Sunday, November 04, 2007

The Tournament Begins (Group TAC/Capcom)
Street Fighter Alpha When: 1999
Why: Shigeyasu Yamauchi, Joe Romersa, Reiko Yoshida, & Kirk Thornton How: Kane Kosugi, Hidenari Ugaki, Reiko Kiuchi, Kazuya Ichijô

The story so far...
Having returned to Japan for a major street fighting tournament; Ken Masters, wealthy United States champion, reunites with his fighting rival and best friend, Ryu. Together they mourn the death of their master, Gouken, and together face the threat of the dark hadou energy that threatens Ryu.

In an effort to curb the dark energy rising in Ryu, he limits all fighting activity, opting only to accompany Ken to the tournament, along with a young Brazilian orphan claiming to be Ryu's half-brother.

Though Ken would ultimately be side-tracked and miss registration, the young Brazilian boy, Shun, would go on to enter and pitted against overwhelming odds. Emerging from the opposition cage the Russian man-mountain: Zangief!

Previous Form:
Zangief (#319): Suffered defeat against the tag team of R. Mika and Sakura.
Ryu (#56): Recorded victories over Balrog & Sagat.
Shun: Making his debut in the Infinite Wars.

Tale of the tape...
Strength: Zangief 4 (Steroid Popper)
Intelligence: Draw 2 (Average)
Speed: Ryu 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Zangief 5 (Marathon Man)
Agility: Ryu 3 (Acrobat)
Fighting Ability: Ryu 5 (Martial Artist)
Energy Powers: Ryu 3 (Explosives)

- Shun is a young Brazilian boy with very basic, informal training in the martial arts. He has developed an innate connection to the dark hadou, apparently inherited from his father, along with an underlying viciousness in battle.
Though he claims to be Ryu's younger brother, this ultimatley proves to be part of a larger plot to recreate Ryu's more powerful mastery of Hadou.

- Ryu is a Japanese fighter who was orphaned and raised by the master of the mysterious unnamed ansatsuken fighting style, Gouken. A life of training would develop Ryu into one of the greatest fighters in the world, utilizing Gouken's fighting techniques and mastery over the hadou ki energies.

Ryu is an incredibly well rounded fighter capable of harnessing his ki for trademark attacks such as; the Tatsumaki Senpuu Kyaku hurricane kick, Hadou-ken fireballs, the Sho-ryu ken dragon uppercut, along with an array of variations of each.

- Known as the Czar of Wrestling and the Red Cyclone; Zangief has established himself as one of the most powerful fighters in the street fighter circuit.
Having entered training funded by the Soviet Union government, Zangief learnt to harness his impressive strength in bizarre attacks such as the spinning piledriver -- said to have been learnt while training in the unforgiving storm of Siberia, where he was plucked up by a twisting wind mid-piledriver.

Zangief is both physically and mentally a slow mover, but his instincts for battle can never be underestimated, nor should his courage as a super-patriot of the long dead Soviet Union.

The Math: Zangief The Pick: Zangief

What went down...
Lowered to a platform formed by decaying levels of an abandoned highrise, Shun is confronted by the looming visage of the Russian powerhouse, Zangief!

Delighted by the challenge, Shun leaps immediately into a spinning roundhouse kick that leaves the Russian stumbling. He follows with an unrelenting diving heel kick that crushes the wrestler's nose in a spray of blood. The combination proves sufficient to allow the leaping youngster to topple his giant opposition.

Far from defeated, Zangief rises to counter Shun's leaping attack with a rising uppercut. Knocked helplessly into the air, Shun suffers a volleying elbow drop, only to be snatched from his descent to suffer a more motivated plummet.

Debris from the crater left by Shun's face begins to hop and skip as a dark energy ripples through the arena. The invisible force rattles Zangief as Shun rises with a pink hue in his eyes. Observing from lower levels, Ken and Ryu, though seperated, each sense the rising ki of the dark hadou that repels Zangief.

