Someone actually drew this.
Tekken: The Motion Picture
Directed by: Kunihisa Sugishima
Written by: Ryota Yamaguchi
Runtime: under an hour
I'm not entirely sure how long it's been since I began writing about the Tekken series, but I've never been one to give up on finishing what I start (unless it's my dreams). It's not like this has been a special review, long in the making: I've just been putting it off because I know exactly what it is. For me personally, Tekken died right after Tekken 3, so the initial plan was only to write about anything from the first game to the third, with anything in between. Sadly, this includes the anime that Japan saw fit to release on January 21st, 1998.
Take a seat, I'm gonna be straight with you folks: this was a risky venture on Namco's part to begin with. As mentioned a year or so ago, fighting games aren't especially adept in the story department; we all saw what happened with the hilariously inept Mortal Kombat animated short, and no one's in a hurry to make another Street Fighter adaptation for fairly obvious reasons. All that being said, I've made the case - and I stand by it - that Tekken has by and large featured a more believable and easily-followed storyline than its competitors. I mean it. Yes, the game with the battling dinosaurs, bears, and demons. Really says more about Dead or Alive than it does about Tekken when you stop and think about it.
I suppose I should divulge my honest thoughts on anime here, as I'm bound to step on some toes here: I'm not a fan. Don't get me wrong, there's some good stuff out there: Cromartie High School, Death Note, Cowboy Bebop, Akira, and the year's best movie, Your Name. Here's the problem: that's all the anime I've ever enjoyed. I don't count Avatar: The Last Airbender, and I'm not sure whether I can include the American dub of Ghost Stories (both of which I enjoyed immensely, for what that's worth). No, I do not want, do not need, and will not heed your recommendations. I've seen every Hayao Miyazaki movie, didn't like any of them. I don't have time for Naruto or Bleach or FullMetal Alchemist. Save your pocky-flavored breath. I'm not going to sit here and pretend that all anime is obnoxiously perverted; that would be like saying all glam rockers are pedophiles. I respect the medium; I just so rarely see respectful work from those in the field. If you want to know my problems with anime, just look up Rosario + Vampire, any episode chosen at random.
When last we spoke, we had just finished up the events of Tekken 2, a somewhat underappreciated classic that played great and even had a fun storyline just because of how little was revealed (the characters never spoke). Buckle up, the anime's going to have full voice acting for nearly everyone. It's also a loose interpretation of Tekken 2, so if you were thinking you might get to see what it would be like for Lei to chase Yoshimitsu between tournaments, keep dreaming (as I do).
We start off with some serious-minded gentleman yelling about serious fighting is and how seriously we need to take fighting, before segueing into child Kazuya comforting child Jun in her dream.
This is going to feel a lot longer than 60 minutes.
Already hard at work on growing out those magnificent eyebrows, I see.
We all know how this is going to end: Heihachi grabs his son by the scruff o' the neck, tells him if he's truly strong, he'll be able to climb back up this cliff, and launches him like Rex Grossman launching a standard five yard hitch.
Go on, fling him sidearm! Go for distance!
Turns out it was all a dream. Like, it actually happened, but (adult) Jun Kazama was reliving it, despite not being there in the first place. It's a side effect of her psychic powers, and already it's becoming more and more difficult to believe my own words that the series is easier to follow and believe than any other fighting game franchise. Just try to bear with me on this one.
It's really not that bad - the remains of some sort of long-extinct reptile were found by a fishing boat, lending credence to the idea that the Mishima Conglomerate has been performing genetic experiments on dinosaurs. Already I'm into this idea entirely; the sooner we get to dinosaurs with boxing gloves, the sooner I'll forgive the absolutely shameless shower scene, inserted because they had to have *some* way to keep up with the Street Fighter anime. Yes, that exists. No, you're not getting a screenshot. I have dignity.
Jun is tasked by 3WC, some sort of government organization, to investigate the Mishima Conglomerate and figure out exactly what's going on there. Certainly a bit of a step up from the World Wildlife Foundation she was representing in the second game. That's not going to be easy, though; the Mishima Conglomerate is guarded like a fortress and owns 70% of the world's defense industry. The only avenue open to Jun is to enter the King of Iron Fist Tournament, which you'd think they'd pick someone else for. Jun looks like she weighs 119 lbs soaking wet; this is a prime job for anyone from the Expendables movies. Apparently her bogus fighting style is enough to instill confidence in whatever 3WC is, and she's sent in alongside Lei Wulong, who greets her by throwing a punch at her while her back is turned and screaming like a howler monkey. Typical Philadelphia greeting.
