I want you to remember a time that you watched a really funny internet video. You saw it, and you said to yourself “Wow, this is hilarious! I have to show my friends!”. And so you posted it on your facebook, or showed it at a group hangout. Sure, it was stupid and devoid of any real meaning, but everyone laughed and had a good time, and it was quickly forgotten. If the mood strikes you, a long time later on you might still reference said video with a knowing wink and a smile, and a few people will chuckle and move on with their lives. And you will too.
This is kind of what Shootfighter Tekken is in a nutshell. A three episode OVA utterly devoid of any real intellectual or emotional depth, but still a ton of fun to watch while it lasts. Is it one of the greats, destined to stand with the great artworks of anime? No. But I deny you to not have a blast while watching this gaudy, ridiculous, and awesome little gem.
“It’s Ruinous Motion!”
First of all, a little origin story is in order here. SFT, as we will abbreviate it, is actually a prequel to the manga High School Exciting Story: Tough (now known simply as Tough in its current incarnation). The story, for our purposes, focuses on one Kiichi Miyazawa, a moronic street punk, a “street tough”, if you will, who just loves getting into fights. He craves them, lives for them, and engages in them whenever possible.
The trick is, however, that Ki-bo, as he is called by his friends, is not just your average school thug. See, he’s actually the latest in the line of inheritors of the Nanshin Shadow Style of fighting, a MURDEROUS ART (as the show repeatedly and helpfully tells you) that has been passed down through the generations of the Miyazawa family since the Meiji era. It specializes in not only building the body to physical perfection, but in mastery of manipulating all the body’s pressure points. This makes it a truly MURDEROUS ART, one that Kiichi’s father, Oton, trains him in regularly. Oton is supremely skilled in the art, to the point where even his son, prodigy that he is, can’t touch him. Hell, in the first five minutes, Oton actually kills his son during training (don’t worry, he fixes him)
As mentioned above, the most interesting thing about SFT is that it’s actually a full on prequel story to the manga. It involves a much earlier conflict of Oton’s, and the result when one of the participants in said conflict returns to seek revenge. The story’s main premise is that, many years ago, Oton had an exhibition match with the world’s greatest pro wrestler, Iron Kiba. Now, you may be saying to yourself “Pro Wrestler? The hell is he going to do against a man trained in such a dangerous, MURDEROUS ART?”. Well, in the world of SFT, pro wrestlers are not merely the beefy, would be actors who occasionally throw eachother that we have here. In this universe, pro wrestlers are more “engines of destruction” than human. They train themselves to be superhumanly strong, to ignore pain, and to have unstoppable endurance. So Iron Kiba, being the best among their number, was actually a pretty decent match for Oton.
One thing led to another, and Oton ended up gouging Kiba’s eyeball out, and winning the match. Years later, and Kiba is a very rich and powerful man, one who is still haunted by the memory of his defeat. So after finally returning to Japan, Kiba decides to look up Oton, and get his revenge, personally or through an agent if need be. Of course, Ki-bo isn’t just going to sit around, and gets himself involved, usually against the thugs sent after his father, while the older gentlemen confront eachother in (slightly) more subtle ways.
Each volume of the OVA covers a different opponent that Ki-bo must overcome, with the impending rematch between Oton and Kiba serving to bind the three. In the first volume, he takes on a mercenary type who possesses a variety of killing techniques, including one nasty throathold. In the second one, Kiba sends a thug for hire nicknamed “The Man-Eater” after Ki-bo. When that fails, and Man Eater actually becomes friends with them (oh come on, don’t worry about spoilers, this isn’t fucking Shakespeare), Kiba commisions a top tier judo practitioner named Shingo “The Reader”, so named because of his ability to predict his opponent’s actions. And finally, in volume three, we get the inevitable plot twist that results in Ki-bo having to be the one who takes on Iron Kiba himself.
Smashing Punk’s Heads
Now, that one paragraph I gave above? That is literally all you need to know about this show. Sure, there is the illusion of characterization, usually in the reveal of some personal issue one of Ki-bo’s opponents is a victim of, but this show is about as deep as a kiddie pool for amoebas. An opponent shows up, Ki-bo is told how dangerous they are and how he can’t win, he’s trained in some secret technique, he fights, gets tossed around, tries the technique, fails, a little more fighting, he improves secret technique, wins, everyone is better, Iron Kiba reminds them that his rematch is coming, the end. That is volume one and two in a nutshell. Volume three is a little more dynamic, especially in the final fight, but still, we’re not dealing with genius here.
Now that I’ve told you the show is utterly worthless as anything resembling an emotionally satisfying experience, let me tell you that you still owe it to yourself to see it, if you have ths stomach (more on that later). Why? Because what you get instead is a parade of stupidly awesome stuff to make up for it.
Let’s start with the fights. Despite the broad, yet entirely correct, description above, SFT has some of the best hand-to-hand fighting you’re going to see this side of Hajime No Ippo, and said fights are far less concerned with things like “reality” than that masterpiece. No, the fights in SFT are about muscular men beating the shit out of eachother, and looking good and brutal while doing it. Every volume presents groups of thugs or lesser opponents for Ki-bo to fight, before his big match against that volume’s villain of the week.
The fights all look good, with Kiichi using some cool MMA-type moves, but it’s those volume enders that you stick around for. Each fight feels truly distinct, and when compared to the rest of the stuff here, an almost inordinate amount of care seems to have gone into making these conflicts unique and interesting. Kiichi’s mostly brawl-centric battle with the merc in the first volume is nothing like the slower, more grapple heavy fight with Shingo in the second. And both of these pale in comparison to the utter, brutal madness of his fight with Kiba in the third one, which is easily among the best, most insane battles I’ve seen in an anime.
When the show stops to characterize…eh, it’s a little less great, but just as hilarious. There are turns of phrase, and attempted moments of “tenderness”, that are utterly hilarious because of how clumsy they are. Characters have such broad, simplistic personalities that they feel more like parodies of themselves than anything. Kiichi is absolutely nothing besides a loud, stupid void of fighting, while Kiba, despite some absolutely uproarious attempts at depth in his last fight, spends the entire show simply smirking and threatening the heroes. Probably the closest this show gets to a character with actual dimension is Shingo, and even that feels hamfisted and goofy. There are endearing character traits, like Oton’s propensity for things with rabbits on them, the whole family’s daily ritual of greeting the newslady on the TV, and Man-Eater’s relationship with his sister. But if you’re looking for drama, you’d be better off with, well, almost anything else.
Not to say that this is any fault of the VO cast, mind you. As a matter of fact, the show is aided by a dub cast that seems to be having a grand old time the whole way through. Michael Sinterniklaas throws himself fully into making Kiichi as loud and stupid as possible, while pulling on those old Gao Gai Gar days to do all the yelling and battle noises he needs to. Meanwhile, Dan Green is at his strong, silent-type best as Oton, managing to make the Miyagi-type crap he says sound deep and meaningful, even as you note that it’s basically nonsense. And Sean Schemmel, Goku himself, plays Iron Kiba grandly, whether it be during his calm, executive-type moments, or his over the top pro wrestler instances. I watched both versions, and no one in the Japanese dub stood out except for one: Norio Wakamoto, he of the magnificent villain types, plays Kiba with so much enthusiasm you’re afraid your TV will leak.
“Try to Make it…”
Production wise, the show is on both ends of the spectrum when it comes to quality. On one hand, the fights all animate smoothly, and the budget serves the whole affair well…most of the time. When things do go wrong, HOLY SHIT DO THEY GO WRONG. There are instances of ridiculously incorrect faces, body proportions, animation sticking, off-model characters, all of it that will make your freaking head spin. There’s a moment in Volume Three, in particular, that involves a face so utterly, absurdly fucked up in its appearence that it’s become a sort of in-joke among me and the several members of this site who have seen it. Otherwise, the art style adheres to that very Baki The Grappler-esque philosophy of “fighters have muscles that look like someone stuck balloons under their skin and inflated them”. It’s an ugly artstyle, but it should be for what it’s showing.
Ah, yes, before I get to the music, and the wrap-up, I should mention that SFT is a very, very brutal show. Very detailed depictions of violence and bloody, graphic combat fill the show up. You will get detailed looks at every ripped muscle, every torn ligament, every broken bone, and every bloody, ferocious shot the characters take and give. If you have a weak stomach, you had best be ready, this is not a kids show by any stretch.
That being said, the music is your typical grab-bag of heavy guitar and drums, that although definitely a cut above most of its kind, doesn’t really stand out in the long run. The one thing that does stand out is the show’s awesomely kick-ass credits theme, a hotblooded mess of a song that requires that you pump your fist and bang your head to it.
Battered Bodies and Bruised Knuckles!
There are anime that you watch, and are utterly disgusted with. You wish you hadn’t wasted the time to see them, and they have no redeeming value, even as objects of derision and mockery. Then there are anime that last a lifetime, the ones that make you glad you got into the artform in the first place, and remind you why you love it so much.
Then there are the thousands of shades in between. This is where you will find Shootfighter Tekken. It is a show that is not meant to be remembered, or hell, to even really be considered good. It’s shallow, repetetive, ugly and stupid in every way.
However, it is also brutal, gloriously over the top, and hilarious. The fights are great, the characters funny (in the wrong way as well as the right one) and the whole thing crackles with this ridiculous energy that you can’t help but get swept up in. It’s not great, at all, but it’s great fun for every minute of its two hour runtime.
An Art of the Murderous Variety: 6/10