What does it take to get a company like Capcom to sign off on an independently-made web series based on one of their most popular properties? That was the challenge for Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist co-writer Christian Howard. Last week, Howard, alongside series creator Joey Ansah brought the story of World Champions Ken and Ryu to Machinima in a 13-part web series, detailing the fighters’ origins.
“It was kind of a long shot,” Howard said in a phone interview on the eve of the series premiere. “We were very keen on letting them know that we wanted to stay true to the brand. I think that that kind of impressed them a lot.”
Howard says his Street Fighter fandom goes way back, with he and his brothers spending hours playing the Genesis port of Street Fighter II. “I remember saving up my money to do a part exchange to get the new Street Fighter game,” he recalled. “When I moved in with Joey, we would play Marvel vs. Capcom every day – it was kind an important part of martial arts training for me.”
“Ryu is based on real characters,” Howard added, saying that the mix of new “joke” characters in the franchise hold less appeal for him that the original roster inspired by real fighting styles. “[Ryu] is based on Mas Oyama, who would go around challenging people in kind of the true, martial way.”
In addition to co-writing Assassin’s Fist, Howard returns to the role of Ken Masters and Ansah takes on the role of Akuma, following the duo’s collaboration in the 2010 short film Street Fighter: Legacy, their attempt to remedy some of the past mistakes in bringing these characters to life.
The Street Fighter franchise has had what could charitably be called a difficult time going from consoles and arcades to film and television. For every successful anime, there’s a Legend of Chun-Li or Van Damme film playing fast and loose with the mythology Capcom has set down across media over the years.
Howard has a theory about why those films didn’t quite work: “If you make a Street Fighter film and it doesn’t have the guys, people are going to go, ‘Where are the guys? Where are Ryu and Ken?’ For me, that’s went wrong [with the previous Street Fighter films]. When you do right by the fans, you draw in a wider audience as well.”
Ansah and Howard hoped to sidestep the mistake that came before, focusing on Ken and Ryu’s early days, still delivering the fighting action the series is known for while focusing on the pair of characters most associated with the series. When asked why the films shuffled Ken and Ryu to the sidelines in the story, Howard suggests that it’s only recently that Asian American actors really have an opportunity to shine in leading parts.
“When the ’90s Van Damme film came out, you were less likely to see an American leading role for an Asian guy. I guess it kind of came down to the timing. Guile is a very integral part of the game but [laughs] to have him played by Van Damme – he’s the all-American G.I. and they cast a Belgian.”
Assassin’s Fist is actually a pared-back version of their initial pitch, which featured other characters like Guile and Chun-Li in a more expansive story.
“It’s down to what were able to do with the time and the money that we had. We basically wrote a treatment for the Street Fighter II story […] but to do that justice, we would have needed millions and millions of dollars and to have gone all the way around the world to get locations. We decided we’d stay in Japan and do the Ryu and Ken origin because those are the main characters in the game and they’ve never been done right so far.”
Howard leaves open the possibility of seeing some of those stories play on with his and Ansah’s participation if Assassin’s Fist takes off. He teases what fans might expect in an Assassin’s Fist follow-up: “You’ll see a lot of different [fighting] styles while staying true to what the franchise is about.”
Street Fighter: Assassin‘s Fist is available on Machinima. You can catch the prequel episode below: