How To Make A Street Fighter, Part I
Over the years, the Street Fighter franchise has been praised for the diversity of its roster, not in a cultural sense but a visual one. Each character in a Street Fighter game has a look and feel that immediately sets them apart from others, giving a sense of individuality to each fighter that just wasn’t found in competing games like Mortal Kombat. But where do these elements all come from?
More often than not they come straight from movies, or real fighters. A long, proud tradition of paying tribute to other creative minds can be traced through Street Fighter games all the way back to the very beginning. Join me as I take a look at the not-so-secret origins behind some of Street Fighter’s biggest names.
One of the most iconic characters in all of fighting games, Ryu’s no-nonsense design draws heavy elements from Masutatsu Oyama, founder of the Kyokushinkai school of karate. Oyama’s life became the basis of the animated series Karate Baka Ichidai, in which the depiction of Oyama’s bushy furrowed brow and steady gaze was the inspiration of Ryu’s uniquely stony expression.
The similarities go far beyond the visual, however. Oyama was a highly devoted student of the martial arts, on occasion taking leave of the world through “yamagomori”, solitary training retreats, that have become a common basis for fictional martial artists tapping into their spiritual essences. Ryu, of course, famously lives life as a full-time ascetic wanderer, living from fight to fight, in what later SF adaptations would call a “mushashugyo”, or warrior’s pilgrimage. Ryu’s training has also been known to lead him into battle with wild animals, a reference to Mas Oyama having been known to train by fighting bulls barehanded. Finally, many of Ryu’s signature attacks, most notably the Jodan Sokuto-Geri, draw inspiration directly from Kyokushinkai, for instance, Oyama’s Ushiro-Geri.
Oyama also indirectly inspired other Street Fighter characters. One of Oyama’s more renowned students, Terutomo Yamazaki, was known for a more fiery, speedy style, and described himself as a “stronger, better-looking Bruce Lee”; some cite him as an obvious inspiration for Ryu’s long-time rival Ken Masters. Oyama would routinely send his students away to fight against practitioners of muay thai, to learn and incorporate their techniques into the Kyokushinkai style; this can be seen in the fighting style of Dan Hibiki, whose rudimentary understanding of Ryu’s karate style is augmented by his own father’s muay thai teachings. Even the anime, Karate Baka Ichidai, uses the eyepatch wearing muay thai fighter Reiba as an antagonist; a clear inspiration for Street Fighter’s first boss character, Sagat. Clearly someone in the Street Fighter design team was a fan.
The gentleman British bruiser Eagle’s appearance in the first Street Fighter was a mixture of characters from the film career of Bruce Lee (whose obvious inspiration of Fei Long doesn’t really need to be said, let’s face it). In terms of looks, the moustache, hair and clothing all draw from Petrov, a Russian hired thug from the 1972 movie Fist of Fury (sometimes titled The Chinese Connection).
His fighting style, involving the use of escrima sticks, can trace itself back to Dan Inosanto’s unnamed character in Bruce Lee’s final, unfinished film, Game Of Death.
As his character developed in derivative works and crossover games, Eagle would become leaner and more flamboyant, modeled more closely on Queen lead vocalist Freddy Mercury, even quoting from Queen songs in fights with “The show must go on!” and “No time for losers!”. Eagle would also become the Street Fighter franchise’s first openly gay combatant, mirroring Mercury himself.
Getting his start in the 1989 beat-em-up Final Fight doesn’t exclude man-mountain Hugo from this list. Originally billed as one of the game’s Andore Family of large grapplers, it’s easy to trace him back to WWE Hall of Famer Andre the Giant. While Andre was never known to wear Hugo’s patented shocking pink, this was a trademark of another WWE identity, Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart, whose Hart Family is a similar wrestling dynasty. Even Hugo’s near constant accompaniment by the saucy fellow fighter Poison is a reference to the pro wrestling custom of having a ringside valet or manager, a Miss Elizabeth to Hugo’s ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage.
What clinches the inspiration is a special intro Hugo has in Street Fighter 3, against another pro-wrestling character, Alex, in which the pair stand off, before Hugo rebuffs Alex with his chest. This is a callback to a famous match between Andre the Giant and former wrestling superstar Hulk Hogan, which started the same way.
Street Fighter 2’s Guile has arguably the most identifiably American buzzcut in all of video games. But what if that buzzcut was actually a product of… *gasp* NAZI SCIENCE!?
A side character from manga phenomenon Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure’s second arc, Battle Tendency, and a military man like Guile, Rudolph von Stroheim is an officer in the German Army, tasked with researching the existence of vampires and how it can be used to further the Nazi cause. When his research project tears Stroheim cleanly in half, the passionate believer turns to Nazi scientists who build him a new body, intended to be the last word in anti-vampire warfare. This very angle seems to be the inspiration behind the new direction for the returning Street Fighter character Charlie Nash in SFV, who now seems to be stapled together after being last seen taking on Shadaloo.
While Guile’s serious demeanour clashes with the natural flamboyance of Jojo creator Hirohiko Araki, there’s no denying inspiration when you see it. And this won’t be the last trip to Jojo-land I make here, either…
One of the more famous examples of Street Fighter’s mimicry, the brutal American boxer drew very heavily from real world former heavyweight champion boxer Mike Tyson. Even in versions of Street Fighter today, Japanese versions of Balrog are under his original name, M.Bison. When Street Fighter was released in America, Capcom, fearing legal action from Tyson, switched the names of three of its boss characters; “Mike Bison” became Balrog, claw-carrying Spanish ninja Balrog became Vega, and Vega became “Master Bison”.
Speaking of M.Bison…
There are any number of military despots in jackboots and high-peaked caps to choose from as inspiration for M.Bison, but not so many with mystical spirit energy. Yasunori Kato, antagonist from the Teito Monogatari novel series (most famous in the West through the 1988 movie Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis), is a Japanese sorceror skilled in the art of onmyodo, the ability to manipulate spirits. Allusions to onmyoji such as Kato are present in M.Bison’s mastery of the energy of human souls, which he calls Psycho Power. Reflecting Bison’s goals of toppling the world’s governments, Kato specifically has a grudge against the Japanese government, for its (very real) history of oppression and violence.
Many official art pieces of M.Bison mirrors similar artwork of Kato, particularly his gaunt, terrifying appearance and broad menacing smile.
While on the subject of Psycho Power, Street Fighter’s Rose is a proponent of its opposite form, Soul Power. Strutting into battle with her trusty scarf specially designed to channel Soul Power, Rose is a truly unique concept never seen befo- pfft, who are we kidding, it’s another Jojo’s character.
Lisa Lisa, also from the Battle Tendency arc, is main character Joseph Joestar’s mother and mentor, teaching Jojo everything he knows about the mystical energy known as Ripple, which harnesses the power of the sun to defeat vampires, gingers and other light-sensitive creatures of sin. In battle she’s able to channel this mysterious energy effectively through her scarf, which she claims is woven from the dried innards of the Sathiphorosia scarab, one of the greatest conductors of Ripple energy known to man.
In contrast to Rose’s motherly nurturing personality, however, Lisa Lisa is callous and cruel, subjecting her students to life-threatening situations to draw out their best.
As a gentlemanly foil to Balrog, Street Fighter’s Dudley is a member of the British upper class and a devoted but retired practitioner of Queensbury Rules boxing. After his comeback in Street Fighter 3 he was even knighted by the Queen for his services to the sport.
Dudley’s appearance, fighting style and background all draw from real-world British boxer, Chris Eubank, a former super-middleweight world champion and card-carrying dandy man. Eubank has a reputation as a brave fighter, willing to withstand full-force strikes to the jaw to deliver his own, forming the origin of Dudley’s patented Cross Counter special attack. Eubank is also a noted clothing designer, and his classical upper-class taste has won him numerous fashion awards. Eubank is also an outspoken opponent of Britain’s military involvement in the Middle East, and no stranger to gaming as the official face of the launch of the Sega Dreamcast in the UK.
Street Fighter 3 boss Gill is the spiritual leader of the Illuminati group, a mysterious organisation that rose up in the place of the fallen Shadaloo syndicate, with a goal of taking humanity to the ‘promised land’. Gill, with his minimal dress sense, ability to sprout angelic wings, and power over heat, cold, and life itself, drew heavily from Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure antagonist Kars, from, you guessed it, the Battle Tendency arc.
While normally bound in a headwrap, Kars’ long flowing hair is the most immediate trait to be passed to Gill, along with both characters’ tendency to wear very little else. While Gill’s ability to stave off death is described as a miraculous Resurrection, Kars’ eternal life stems from his body’s ability to reconstruct itself at a cellular level, however he sees fit. In one particularly amazing exchange, he pursues the good guy Joseph, flying away in a plane, by transforming his arms into giant wings. He then turns loose feathers from his wings into hardened armadillo shells, before flinging them at the plane. When inside, the shells transform into hungry piranhas, biting at Jojo and the plane’s instruments, forcing a crash.
