The latest character announced for Street Fighter V is M. Bison, otherwise known as Master Bison, otherwise known as Mighty Bison, otherwise known as Japanese Vega, otherwise known as Dictator. Despite not being in every Street Fighter game, Bison’s pretty much considered the big bad of the series, and rightfully so. The one thing Bison has that trumps all the other villainous characters of the franchise is that not only can he seemingly never truly die, but he is literally pure evil. He fashioned himself that way for kicks.
M. Bison first appeared in 1991’s Street Fighter II. Even though the game brought back the first Street Fighter’s end boss Sagat with a badass chest scar, he was revealed as a mere subordinate to Bison as part of his shady terrorist organization Shadaloo. Or “Shadowlaw” if you’re watching the Street Fighter II animes. Bison was originally named Vega in Japan, with the masked matador being named Balrog and the boxer being M. Bison. This made sense since the boxer character was based on Mike Tyson and the first Street Fighter had a black, American boxer character named Mike. Since the potential legal issues from Tyson’s likeness made Capcom a bit anxious, they mixed the names around. To make things less confusing, many fans just refer to them as Dictator, Claw, and Boxer.
In the beginning, not much was known about Bison…other than not being all that tall according to the above profile. He was just some evil general (or bus driver?) who ran things in Thailand and was the big villain behind the World Warrior tournament. The details on the guy only came from those who were out to get him. Namely Guile, who wanted revenge for Bison killing his best buddy Charlie, and Chun-Li, who wanted revenge for the death of her father. Everyone else had their own thing going on and treated Bison like an afterthought. Later versions of the game included T. Hawk and Cammy, who also wanted revenge and/or answers.
Bison, along with the other three boss characters, became playable in the upgraded Street Fighter II: Championship Edition. He was jaw-droppingly cheap. You could just spam his Psycho Crusher attack all day and night and it would do so much block damage that it didn’t matter if you never got a clean hit. His ending in that game gave a better idea of what he was all about, showing him taking over the world…somehow. Not that Capcom really gave us any details. By this point, his plan seemed to be just this:
Step 1: Hold worldwide martial arts tournamentStep 2: Win said tournamentStep 3: ???Step 4: World domination
It was eventually explained in the lore that Bison was using the tournament to capture the best fighters in the world for the sake of brainwashing and weaponizing them. More specifically, once Akuma joined the cast in Super Street Fighter II Turbo, it was said that Bison held the tournament as a way of drawing Akuma out into the open so he could capture and exploit him. This turned out to be his downfall.
See, despite Street Fighter’s rather thick storyline (which not only includes the main series, but also Saturday Night Slam Masters, Final Fight, and Rival Schools), they never did explain who won Street Fighter II’s tournament. All we know is that at some point, Akuma showed up and vanquished Bison with his powerful and unfathomable Raging Demon attack. Considering the attack supposedly kills the soul of the victim based on the severity of their sins, that meant Bison was toast.
Funny thing is, before Street Fighter II was re-released into oblivion and we only had twelve characters to play with, they attempted to make various Street Fighter comics in both America and Japan and only had so much to go on. In the Street Fighter II manga by Masaomi Kanzaki, he tried to make sense of the game’s sparse story by putting Bison in charge of some kind of decrepit island called SHAD where fighting tournaments are constantly taking place. Since Akuma hadn’t been created yet, Masaomi had Bison be the one responsible for Ryu and Ken’s master Gouki’s death.
Meanwhile in America, Malibu Comics released a short-lived Street Fighter II series by Len Strazewski and Don Hillsman, infamous for lasting only three issues before Capcom told them to stop. In the third issue, Strazewski laid out some of the future plots for the comic and one of the more ridiculous was the idea that M. Bison had evil clones of the entire Street Fighter II cast, and he himself may have been an evil clone. The reason for this is kind of hilarious in retrospect because, in the original Street Fighter II, you couldn’t have two players play as the same character. Then Championship Edition and the SNES version of the game allowed that to happen with alternate color schemes.
That was such a big deal at the time that not only was the Malibu comic going to use it as a plot point, but Masaomi actually did. The third and final volume of his manga had the Street Fighter characters fighting their evil doubles. No real explanation is ever given as to why they even exist, but they do have the regular Bison as not-as-evil by default. It’s weird.
More famously, Bison appeared as the main villain in the GI Joe knockoff flick Street Fighter as played by the amazing Raul Julia. This would be Julia’s final role and many would call it his worst movie. Any self-respecting Mystery Science Theater 3000 fan knows that that isn’t true as long as Overdrawn at the Memory Bank exists, but point taken. Julia saves the movie by taking his lemons and making delicious lemonade laced with an extra portion of ham. He’s a delight in every scene he steals, especially everybody’s favorite bit where Chun-Li breaks down why she wants to kill him, and he just shrugs it off the smoothest way possible.
The video game movie would get its own video game spinoff with digitized graphics, much like Mortal Kombat. Sadly, Raul Julia was in no shape to join the other actors in taking part due to cancer and had to be replaced by his stunt man.
