Art of Fighting has always been SNK’s C-list fighting game, so it’s not a surprise that Art of Fighting is on the D-list of fighting game anime, which is the F-list of videogame-based anime, which is the Z-list of Japanese cartoons on the whole. We’re pretty far underground here.
It shows in the product: Art of Fighting (originally BATTLE SPIRITS Ryuuko no Ken) is about as cut-rate and bland as anything you’re likely to see, and everybody involved seems to know it. At first I thought the hero’s monotone Japanese voice actor was inept: then, about three minutes in, I realized what it was. He was just bored.
Ryo Sakazaki and Robert Garcia are a couple of wacky, karate-lovin’ guys! Robert’s rich! Ryo chases cats for money! Robert wants to bang Ryo’s sister, even though she’s only in high school! (Of course, the dearly departed Central Park Media had to change her to 19.) They like to fight and they love to laugh!
And they’re terribly boring. One of the reasons videogame anime are so often horrible is that the original game doesn’t have a story much worth spending an hour on. The original Art of Fighting— the one with the famous “that man is our…” cliffhanger ending and little else— is one of these games. The Art of Fighting Oriental Animated Video actually performs the amazing feat of discarding a weak story and replacing it with something that sucks more.
Ryo and Robert, crazy dudes, get involved with South Town crime boss Mr. Big when they chase a cat into the scene of a mob killing (no, seriously) and wind up in the possession of a precious diamond. Just as in the game, Ryo’s little sister is kidnapped by Mr. Big’s gang. In turn, Ryo and Robert beat up all of Mr. Big’s henchmen before taking on the man himself— and his helicopter.
The whole low-rent business is reminiscent of the terrible US-produced Saturday morning cartoons that came out of Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat in the 90s. Indeed, fans will notice that like in those productions, the characters don’t look or act much like they did in the games. It’s even a failure as fanservice.
Animation is threadbare and the fights are uninspired, with a few scenes that are at least poorly animated enough to be good for a chuckle. Note that I say a chuckle, not a laugh: this would probably be best experienced as one of those condensed 90-second Youtube montages. It is by no means worth sitting through: not with your friends, not with all the booze in the world. It is not howlingly bad, it’s just plain old shit. Perhaps the work’s only redeeming qualities are some nice background art of the maybe-New-York South Town and the jazzy “We’re in America!” soundtrack.
In the 90s it was true that usually Japan was doing videogames better in animation than Americans were, but let’s remember Art of Fighting as proof that they have it in them to make stuff that’s just as awful.
(Trivia: The role of Yuri is J-pop singer Ayumi Hamasaki’s only anime role, recorded when she was still a struggling actress. Her performance is consistent with the rest of the thing.)