Monday, February 15, 2016

Real Name: Ryu
First Appearance: Street Fighter (August, 1987)
Fight Club Ranking: #19

Featured Fights:
- vs BALROG: Street Fighter II #1 (Jul 1994)
- vs VEGA: Street Fighter (Dec 1994)
- vs SAGAT & VEGA: Street Fighter (Dec 1994)
- vs GUILE: Street Fighter II V Ep. 2 (Apr 1995)
- vs SAGAT: Street Fighter II V Ep. 9 (Jun 1995)
- vs KEN: Street Fighter II V Ep. 12 (Jul 1995)
- vs KEN: Street Fighter Alpha (Dec 1999)
- vs ZANGIEF: Street Fighter Alpha (Dec 1999)
- vs SADLER'S CYBORG: Street Fighter Alpha (Dec 1999)
- vs KEN: Street Fighter #1 (Sep 2003)
- vs SAGAT: Street Fighter #1 (Sep 2003)
- vs SAGAT: Street Fighter II #2 (Dec 2005)
- vs DHALSIM: Street Fighter II #3 (Feb 2006)
- vs ROSE: Street Fighter Alpha Vol. 1 (2007)

Since returning to Secret Wars on Infinite Earths for the site's 10th Anniversary, I've wanted to double down on some of the cool comics and characters we never got around to. With over 800 characters in the system, it's hard to believe we've already added a dozen or so new additions in 2016!

That's all good and well, but inevitably we come to a point where old passions die hard.  That brings us to today's Hero of the Week - the wandering world warrior known only as Ryu!

You probably know Ryu best as the karateman mascot of the Street Fighter video game series. He's been the franchise lead since the beginning - fighting through the forgotten original 1987 Street Fighter arcade game, through to tomorrow's PlayStation 4 new release: Street Fighter V! He was one of only two playable characters in that first game, and he's back on the cover for the newest one.

Street Fighter V boasts a new-to-the-series, post-release story mode that will take players through the latest chapter of Ryu's saga. It's the kind of addition I've been waiting the entire series for. When in gaming circles, I often find myself defending Street Fighter's overlooked story component. If I'm at all self-conscious about interrupting the site's renewed comics focus with a video game HOTW -- I need only look to the canon of Masahiko Nakahira to remember comics (manga) have carried much of the burden of Street Fighter's world for quite some time.

I'm not entirely sure I'm going to love Street Fighter V's story. Most of the established beat 'em up franchises have been gradually drifting away from their martial arts origins, moving into the world of comic book militaria, and super-heroics. It's not necessarily a bad thing. Those elements have always been there. It's just that I've always appreciated the foundational elements of martial arts fiction and philosophy that were unique to series like Street Fighter, and its rivals.

The nuanced combination of fighting, fables, philosophy and sport has often been uncomplicated in the hands of Street Fighter's creators. Motivations can often be boiled down to archetypes of rivalry, jealousy, revenge, greed, competitiveness, vanity, or megalomania.

As of Street Fighter II, a tremendous amount of heavy lifting was supplied by the character design. Painted in broad strokes, each character communicated a lot about their world view through strong visual context. Designed around nationality, fighting style, and simple cartooning -- the most enduring icons are not only instantly recognizable, but revealed in their appearance and fighting. The very animation of the games fighting reflects the characters behind each move - their body language and facial expressions communicating exactly as human beings should. To fight them is often to know them. This sense of character makes everything that comes after it all the sweeter.

Many characters simply wish to be the best fighter in a match, their style, or the world. With such vivid characters - this simple pursuit of self is enough to create a compelling world through the chemical reactions of each match. Some fighters will like each other, some will hate. Many will remain unchanged as their drive towards a goal refines them. I've always viewed the strong identity of Street Fighter characters as one of their greatest strengths, but when progress occurs, it is exciting.

Ryu's journey has taken him through various missions and rivalries, allowing him to transfer meaning to other characters. Defeating final boss Sagat in the first game flipped the script and created one of my favourite characters. "The Emperor of Muay Thai" [Sagat] arrived in the sequel with a massive chest scar - a visual reminder of the first game, and his now famous loss to Ryu [Street Fighter #1].

Sagat allowed himself to become even more corrupt in the pursuit of revenge in Street Fighter II, a subordinate sub-boss to Bison and his sinister organization: Shadaloo. He refined his own counterpart moves to Ryu's specials and was dedicated to revenge. His journey would ultimately become one of self discovery, leading to redemption and peace. He turned his back on Shadaloo and restored his honor by making peace with losing to Ryu. In UDON's comics, this helped Sagat defeat Ryu [Street Fighter II #2]. By Street Fighter III, he was no longer among the fighting ranks.

Sagat's story is almost a double helix to Ryu's. Much of Street Fighter Alpha has been dedicated to Ryu negotiating the threat of the Dark Hadou -- dangerous corrupting ki energy manifesting from the lethal intent of his Ansatsuken fighting style. It's a flowery metaphor in the classic vein of Star Wars' good and dark sides of The Force. Naturally, Ryu resolved his struggle with the dark hadou and rejected its power, but did not attain ultimate mastery in the process. In fact, friendly rival Ken beats him to total mastery first in Street Fighter III. Not quite the journey of the vanilla hero by numbers.

Scuttlebutt has it that Street Fighter V, like the revival before it, will be set before Street Fighter III. An unsurprising decision, given the then unpopular shake-up of Street Fighter's characters and fiction in the third instalment. SFV is clearly headed toward that direction, though. Many of its characters appear to be changing and aging. It will be interesting to see how far they go in bridging to the finality of some of Street Fighter III's stories. It's inconceivable to imagine Street Fighter without its icons, yet the format they're taking lends itself to putting some of the toys to bed, and graduating some of the other legends to the fore.

Whether Street Fighter V veers from its martial arts stories, or not, I'm sure we'll revisit their themes sometime in the future. If you'd like to see some of the Street Fighter stories and fights already covered, be sure to check out the featured links at the top of this article, or scroll down to the Miscellaneous section of the Issue Index Archive!

No comments: