Art of Fighting
By Evan O.
Between Fatal Fury 2: The New Battle and Fatal Fury: The Motion Picture, Nihon Ad Systems adapted another SNK fighting game with Art of Fighting. While fan reception for the Fatal Fury anime is mixed, the Art of Fighting anime is unanimously considered terrible. Even TV Tropes, a website that was willing to defend Kodomo no Jikan until Google threatened their ad revenue, calls it “So Bad It’s Horrible,” and I was willing to believe it when I found out the director (Hiroshi Fukutomi) was the same guy that did Legend of the Hungry Wolf. Nevertheless, I decided to check it out anyways. Does it deserve the reputation it has? Read this review to find out!
Spoiler: the answer is yes.
You would think that the plot of the Art of Fighting game would be perfect for a short OVA: criminal mastermind Mr. Big kidnaps Yuri Sakazaki in order to force her father Takuma to work for him, only to be thwarted by Yuri’s brother Ryu Ryo and his friend Robert Garcia. Leave it to Nihon Ad Systems to fuck it up, starting with the complete absence of Takuma. He’s not even mentioned, which wouldn’t be a problem if he wasn’t the final boss of the game! It would be like if a Lord of the Rings anime forgot to acknowledge Sauron’s existence. In the anime, Mr. Big’s reason for kidnapping Yuri is that he thinks Ryo stole a diamond from him, simply because he witnessed a gang execution while searching for a lost cat (Oh by the way, Ryo and Yuri are poor now.) The plot is needlessly complicated for a 45-minute OVA based on a fighting game and there are a few moments where I thought the movie could’ve ended: at one point, Ryo and Robert pull off a zany scheme to confront Mr. Big in his casino while the police are waiting outside. If it had ended here, it might’ve been a little more bearable, but there’s still 20 minutes left.
The characters, for the most part, are pretty boring. While today, SNK gives all their characters intricate backstories, the Art of Fighting cast was a little generic, and the anime does little to resolve this, giving the cast one-note personalities: Ryo’s the generic hero, Yuri’s a basic damsel in distress and Mr. Big is “the bad guy.” Robert is slightly more interesting, if only because he’s supposed to come across as an arrogant millionaire with a heart of gold. They get the first part right; the second, not so much. Apparently, he has the means to get Ryo and Yuri out of poverty, but would only do it if Yuri married him. What a good friend. The most interesting character turns out to be the series’ resident jobber Todoh, who, in the anime, is the chief of police. He yells a lot, swings a wooden sword around, and during the aforementioned casino scene, he tries to demolish the building with a wrecking ball that he’s riding on! The movie might as well have been about him.
Looking at still photos, you may get the impression that Art of Fighting’s animation is at about the level of Legend of the Hungry Wolf: passable, but unspectacular. In motion, however, it becomes readily apparent that the OVA had a low budget. The animation is very choppy most of the time, no better illustrated by a scene about 14 minutes in. After Robert breaks a mop over Jack’s head, the head of the mop lands on Jack’s head. The number of frames used to show the mop landing on his head? One. It almost looks as if it poofed into existence on his head and his facial expression changes just as fast. When it isn’t choppy, usually in big fight scenes, the animation frequently loops. If a character throws or dodges a couple punches, you can expect to see it repeated a couple times. If you’re lucky, the background may shift a bit.
Most anime of this poor quality tend to stay in Japan, but because it had a moderately popular license attached to it, U.S. Manga Corps released a dub in 1997. The quality is about what you’d expect from the house that M.D. Geist built: it sucks. Alden Crews stars as Ryo in his first and only role and his performance is somewhere between “Not even trying” and “Michigan: Report from Hell.” The rest of the cast is only slightly better: I think that Nick Sullivan (Robert’s voice actor) was instructed to speak like Christopher Walken in order to match the lip-syncing, and Cliff Lazenby (Mr. Big) seems to be phoning it in. That said, this is the only anime I can think of to feature both voice actors that played James in Pokémon. His 4Kids VA, Eric Stuart, plays Jack and knife-wielding creep John Crawley, while his current VA, Jimmy Zoppi, plays Todoh. These are the closest to “standout” performances I can think of.
While I ultimately didn’t like 2/3rds of the Fatal Fury anime trilogy, each of them had something going for them. Other than an incidental character who’s only comparatively better than the rest, I cannot say the same for Art of Fighting. The only reason anyone could pick it over any other budget OVA is if they liked the game, but seeing as it has little resemblance to the game, that’s not even an excuse. Art of Fighting has long been out-of-print, and it’s probably going to stay that way. Maybe Discotek will pick it up and market it the same way as Chargeman Ken: “It’s so bad, you just have to see it!”
-The music is inoffensive
-Todoh’s crazy antics
-Pretty much everything else