Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie – A thoroughly unpretentious lesson in arse-kicking

Sometimes it’s hard to look at movies objectionably; I grew up in the 90s and during this exciting decade, Street Fighter II was the ultimate beat ’em up arcade game. Not only was it fun to play, it was a great source of competition too; anyone who put their money into the arcade version was potentially subject to a random challenge from a fellow gamer – and if you lose, you can wave goodbye to that £2 worth of credit you just pumped into the machine too. Inevitably, you do lose, ’cause the other guy is an "older kid" and knows all of M.Bison’s special moves! It wasn’t fair then, and it sure as hell don’t feel fair now either!
I first sat through Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie around about ’97. I still remember seeing a trailer for it on Channel 4’s The Big Breakfast. Suffice to say, it looked frickin’ cool, so my brothers and I clobbered together our meagre £5 pocket money (sometimes we join forces for the greater good) and bought the VHS tape that same day. I wasn’t an anime fan back then; but this movie was like a bolt of lightning for a trio of Street Fighter fans. Over the years since I must have sat through Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie 10 or even 20 times"¦ well, you get the picture; this one is tightly interwoven with my adolescence.
Coming from a video game like Street Fighter, this was never going to be Citizen Kane. The plot can be described in one sentence; M.Bison and his evil henchmen want to take over the world, standing in their way are martial arts masters (Japanese) Ryu and (American) Ken, along with a couple of other do-gooders (including Chun Li and Guile). That’s it, folks, not even James Bond is that simple. So, you must be wondering, what fills this 1hr and 35mins of running time? Isn’t it obvious – martial arts; a heck of a lot of martial arts, with all the fireballs, lightning kicks and pile-drivers you can wave your dusty SNES at.
Pick of the clashes (there are many) is surely Ryu vs. Fei Long and Chun Li vs. Vega.
Both are interesting due to their distinctive fighting styles – consider that Fei Long is Bruce Lee, basically, so his moves are fast, elegant and flashy technique driven martial arts topped off with high pitched battle cries. His one fight is a furious and clinical match-up that ends when he is knocked out cold by Ryu’s famous Hurricane Kick. You can feel the impact of each blow, this is one kinetic slugfest.
On the opposite end of the scale is Chun Li’s death match with the sadistic spaniard Vega. Doing away with the friendly vibe, this time the fight is a desperate and compelling spectacle that will end with death. What’s remarkable about this scene is that it all happens in a small apartment, so chairs and sofas are being thrown about in the chaos. Compared with the runaway train Vega, Chun Li is the petrified rabbit caught in the headlights – so in terms of brute strength, it’s a massive mismatch. I won’t spoil it for you, but what ensues is a creative and exciting action set piece that feels incredibly intense.
It’s worth noting that, for nostalgic reasons, I watched this dubbed into English. What is especially amusing is that Manga Ent. not only produced an English dub track, but also spliced in their own grunge and metal soundtrack too – so a lot of the action is set to head-banging anthems from the likes of Alice in Chains ("Them Bones"), Silverchair ("Israel’s Son") and Korn ("Blind"). It’s massively cheesy, but also quite fun. And that’s the point of this movie, really, we aren’t watching it for deep drama or poignant romance, it’s all about dragon punches, spinning bird kicks and sonic booms, and well"¦, it delivers some absolutely knock-out moments. Street Fighter fans – drop everything, this is a must see! After all, you get to see Chun Li naked in one of the most blatant fan-service scenes ever conceived!?
So, what if you’re not a Street Fighter fan? To be honest, this probably won’t win you over. If you love your martial arts, Dragonball Z or Naruto, you might want to give this a try, but at the same time, don’t expect much in terms of character introductions or plot exposition i.e. do yourself a favour and don’t try to work out why characters can use psychic powers or launch fireballs.
If you can accept Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie for what it is i.e. dumb guys constantly beating the crap out of each other in a number of creative ways, all set to classic 90s grunge tunes, you will enthusiastically mosh your way from start to finish. A masterpiece it might not be, but if you’re looking for a thoroughly unpretentious ass kicking, this is one movie worth picking a fight with.

