From video games to anime adaptations

February 22, 2021

by Avi Green

Anime productions adapting notable video games date back at least as far as the early 1990s. Here, I thought to write down reviews of several that I've seen. They're presented in chronological order of production as much as possible from over the years.

Dragon Quest: Legend of the Hero Abel, 1989-90

This is possibly the first anime that was ever produced, based on a series of games from Enix corporation (later renamed Square Enix) that were common on Nintendo systems for starters, first premiering in 1986. While an animated series based on Pac-Man and one based on Super Mario Brothers from the USA preceded such items in terms of official productions, Dragon Quest, known originally as Dragon Warrior outside Japan, is the first Japanese adaptation, and they make sure to remind viewers at one point of its origins; during commercial breaks, several episodes have a scene where a joystick console appears with the word "pause". Loosely based on the 3rd game entry, the story tells of Abel, a young boy in love with a girl named Tiara, who's taken hostage by an evil warlord named Baramos, who's plotting to try using gemstones they have for conquering the planet they're living on. Abel is joined in his quest by 2 men and a woman, and they embark on the journey to defeat Baramos and his minions, and rescue Tiara.

It's pretty entertaining, and served as the springboard for what would come as the 1990s were beginning, offering at least a few interesting ideas drawing from the games while building the player figures into characters in their own right.

Ninja Gaiden, 1991

The earliest video game OVA adaptation I know of, it's based on the game initially produced by Tecmo in 1988, and was followed by a few sequels hosted on the Nintendo systems of the times. It tells the story of ninja practitioner Ryu Hayabusa, who finds himself dealing with a criminal organization run by a crazed scientist producing monster-spawning experiments, and he's aided by characters such as Irene Lew, who appeared in the home system games as a girlfriend to Ryu, and some characters who're like FBI agents.

As an early example of game-to-anime, it's pretty good, yet oddly enough, it was not released in the USA for many years. Still, I'd recommend it, as it happens to be pretty well done.

Wizardry, 1991

As another early anime adaptation of a video game, this is notable for being based specifically on a computer console franchise, a RPG series first developed in the early 1980s drawing inspiration from Dungeons & Dragons, and had some influence in turn on Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest. The stars are a bunch of characters including 2 swordsmen, a ninja, and three elf-like characters, a young, short guy, a girl magician, and an old wizard who can heal injuries with his spells. Together, they all face the dangers prevalent in an evil warlock's dungeon underneath his castle as they strive to defeat his tyrannical reign. The story manages to be very good, but is filled with very un-PC violence as it goes along.

Dragon Quest: Adventure of Dai, 1991-92

This followup to the first TV miniseries, which also has 3 specials that were screened theatrically, is based on the premise of a manga series that in turn was based on the video game. The main protagonist, Dai, is a young boy of 12 or so who was raised on an island with several odd anthropomorphs, who meets a princess named Leona, who's kingdom runs afoul of an evil warlord, leading to a sojourn to put a stop the villains threatening her kingdom. Dai is joined by another guy, Popp, and a girl, Maam, on the quest, and it takes them to plenty of interesting places. This too makes a good followup to the first franchise adaptation, and it had a special short screened in theaters, along with at least 2 specials taking place in between certain storylines.

Fatal Fury: Legend of the Hungry Wolf, 1992
Director: Masami Obari

I was familiar with SNK's notable fighting games that followed close on the heels of Capcom's Street Fighter series (which also were adapted, as will be discussed a bit later here), and this would make one of the earliest animes based on a one-on-one fighting game. It tells the story of brothers Terry and Andy Bogard, and their close friend Joe Higashi, martial artists all, who're seeking revenge on Southtown crime overlord Geese Howard, who murdered the father of the Bogard brothers when they were younger. And Terry has a brief affair with Lily McGuire, a girl who's been in Geese's care since she was a child, whom he later slays after he discovers she's aided the 3 heroes.

It remains pretty faithful to some of the ideas set up in the first video game entry, and does a good enough job of it, setting up the story for the next installment, which I'll get to after the next item.

Art of Fighting, 1993
Director: Hiroshi Fukutomi

An OVA based on what would be at least 3 fighting games serving as prequels to Fatal Fury, which comes next, this concerns star Ryo Sakazaki, the martial artist practicing a form called “kyokugen” karate, who, along with his wealthy buddy Robert Garcia, stumbles onto a crime committed by Mr. Big's mobsters while trying to catch a runaway cat in hopes this'll help Ryo pay off his electric bills. In retaliation, the mob in South Town takes Ryo's sister Yuri hostage to get him to give back an item they're seeking. But this ends up being pretty mediocre, with insufficient character depth, so it's not the best of its kind I've ever viewed.

Fatal Fury: The New Battle, 1993
Director: Masami Obari

Terry Bogard's been defeated by Wolfgang Krauser, the boss villain of the 2nd FF game released the year prior (and also the half-brother of Geese Howard), and feeling depressed, Terry wastes time drinking alcohol. He draws the attention of a young boy named Tony who's a fan of his, and tries to encourage him to pick himself up and not be a defeatist.

This 2nd anime entry introduces Mai Shiranui to the world of animation. As hinted in the 2nd game, she's in love with Andy Bogard, but he doesn't return the favor as she'd like, leading to tension between the two, as she's not going to give up on him so easily. And yes, Mai is hot in cartoon format too.

As with the first, this is a pretty enjoyable adventure.

Fatal Fury: The Motion Picture, 1994
Director: Masami Obari

While the first two anime were centered mainly on characters seen in the games, this third installment takes a somewhat different path, introducing new characters to the focus, though some of the characters from the games continue to make appearances during the story proceedings. Terry and Andy Bogard, Joe Higashi and Mai Shiranui are approached by Sulia Gaudeamus, the sister of a crook called Laocorn, who asks that they help her stop him and his gang from acquiring all pieces of a suit of armor once belonging to an ancestor of theirs, which intimidated Alexander the Great. Both the main villain and his henchmen are very formidable.

One of the most flattering things about this anime is the boldness of using Jerusalem in Israel as one of the locations for which the heroes travel, along with the Dead Sea region. And it does have some thrilling moments. Along with a lovely shower scene for Mai. As one of the early examples of video game adaptations, this works very surprisingly well.

Street Fighter II: the Animated Movie, 1994
Director: Gisaburō Sugii

Looking for something really worth watching, rather than the truly awful live action movie starring the Belgian martial arts “actor” Jean-Claude Van Damme, which came out the same year? Look no further than this far more engrossing cartoon, featuring nearly every character who appeared in the lineup of the second video game up to that time (there were at least 16 introduced when the New Challengers edition came about). The plot involves the warlord M. Bison plotting to record data about every possible honest street fighter he can find in his plans for world conquest, and that includes star Ryu, who's traveling the globe looking for the best combatants to fight for the challenge of the sport. All for the sake of what Bison calls “psycho power”.

One of the best moments is when, similar to what the 3rd Fatal Fury anime offers, this too has a shower scene for Chun Li. Leave it to animators in Japan to deliver the goods some US filmmakers just simply won't.

Samurai Shodown: The Motion Picture, 1994
Director: Hiroshi Ishiodori

Based on one of my least favorite franchises due to the levels of violence involved (though it's still a lot more tolerable than an abomination like Mortal Kombat), this spotlights at least 7 of the characters on the selection menu of the 1st game (Haohmaru, Charlotte, Wan-fu, Nakoruru, Tam Tam, and Galford, and there are at least a few more characters from the game turning up here), here presented as “holy warriors”, and their battle against the villain who's the main boss of the game, Shiro Amakusa. It begins in an earlier era where the heroes are originally defeated in body, but not soul. Haohmaru and the rest are reincarnated later on to avenge themselves against Amakusa about a century later. But alas, it's little better than the game itself. One amusing thing about the story is how a bunch of kids at a village torn asunder by the villains ask Haohmaru and Charlotte if they're a couple, in an allusion to the fanfiction-ish ideas some players might've come up with about certain characters they're fans of. But that's about the best thing I could find in this otherwise uninspired product, which again, is based on a series that did not appeal to me, even if it was less jarring than Mortal Kombat is.

