon Ball Z or One pieceothers may like a particular movie ghost in the shell or Akira (In fact, I really had to go through the memory archives to determine if Akira was first for me; it was definitely incredibly early in my life). However, for me, the very first memory I have of watching anime was the incredible video game adaptation, Street Fighter II: The Animated Moviepublished in 1994.

I’ll admit I wasn’t too keen on that street fighter Series when I was young. In fact, it probably wasn’t until Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike that I was really starting to take notice. But I ventured in Street Fighter II’: Special Champion Edition on the mega drive. I was terrible at it, of course, since I was still in the single digits at the time, but I really enjoyed playing as Ryu or Ken and just spamming the ‘Hadoken’ move non-stop (which still wasn’t quite enough , to win the most of the time, granted).

SF II animated film
Image: Toei Company

The animated film manages to take every single fighter out of the game and make them look complete tough.

I think most people would probably agree by now that Street Fighter II – especially the earlier iterations – was a bit goofy at times. Looking now at the character sprites in the fighter select screen and comparing them to how they looked in later games like Street Fighter V and the recently announced Street Fighter 6, some of them look serious strange (and don’t even get me started on the gory versions of the characters on the post-game screens). It’s a fairly light-hearted game with limited scope for compelling narrative, so you’d be forgiven for thinking the film adaptation would follow in its footsteps and be a little goofy itself.

However, not quite. Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie manages to take every single fighter out of the game and make them look complete tough. Whether it’s Ryu, M. Bison, or Chun-Li, every single character gets his or her moment in the spotlight. Heck, even the intentionally silly characters like E. Honda and Balrog are enhanced by the film’s exceptional animation and storytelling. Standout scenes include the opening fight between Ryu and Sagat, the introduction of M. Bison set to a fantastic, ominous soundtrack, and of course, the brutal apartment fight between Chun-Li and Vega.

Dhalsim SF
Image: Toei Company

For those who don’t know, the narration is pretty straightforward. It tells the story of a criminal organization called “Shadowlaw” led by M.Bison along with his henchmen Sagat, Balrog, and Vega who are on the lookout for new fighters to join their cause and target the incredibly skilled fighter Ryu . Unable to locate Ryu, they instead kidnap and hypnotize Ken, who shares a deep history with Ryu and potentially rivals him in fighting skills. Along the way, of course, we’ll meet the entire cast of the game at various locations, including Fei Long, T. Hawk, Cammy, and more.

Despite the rather simple narrative, the real joy of Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie is in the smaller details. During the middle part of the film, M. Bison sends his right hand man Vega to take care of Chun-Li and this leads to one of the coolest brawls ever shown on screen.

It’s not lacking in emotional weight either; While some anime shows and films are content with their characters being seemingly immune to heavy hitting, Street Fighter II: The Animated Movies reminds us that its characters are human and fairly vulnerable to physical damage. When you see Chun-Li lying in the hospital with 90% of her body in bandages, you can’t help but think “Damn, that’s her Yes, really Pain!”.

Bison SF
Image: Toei Company

[it] may not have the same punch as Akira and Ghost in the Shell, but fit absolutely rivals them in terms of sheer quality.

Special credit must also go to the incredible soundtrack. I mentioned the great music played by M. Bison during the introductory scene, but this is just one of many moments throughout the film that are greatly enhanced by the original score. Not only that, but it makes great use of licensed music, with one particular standout scene where Ken is driving and listening with his wife ‘These Bones’ from Alice in Chains. When the same song played on Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas in-game radio a decade later, I immediately thought “Oh hey, that’s the song from the Street Fighter movie!”.

Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie might not have the same clout as the aforementioned movies like Akira and Ghost in the Shell, but for me it can absolutely rival them in terms of sheer quality. It successfully elevates what was already a monumentally influential video game by giving its characters meaningful backstories and great on-screen moments.

If you’ve never seen it, the good news is that the entire film is available on YouTube. This is a great way to watch the film as it’s been lovingly updated to HD at a player-friendly 60fps, but I’ll keep my fingers crossed for an official 4K Blu-ray release soon.

Did you see Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie when it was first released in the ’90s? Is it still with you? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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