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Saturday, April 29, 2017

Street Fighter II: Yomigaeru Fujiwara-kyo - Toki wo Kaketa Fighter-tachi: Learning & History & Imitating Character Designs

A few months back I saw 1994's Street Fighter II Movie for the first time in years with some friends (via Discotek's outstanding Blu-Ray release), and I think it still holds up outstandingly well; definitely one of my all-time favorite movies (anime or otherwise). Obviously, said movie was a massive success around the world, but especially in Japan, so a follow-up was put into production. Said follow-up was 1995's Street Fighter II V, a 29-episode TV series that essentially told its own take on the SFII story, but still featured a ton of staff overlap with the movie. The venerable Gisaburo Sugii returned to direct, Group TAC did the animation once again, various producers & animators came back, & even two seiyuu (Kenji Haga [Ken] & Yoko Sasaki [Cammy]) reprised their roles. It even received two different English dubs, one by Animaze for the North American release, & another by ADV Films for the UK release; there is no release containing both dubs as of yet. Still, II V wasn't actually the first anime to follow the SFII Movie. Just shy of two weeks prior to II V's debut on Japanese television, another SFII anime saw release...

While Tokyo (formerly Edo) is the current capital of Japan, & before that was Kyoto, not as much is known about what is considered Japan's first "real" capital, Fujiwara-kyo (which is now Kashihara in Nara Prefecutre). Acting as capital of Imperial Japan from 694-710 (where it was actually recorded as Aramashi-kyo), it was decided to hold an exhibition in Japan from March 29 to May 21, 1995 to help celebrate the former capital & let the people understand more of what life was like back then. The festival was called Romantopia Fujiwara-kyo '95. To help out, Capcom (which was one of the partners for the event) teamed with Studio Pierrot to produce a 23-minute OVA that would be sold on VHS exclusively during Romantopia, and with the SFII Movie being such a hit at the time, said OVA would feature SFII characters. Since then it's only had a single other release, easily making it the most obscure anime entry in Capcom's biggest franchise. So let's see what Street Fighter II: Yomigaeru Fujiwara-kyo - Toki wo Kaketa Fighter-tachi/A Revived Fujiwara-kyo - The Fighters Who Ran Through Time is all about.

Ryu, Ken, & Chun-Li are meeting up with E. Honda so that he can show them his new sumo moves. Before any of them meet up, however, Honda comes across a giant, turtle-shaped rock that magically sends all four of them 1,300 years into the past. Ryu & Ken meet up first, realizing that they're in Imperial Japan's capital of Fujiwara-kyo, and while searching for Chun-Li & Honda they learn about what life was like back then.

Yes, that guy is totally checking out his female coworker.

Let's face facts here & just get straight to the point. This is nothing more than a piece of educational programming (edutainment, if you prefer), and it's not hiding that fact one bit; hell, even the title splash de-emphasizes the "Street Fighter II" part of the title. There isn't a single bit of fighting to be found in this OVA, & none of the iconic special moves of the four leads are anywhere to be found (outside of during the ending credits, where Ryu, Ken, & Chun-Li do some moves). Really, the entire use of SFII characters is simply to attract people who otherwise wouldn't give a damn about a product like this. Therefore, let's judge this solely on its merits as being a piece of educational entertainment, & if it actually does its intended purpose well... At least, as well as I can understand, since this OVA has never been translated into English (official or fansubbed).

Anyway, Yomigaeru Fujiwara-kyo does seem to give a nice overview of the way Fujiwara-kyo was organized & set up. We're shown how the land was split up between the different castes, how large said capital actually was (the fact that none of the actual buildings remain standing today is a bit sad), the use of things like water measuring, menial jobs like wood painting or food preparation for the rich, traditional dances & festivals, transporting materials down the river, & even how construction was done back in the day. Specific landmarks in the capital, like the Suzaku Gate or the main hall of the court named the Daigokuden, are shown off, as well. Admittedly, it's not an extensive bit of education, but that's likely because the OVA was meant to simply be an introduction; if you wanted to learn more, that was what Romantopia was there for. Granted, that means nothing to a modern viewer, but at least there is something to learn from here.

Still, it's not quite executed as well as it could have been, and that's primarily due to the pacing. Essentially, Ryu & Ken roaming about the center of the capital takes up the large majority of the total run time, as they don't find Chun-Li until the 14 minute mark, which means that she only has about nine minutes of involvement. Hell, Honda is literally only seen at the very start & very end, making him even more pointless for inclusion. Not just that, but there are some weird choices made in terms of character types & consistency. Probably the oddest is that it's Ken who's made out to be the history expert, as he's the one explaining Fujiwara-kyo life to Ryu. Look, I know that Ken's half-Japanese, but shouldn't Ryu be the one telling his American friend all about Japanese history? Combine that with him also being the one who realizes that they've been sent through time, complete with knowledge of things like a "time wall" that keep them from interacting with history, & Ken almost feels out-of-character here.

Also, said time wall is absolutely inconsistent, since it's only brought up once to stop Ryu from being part of a dance ceremony, yet the two come across Chun-Li being part of completely different dancing troupe while seeing a festival! Not just that, but the Street Fighters are otherwise shown very close to the people of Fujiwara-kyo for most of their trek, though no one can see or interact with them, & Honda is found outright helping some people construct a building; he even tells them that he's been there for 16 years, though looking to have not aged a single second. Really, all I'm saying is that these inconsistencies could have been avoided, & even bumping the run time to a solid 30 minutes would have allowed for the viewer to see more history, especially from the perspectives of Chun-Li & Honda, since they get so little attention otherwise. Still, I can't harp too much on this OVA, because aside from these little nitpicks (& that's really all they are) this is still a fairly well produced anime on the whole.