Hokuto no Ken: The Legend of Raoh – Demonic fist of the devil

Along with Ninja Scroll, I grew up watching the Fist of the North Star movie. I was attracted by the unapologetic gore but this was no mere action flick – set in a post apocalyptic world ravaged by nuclear holocaust, I felt in awe of the endlessly barren landscapes, the grandiose struggle for power between armies populated in their thousands and the colourful ways in which Kenshiro would inevitably dispatch his ever demented enemies; his battles were at once intensely personal crusades and vitally important victories for a shattered, weak civilisation. You can’t ask for much more than that.
Fist of the North Star (Hokuto no Ken) – The Legend of Raoh: Martyred Love Arc (Raoh Den Jun-ai no Shō) is a return to those days; unpretentious, violent, fun and absurdly operatic, I absolutely loved every moment of this movie – and understand, the presentation is amazing too – Hokuto no Ken has never looked as gigantic and over the top; pyramids touch the clouds and knives of lightning rip through the star lit night as the muscle-mountains Kenshiro and Souther duke it out for the future of mankind.
This film is the first in a "pentalogy" of upcoming Hokuto no Ken features — re-animating and re-telling the cult 80s TV series. "The Legend of Raoh: Martyred Love Arc" begins by introducing us to the Hokuto universe – showing Kenshiro (as a berserk young kid) fighting in the "Nanto Temple for a test of his worthiness". Ken must defeat 10 warriors or face execution, and being a kid and all, he eventually loses to a far superior fighter by the name of ShÅ«.
Recognising in Ken the potential of a great hero, ShÅ« (Man of Jin-sei (benevolence star)) elects to rip out his own eyes, essentially ending his life as a martial artist, to save the kid. That’s the kind of world this is, a culture where brave warriors would feel honoured to die for a worthy cause.
Ken and his brothers grow up; Raoh, the eldest, is apparently the subject of this movie. Raoh is a conquer on a quest to rid the world of violence by force — he sits atop a massive horse while his army sweeps through countries, destroying whatever stands in its way. He is a fearsome man, but in his own way, is trying to make things better for all. The movie charts his attempts to end the evil reign of emperor Souther, but as fate would have it, Kenshiro is still the undoubted hero of the piece.
There is no point in approaching Fist of the North Star if you are looking for a completely serious, dead pan action movie. It has always been so over the top, melodramatic and unashamedly macho. Imagine a bastard child spawned from the collective talents of Bruce Lee, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Mad Max. If you spurn that pretension of sophistication, you will love this film; a beautifully stupid, deliciously melodramatic and action packed romp through war torn countries where the heroes are sometimes as bad as the villains.

Reflecting on Kemonozume – Too cool for otaku

It’s fair to say that the creative staff “working on” (more like playing with) Kemonozume must have had so much fun, from flying heads and sexed up monkeys to a perverted old man shoving a pair of severed female arms down his skanky speedos – this is a show that clearly had no pretension of sensibility and instead embraces insanity, playing out like a giddy reimaging of Neon Genesis Evangelion’s apocalypse. If there is an on-going theme, it is love; and the sad things that love can do to you! The end result is a spectacular if rather superficial show, it leaves us with no sense of tragedy or enlightenment, but one can’t help but be enthralled by such an enthusiastic and eccentric stab at animated story telling.
It’s important to note the word “animated” here. A lot of anime seems to revolve around depicting everyday cold, hard realism – so much so that we almost forget that this is actually animated. It’s a shame because the beautiful thing about animation is that anything is possible, why the need to ground us in reality when there are no limits? Actually that’s wrong, the only true limit is the artists imagination, and imagination is rare. Just look around – most anime looks the same, borrows the same boring old archetypes and sticks to tried and test formula. The industry is still looking for a new Miyazaki; an innovative and important new director able to speak to fans beyond the typical otaku crowd, but they struggle because for years they have been stuck recycling shounen, slice of life, harem and fan service anime for the masses.
In the sea of generic trash that largely makes up today’s anime and despite its somewhat limited popularity even within anime fandom, Kemonozume is one of the few shows unique enough to find a lasting audience. If there is hope for the future of anime, it’s to be found in a show like this or Mushishi, where whimsical and exciting animation takes precedence over easy money.