Street Fighter II-V, 1995-96
Director: Gisaburo Sugii

Now, here we have a TV miniseries based on the famous Capcom franchise, consisting of 29 episodes, where Ryu and Ken, depicted as a little younger than they may be in the 2nd game, going on a journey in several parts of the world, and along the way, Chun Li serves as a guide when they take a tour in a Chinese city. Along the way, they meet some, if not all, of the game's cast, like Guile at a cafe near an army base. And eventually, they end up facing none other than crimelord M. Bison himself.

It all amounts to another pretty good take on the material, where the two main heroes even have to learn how to do the skill where they unleash an energy ball from their hands, known in the games as the Hadouken technique. An interesting thing about this adaptation is how it depicts the Russian wrestler Zangief as quite a dumb lackey to Bison's crew, while Cammy, on the other hand, is depicted as an Interpol agent duped by Balrog – also depicted as an agent – into trying to assassinate Chun Li's father, and Cammy is depicted as religiously observant to Christianity! It's certainly as odd as you could expect from a story like this, and overall, succeeds as a miniseries for television based on a video game, something which there may not be enough of, even today.

Battle Arena Toshinden, 1996
Director: Masami Obari

This is based on an early 3-D fighting game I'm not as familiar with as I am with Virtua Fighter (something I'd wanted to review for this entry, but couldn't obtain all the material for). Eiji Shinjo faces the crooked sponsor of the tournament, Gaia, in formidable combat. The story is based on the 2nd game in the fighting series, but makes sure to include elements from the 1st and 3rd game as well, and casts such characters as Kayin Amoh, Sofia, Ellis and Duke B. Rambert. It's fairly decent entertainment.

Voltage Fighter Gowcaizer, 1996
Director: Masami Obari

This is based on one of the last games made by Technos, the manufacturer notable for the Double Dragon franchise. The plot involves the character of Ohga granting access to Kaiser stones to help prevent him from succumbing to an evil force. What makes it unique is that director Obari did the character design for the game itself in 1995, and thus expanded it to this adventure here. Overall, I'd say it's quirky fun, and actually better than the game, which unfortunately had clunky controls. As a result, you could say it makes a better cartoon than a game.

Virus Buster Serge, 1997
Director: Masami Obari

Based on a game sold on Sega's systems at the time, this 12-episode TV miniseries may have been the only part of the franchise to be marketed outside Japan. It's set in the year 2097 in Neo Hong Kong, where man and machine have been combining to form technological advancements. But there's an entity called the Virus that's been threatening advancement, and so, an organization called STAND, equipped with machine suits, has been assigned to combat it. They're led by a mysterious man named Raven. As a cyberpunk thriller, this accomplishes its goals impressively.

Sakura Wars: The Gorgeous Blooming Cherry Blossoms, 1997

Based on Sega's steampunk series of visual novels and at least one related puzzle game in the vein of Puyo Puyo, this 4-part OVA focuses on the central conflict between demonic forces created by the darkness in human hearts. It's a fairly interesting tale that lives up to the reputation of its source material well enough.

Tekken: The Motion Picture, 1998

An hour-long OVA based on Namco's series of fighting games, the focus is on Kazuya Mishima's quest for revenge against Heihachi, the crooked father who threw him into a ravine when he was young, his idea for how his son should learn what it takes to be a warrior. But again, it only had the effect of prompting Kazuya to turn against his father. Jun Kazama witnessed this, and in her adult life as an Interpol agent, she joins fellow agent Lei Wulong to attend a fighting tournament sponsored by Heihachi on an island, where she meets the now adult Kazuya. As he's seeking his revenge, the story also takes time to spotlight several of the other characters featured on the select menus of the first and second game, and even has a few elements alluding to the third. Unfortunately, it's very tedious, little more than a mediocre variation on Enter the Dragon, and just not worth the animation engineering put to work here.