One of the more notable difference is in their skin; Kars for all intents and purposes looks like a very tall, very pretty man, while Gill has opted for a two-tone paint job. It’s believed that there was no real artistic motive behind it, rather it was a demonstration of Capcom’s latest arcade chipset’s power; unlike many other arcade games of the time, Gill’s red and blue halves are always on the same side of his body, even when facing different directions. His special moves even change properties; a cold ball of Cryokinesis becomes a hot Pyrokinesis projectile in the opposite direction.
After Street Fighter 3 came a long hiatus for the franchise, before returning to the big stage with Street Fighter 4, and a whole new generation of things to rip off. SF4’s new femme fatale Crimson Viper was part doting single parent, part S.I.N enforcer, all while secretly working for the CIA to take game villain Seth down.
While many fans drew allusions between C.Viper and film star Angelina Jolie early on, no one could quite specify exactly what role. Enter the 2005 sleeper hit Mr And Mrs Smith, starring Jolie and Brad Pitt. Jane Smith, a professional assassin, married Pitt’s John as a cover, not knowing he was also a gun for hire. Both Smiths spend the movie playing cat and mouse with each other, hiding their true lives from each other. Of course it’s not just this double-life aspect that was poured into C.Viper, but also the black suit, yellow shades and hairstyle particular to this role, not to mention Angelina Jolie’s uniquely full lips.
Yep, back at Jojo’s again. Introduced in Super Street Fighter 4, Juri Han is an enforcer of S.I.N, a weapons firm headed up by Seth and secretly funded by M.Bison’s Shadaloo syndicate. A deadly tae kwon do user, her powers are augmented by the Feng Shui Engine, a miniature power plant located in her left eye socket, which grants her phenomenal speed, reflexes and the ability to expel shockwaves through her rapid sweeping kicks.
Juri’s unique double buns and aggressive attitude are inspired by Jolyne Kujo, heroine of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure’s sixth arc, Stone Ocean. Jolyne, daughter of the more famous Joestar descendant Jotaro Kujo, winds up falsely imprisoned by the machinations of a prison chaplain researching the source of the Joestar line’s unique power, the Stand. Like her father, while seeming a rebel Jolyne has a pronounced sense of justice and no fear of physical confrontation, inheriting Daddy’s trademark “Ora Ora Ora!” cry while repeatedly kicking hapless bad guys; a particular trait that also pertains to Juri and her “Sora Sora Sora!”. Both women also have an affinity for bugs; while Jolyne was a fan of butterflies, Juri prefers spiders, each implementing them in their motifs.
And with Street Fighter V the premise continues strongly in F.A.N.G, Shadaloo’s latest recruit and fourth member of the Four Heavenly Kings in Sagat’s departure. A scientist, F.A.N.G uses street fights to field test his newly developed toxins and study their effects on fighters.
While the SFV design team has taken certain liberties with the size of F.A.N.G’s outfit, the garb itself is fairly common in Chinese wuxia, and the hat style is fairly common in more comtemporary Hong Kong media. Mix in the morbid fascination with death F.A.N.G seems to portray and the role as hitman and the closest you’ll find in the Western scope of Eastern cinema is Stephen Chow’s action comedy, Kung Fu Hustle (just Kung Fu in Eastern markets), and its Harpist characters. Twin brother assassins, the Harpists fight using soundwaves, creating deadly blades, fists and even skeletal warriors with music from their shared guqin harp, and are hired by the Axe Gang to pacify a rundown neighbourhood.
Like the Harpists, F.A.N.G’s playstyle is most certainly keep-away; instead of throwing phantom swords, F.A.N.G uses his long arms to keep opponents at bay while his poisonous projectles do their work on opponents’ health.
Of course, not everyone in the Street Fighter universe is a direct plagiarism of something else; many Street Fighters have more innocuous or generic origins. I hope you’ll join me next time as I look into how stereotypes can forge an identity in Street Fighter.
Posted on December 6, 2015, in FGC and tagged balrog, bison, c viper, characters, dan, dudley, eagle, fang, gill, guile, hugo, inspiration, juri, ken, rose, ryu, sagat, street fighter. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.