The voice acting in this pretty well below average, and it really becomes noticeable in the next scene when Heihachi talks to Lee Chaolan, his adopted son (who I never really got was a big deal in the second game till I went on the internet). Lee's voice actor speaks in a nasally drone, like the weird kid in math class who thinks nothing could be more fascinating than differential equations.
One of the things I loved about the first three Tekken games is the music, and I was worried that I'd be subjected to some absurd J-rock whiner that would make me have to turn on subtitles. Not so, for a pleasant surprise rears its beautiful head: "Clean My Wounds" by Corrosion of Conformity. There's not much you can do to match the big beat of Tekken 3, but throwing in some late nineties butt rock is probably the best thing you could possibly do. What's butt rock, you ask? Pretty much any sort of not-quite-heavy-metal-definitely-harder-than-punk-rock musical interlude with CHUGG CHUGG CHUGGing guitars and lyrics about the invisible wounds in your soul. Basically, if you procrastinated on doing your homework while listening to it, there's a good chance you were listening to butt rock. There are songs by Soulhat, Stabbing Westward, The Urge, and even The Offspring. I've never felt so safe in an anime's poorly-drawn hands.
Lee thinks there's no reason for Heihachi to be worried about his son - you know, the one he tried to murder in cold blood - possibly being a bit miffed about that and coming back for revenge. Turns out he's working with Nina Williams, which doesn't bother me at all; the question of who she's working for is a question even she isn't able to reliably answer during the course of the games.
Nina then goes onto ambush Kazuya while he's sleeping in a hotel room. I must admit, seeing a trained assassing use an assault rifle and a grenade makes a lot more sense than her using aikido. Kazuya and his incredibly deep voice escape the explosion; Nina somehow gets away too. He tells her to "let my father know: he should clean his neck while he's waiting for me." I don't know what that means.
Turns out Lee is two timing Nina with her sister Anna behind the former's back (and probably behind the latter's back, if the evening goes well for him). Meanwhile, Lee and Jun plan for the tournament. They approach the boat, only to witness a fight between Jack-2 and Bruce. Jack-2 (no Russian accent? really?) beats the tar out of the kickboxer (which is bullshit first of all, Bruce is such a better character than Jack-2), and is allowed on board the boat to Heihachi Island, as I've come to know it spiritually. You never see Bruce again either, it's a real tragedy. It's almost as bad as the artwork in this thing.
Anime is art, and I will not have you besmirch the noble name of my beloved medium, gaijin.
When the boat sets sail, Kazuya jumps from a bridge onto the deck because this was made in Japan. He confronts Lee and...nothing happens. They make it safely to the island. Complete swing and a miss with the bat slipping out of your hands and into the stands, goofus. At least Enter the Dragon had the good sense to make the boat ride somewhat entertaining.
This is the only time you get to see Kuma.
It quickly becomes clear that this is more of a mishmash of Tekken and Tekken 2. Kazuya is out to get revenge on his father, and Jun is going to investigate him just as much as she investigates his father. Whatever, I guess I can dig it, although the coolest part of Tekken 2 was that Heihachi was front and center as the protagonist rather than obscured in the shadows like he is here. Jun confronts Kazuya and shows him a locket that she somehow possesses. I thought she got it via dream powers, like in A Nightmare on Elm Street, but it turns out it wasn't entirely a dream - she really was there as a child, just as much as he was. We're full on retconning here (not that future games won't do that), but not to worry - this anime isn't considered canonical. It is somewhat distressing, however, that such a thing as the Tekken canon exists in the first place.
In a pretty humiliating bit of exposition, Kazuya explains nonchalantly that he survived the fall in the chasm only because he made a deal with the devil in order to get revenge on his father. It's one of those things that might've been more compelling if conveyed with the art of moving pictures, but I guess words are cool too. It's not like anime is a visual medium or anything.
Jun and Kazuya are arguing about whether revenge is acceptable in a story that's entirely about fighting, when the tenor of the atmosphere changes somewhat: Nina reappears with a garrote wound tightly around Kazuya's neck. Jun saves him, Nina attacks with a knife and screws that up too. Anna comes in to rebuke her with rude words and a bazooka. I probably would have enjoyed this when I was eight years old, but it's more than a bit bombastic for a series based around martial arts. You wouldn't see a Bruce Lee movie subjecting itself to this stuff.
These are the only times you will see Yoshimitsu, Armor King, Law, Paul, Baek, and King. I'm HEATED
The next morning, everyone is gathered outside on the beach to finally meet the big fella in charge, Heihachi Mishima himself. Jun tells Lei that she has no intention of fighting in the tournament, and I believe her: the anime focuses very little attention on fighting, and is far more devoted to infiltration, talking, and glaring. Heihachi addresses the combatants, most of whom we'll never see again, but he's interrupted by Michelle, who leaps into the air and tosses a tomahawk at him (you know, the one we saw in the Tekken opening that we never see her use in the games?), only for this to happen:
No wonder you guys like anime.