A far more beloved cinematic take on the series is Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie, which takes place as a prequel to the game. In it, Bison hunts down Ken Masters, kidnaps him, brainwashes him, and uses him as a soldier against Ryu in hopes of giving him the same treatment. He also overuses his ability to teleport to a ridiculous degree, making Guile’s attempt to fight him frustrating to watch. Eventually, he’s defeated by the team of Ryu and Ken. This leads to one of the most memorable moments from the movie where Ryu wanders the roads barefoot and continues his journey, only for Bison to randomly show up in a Mack truck in an attempt to run him over as a big cliffhanger.
“You must defeat Chevrolet to stand a chance.”
The anime did get its own video game spinoff as well, but it’s way more outside the box than the American movie. It’s also one of the most obscure Street Fighter titles out there. Street Fighter II: The Interactive Movie for Saturn and PlayStation is an odd experiment where you play as a cyborg created by Bison to essentially watch most of the animated movie and “scan the data.” You have to record what’s going on when the violence is happening and that will increase your stats. Then once it gets to the climax of the movie, you play as the cyborg against Ryu in a regular Street Fighter II style fight. All that build for one match. Yeah. Weird.
If you lose, it shows you the regular ending to the movie. If you win, it shows Bison doing a presentation on the cyborg and then Ryu appears out of nowhere for a rematch. If you win with a perfect, the cyborg kills Ryu, but then inherits enough of his memories and personality that he turns on Bison and kills him. Then he wanders off to find himself, walking a path much like Ryu’s.
The animated movie inspired the Street Fighter Alpha games, which started coming out in 1995. Like the movie, the games act as prequels to Street Fighter II and work to build on Bison a bit more. Chun-Li is still out for blood over her father’s death. The ill-fated Charlie is out to bring Bison in, leading to his destined murder. Final Fight’s Guy wants to thrash Bison for the sake of extinguishing evil. Birdie wants to fight him to prove he’s good enough to join Shadaloo. But more importantly, we get the inclusion of the mysterious Rose.
Rose is an Italian fortune teller who knows all about Bison and makes it her mission to kill him once and for all. While Bison’s purple flame abilities are labeled “Psycho Power,” Rose counteracts it with her own ability, “Soul Power.” Even when she defeats him in her endings, she can never put him away due to the plot armor of knowing that he’s supposed to live on to be in Street Fighter II. Through Rose, they soon enough give us some idea of what M. Bison is all about in the later games.
Bison is a guy who at one point realized that in order to meet his full potential he needed to get rid of his own humanity and morality. Through magic, he exorcised all the good in his soul to make himself pure evil and, in his mind, unstoppably powerful. That goodness found its own sentient form as Rose, finally explaining their relationship.
In Bison’s Alpha 2 ending, which is canon, he defeats Ryu and captures him. His hope is to brainwash him into being his pawn, pump him up with Psycho Power, and when the time is right, possess him. See, the Alpha version of Bison’s appearance is an overly-bulky man, compared to the slimmer take in Street Fighter II. The reasoning is that they are literally different bodies. Psycho Power’s limits are greater than what the human body can contain, including Bison’s. Bison can’t go all-out without killing himself, but with Ryu’s body at his disposal, he can potentially kick it up a notch.
Alpha 3 features Bison getting killed in nearly all the endings. In terms of canon, he’s blown to smithereens when he goes into Final Bison mode (ie. full power at the cost of destroying his body) and Ryu is able to power out of the mind control. Ryu fires the Psycho Power into Bison’s system, which overloads him and makes him explode. This is also after Guile and Charlie destroy Shadaloo’s underground headquarters at the cost of Charlie’s life.
So why is it suddenly okay to kill Bison when he’s definitely alive later in the timeline? Alpha 3 introduces a new wrinkle that makes Bison flat-out diabolical. Bison has Dolls, a baker’s dozen of kidnapped and mind-controlled lady assassins from around the world, genetically modified with his DNA. The main one is Killer Bee, otherwise known as Cammy.
Cammy is an outright clone of Bison, which is why she figures they have a connection during her Super Street Fighter II story despite having amnesia. The point of this small army is survival. To Bison, death is but a setback. His soul can survive long enough that he can possess any one of these Dolls and move forward. That’s messed up.
In the end, he doesn’t actually use any of the Dolls. Rose intends to destroy Bison at the cost of her own life, but in the end, Guy saves her. Then he feels a slight chill wash over him. He doesn’t realize that Bison has possessed Rose. Bison would later have his scientists create another body – his Street Fighter II appearance – to inhabit. I suppose he just couldn’t get used to the heels.
Around the time the Alpha games were being released, they did a Street Fighter Saturday morning cartoon series in America. In it, Bison’s played with great zest by Richard Newman. The first season of the show acts as a sequel of sorts to the live-action film, only with certain aspects ignored and the use of video game character designs. The second season decides to follow the games a little bit closer, putting more emphasis on Ryu and Ken instead of Guile and Blanka. Regardless, Bison remains the main villain, outside of a really silly episode where he and Guile are forced to team up against Akuma.
Cartoon Bison is most well known for this meme.
Truly the Daniel Bryan of his time.
