Tekken is a hugely popular series – the latest game in the series that has around 9 million sales in its lifetime is proof enough. But as popular as the series is today, there is something about the first games in the fighting franchise: Tekken 2 And Tekken 3in particular – who have left their mark on cultural consciousness in a completely different way.
For many people, their first exposure to Bandai Namco’s 3D fighter was in Tekken 2, but thanks to Demo One discs and the proliferation of Platinum games on the original PlayStation, I bet more people eventually got their hands on (and have spent more time with) Tekken 3. And rightfully so; it was arguably better than Tekken 2 in every way – and there’s something about the style, the music, the story and the whole aesthetic that belongs so completely to the 90s. It has become more than a game; it has become a vessel for nostalgia.
It’s fitting, then, that Netflix’s latest video game adaptation revolves primarily around Tekken 3. Tekken: Bloodlinethe story takes us back to just before the third King of Iron Fist tournament; we see a young Jin Kazama being taught by his mother, Jun, to channel his anger and his power and to use his martial arts skills only for good. Tragedy strikes the family and Jin is tasked with finding his paternal grandfather: Heihachi Mishima. One of the richest and most evil men in Japan.
From here, there are a couple of anime tropes at play; Rebellious teenager with anger issues trains under her harsh and violent tutor, before outgrowing him and being used as a pawn in a much larger game of four-dimensional chess. You could probably write it yourself. But the joy in the Tekken anime doesn’t come from predicting highly telegraphed twists, no, it comes from pointing at the screen when your main character shows up and saying ‘oh, I wonder if they’re going to use that move I like!’
The Tekken anime is based on Tekken 3 – the whole thing revolves around organizing a tournament to lure Ogre out of hiding – and in doing so, it ends up being a well-produced and well-written love letter to one of the greatest games fighting games. Whether you want to see Jin and Xia, have a nice moment of life in their pseudo-iconic school uniforms, or want to see Paul Phoenix talk about how unlikely it is that he is fighting a damn life-sized grizzly bear, there are many moments in the show. that perfectly mimic and represent the mental processes we went through about 23 years ago.
Then there is however how compelling and fun the whole thing is. Production values are sky-high and if you can get past the weird triangle of shading that obscures each character’s head, the graphics are pretty impressive too. If you oppose anime because of its infamous dub, you’ll be happy to know Tekken: Bloodline thwarts this trend: the English dub is decent and never stops diving, and the Japanese VO is as good as anything else out there at the moment (except maybe Demon Slayer – but it’s a once in a generation thing, then).
The balance between ridiculous and exaggerated fight scenes and plot development is pleasant and rhythmic: for every tense confrontation between Chinese student and British assassin, for example, there is quite a bit of character development like Heihachi, Ganryu and Mishima Zaibatsu many do something unspeakable in the name of making the patriarch of the family even more of a choke on society.
One of my favorite pieces of the show was how it gets under the skin of the series’ lore: as a nerd who finished all the endings in Tekken 3 and saw the likes of Julia Chang riding a JACK unit and wondering why a random scientist in space would want to bombard her with a laser, this show somehow answers the questions. We see the mysterious secret character, Dr. Bosconovitch, working with Ogre’s blood and see how he is better involved in the story of it all, as well as being “the doctor who does weird bullshit and makes robot daughters”. We see Julia Chang actually gaining some development beyond just “environmental activist who is also Native American”.
To complete all this, of course, there are the fight scenes. If you have even a passing acquaintance with Tekken, you will know the moves: you will know Heihachi’s double palm slap, you will know Xiayou’s stance, you will know King’s Giant Swing (and this really makes it look like a beast). There are some undeniably hype moments in this show, and as I was watching the final episode, I found myself almost mesmerized installing Tekken 7 on my PC. Oops.
As Netflix gets a lot of effort into its renditions and executions of classic game franchises – there you are looking at you, Resi – it’s good to see Tekken dealt with so well. I really hope we have a few more seasons of this; I want to see how the show deals with Kazuya’s return, how everything works with the Devil Gene in the future, how Netflix would animate that lush Tekken 5 intro (if we ever get that far).
Since we have Tekken 8 (or something like that) on the way – which many people hope to do the Mortal Kombat thing and add a full-fledged story – I think the stage is set for a good, long life for the Tekken anime. . Timing is perfect for that, and it would be a nice way to keep people on top as the games become more and more meaningless. Let’s just hope Netflix doesn’t do a “classic Netflix” and cancel it, a season later.