Street Fighter II: The Manga, volume one
Writer / Artist: Masaomi Kanzaki
By Damien Wilkens
12 November 2008 — Street Fighter was a big part of my adolescence. I guess that's sort of a required statement these days for anyone that wishes to portray themselves as a hardcore fighting game fan, but I was on a completely different level. I became one of those guys. You know the type: the guy so obsessed with becoming an invincible fighting machine that he prints pages of frame data looking for that extra edge. The kind of fanatic that knows what 2LK2LK236MP means, and spends his free time writing fan fiction about Akuma and Gouken fighting on an astral plane surrounded by spirit dragons. (Mine was called "Blood of the Demon" for the record. It involved Akuma punching a mountain at one point. Yes, it was awesome.)
Regardless, even I have to admit that Street Fighter never had much in the way of a gripping narrative. The potential was there, for sure, but outside of one painfully short animated movie, Street Fighter has never really translated well to non-gaming mediums. The anime TV series portrayed Ken and Ryu as a wussy, ambiguously gay duo that couldn't even beat the paint off a rusted shed. And the live-action movie actually managed to make Kylie Minogue in tight spandex completely unappealing. I'm not going to pretend I had high expectations for the manga, but I knew that if there was ever a chance for me to get into the whole Japanese comic craze, this was my bridge. So I bought the first edition of the Street Fighter II manga and tried to keep an open mind.
That lasted all of 12 seconds.
Our story starts on the man-made republic of Shad, an island ruled under the iron fist of M. Bison. (Before we go any further, it's worth pointing out that the only thing anyone ever does in Shad is fight, bet on fights, think about fighting or eat to prepare for a fight.) We see Chun-Li in a pit, fighting some sort of pirate fellow. Ryu is in the crowd, and accurately predicts that she is going to stomp a hole in his goofy ass. She does so in record time, getting the gratuitous panty shots out of the way before we have to worry about anything resembling a plot. Ryu quickly moves on and saunters into a restaurant, whose young owners are being threatened by a gaggle of mobsters. Already, there's something wrong with Ryu. As one of the most iconic characters in all of gaming, he's not particularly hard to get right. He's the sullen warrior, looking to achieve physical perfection through the art of combat, often flanked by the cocky Ken. Here, though, Ryu appears to have a hokey smile permanently etched on his face. He reminds me of someone, but I can't quite put my finger on it.
Naturally, Ryu dispatches the goons and gets in the face of their leader, who is the prodigious Balrog. Old 'Rog has fallen under hard times it seems, and is no longer one of the "Four Bosses" (that's literally what the book calls them). Balrog challenges Ryu to a fight the next day, and he accepts, not breaking that smile for a second. After they leave, the restaurant crew, which is a grand total of two people, flock to Ryu, thanking him for his help. A word on these two, if I may. First there's Po-Lin, the older sister whose only character trait is the fact that's she's a woman. Seriously. We get an ass shot before we even learn her name, and she proceeds to do absolutely nothing for the rest of the book. Then there's Wang-Mei, the overly excited little brother. He is one of the most irritating characters that I've ever had to read. He is completely unable to finish a sentence without using the word "bro" at least once. Frankly I'd like to blast him in the face with a bloody magnum, but unfortunately, he lives on through the rest of the series.
So they reward Ryu with some grub and... oh god, I see it now! The stupid grin, the need to fight every person he meets, the cartoonishly big appetite: he's Goku! They've turned Ryu into Goku! Those bastards!
As it turns out, Balrog and his gang are loan sharks, and naturally, they don't have the money to pay them back. Ryu, being the awesome guy that he is, decides to give them all of his money, telling them to bet it on his fight with Balrog the next day.
Now we get to the main aspect of this book: the fighting. For the most part, it's done pretty well. There is the silly habit everyone has of announcing a big move before they execute it, but given the medium, I can sort of excuse it. Plus, a lot of the characters do it in the game. The first big battle is between Ryu and Balrog, who fight to qualify for the Grand Fight Tournament. (Was "World Warrior Tournament" too long for them? To make things worse, they actually reference the WW Tournament later on, but never really state how it's at all connected.) So they have quite the little donnybrook, and Balrog smashes him early on, but Ryu reveals he was playing possum and goes on to put a Hadoken in his chest, winning the match. (That doesn't seem horribly fair. I mean, the dude was wearing boxing gloves, and you need to throw a fireball at him to win?) Immediately after, a sniper aims for Ryu, but Guile appears out of thin air and puts a stop to it, giving us our first glimpse of the spiky-haired commando.
