Art of Fighting
Mike Toole rates it:
Jackpot! Not only is Art of Fighting based on a fighting game, it's based on a pretty low-grade fighting game. Granted, Art of Fighting was popular enough in Japan to rate a couple of sequels and have most of its cooler characters migrate over to the King of Fighters series, but hell, even the comically bad World Heroes game got a couple of sequels. With that salient information in mind, I didn't really expect much from Art of Fighting, and I wasn't disappointed.
Art of Fighting is about Ryo Sakazaki and Robert Garcia, a pair of happy-go-lucky martial artists in their early 20s. They don't quite have the Ryu-Ken vibe going, but it's close. Anyway, Ryo (who has dark hair for some reason, unlike his video game design, which is blonde) is trying to earn some extra scratch for his dojo by finding a lost cat. Robert is tagging along mostly to make fun of Ryo, but then the two stumble upon the scene of a crime in progress. A weird-looking guy is fighting off a whole group of well-armed thugs. The thugs dispatch the hapless man, and then decide that Ryo and Robert must be involved somehow, and start threatening them.
Ryo and Robert are somehow fast enough to avoid these men's guns, and beat a hasty retreat. Meanwhile, back at the crime boss's secret headquarters, his bodyguard, King, uses her magical computer to instantly find out who Robert and Ryo are. The computer display is the sort of thing that DVD was made for-- pausing and zooming, you'll notice that the data readouts for Ryo and Robert are actually just cut-n-pastes of Microsoft Office documentation. This same magical power leads the bad guys to Ryo's dojo, which sports a sign featuring a fist clutching a pretty rainbow. This is hilarious, but then the bad guys show up, trashing Robert's ferrari. The duo gets in a fight with a big fatty named Jack Turner, who falls over pretty quickly.
Turns out that South Town's (yes, they live in South Town) resident crime boss, Mr. Big (just like the 80s hair rock band!), believes that Ryo and Robert have a stolen diamond that he wants. This isn't surprising, because Mr. Big is a bald man in a fur coat, and is positively loaded down with jewelry. Mr. Big kidnaps Ryo's sister Yuri (who would eventually go on to become one of the more amusing characters in the King of Fighters lexicon) as leverage, and the duo rush to meet the bad guys, tailed closely by the absolutely fucking insane Detective Todo, who has vowed to use his awesome kendo skills to apprehend the jewel thieves in three days. "To-do" is a way of saying "three days" in Japanese. Get it? Ha ha ha! Get it?!
Wow, Art of Fighting is stupid. I've come to expect this, but it's still disappointing, as the characters themselves were interesting enough to live on to this day in other fighting games. Unfortunately, none of the appeal of the games are really present here-- nobody has any cool combos or special moves, Ryo is completely nondescript and Robert is a sleazy womanizer (granted, he's a flirt in the games, but he takes a shine to Yuri pretty quickly). King, who has an aura of dangerous sexiness in the games (she was one of the original Art of Fighting's sub-boss characters, and it's hard to argue with a blonde clad in a men's tuxedo who knows muay thai), manages to be completely boring (the ugly character designs don't help). Missing entirely from the fold is Takuma, Ryo and Yuri's cranky, no-frills karate-fightin' dad.
Beyond that, the script is just idiotic and plodding. None of the characters seem to do anything but worry about the diamond. When his first big plan to get the diamond from Ryo and Robert fails, the secret crime lord Mr. Big asks them to visit him at his house, and they know exactly how to get there. Robert ends up making a 60s-Batman-TV-esque leap of logic to find the diamond ("I'm thirsty... everything in the fridge is melted... my car's trashed... Ryo, I've got it! The diamond was hidden in the dead guy's liquor cabinet!"). As the final insult, Ryo makes a 20-foot leap from the ground to Mr. Big's escaping chopper, which quickly explodes for some reason.
The DVD production for Art of Fighting is pretty awful, but that's to be expected, given that this is a fairly early Image release. The subtitles are small and hard to read on any TV smaller than 27 inches, the menu setup is lousy and lackluster, and it's a dubtitle. God, I hate dubtitles. Not only that, it's infused with CPM's typical sloppiness and inattention to detail-- the credits tell me that the dub is stacked with TAJ regulars like Veronica Taylor and Sharon Becker, but there's no listing for the Japanese cast. Ryo and Robert sound like their actors in the games, Masaki Usui and Mantaro Koshi, but I'll never know for sure.
In the final analysis, Art of Fighting is the sort of crap I've come to expect from one-shot video game adaptations. It has all the story of a lackluster, second-string fighting game, only without the interaction. It's sloppy, ugly, and badly animated-- SNK should have never greenlighted it. Fans of the games should take refuge in the surprisingly entertaining Fatal Fury OVAs and movie instead. This one's an almost total loss-- not good enough to be entertaining or even interesting, and not really bad enough to even make fun of.
Added: Friday, October 17, 2003
Related Link: U.S. Manga Corps.