Bison’s main power in the cartoon is having the ability to hold people in magnetic forcefields. Go figure. It ended up being a fitting coincidence when Capcom released X-Men vs. Street Fighter in 1996. In it, Bison is a rival and counterpart to Magneto. Bison’s ending shows him conquering the world in a pretty generic cutscene. Magneto winning, on the other hand, has Sagat, Vega, and Balrog join his side. Because if there’s anyone Magneto wants help from, it’s three humans.
Watch out, world! Magneto has a dumb guy who is really good at punching people on his payroll!
In another fighting game crossover, Capcom vs. SNK, Bison appears as a potential final boss and a counterpart to SNK’s Geese Howard. Your chosen team ends up fighting Bison in his volcano hideout (Bison is shockingly given a new sprite set despite Capcom being notoriously dedicated to trotting out old sprites no matter how outdated they look). Defeating him causes Bison’s supposed death and the destruction of his fortress, but it comes at a cost. While your team is busy snuffing Bison out, the doofus team of Dan Hibiki and Joe Higashi end up winning the fighting tournament by forfeit.
Bison would appear in SNK’s take on the crossover, SNK vs. Capcom, as well as its batshit insane comic book tie-in from Hong Kong, which has since been translated and released in America. Bison appears to be a top-of-the-line vindictive son of a bitch as he intends to capture SNK’s anti-hero Iori Yagami for his own purposes. Iori, who is obsessed with fighting and killing his rival Kyo Kusanagi, is distraught to find out that Kyo has been killed by Akuma. Iori slashes his own throat and Bison decides to take out his frustrations by blowing up most of the Earth, killing himself in the process.
And that’s merely the first volume. Like I said, it’s totally batshit and only gets stranger from there.
2009 saw the release of Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li, yet another cinematic take on the franchise. It’s a bad, bad, bad movie and Neal McDonough as M. Bison doesn’t do it any favors. Outside of being a bad guy running a criminal organization, McDonough’s Bison shares very few similarities with the source material, and he lacks the iconic overacting of Raul Julia.
“But for me it was a weekday. Yep! YEP!”
What is rather shocking is that of all the concepts to take from the game’s lore, they actually include the idea that Bison had removed the goodness of his soul. There’s a flashback where he sacrifices his pregnant wife and implants all his goodness into her baby, which turns out to be Rose.
Also, according to Charlie Nash – the most amazing thing about that movie – Bison “walks between the raindrops.” Years later, in the game Street Fighter X Tekken, Guile would use the same description when talking to Abel. Abel then proceeded to scratch his head and call it a nonsense saying.
Speaking of Abel, that brings us to 2008’s Street Fighter IV. In a bit of confusing chronology, Street Fighter IV and its upgrades take place after the events of the Street Fighter II games and before Street Fighter III. M. Bison is a pretty prominent character. They just kind of ignore the whole “Akuma killed Bison so hard that his soul was destroyed” thing and had Bison resurrected yet again through another cloned body.
Poor Akuma. Not only did they undo his big M. Bison kill, but they also decided that he didn’t really murder Gouken after all. That kill was his bread and butter!
The plot of Street Fighter IV has to do with Bison evolving the Doll program so that he goes from creating buxom women in tight outfits to anatomically-incorrect naked dudes with yin yangs in their bellies.
Abel, an earlier and more humanlike creation from the project, was freed years ago by Charlie. He’s essentially the male version of Cammy in every way, down to the love for animals and being an amnesiac who joined up with a military group. Another doll, Seth, has gone rogue and is trying to take over the world using a Shadaloo offshoot and yet another fighting tournament.
In the end, Bison destroys Seth, revealing that Seth’s whole rebellion is really part of Bison’s plans. What that’s all about will probably be revealed in Street Fighter V. Maybe they’ll finally kill him off for good this time, considering by the time Street Fighter III rolls around (which, again, takes place after Street Fighter V), there’s no sign of Shadaloo or Bison’s existence.
The UDON comic book series’ coverage of Bison is pretty faithful to the source, though they toss Street Fighter IV’s story out the window, so it currently looks like Akuma wiping him out during the World Warrior tournament does him in for good. The latest graphic novel, Super Street Fighter: Hyper Fighting (which takes place just prior to Street Fighter III), shows Bison as a lapdog for Gill and his Secret Society. After taking a horrible beating at the feet of Juri – yet another character swearing revenge on him – “Bison” is revealed to be nothing more than the shapeshifting creature Twelve. Maybe he really is dead after all!
But who am I kidding? He’ll be back somehow.
Last, and certainly not least, Bison finally got to appear in a genuinely good film after all. He appeared in 2012’s Wreck-It Ralph as played by Gerard C. Rivers (his English voice actor in the games). Granted, he only had one solo line in the whole movie, but it was good enough to land him a spot on the movie poster.
In just under a year, we’ll see what Bison will bring to the table in Street Fighter V. Will he be the main villain once again? Will he be trumped by a new big bad? We’ll find out in time. But all we know is that he isn’t up to anything wholesome.
Because M. Bison is bad…and that is good.
Gavin Jasper figures Bison must feel really awkward when he notices Vega checking out Cammy. Or maybe he’s into that. Follow Gavin on Twitter!