Samurai Spirits 2: Asura Zanmaden, 1999

A followup to Samurai Shodown's 1994 anime production, it's supposed to be set between Shodown 64 and Shodown 64: Warrior's Rage. But while more watchable, it still comes off just as pedestrian as the first.

Street Fighter Alpha: The Animation, 1999

As with the previous 2 anime productions based on Capcom's franchise, this is unrelated in story. The plot here relates mostly to how the Alpha prequels present their casts of characters, and spotlights Ryo's pondering the death of his sensei Gouken, and meets Rose, who's asking him about his hold on the dark Hadou-ken power. He soon meets a young boy named Shun, who claims he's a long-lost brother of Ryu's, who was raised by his mother in Brazil until her death. It turns out Shun is actually a mutant monster working in the employ of the story's baddies. While watchable enough, it doesn't have the same energy as the previous 2 cartoons, unfortunately. But, it does feature the animated debut of Sakura, the fangirl fighter who had a crush on Ryu in the Alpha games.

Nakoruru, 2002

The third anime I know of based on the Samurai Shodown franchise, it focuses on the titular Ainu girl from the northern Hokkaido section of Japan who wears a fancy red outfit and is accompanied in the games by a hawk or a wolf for backup weapons. Here, she's depicted as a miko, a fighting priestess who can't marry, and the only such representative of her village. She's returning from an awful battle and collapses along the way, but is rescued by 2 childhood friends. This may be somewhat better than the 1994 cartoon, but not by much.

King of Fighters: Another Day, 2005

Four short anime clips (about 10 minutes at most) based on the long-running fighting game series from SNK where you could comprise a team of 3-4 characters in one-on-one battles, featuring characters who'd been created at least up to the mid-2000s. As a short form of entertainment, these are worth it. They're also notably a product of web animation, something that became fairly new at the time these were produced.

Street Fighter Alpha: Generations, 2005

This OVA was specially produced for the overseas market outside Japan, though it was eventually sold domestically as a bonus feature with the unsuccessful live action film The Legend of Chun Li in DVD format. It's actually better in some ways than the live action movie. The plot sees Ryu preparing to take on the formidable demon-like Gouki (Akuma), and risks being possessed of an evil power that's difficult to rid oneself of. It does manage to engross the viewer, though fans of the franchise will probably find it more interesting.

The Tower of Druaga: The Aegis/Sword of Uruk, 2008-09

This is based on Namco's Tower of Druaga game first produced in 1984, and it's formatted in something like 12 episodes for 2 seasons of miniseries each, adding up to 24. Eighty years after King Gilgamesh defeated the tower, it now stands erect again, and a handful of adventurers take up the challenge of facing off against the monsters and other villains inside. In the first part, there's an amusing nod to the video games where Gil, the main star, is put inside something like an arcade situation where a girl takes the joystick and controls him to face off against deadly orbs in a corridor. The second part is set about a half year after events of the first part, where Gil and Fatina have moved on with their lives after the collapse of the tower, and later meet a girl fleeing from enemy soldiers who may hold the key to defeating a new towerful of menaces. Some of the jokes are in questionable taste in this adaptation, but overall, it manages to hold interest.

Street Fighter IV: the Ties that Bind, 2010

Designed as a form of prequel to the 4th game that was set to debut on the market at the time, the story starts off with Cammy's Delta Red team investigating an energy anomaly, while Chun-Li and Guile investigate the vanishing act of a number of martial artists. This is a step up from any mediocrity that befell the cartoon adaptations of SF in the previous 2 entries, and for an anime running just a little over an hour, it's enjoyable.

Well, I guess that wraps up what I can say about a number of game-to-anime adaptations. There are still some more out there I could say something about, if I ever have the time, and maybe even more about those I've already commented on here. For now, this should suffice.

Copyright 2021 Avi Green. All rights reserved.

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