“Street Fighter Alpha” is a anime feature film based on the popular line of “Street Fighter” video games and TV episodes. For anyone who is either overly familiar with this series or is coming to it for the first time, the effect is the same: “Street Fighter Alpha” is a slam-bang triumph which generates enough energy to keep the lights on in California for the next few years. “Street Fighter Alpha” is the rare action film which offers an excessively high entertainment quotient without slipping once during the run of the story, and missing this film means you are missing one of the year’s best.
“Street Fighter Alpha” reunites the two musclebound martial arts heroes of this series: Ken, the blonde bon vivant who is partial to designer clothing and wisecracks, and Ryu, the dark somber one whose Bowflexed body harbors an evil negative force called the Dark Hadou that occasionally emerges to transform him into a red-eyed behemoth. The duo meet up to pay their respects to their recently deceased martial arts master, but they are soon joined by Shun, a chirpy boy who states he is Ryu’s long-lost kid brother. The normally stolid Ryu begins to show signs of emotion in connecting with his little sibling and learning the mysteries of his past and his long-absent parents.
But things really get cracking when Ken and Ryu take part in a streetfighting competition, and Shun unexpectedly joins in by displaying hitherto unknown chop-and-kick talents along with a bit of that dreaded Dark Hadou lurking within his system. During the competition, Shun is seriously wounded and kidnaped by agents of Shadowlaw, an international crime ring controlled by the megalomaniacal Sadler. Ken and Ryu, joined by the curvaceous Interpol detective Chun Li, penetrate Sadler’s domain in search of Shun and discover that Sadler has his own plans for absorbing the power and the fury of the Dark Hadou.
As a work of art, “Street Fighter Alpha” provides an extraordinary feast for the eyes and mind. The action overheats in vivid passages of kinetic speed, with wild fight sequences that freely dislodge teeth and blood while heroes and villains twirl in balletic flights rich with unapologetic sadism and style. Fans of comic book art will get a kick at the extremes which the anatomy of the human fighters are taken, while those seeking a higher level of refinement will savor the subtle designs and concepts which strike at unexpected moments (i.e., Ryu’s blood washing through rivulets of rain, Ken emerging from the shadowy corridors of Sadler’s compound to take down a villain, Shun’s face morphing from the rock-hard abs of Sadler’s fighter/robot and then withdrawing to be imprisoned within its heavy musculature).
“Street Fighter Alpha” is also mercifully free of the nasty misogyny which often pollutes anime productions and has long turned off American critics to the genre. “Street Fighter Alpha” not only provides a strong female equal in Chun Li but also offers a genuinely appealing comedy support in a teenybopper fan of Ryu, who desires to stake out her own career in streetfighting after watching him dispatch knife-toting miscreants.
The film’s English-dubbed version is also one of the rare times when the American voices used in the dubbing actually fit the characters and on-screen action. The film is also laced with a wonderfully subversive wit which often engages in happy self-parody of the anime genre, most notably when Shun first arrives speaking Japanese and is brusquely informed that everyone can speak English and later when a bystander to a violent bout surveys the destruction left from Ken and Ryu and exclaims: “These guys sure know how to make a mess!”
At a time when American animation often seems like an oversized marketing vehicle for selling hamburgers and toys, Japanese anime keeps alive the true power and potential of the animated motion picture. And with a brilliantly executed production like “Street Fighter Alpha,” the full force of animation not only survives but soars. “Street Fighter Alpha” is a truly great film.