In its 25 years, the Street Fighter franchise has given us a variety of different comics, from Masahiko Nakahira’s various Street Fighter manga adaptations to the hilariously awful Malibu Comics take that only lasted three issues before Capcom told them to cut it out. Then there’s UDON’s take on the series, which has lasted a whole ten years so far. Recently, the company had taken a lengthy vacation from releasing any Street Fighter comics and decided to release them strictly in graphic novel form. The second of such releases is Street Fighter Origins: Akuma, telling the story of the series’ enigmatic top-level threat.
Despite being the main antagonist of the Street Fighter‘s hero Ryu, Akuma is more of a chaotic force of nature at worst and an anti-hero at best. He doesn’t act out of greed or megalomania, but rather out of his own twisted sense of honor and desire to fight the most worthy opponents the world can throw at him. Since his inception in 1994, Akuma’s backstory had only consisted of a few details. He and his brother Gouken trained in the martial art of Ansatsuken under Goutetsu. Somewhere along the line, Akuma was overwhelmed by his own negative energies, tapped into the dark side of Ansatsuken and transformed into a demon-like being before killing both his master and brother in battle. Gouken got better. Now we get Chris Sarracini and Joe Ng’s take on what went down.
The Ryu/Akuma corner of Street Fighter lore is basically a Jedi/Sith thing with more punching and kicking. The games play it out that Akuma wants Ryu to give into the “Dark Hadou” and become an inhuman killing machine like himself in order to reach what Akuma considers to be his full potential. That puts Akuma in a Darth Vader role and it’s easy to compare this graphic novel to the Star Wars prequels. Thankfully, that does NOT mean that Akuma is Ryu’s father or anything ridiculous like that (though the Street Fighter Alpha anime movie did use that concept as red herring), though there is a more elaborate connection between the two that’s way cleverer.
Akuma’s path begins as a boy, living with his farmer father, who as it turns out, used to be much more. One night, a group of bandits invade the farm and attack Akuma and Gouken’s father based on past transgressions. The two brothers and their mother escape to the mountains and each reacts to the father’s death in their own way. Petulant brat Akuma deals with his rage by going off and unsuccessfully fighting a bear until being rescued by Goutetsu, who adopts and trains him. It’s a nice homage to Nakahira’s manga Street Fighter III: Ryu Final, where Ryu did the exact same thing before being accepted as Gouken’s student.
When we see Akuma throughout the years, he’s a pretty interesting dude. Honorable and stoic, but with some boiling intensity right under the surface. Sarracini takes great care not to tell the story in a way that would hurt his status as a badass. On one hand, he doesn’t do the idea that due to destiny, he was always a rotten guy and would have become the Master of Fist regardless. He also doesn’t depict pre-demonic Akuma as an overly-sensitive whiner (ie. Anakin). Hell, Akuma doesn’t even shed a tear when his father dies or when his mother loses the will to live, even if it does affect him. He simply becomes angry and dedicates himself to earning strength to allow him to live his own life on his own terms.
The best part is that we get why Akuma does what he does. When he takes his first life, it isn’t some kind of traumatic horror. It’s barely even a life-defining moment. We understand Akuma’s actions and may even cheer him on. About 2/3 into the story, it starts to drag a bit, but then everything comes into place. When the other shoe drops, it all clicks. It feels almost acceptable to see him fall from grace because it’s hard to blame him.
The story isn’t all great. Mainly it’s the Gouken aspects of the comic that drag it down. Gouken is pretty damn boring throughout. People always rag on Ryu for being a boring main character, so it makes sense that he got it from training under this guy. Gouken even gets his own story arc early on that’s barely even there. He’s just too hard to care about unless he’s thinking about what his red-haired brother is up to. He makes a good foil, but that’s about it.Other than the aforementioned Gouken and Ryu, don’t expect to see too many cameos or references to the rest of the Street Fighter cast. Retsu from the very first game has a supporting role and Lee from that game gets a cameo, but there’s no Gen or even Ken Masters.
Joe Ng draws the UDON house style you’d expect. The designs that look like a reined in Joe Madureira with better coloring, perfectly fitting the image of being a property based on a video game. Ng’s work really pops once fights break out, which is done very sparingly in the first half of the book and a ton more in the latter half. The inevitable Gouken vs. Akuma matchup is a beautiful ten pages, giving the hardcover a reason to be oversized.
Also great is how Ng handles Akuma’s aging and evolution. Not only does he gradually get older-looking and stronger throughout the comic, but he appears more and more like the Akuma we know and love. At first he’s just a big, redheaded dude. Then you’ll see him with the occasional red eyes to accompany his shadowed face, which eventually appears to be permanent. His hair becomes wilder and wilder and his face continues to deform. There’s an awesome moment where a major development gives us a panel of Akuma’s face as he shows genuine human emotion, immediately followed by a furious scowl where he’s fully consumed by the darkness within.
The book comes with some art extras in the back, featuring both concept sketches of various characters throughout the book’s chronology and a collection of Akuma’s character portraits from all the games he’s appeared in over the years (barring the Marvel and SNK crossovers).
One little thing that annoys me throughout is the misuse of commas in the lettering, especially when someone’s name is tossed in at the end of the sentence. It’s a repeated editing mishap that gets under my skin. For instance, “They are in awe of you Akuma,” is followed a few pages later with, “The death of my father wounded me deeply, Goutetsu.” It’s inconsistent and characters mention each other by name in conversation way too much. In one page, a man having a conversation with Akuma mentions Akuma’s name four times. Nobody talks like that, reader. And that, reader, is why it bothers me.
The thing about the Street Fighter games is that the overall story is paper thin, but it’s redeemed by the overwhelming personality of the individual characters. That’s why while the UDON Street Fighter comics have been pretty fun to read, they aren’t exactly memorable in the story sense. Street Fighter Origins: Akuma breaks the mold in that sense and really stands on its own as a definitive origin story of how a young farmer boy was molded into power made flesh.
But man, would it have killed them to toss in at least one Raging Demon? That’s the man’s bread and butter!