After watching The Ties That Bind twice I still can't make up my mind what I think of it. To describe it as good is too genrerous, but there is something about it I like.
It's certainly not the worst Street Fighter film out this year
A couple of weeks back we looked at the Street Fighter 2 anime and what it got right compared to its brethren. The conclusion was pretty simple, it got the characters right, threw in plenty of action and kept the plot pretty close to that of its source material, as such itís generally forgiven its poorer moments.
Ties That Bind, a prequel to Street Fighter IV, is pretty much the polar opposite of SFII, although itís far from the worst of the Street Fighter animeĎs. Like most Street Fighter movies the plot focuses on Ryu, in fact itís almost identical to the original anime in that itís actually a race to find him. The evil S.I.N corporation (led by Seth) need Ryu and his Satsui no Hado power for their ultimate weapon, Ryu being Ryu is hard to find, so attention falls on Ken. Guile and Chun Li team up again to track down S.I.Nís kidnapped fighters and bring the corporation down, this time though theyíve got a little help from Cammy. Rose and Sakura both make appearances, essentially reprising their roles from the 2 Alpha films, and thereís a splash of cameoís in the last 5 minutes.
The plot then is overly familiar, but it is at least consistent with the game, Seth does want everyoneís power after all. You could argue that it messes with the timeline pretty heavily, not only does half the cast encounter Seth prior to the game taking place, but Ryu finds the balance between the dark and the light, something that is still largely unresolved at the end of the game. And Iíll have to consult my big book of Street Fighter, but for some reason Ken is now a millionaire business man rather than Ďjustí a martial arts champion.
Of course all these inaccuracies can be forgiven if the rest of the film delivers, but unfortunately things get worse. Modern anime generally falls into two camps, astounding examples of craft, technology and special effects, and cheaply made cynical rubbish. Ties That Bind veers towards the latter. One thing I do like is the lip synching, of the lack there of. Iíve seen this done before, where the onscreen character is ignored in favour of delivering the line naturally. I admire the principle behind it, rather than have rushed or stunted lines, actors are allowed to act rather than just hit beeps. Unfortunately the acting isnít really good enough to justify this decision, Iíve heard worse, but given the subject matter and the dialogue they may have been better served sticking more closely to the lip-sync.
The lack of budget and quality is more pronounced in other areas of the animation, in particular how stoic the characters are, all dead eyes and flapping lips. Thereís a scene where Guile is driving whilst talking, after 5 seconds of unmoving staring into the camera he hitís a bump, itís a nice touch but it just serves to illustrate how static the rest of the scene is. Thereís a lack of detail to everything, weíre not talking Saturday morning cartoon quality, but for a feature length anime itís certainly poor.
Cammy, Guile and Chun Li are featured quite heavily at first, sharing the plot load with C. Viper, but they never develop. Sakura is a little too eager, her effervescence making her incredibly unappealing. Viper too is unsympathetic, granted sheís playing the bad guy of the piece, but thereís something unwatchable about her, certainly her contradictions are handled better in the game. The less said about Seth the better, itís only his very final scene that adds any depth to his character beyond being pompous and evil.
If it seems strange that Iím leaving it until this late in the review to talk about the combat then you might want to ask why that is. The fighting is without doubt TTTBís greatest flaw, there are 2 Ďproperí fight scenes in the film and neither of them are done with any fluidity or finesse. Perhaps Iím being a little harsh, some of the damage Ryu takes at the hands of Seth is brutal, just diluted behind the bog standard punches and ĎWar and Peaceí monologue. Itís commendable that theyíre trying to give Street Fighter a bit of gravitas, but having so little action is a mistake.
Bizarrely The Ties That Bind was better with a second viewing, not that there are hidden depths to the plot, more that I knew what I would be getting. The narrative is hardly classic but itís handled well for the most part and when youĎre not waiting for a fight to break out itĎs slightly more entertaining. Certainly the story heavy first half is better than the ham-fisted conclusion, but again thatĎs a tempered compliment. When you arenít too fussed about Ryu and Kenís fates then you know youíre in trouble.
Is it worth seeing? Possibly, it does offer a bit more insight and back story for the likes of Cammy and C. Viper, but Iíd argue Alpha Generations is the better examination of Ryuís confliction. Of note to us Brits is Cammyís scientist, her accent isnít exactly great but at least itís consistent, his switches from Yorkshire to Scottish when it hits British at all. If you go in expecting action youíll be disappointed, very disappointed, but there are a few positives to take form the story. Faint praise perhaps but it was much better than I was expecting and much better second time around.