We then cut to the lair of M. Bison, where Sagat, cognizant of the fact that he could crush Bison's skull with his bare hands, simply stands there next to Vega in the designated henchman pose. Blanka has come to deliver the news of Balrog's defeat, and to petition for his spot as one of the Four Bosses. (Hasn't Blanka played the game? They didn't just add him for Championship Edition; he's one of the eight originals. He can't be a boss. Also, he's never been portrayed as a villain, usually serving as the simple-minded savage. Here, he speaks with the dignity of a scholar, and Bison tells him to take out the one that defeated Balrog.)
Elsewhere, Ryu takes down a baseball player, and Wang lets out another "bro" before he's jumped by a gang of lunatics. Chun-Li jumps in and they make quick work of the crew, after which Chun-Li gives us our subplot for the series, and reveals that the crazies were on a Bison-manufactured drug called Doll, which turns normal people into killing machines. Since the pacing of this book is equivalent to that of a Peter Gabriel video watched in fast forward, Blanka then immediately shows up to challenge Ryu. Having already fought once, Chun-Li steps in and looks to avenge the death of her father with this one confrontation. (Yeah, I don't get it either.) She holds her own for a bit, until Blanka uses his lightning attack and fries her, which causes Ryu to immediately cry foul. (Didn't you just fireball someone?) While writhing on the ground, Chun-Li somehow channels the spirit of her dead father and Spinning Bird Kick's Blanka into another time zone. While this is happening, Ryu encounters Dhalsim, who warns Ryu to prepare for him next round, and E. Honda rolls up on Chun-Li in the most awkwardly excited fashion possible, asking to fight her next. (So you can just fight whoever you want? Doesn't this tournament have brackets of some sort? Why doesn't someone just pick Dan, Sakura and a Servbot to beat up on and advance to the finals that way? And where the hell is Ken? He's always getting shafted in these stories.)
We get a little more of the Doll story, where Bison makes a DEA Agent shoot himself in the head. It's shockingly bloody, and really clashes with the tone of the rest of the book. Other than that, the rest of the chapter is mainly one fight after another. Dhalsim and Ryu throw down. After we get about 17 more bros from Wang, Dhalsim tells a touching story about the skulls he wears around his neck, as they're the children who died in his village, and Ryu immediately goes on to break the things with a Dragon Punch. (Just like Goku, this Ryu is kind of a dick.) Guile and Zangief do battle while arguing Cold War politics (seriously) and the spiky one gets his leg broken. Somehow, he's still able to suplex 'Gief to win the match. Lastly, there's Honda and Chun-Li, which is a total farce. Honda gets her in a bear hug, and of course, since he's overweight, he's instantly a lovesick loser that's trying to nuzzle his face in her chest. Like any victim of sexual assault, Chun-Li instantly gets super-strength and throws him on his head. At the end of it all, Chun-Li, Ryu, Po-Lin (I told you she does nothing) and Wang stand around and celebrate their victory, apparently ignorant of the fact that this means Chun-Li and Ryu are going to have to fight at some point, and we already know that he fights dirty.
Dhalsim soon interrupts the party and tells Ryu that his fighting style reminds him of someone. At the same time, we cut back to Bison's lair, where he is appointing a new boss: Ken! Dun dun dun!
The last few pages are a flashback to the time that Ken and Ryu used to train under Gouken (or Sheng Long as he's incorrectly known by some). This is one of the few parts of the manga that has any sort of value, as it's the first time Gouken was ever given an actual visual depiction. Before this, he was simply mentioned by others under muttered breath. They even lifted his Street Fighter IV look straight out of this, so points there, but again the characterization is all out of sync. Ryu is still the goofball, and Ken is being the serious one. Soon after, the place is ransacked by Bison and his gang, who are still missing Balrog despite this being over 10 years in the past. The book ends with Ken and Vega facing off, and Gouken about to take on (and presumably lose to) Bison. Also, Sagat and Ryu stand on top of a mountain, liberally stealing from "Blood of the Demon."
I tried with this. I really did. These characters are not that difficult to get right, I'm sure of it, but every time someone tries to translate them out of the games, they refuse to leave well enough alone, and they think something needs to be added. Honda needs to be a pervert. Chun needs to have hallucinations of her father every time she gets a cup of coffee. And Ryu needs to be a smiling buffoon that either eats or punches everything in front of him. The art is alright, some of the fights are pretty entertaining and there are even some good ideas at work here. But a majority of the plot and characterization are a mess. It's not the worst Street Fighter adaptation I've ever seen, but it's up there.
Grade: 4 out of 10