Kemonozume – 10 – Sex-starved monkeys and eating fish with giant detectives

Since we’re now hitting the final couple of episodes, Kemonozume is building up to an action packed climax. The villain, or “big boss”, has turned out to be the fat Ohba – I liken his bizarre appearance to that of a clown, and deep down, we’re all scared of clowns – their smiley made-up faces covering a deeply seeded malevolence. Just ask Stephen King! Ohba wields a double “Kemonozume” too; both his arms are transplanted claws ripped from innocent young flesh eaters – so no doubt, he will prove a fearsome opponent for Toshihiko. He is a vile and nasty piece of work.
As for Toshihiko, he’s off training with sex-starved monkeys and eating fish with giant detectives. When I’m watching Kemonozume, I hardly noticed how fucking strange this series is. Yuka has been abducted by Ohba, so he’ll need to power up if he’s going to get her back.
Artistic and mad is a word I’d use to describe Kemonozume’s typically staggering opening few seconds – this time, I imagine it could be a tripped out dream sequence seen through the warped perspective of an insane and drunk Adolf Hitler. It’s like watching a fragmented, dizzy replay of a drunken memory.
To honest there’s no easy way to sum up Kemonozume’s visual epilepsy. You really have to see it to understand how damn colourful it is; so do that. Go and watch Kemonozume.

Kemonozume – 9 – Old habits die hard

Still on the run from the Kifuuken, we join the love birds Yuka and Toshihiko aimlessly wandering down vast and empty roads when they are offered a lift by an old married couple. Their journey (squeezed inside a white van) is a chance for them to reflect on their young relationship, inspired by the beautiful and reflective scenery, and of course they can’t help but stare at the old couple still head-over-heals in love with each other after decades of marriage.
Later that evening, Yuka and Toshihiko take a walk down by a rocky beach but return to find tragedy; the old couple, having taken some strange medicine, have transformed into grotesque monsters and are biting chunks out of each other. Toshihiko tries to stop them, but Yuka is attacked and this in turn triggers her own transformation. The old couple end up dead, the medicine sold to them by the Kifuuken. Utterly horrified at having feasted on the old lady, Yuka leaves Toshihiko and runs crying into a near-by forest. Here she bumps into the frog like old man from the Kifuuken. He has a sick, greedy look on his face; grinning widely as if to suggest he has finally found his prey.
There is a lot of talk here about love and what it means to love someone regardless of their physicality. Subverting and repressing your nature, attempting to become something you’re not, this inevitably leads to heart break. Yuka is a flesh eater and she must accept this fact if she is ever to become happy.
This was another fine episode – noted for a particularly symbolic and beautiful scene where the characters find themselves walking on blue sky and fluffy clouds; a completely flat, shallow river that reflects the sky above. The novelty of a 60+ year old woman dreamily discussing sex not withstanding.

Kemonozume – 8 – Hard violence, hard sex, hard feelings

At the beginning of this episode a boy student is excitedly kissing his innocent girlfriend for the first time. They hold each other in an emotional embrace, it is a pivotal moment in their lives, “Ah the day has finally come, Takako-Chan’s warm, soft, slippery thing is in my mouth…”. But the boy gets too excited, “What’s this?” he wonders aloud, sensing something wet and sticky. He opens his eyes to realize he has accidentally bitten Takako-Chan in half. Whoops. Turns out he was a flesh eater, and along with a bucket load of her blood, the top half of Takako-Chan’s corpse dribbles from his fanged jaws. “What’s this?”
Kemonozume is the coolest show airing right now. It’s an adult anime, it has sex, it has attitude and it looks so completely different to everything else. With that said, it clearly isn’t for hard-line anime fans; the art is simply too eclectic and weird for most – fluid and evocative, it lacks the mundane and familiar beauty of typical anime, yet bursts with a free wheeling and fun loving spirit.
I have my doubts about the durability of the story – namely Romeo (Toshihiko – human) and Juliet (Yuka – flesh eating monster) are still on the run from their hunters – these characters, for all their swagger, feel as though they lack a compelling substance. I love that they are eccentric, passionate and unpredictable. All the characters in Kemonozume are fun to watch, but something still feels hollow; a gaping sense of empathy I’m still to locate.
Though these are just nagging doubts; so far Kemonozume has been a fiendishly successful experiment in dripping, post-noir style. Hard violence, hard sex, hard feelings. This is the bleeding edge of modern anime.