There's no denying it's the best part of the movie and one of the best moments in Tekken history. I don't even care if it's not canonical; this anime is worth watching just for this one moment. I could comment on how much of a pity it is that you only get to see Baek, Kazuya, Ganryu, and Michelle fighting for about eight seconds afterward, but all I'm going to be thinking about is that tomahawk chomp.
Lei and Jun split off from the group to begin their infiltration of the Mishima complex. We see Jack-2's backstory explained (he's searching for Dr. Boskonovich to save Alice) and we see Michelle's motivations explained (Heihachi burned her village and killed her father), neither of which is particularly breathtaking, but it leads to a hilarious moment: Kazuya is about to kill Michelle with a heel drop, only to be stopped by Jun. Kazuya says "...it's you" and I swear to the lord almighty that he sounds just like an adult Dooley from King of the Hill. As if that's not enough, it's immediately followed by Jack-2 using his eye lasers to hack into a security code to reveal a secret passage, leading Lei to ask "Hey! What the Hell is that?!" in a dead-on impression of Jerry Seinfeld. This anime might actually be growing on me.
Some more bullshit happens that isn't worth the hours of sleep I'm losing writing this to explain in any sort of detail, when Anna gets killed (!) by a camouflaging dinosaur (!!). Lee reveals to no one in particular that this was his plan all along, that he has no use for the King of Iron Fist Tournament and plans to dominate the world with a race of invisible dinosaurs. Not gonna lie, this isn't a bad moment at all.
Kazuya fights off the invisible dinosaurs and defeats Lee with one punch. Makes sense to me; he was pretty overpowered in Tekken 2. Heihachi and his biological son commence to fighting while running through the island's forest; meanwhile Lee takes out his frustration by murdering all of the operators in his secret underground computer lab. This whole time I thought they were robots because of their monotone voices - this is the level of voice acting you had to accept in the late nineties. Heihachi makes a big speech about how humanity generally sucks and the only way to deal with that is to raze the planet to the ground and build a new society atop the rubble. I wonder who makes the cut; if it's just the King of Iron Fist competitors, I guess I'm down. Lee decides to blow up the building he's currently in for some reason, and the island starts to self destruct. Islands can do that; haven't you seen Kong: Skull Island?
Anyway, time for the big climax: Jun convinces Kazuya not to kill his father because murder is bad or something. The island stirs up a volcano (I think?) and everyone but Heihachi escapes the island. Kazuya lives. He and Jun have a son named Jin, though Kazuya is apparently a deadbeat since he's nowhere to be found. It's clear the makers of this anime never played the games, and I have no idea what they were going for, but at least I got to see a guy with ridiculous eyebrows uppercut a dinosaur.
What have we learned?
Honestly...it really wasn't a complete waste of time, and that's high praise for an anime when it's coming from me. I'm not going to pretend like this is something you should spend money on, and it's definitely aided by its short run time (a second over 60 minutes and it would have overstayed its welcome), but it's an enjoyable watch for fans of the series, and almost as enjoyable for people who have no familiarity with Tekken. The voice acting is abysmal, sure, but that's part of the fun. I love the goofy ass eyebrows on the Mishima family, I love the ridiculousness of the tomahawk and dinosaur scenes, I love Lei's stupid yells, I love the Williams sisters' penchant for high explosives, I love the butt rock, and I love how ludicrous the whole thing is.
That's not to say this is a pure good-bad anime, though. The mispronounced names really cheese me off, and worse there's a real distinct lack of fighting. It can't be that hard to animate an entertaining fight; Dragonball Z did it at least once an episode. The shower scene is completely shameful and exploitative, and it goes against a lot of what I appreciated so much about Tekken. There's also the massive amount of blood, which isn't so much bad; it's just weird. Don't get me wrong, I don't have anything against blood; Evil Dead 2 is one of my all-time favorite movies, regardless of genre, and it's one of the bloodiest movies ever made. It's just like...my younger brother and I used to try out these moves on each other, and (owing to our skill at wrestling and high pain tolerances) it was a lot of fun. Drawing blood was a sign that we definitely took things too far, that the game wasn't fun anymore. That's not to say that Tekken: The Motion Picture isn't fun - it's a lot of fun in a small package - but the blood is a bit odd in a game that doesn't feature any blood (besides Yoshimitsu's ending in Tekken 3).