The Russian man-mountain makes a conceited effort to put a preemptive stop to the massing energies, charging in with a driving knee that swats the entranced Shun across the battlefield like a ragdoll.

Moving at staggering speeds for a man of his size, Zangief catches the flopping body of the young Brazilian, snatching it in a muscle bound bearhug.

Zangief leaps into the air looking to turn the grapple into a suplex, but finds himself now faced with a second opponent, and Ryu rushes to intervene on the behalf of his supposed brother. The Japanese fighter leaps through the air, clipping Zangief with a flying kick.

He uses his fancy feet to catch Shun and bring him to a soft landing.
Ryu makes a vague order of Shun to stop it, the kind of command only an older brother can make. Alas, the snarling Zangief moves like a moth to the flame, making an unspoken demand of combat from one of the two.

Ryu indulges the Russian, throwing a kick that Zangief manages to avoid with another display of surprising agility. He turns the tables, knocking Ryu down with a sitff headbutt, setting the Japanese fighter up for his patented spinning piledriver!

With Ryu floored, Zangief is unrelenting. He brings a giant-sized boot crashing down upon Ryu's exposed chest.

The battered Shun lets out a pathetic exclamation, too weak to even make steady progress toward his supposed brother. The peril faced by his protector proves enough to once again summon the haze of the dark hadou, this time for more noble causes. Shun's spine straightens as his body is renewed.

The silent menace of the Czar of wrestling turns to face the source of the energy, turning his back on the leveled Ryu. As before, Zangief swats Shun to curb the gathering of his energies, sending him hurtling to the edge of their combative platform. Inexperienced with such energies, Shun is unable to move, dangling helplessly over a fall of many hundreds of feet.

Continuing his theme of brutality, the unfeeling and unspeaking Zangief drops his foot down on Shun's back. The blow echoes through Ryu, inspiring similar feelings as felt by Shun, tantilizing his already compromised hadou energy.

Zangief turns to find Ryu now upright, emenating a similar pink energy of the dark hadou. The kind fighter's disposition notes a distinct shift, far more menacing, and reminiscent of the fallen warior -- Akuma!

As the dark energies feed and build Ryu and Shun both, Zangief begins to charge at the Japanese fighter, hoping to cut him off in a similar fashion to Shun.
With a hint of vicious delight, Ryu gathers his hadou ki in his hands, summoning his dark powers for the hadou-ken.

Beams of light spark from Ryu's hands as he summons the attack, and with a vicious grin he moves swiftly to prepare it. Unaffected by the lure, Ken shouts desperately to his friend in an effort to break through the dark temptation.

Ken's cries manage to reach the embattled martial artist, who pulls his energy back at the last moment. The devestating hadou-ken energy blast narrowly misses Zangief, firing off into one of the decrepid walls of the skyscraper.

The massive display of power delights the man behind the tournament, the clandestine Dr. Sadler. As the very building shakes and partially collapses from the blast, he prepares his cybernetic puppet to enter the fray.

The observers of the tournament make it out with varying degrees of injury.
Ken is forced to tend to the injured young girl, Sakura, who accompanied him to the tournament; while Interpol agents Chun-Li and Wallace regroup in awe.

Zangief, still standing after the close call, plummets as part of the precarious fighting stage breaks away. The degree of resulting injury is uncertain, but Ryu remains the victor in their impromptu battle.

The hammer...
Your winner, with an assist from the much maligned animated original (Shun), Ryu! This victory elevates Ryu to the top of the cumulative sponsored Street Fighter stakes, but with only a month to go, it's starting to look unlikely for any character to make it into the 2007 top five, come year end.

Meanwhile, wow! We're running a few days late on our "daily" updates, and hopefully this entry, which is positively mammoth, made up for that a little. Barring chemical imbalance of being American, you would surely have to empathise with the ridiculous task that was, this entry's battle summary!
Of course, that would mean I also have to empathise with anyone crazy enough to attempt to read it... Hello!