Naruto – 200 – Filling time with ninja

It has been a while since I last caught up with Naruto – still its a series I treasure deep within my heart, but these ever enduring “filler dark ages” are even dwindling the concrete enthusiasm I once felt for master Rock Lee and his “spring time of youth”. True to Naruto’s emphasis on fighting spirit, I will never give up on this show, I won’t read ahead and spoil myself with the manga – instead my fandom is on auto-pilot, navigating the blue seas with Monkey D. Luffy. Only god knows when the fillers will end – but my guess, for what another fanboys desperation is worth – is episode 208, the next true increment if the series is seperated by the anime-standard of 26 episodes per season. Fingers crossed, anyway – its been a year already and I’m starting to feel like I imagined characters like Orochimaru, Itachi and even that damn angsty bastard Sasuke.
As far as the quality of this particular filler arc goes – it’s not too bad. Despite a typical lack of tension thanks to the nagging knowledge that deep down we know Naruto is in no real danger and that Konoha won’t be blown up, in small doses it’s still fun and ever so slightly exciting. It’s nice that the chemistry between the various characters still works; them playing off each others ecentric quirks is shallow but entertaining. In other words, I can’t help but enjoy Hinata’s shy affection for Naruto exposed again and again by his dim witted and innocent brauva. It’s great that ANBU are popping up now and again too; their aggressive and cold presence, though fleeting, rekindles my smouldering faith in the darker side of Naruto and reminds me of how once upon a time, this was actually burning brightly as a quite brilliant action series. I long for those days again.

Kemonozume – 1 – Delicious gut-munching innovation

The moment I clapped eyes on its highly evocative promo art, I knew I’d love Kemonozume. It just looks so damn cool, completely in another league to the typical “doll face” anime style; here characters look and move like real people, the fluidity of movement and facial expression oddly fascinating. Forget following the narrative- simply watching Kemonozume in full flow is enough of an immersive experience, the animation is wonderful. Like Noein, where the sheer visceral speed of the moving characters somewhat deforms their cliche anime “beauty”, Kemonozume plays with some raw but undeniably vivid art to evoke a thick, gritty atmosphere, sparkling with gems of fleeting beauty amidst an other wise grimy, street-wise setting.
I’ve said a lot about the art of Kemonozume because it is that important. The story is interesting if a little predictable- a male demon hunter falls in love with his beautiful “prey” and they have passionate forbidden sex (yes, actual sex in modern anime, who would have thought it?!)- tragedy surely awaits them. I hope I’m not the only one to notice how similar the premise is to Yoshiaki Kawajiri’s erotic horror Wicked City. Masaaki Yuasa’s colourful, hyperactive and quirky directing style elevates Kemonozume above mere gothic territory and offers up some truly (monkey loving) zany moments, offsetting the grim horror with important touches of light (offbeat) humour.
Though its unique style won’t be for everyone, Kemonozume is an experimental horrific delight that completely shuns the contemporary anime style in favour of delicious gut-munching innovation.

Naruto – 188 – Fear the piranhas of death

As much as I want to be surprised by these Naruto episodes, as much as I want to watch some gripping drama, desperate sacrifices and shocking deaths, it’s not going to happen. I know that, you know that. To complain any more would be a waste of time.
With your expectations so low, it is possible to still enjoy Naruto. This episode is a good example of how such a colourful, varied world and exciting premise can just about carry what amounts to a bunch of wafer-thin cardboard characters. The essence of what makes this such a fun series is still alive and kicking; the ninja. And try as they might, Studio Pierrot can’t make ninja boring.
Revenge, honour, tactics and technique are all brought into this story arc and while I’m hesitant to outright praise this ultimately generic effort (the disguised male peddler is actually a beautiful princess, didn’t ya know?), I will always enjoy watching supernatural ninja pound the crap out of each other. There is something so fun about Naruto getting trapped in a sphere of floating water infested with flesh-eating piranhas! Coolest-technique-ever!
I wouldn’t recommend watching these episodes one after the other (such superficial enjoyment barely stretches 22 minutes), but it’s a fun way to while away a hot, lazy June afternoon.