Itís a sad fact that films based on fighting games are usually a bit crap, and that those based on long-running beat em ups are usually amongst the worst. The notable exception is Street Fighter 2: The Animated Movie, a film which transcended a weak plot with some excellent fight scenes, great animation and Chun-Liís boobs.
Namcoís flagship fighter Tekken was turned into an appallingly weak straight-to-video anime back in the 1990ís, but has thankfully been spared any further animated indignity. However, with the hotly anticipated crossover game Street Fighter X Tekken just around the corner, Namco have decided that now is the time to bring Jin Kazama and co back to our screens.
This time the story focuses on Ling Xiaoyu, a young Chinese
fighter who is sent to infiltrate a school and locate and spy on a certain boy
by the dangerous assassin Anna Williams. Anna's employers, the G
Corporation, believe the boy is carrying a special gene that holds the secret to
eternal life, and they will stop at nothing to obtain it. However, the G
Corporation isn't the only organisation trying to track the boy down - Anna's
sister Nina, working for the rival Mishima Zaibatsu company, has sent in the
android Alisa Bosconovitch with exactly the same mission. The two seem
destined to clash but are they just pawns in a much larger plot? There's
certainly more going on than meets the eye, and with the deadly rivalry between
Mishima Zaibatsu head Jin Kazama and his father and G Corporation head Kazuya
Mishima simmering away in the background the stage could be set for a truly epic
Unlike its shoddy 1990ís incarnation this new film has some good pedigree. Eschewing traditional animation styles in favour of full on CGI, the film boasts a story penned by Cowboy Bebop scribe Dai Sato and direction from Youchi Mori, who's best known for the CG Appleseed film. The quality shows too. The animation is top notch and the story moves at a good pace, whilst the action - of which there is predictably quite a lot - is frequently stunning. The film is animated by the team behind the opening sequences for the recent
games, so they have experience bringing Tekken's colourful cast to life, and some of the CGI is amongst the best I've seen. The film is so far removed from Tekken's first anime incarnation it might as well be on a different planet, there's a real quality about it and unlike some CG anime the jaw-dropping visuals don't feel like a gimmick.
Surprisingly the film doesnít actually focus on the ĎIron Fist
Tournamentí that forms the basis of most of the games, instead focusing on the
bitter rivalry between father and son and their respective companies. This
gives the story far more flexibility than a tournament format allows, and also
enables the action to focus on a smaller pool of characters. Avoiding the
overcrowding many computer game-based films suffer from is the film's biggest
achievement. It's tempting for anime staff to try and squeeze everyone's
favourite character in to avoid fans ire, but this often comes at the cost of
coherent plotting and sufficient character development. It's one of the
reasons fighting games don't translate well to film, gamers look for quantity
and variety in their character rosters but take away the interactive experience
and film makers are left with the unenviable task of trying to create a story
which can believably feature cybernetically enhanced ninjas, native
american braves and boxing kangaroos. By featuring only a few of the
principle cast members the story has space to breathe, and there's still time for
cameos and references for fans to spot.
But ironically the story is where the film falls down. Despite a promise to make the film accessible to everyone, Dai Sato's story is grounded so fully in Tekken's lore that casual fans will struggle to keep up with what the hell is going on. The film holds together pretty well for a while, with its story of genetic experimentation, family feuds and corporate rivalry proving relatively easy to follow at first, even if it expects a certain familiarity with the characters that those new to the franchise won't have. However, as the story approaches
its conclusion all hell breaks loose and supernatural forces take centre stage, something that feels completely out of kilter with the science-heavy action that has gone before. During this final segment of the film the story gets heavily bogged down in its own mythos, with double crossings forming a backdrop to an inevitable battle between father and son and increasing talk of devil genes and past confrontations. Characters manifest strange powers and a new threat emerges, whilst anyone who has never played the games will sit looking baffled. However, if you have played the games then you'll know about Jin and Kazuya's past, you'll know what the devil gene is and the effect it has, you'll spot the little homages to the games and you'll expect the 'twist' appearance of another character towards the film's conclusion.
Whilst it's true that those familiar with the Tekken game series will get a lot more from Tekken Blood Vengeance, it still stands head and shoulders above many computer game-inspired anime. From a purely technical standpoint is is truly impressive, with fantastic visuals coupled with good sound and voice acting. However, it's main appeal is the action, and the fight scenes are both immaculately choreographed and truly exciting. Whilst there are a few times when the animation feels like an intro sequence to one of the games, for the most part it's pretty impressive and the film is both entertaining and engaging up until the messy ending. All in all Tekken Blood Vengeance is a classy adaptation of a game from a genre that rarely translates well to film, and my biggest surprise is that - at this stage at least - is is only being released on DVD. CG films really shine in HD and a Blu-Ray release would have looked stunning, but despite this the film is well worth a look for its visuals alone. For Tekken fans this film is an essential purchase, but it's worth noting that it is also included as a bonus with the Tekken Hybrid game on the PlayStation 3. For those new to the series it may be hard to follow in places but if you want a quality fighting anime then you could do far worse. Well worth a watch.
None, which is pretty surprising.