If you're into anime, then chances are you can remember the first movie or TV show that got you hooked on the medium; your "gateway drug", if you will. For some, it might be TV shows like DragonBall Z or One Piece, others perhaps a specific movie like Ghost in the Shell or Akira (indeed, I had to really go back through the memory archives to determine whether Akira was the first one for me; it was definitely incredibly early in my life). For me, however, the very earliest memory I have of watching anime was the incredible video game adaptation, Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie, released in 1994.
I'll admit, I wasn't super into the Street Fighter series when I was young. In fact, it probably wasn't until Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike that I really started to take notice. I did, however, dabble in Street Fighter II': Special Champion Edition on the Mega Drive. I was terrible at it, naturally, since I was still in single figures 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 most of the time, granted).
The Animated Movie manages to take every single fighter from the game and make them look completely badass.
I think most people now would probably agree, however, that Street Fighter II — particularly the earlier iterations — was a little bit goofy at times. Looking at the character sprites in the fighter select screen now and comparing them to how they look in later games like Street Fighter V and the recently announced Street Fighter 6, some of them look seriously weird (and don't even get me started on the bloodied versions of the characters on the post-match screens). It's a pretty light-hearted game with limited scope for a compelling narrative, so you'd be forgiven for thinking the movie adaptation would follow in its footsteps and be a bit silly itself.
Not quite, though. Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie manages to take every single fighter from the game and make them look completely badass. Whether it's Ryu, M. Bison, or Chun-Li, each and every character is given his or her moment in the spotlight. Heck, even the purposefully goofy characters like E. Honda and Balrog are elevated by the movie's exceptional animation and storytelling. Stand-out scenes include the opening fight between Ryu and Sagat, the introduction of M. Bison against an awesome, ominous soundtrack, and of course the brutal apartment fight between Chun-Li and Vega.
For those not in the know, the narrative is reasonably straightforward. It tells the story of a crime organisation known as 'Shadowlaw', headed by M.Bison along with his henchmen Sagat, Balrog, and Vega, who are on the lookout for new fighters to join their cause and set their sights on the incredibly adept fighter Ryu. Unable to locate Ryu, they instead kidnap and hypnotise Ken, who shares a deep history with Ryu and may rival him in fighting ability. Along the way, of course, we meet the entire cast of the game in various locales, including Fei Long, T. Hawk, Cammy, and more.
Despite the rather simplistic narrative, the true joy of Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie lies in the smaller details. During the middle portion of the movie, M. Bison sends his right-hand man Vega to "take care" of Chun-Li, and this results in one of the coolest brawls ever put on screen.
It's not lacking in emotional weight, either; where some anime shows and films are quite content with their characters being seemingly immune to a severe beating, Street Fighter II: The Animated Movies reminds us that its characters are human and quite susceptible to physical damage. When you see Chun-Li lying in hospital with 90% of her body wrapped in bandages, you can't help but think "damn, she's really hurt!".
[it] might not carry the same clout as Akira and Ghost in the Shell, but fit absolutely rivals them in terms of sheer quality.
A special shout-out has to go to the incredible soundtrack, too. I mentioned the awesome music that plays during M. Bison's introductory scene, but this is just one of many moments during the movie that are significantly elevated by the original score. Not only that, but it also makes excellent use of licensed music, with one particular stand-out scene involving Ken driving with his wife and listening to 'Them Bones' by Alice in Chains. When the same song came on the in-game radio on Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas a decade later, I immediately thought "oh hey, it's that song from the Street Fighter movie!".
Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie might not carry the same clout as aforementioned movies like Akira and Ghost in the Shell, but for me, it absolutely rivals them in terms of sheer quality. It successfully elevates what was already a monumentally influential video game by giving its characters meaningful backstories and awesome moments on-screen.
If you haven't seen it before, the good news is the entire movie is available on YouTube. This is a great way to watch the movie as it's been lovingly upgraded to HD with a gamer-friendly 60fps, but I'm going to keep my fingers crossed for an official 4K blu-ray release soon.
Did you watch Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie when it first released back in the '90s? Does it still hold up for you? Share your thoughts in the comments below.