Welcome to Pop Culture Kung Fu, where I delve into the weird and wonderful world of movies, books, video games and all other media that touches on the martial arts. In today’s post I’ll be looking at the Street Fighter novel based on the hit fighting game series. Do words replicate the high tempo action of the beat ‘em up classic? Find out…
As a long time fan of the Street Fighter franchise, I thought I was aware of the various spin off media that had been produced since the second game in the series became a worldwide success. Playing Street Fighter 2 was probably one of the earliest recollections I have of martial arts and the game features some pretty stereotypical portrayals of certain fighting styles – Ryu is the typical Japanese Karateka, E Honda sums up the Sumo look and approach extremely well and both Sagat and Balrog were clearly based on real fighters. So when I discovered that a novel had been written and released back in 2017 I was surprised. After all, while there’s plenty of comics and manga that showcase impressive fight scenes and are light on plot, a full blown novel doesn’t seem to be the most obvious of formats to use.
Author Takashi Yano links a series of fights with a simple plot that begins with main character Ryu facing his nemesis Akuma as well as his own self-doubts over what the true path of a warrior is. This metaphysical side of things, where he questions what it means to fight, helps flesh out the actual battles and makes things interesting. Considering how long these characters have been around for, they are relatively slight in terms of their motivations and backgrounds, so Yano does a great job of making them seem believable and even in some cases likeable. Each chapter is a different match up and covers most of the more well-known stars of the series, with it being set sometime around the events of Ultra Street Fighter 4.
Starting with Ryu’s initial confrontation with Akuma, the story takes in matches featuring Street Fighter 2 mainstays Chun Li, Ken Masters, E Honda, Guile and many others, along with some others from the third and fourth titles as well. The choice of match ups makes for some interesting events, with a mix of friendly encounters, training scenarios and life or death battle royales. Each fight features use of the special moves that are in each game, with some of the lesser known or used techniques thrown in as well – clearly Yano has been doing his research.
I’ve read the hardback version and can say that this edition is well presented with fantastic artwork throughout by Yusuke Murata. Alongside the cover art, there’s a fold out page of additional imagery at the front and numerous comic panels in each chapter that bring the events to life. All of the big special moves and combos from the games get wheeled out and Murata often chooses those to use in the panels, which help bring the scenes to life. As this book is being published by Udon, who are known for their long running series of comics based on this fighting game, then its only fitting that the artwork is of such a high quality.
The novel is clearly aimed at none but fans of the series, which lets the author lean into expanding some of the lore and mythology while also assuming that the reader is already aware of the basic plot beats and events of the games. This helps to keep the story moving quickly without long reams of exposition. Even so, the slightly more philosophical parts – such as Sagat looking back over his fighting career, or Ryu pondering where a life of violence may take him – really adds something to the book and makes it feel like a complete literary product rather than a quick cash grab featuring a few well known characters having a scrap or two. Its in no way a deep or resounding book, and I would question if multiple readings would offer anything of value, but its hard to recommend another book that solely focuses on martial arts in such a way that’s both easy to read and also satisfying at the same time.
If you’re familiar with Udon’s other work on the franchise then I have no hesitations in recommending this to you; its more of the same only in written format as opposed to drawn. And even then, there’s some great manga style imagery on display in each and every chapter. The writing is concise and impactful, explaining in detail the pain that each fighter suffers when they take a hit. Likewise, descriptions of their fighting styles and traditional attire are all present and correct, which helps create the impression that Yano is deeply embedded in both the game and the arts that the game is based on. If you’re new to Street Fighter spin off reading material then this is a good starting point as well; you don’t need to be completely up to date on the plot of the games (which have always been a bit ropey all things being said) as the majority of the text is describing bone crunching action. So in review, a great story for when you want to keep focused on the martial arts, but without any real studying or thought required. Just like the game.
That brings us to the end of the post; I hope you’ve enjoyed this edition of Pop Culture Kung Fu and will join me for another discussion about the martial arts in the modern world again. So until then, be like water, and stay safe.