This Tekken: Bloodline review contains no spoilers.
Video games are hard to adapt to movie or television screens because the gameplay is the meat of the experience. When you disengage the player from the story, the writers have to ensure their filmmaking is top-notch to reimburse the fans for what they’ve lost in the process. This is why gaming continues to be a hit-or-miss translation. The more these shaky adaptations occur, the less confidence studios have to produce them.
The creative minds behind Tekken: Bloodline on Netflix understand how much the interactive nature of gaming factors into the love for the medium. When putting a famous fighting franchise onto a streaming platform, you have to figure out how you are going to engage the audience that misses button-mashing and figuring out how to defeat the opponent. It’s not as fun to watch fists fly as it is to make them soar yourself.
You would think this would be a difficult task to accomplish, but the makers of this Netflix animated series do a fantastic job of animating powerful, distinct brawling sequences that are reminiscent of the source material. Viewers are able to live vicariously through the protagonist of the anime, Jin Kazama, as he treks through a journey of self-discovery after his mother is murdered in the first episode by the antagonist, Ogre.
While there is a fair amount of plotting that uses non-fighting scenes to move the show along, especially as it pertains to the relationship between Jin and his grandfather, Heihachi Mishima, the program is able to morph the fighting gameplay from the original media with the storytelling of modern television. The grueling battles and training that Jin goes through takes the place of a regular cutscene in a video game. You can see the struggle of the characters as they go through the King of Iron Fist Tournament, its intensity bearing down on us just as much as them.
If you are a fan of the video games, specifically Tekken 3 (the game that serves as the main inspiration for the anime), you will no doubt feel like the creators fully understand the overall look and feel of the genre. While not quite as popular today, this franchise used to be one of the defining fighting games of the late 1990s and early 2000s on the Playstation and Playstation 2.
Unlike The Last of Us adaptation that will premiere on HBO Max sometime in 2023, this anime can’t rely on traditional narration, dialogue, or elaborate character exposition. It’s not a fighting adaptation if it doesn’t have fighting. This makes Tekken: Bloodline a true love letter to fans of the original work.
If you are a casual gamer or a newcomer to the franchise who just loves anime, you might find the methods used in this show somewhat laborious or superficially extended. You have to love the fighting genre to love this adaptation. The climatic story moments don’t hit nearly as hard without the enjoyment of the guts of the work, which are in the battle arena, sweating it out with Jin.
This might also be because the base of the story without the action is pretty cliche for most animes. Jin is jousting to avenge his mother’s death, and in the process he finds out more about his backstory. This is basic anime fare, and the lack of episodes to flesh it out makes it fairly unimaginative when compared to other similar shows.
Try to think about Tekken: Bloodline the way you would the Pokémon anime. The characters are not as inherently relatable as Ash Ketchum, Brock, and Misty, but the way the show plays out is similarly fashioned. Each brawl is supposed to be a little piece of Jin’s character development. A failure represents a new turning point for the series. This is the best way to immerse the viewer into the experience, almost as if they have a controller in their hands still.
Tekken: Bloodline has been positively received by most viewers, albeit the people watching are likely those who were diehards when the gaming series was at its peak. Niche programming is a huge part of the television world, and hopefully Netflix continues to endorse this series for a second season. We need more TV that understands what makes specific genres of gaming so gripping.
All six episodes of Tekken: Bloodline are available to stream on Netflix now.