E. Honda definitely looks the most like his movie design.

That being said, however, there's absolutely no doubt that Capcom was trying to piggyback off of the success of the SFII Movie with this OVA. As I mentioned at the beginning, Group TAC was busy getting Street Fighter II V ready to air, so Yomigaeru Fujiwara-kyo was animated by Studio Pierrot. Still, Capcom wanted this OVA to look as much like the movie as possible, & Toshiyuki Tsuru's (Magical Angel Sweet Mint, Suikoden Demon Century) character designs do look remarkably similar to those of Shukou Murase's from the movie; it's not 1:1 by any means (Chun-Li in particular looks the most different), but it's surprisingly close. Tsuru was also animation director &, to its credit, there are some nice moments of nicely fluid animation to be found, like when Chun-Li is dancing as a part of the festival. In place of Gisaburo Sugii, the OVA was directed by the late Hisayuki Toriumi (Gatchaman, Salamander), who wasn't any slouch in terms of being a notable anime director himself. Therefore, while this OVA doesn't quite have the same animation pedigree as the movie, it still surprisingly stands pretty well on its own. The music by Souichiro Nakamura & Yukitoshi Morishige is absolutely nothing more than "background music", & since neither seem to have worked on anime ever again I'd harbor a guess that they were people involved with Romatopia & simply lent their compositions for the exhibition to be used in the OVA.

The voice cast for the four leads is at least well done, though essentially no one from the movie returns. Ryu is voiced by Akio Ohtsuka, whose deep voice is a bit much for Ryu, who's generally had more of a gruff voice than deep, but otherwise is fine; interestingly enough, Ohtsuka would be the Narrator for II V. Ken is performed by Keiichi Nanba, who honestly fits Ken rather well, enough so that it's kind of sad that this is Nanba's only time voicing anyone in a Street Fighter production. Chun-Li is handled by Michie Tomizawa, who gives the strongest woman in the world a nice bit of youthful energy, but since she has so little screen presence she can only do so much; like Nanba, this is Tomizawa's only involvement with SF. Finally, I put "essentially" at the start of this paragraph, because there is a single returning seiyuu from the movie, & that's the late Daisuke Gouri as E. Honda. Similar to his movie performance, Gouri's Honda is playful & the obvious comic relief, but his total screen time is barely two or three minutes, so all we get is Honda being comical; no moment of seriousness here, unlike the movie  (when he fights Balrog). In fact, aside from producers Akio Sakai & (Capcom CEO) Kenzo Tsujimoto (neither of which likely had much direct involvement here), Daiskue Gouri is the sole reprisal to be found in this OVA in any way, shape, or form.

For a good while, the VHS tape sold at Romantopia was the only way to see this OVA, which made it a little bit of a collector's item throughout the 90s. In 2004, though, Capcom put it back in print, but only through an interesting fashion. From 1993-1994, Masaomi Kanzaki did a three-volume manga in Famicom Magazine called Street Fighter II Ryu, which acted as an adaptation of the story of the game, & featured the first illustrated appearance of Ryu & Ken's teacher, Gouken. Ten years later, as part of the 15th Anniversary of the franchise, Capcom re-released SFII Ryu in a single, giant "complete edition", and bundled with it was the Yomigaeru Fujiwara-kyo OVA on DVD; naturally, the bundle was called "Street Fighter II -Ryu vs. Yomigaeru Fujiwara-kyo-". I have no idea if the OVA was digitally remastered in any way, and now the bundle goes for at least 5,000 yen over at Amazon Japan. While Udon did eventually bring Kanzaki's manga over to North America in 2008, the OVA still remains Japan-exclusive. A few months before Discotek released the Blu-Ray for the SFII Movie, Brady Hartel (who did the packaging) admitted that he did bring up the idea of licensing this OVA as a standalone product, since it wouldn't fit on the BD as an extra due to how packed it already was. Personally, I could see this OVA work as an extra, maybe if SFII V was to get license rescued(?), but I don't think there'd be enough interest to make it worth releasing as a standalone product; hell, even in Japan it wasn't put out on DVD by itself.

If I wanted to be cynical, I could say that Street Fighter II: Yomigaeru Fujiwara-kyo - Toki wo Kaketa Fighter-tachi isn't exactly anything special, & it really isn't. That being said, it's not exactly hiding what it is in any way, both in what you're shown on screen & why it was even created in the first place. It's a blatantly obvious piece of educational entertainment meant to be sold at an exhibition all about celebrating the history of Fujiwara-kyo, and since the Street Fighter II Movie was a notable success, it only made sense for Capcom to try to ride that momentum as much as possible by tossing some SFII characters into this piece of OVA edutainment. I can't fault it for being what it is, though I will admit that it could have been just a tiny bit better by showing more internal consistency & actually utilizing Chun-Li & E. Honda more. Is it one of the best Street Fighter anime out there? Not by any means, but at the same time it's not terrible, either. It is, however, a neat curiosity that's worth at least a single watch if you're big into the franchise, and at less than a half-hour it's not going to be a waste of time.


  1. I think Street Fighter II Victory was a great show and a perfect source of study for whoever thinks about making a live action out of the story. Really, this show could easily become a TV series and still retain the flavor SF has.

    Yeah, it's not without its flaws since it was kinda boring watching Ryu take like 5 episodes to unleash a hadouken but it was quite fun for what it was.

  2. Has this been fansubbed at all? I'd love to put it in future "weird retrogame anime" panels.

    1. As mentioned in the review, there is no English translation out whatsoever for this OVA. Really, though, you could easily put it into a panel, & simply explain the concept behind it.