Fighting games have long enjoyed a major following in gaming culture, in large part due to their ever expanding cast of characters. What started as a simple “Player Select” has evolved into a cadre of fan favorites, as popular fighters grow from game to game in intriguing ways. For my money, there’s no franchise more storied than the original game changer, Street Fighter. With exciting heroes like Ryu and Guile facing dastardly villains such as Vega and M. Bison, Street Fighters eclectic cast was the lure that snared my seven year old self. The drawback to these great characters, however, is time; each game can only flesh out so much backstory, and when spread across multiple characters a complete origin is virtually (heh) impossible. Luckily, the fine folks at Udon Entertainment have come to the rescue with Street Fighter: Origins, a comic series designed to put a definitive stamp on these time honored characters. And of course, what better fighter to introduce a true origin with than the enigmatic “demon”, Akuma.
Street Fighter Origins: Akuma is a coming of age tale centered on Akuma’s rise from scrawny, flame haired farm boy to lethal, dread inspiring combatant. Featuring 128 pages of epic awesomeness, writer Chris Sarracini is right at home as he delves into the world of the would be demon. Even better, Akuma also features the origin of Akuma’s brother (and Ryu’s master) Gouken. Though Akuma’s tale, Sarracini paints the story of two brothers, irrevocably altered by tragedy. In doing so, Sarracini shows two divergent paths, and while the two brothers inevitably end up at opposites, the paths that got them there are not so far apart as one would think. This duality enhances the narrative, as we see the effects of said tragedy play out in entirely different ways.
Akuma, the younger, is driven from the start; the tragedy that holds Gouken back thrusts Akuma forward, as he refuses to be seen as weak. Separated from his family, Akuma falls under the tutelage of karate master Goutetsu, molding himself into a man of considerable size and ability. Despite his talent, he wants more; all his life he’s remained hidden at the behest of others, shying away from the world rather than taking part in it. This epiphany eventually leads him to strike out on his own in search of challenge, unknowingly racing towards the revelation that will set him on his path.
Sarracini really nails the conflict within Akuma; he’s a violent, broken young man who uses combat as a proof of self worth. Much of his drive seems to stem from the familial tragedy of his youth, yet Sarracini also posits that perhaps this was always Akuma’s path. After an argument with his brother, where Akuma laments the weaknesses of their father, Akuma tells Gouken “at least I know what I am.” It’s a simple statement, but it carries so much weight; what is he? Man? Demon? Or both? There’s no definitive answer, but as his drive to be the best consumes him, all traces of the farm boy fade into the cold, unyielding monster we love to hate.
On art, artist Joe Ng does a masterful job of bringing Akuma’s transformation to vivid life. The change from beanpole to beefcake is quick, but the shift to the real Akuma is more gradual, making his final reveal all the more exciting. Ng’s visuals are a perfect fit to the Street Fighter legacy, as he gives new life to these legendary combatants. His action sequences in particular are a highlight, as you can literally feel every blow, every thud, every burst. There’s a flow to his work that is reminiscent of the game itself, and he manages to respect the source material without being beholden to it. Street Fighter has always been larger than life, and Ng’s work encapsulates that to perfection.
Since his appearance in Street Fighter II: Turbo all those years ago, Akuma has enjoyed an almost mythic popularity, his mystique and staggering power a favorite to many button mashers. Peeling back the curtain on a character such as this is always risky (Wolverine: Origins, anyone?) yet Sarracini and Ng pull it off with confidence. The best villains are relatable, and in Akuma we get a boy who sees defeat and refuses to ever be defeated himself. Street Fighter Origins: Akuma is an involving, exciting look at one of gamings most admired monsters, and is a must for any true Street Fighter fan.