We've discussed the dark hadou at length, and this is a great example of [Alpha]'s depiction of the struggle, early on. We see Shun, who is a much maligned pawn in the story, fulfilling his role in tempting the dark hadou and sucking Ryu into it's grips. Of course, you can find more dark hadou and Street Fighter through the afforelinked tag, or the previous cover to cover blurb.

Of real interest here is the characterization of Zangief!
Something that's always made this character particularly interesting was, despite his debut fresh out of the Cold War in the 1991 Street Fighter II, he was a Soviet character who wasn't particularly villainous. In fact, the story goes that as a Soviet super-patriot, he shared similar anti-Shadaloo goals as other All-American heroes like Guile!

It's interesting then to note the villainous portrayal the character has endured in the film medium in Street Fighter Alpha, Street Fighter II V, and the American feature film. The V series perhaps indicates an unlikely cross pollination from the American Van Damme vehicle, maintaining an endearing slavic dimness to the character, depicting him as manipulated or misunderstanding, more than evil.

In Alpha, Zangief appears here with no lines, in what was really a role that could've gone to any Street Fighter character. This is more about a glorified cameo than any kind of character statement, but it's interesting that it would be he who was chosen for the role of the almost psychotic antagonist to Shun.
Obviously at the heart of this scene was a desire to pit Shun (and Ryu) against an overwhleming physical presence, but excessive force and physical prowess together make a more fitting description for Balrog, than Zangief.

One has to wonder how the relationship between the US and Russia has shaped this character's destiny. Of particular note is Zangief's allegiance to the Soviet Union, which has been specifically referred to long after the formality of Russia.
It might be this very specific Soviet connection that has invariably conveyed a sinister quality to the character. We might call this the Drago-effect.

The Drago-effect is felt, albeit less specifically, even in the Street Fighter Legends spin-off mini from UDON comics. UDON seems to pepper reference to all avenues of Street Fighter lore throughout their product, and here again we have the dim-witted Zangief acting as brutal villain, unaware of the difference between the on-screen and off-screen aspects of professional wrestling.

In the games, Zangief is an idol for Japanese womens wrestler, Rainbow Mika.
Again providing some logic for Zangief's status as antagonist, UDON's efforts to recast Zangief and Mika as active components in a traditional wrestling profession, invariably demanding enemies of opponents: the face to the heel.

Of course, another contributing factor to Zangief's evolution is probably a symptom common to most beat 'em up video games. Be it for better or worse, traditionally there's a conceit to develop characters on broad strokes, and position them into the game however possible. This typically creates a hub of characters connected to the A-plot, while others fall by the wayside, suffering flimsy motivations and reasons for being involved.

Zangief connects broadly to the anti-Bison contingent of characters, who are many in the Street Fighter mythos, but does so without any real specific plot device. He simply fulfills the roles of powerhouse, wrestler, and Russian.
Broad strokes that leave the character open to new motives in adaptation, and generalized understandings.

Also, to be fair to Alpha, we've seen previously that the animé pays much less attention to the specifics of characters, instead using them in specific context.
Nothing about the film undermines the theory that Birdie is a brit-punk with desires of grandeur with Shadaloo, despite the fact he adopts a heroic role in the battle against Sadler. The circumstances justify the means, just as Zangief appears here simply as a competitor in a tournament, albeit as an especially, and uncharacteristcally vicious one.

If you'd like to see more tournament action, you can check out the only other battle featured from this tournament: Vega versus Dan Hibiki; or you can spin on to the second half's concluding tournament, featuring a wide array of cameos from the Alpha game series. In the mean time, I've got some catch-up to play!

The Fight: 6 The Film: 5.5

Street Fighter Alpha continues to be a great source of material for our weekend features. Though not the triumph of the franchise that Street Fighter II: The Movie represents, Alpha remains a great addition to any fan's collection! Still coming, more action featuring Chun-Li, Birdie, and Akuma!

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