Video Game Theme Week: Art of Fighting

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.)


  1. All attempts on my part to feature Art of Fighting at the various “bad anime” panels I’ve held at conventions have ended in preemptive failure on my part due to my inability to find one 3 minute clip that demonstrates how bad the whole affair is in an entertaining manner. Usually the “exciting conclusion” can be relied upon for this sort of thing, but this time? Not so much.

    Also, the reason *I* forever remember Art of Fighting is because that’s the one where if you beat King using a special move, then King’s shirt would tear off revealing that King was a girl. This was back when you couldn’t tell King’s gender at a glance. In the years which followed, King’s official breast size became larger than Mai Shiranui’s such that nobody could ever possibly mistake her for a guy. [Thank goodness.]

    Then again, I also remember completely forgettable characters like Mickey due to his “I’m number one!” win animation and Jack because he was this giant enormous dude. Also, the bonus game where you sliced the necks off of beer bottles. Fine, I’m pretty sure most of this is because I memorized many an Insert Coin montage in past days where by I would be wandering an arcade floor, out of money and waiting for my parents to pick me up.

  2. This would be one of several fighting-game OVAs that Central Park Media ran out and bought after Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie became a hit. CPM had actually passed on licensing the SFII movie, so they didn’t want to miss another big game tie-in. Toshinden, Voltage Fighter Gowcaizer, and Art of Fighting weren’t going to slip through THEIR hands, no sir.

    To CPM’s credit, they didn’t buy Psychic Force, Tekken, or Virtua Fighter. Other U.S. publishers did, of course.

  3. the virtua fighter cartoon is actually pretty entertaining, despite (because of) it completely ignoring the plot and character personalities of the game itself.

  4. Holy crap, I had an old copy of the AoF anime and yes it was horrible. Way back when I was making an AMV using anime fighting game footage, had stuff from Street Fighter, Garou Densetsu, a couple other shows…and AoF. It was really hard to find any usable scenes from that show. Also I had no idea Ayumi voice Yuri in that OVA, too funny

  5. That first bit is just HG101-tier nonsense for the sake of a joke, which pretty much makes the joke the exact opposite of funny. Ryuuko no Ken had always been SNK’s second big series (after Garou Densetsu) before KOF basically fused them together. Garou only kept going because people continued to like it, not because of anything on SNK’s end or because of anything to do with the games themselves… and it didn’t last much longer anyway. Also, remember that Buriki One is a thing that exists.

    So… it’s a pretty fun little OVA. Certainly animated about on par with so many other ’80s and ’90s OVAs, video game or not. I don’t see why it being different from the source is even relevant, as it’s always nice to see what a series would be under different circumstances, and sometimes it’s even better (though I’m not about to say that here). The dub is also completely irrelevant, as all these localizations really aren’t too far off from crummy bootlegs.

    It’s not even a “guilty pleasure”… it’s just another unfairly “criticized” work that will never get the respect it deserves because everyone is being told to mindlessly “criticize” it; just another unfairly “criticized” work that’s getting lambasted for things you, personally, would probably praise somewhere else, because that’s just how these things go.

    Needs a remake, really. So does Ninja Ryukenden.

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