The first sign that the anime Tekken: Bloodline Probably not breaking the long chain of failed adaptations of the popular fighting game series is the fact that it’s nearly impossible to enjoy at normal speed. The six-episode miniseries, streaming on Netflix, has its characters moving so slowly and cumbersomely that the series only looks “proper” at 1.25x playback speed, some fights to be increased up to 1.5x. It probably wasn’t done intentionally to make the show more interactive, like the video game that spawned it.
That said, Line Actually Is try to recreate many familiar Tekken elements games in the form of anime. They are just not the right elements. Of all the great fighting games, Tekken games have always been among the slowest. The basic gameplay of Tekken involves controlling a character’s individual limbs with different buttons, so one button is for right hand punches, the other for left leg kicks, and so on. This forces players to go beyond button mashing and master the process of chaining together simple moves to unlock each character’s full potential and unique fighting style. This is why Tekken matches can feel slow and simple, even though they require a lot of skill. That’s great in a video game, where the audience controls the action. Watch passively characters moving slowly in an animated series is much less rewarding.
Slower animation may not be a problem if Line featured fascinating characters. The anime is loosely based on the plot of tekken 3. It involves young fighter Jin Kazama being trained by his grandfather, Heihachi Mishima, to win a fighting tournament, which will attract an immortal, green God of Fighting.
Of the three characters, only one has a real personality. Even though the god is indeed Aztec Hulk, he’s not that interesting to watch, but Heihachi is. While he may at first glance seem like the same “badass martial arts master” archetype we’ve seen time and time again, the show faithfully portrays Heihachi as both a fighter and CEO of a great company, and it’s fun to watch him enforce his “ruthless” fighting rules in a professional setting. Unfortunately, all other, objectively more interesting Tekken characters, like the white-haired Black Wing Chun prodigy Leroy Smith, or Nina Williams, a ninja assassin in a purple bikini-catsuit, are relegated to little more than cameos, with no deeper dives into their stories.
One of the biggest draws to Tekken games is its roster of fun, out-of-left-field characters. Maybe Alex, the genetically modified dinosaur wearing blue boxing gloves, wouldn’t have worked in Linethe story, but there was no reason to feature American judoka/MMA fighter Paul Phoenix and then do nothing with him. You can’t show the audience a man who looks like he’s doing his hair with Viagra and then tell us that his fight with a bear (Kuma, a real character from Tekken who is actually a martial arts bear)s went off-screen. How dare you absolutely?!
Reducing this fight to a non-visual anecdote not only robbed the show of a scene that could have been free publicity for the anime for years to come, but it also felt like a waste of the dark tone. Line implements. While the Tekken franchise Has its share of goofy characters, there’s often dark, gory drama beneath the silly costumes and designs. Strange as it may seem, an eccentric character like Phoenix fighting an actual bear could have been dramatic, if treated as something out of the ordinary. The ghost. And that sort of juxtaposition of insane visuals and somewhat realistic combat is actually one of the secrets to Tekken’s popularity: a kind of flipped approach to its tone. Silly at the front, serious at the back.
Another thing the Tekken games have the different fighting styles of the characters on their side. These are also missing in the anime. In Line, characters like Heihachi like to talk about the uniqueness of tournament fighters, but ultimately Leroy’s Wing Chun, Ling Xiaoyu’s wushu, and Jin’s karate all look the same on screen. Why? And while we’re at it, why are the characters’ most powerful moves represented by Dragon Ball-style energy blasts when the original tekken always prioritized semi-realistic combat over magic moves? Also, why are they LineAre the fight scenes so short? (A fan complaint: they also skip Tekken’s your opponent’s signature aerial juggling.) Fans of Tekken games may wonder “Why?” a lot of watching Line.
The issues with the Tekken adaptations extend beyond the latest anime series. Tekken: Bloodline is like a spiritual successor to the 1998 animation Tekken: the moviein the worst way. Tekken: TMP is loosely based on tekken and tekken 2, and it mostly limits its cast to a handful of characters: Jun Kazama and Kazuya Mishima (Jin’s parents), plus Heihachi. All the other cool characters in the franchise are relegated to the background and heavily toned down, as they’re in Line. And while the film’s fight scenes move much faster, without any Line-style sparks or bursts of electricity coming out of people’s fists when they punch someone, they too are way too short and don’t show the differences between individual fighting styles.
The most frustrating thing about Tekken: the movie, however, is that writers Ryota Yamaguchi and Seiichi Ishii apparently figured out that the games are a mix of goofiness and serious drama, but then flipped everything around. The Tekken the games are silly on the outside and dark on the inside. The anime does it the other way around, such as when Jun and Kazuya talk about a traumatic event from their childhood when a lady walks in wearing a cocktail dress and carrying a bazooka. This shows that filmmakers almost understood the mission, which is more frustrating than not having it from the start.
A Tekken the anime should look more like a particular scene from the 2011 CGI movie Tekken: Blood Vengeance. In this film, a robot assassin – who dresses like a pastel clown stripper and is equipped with wings and chainsaw hands – stops to talk about how she and another character who was experimented on have bodies that defy nature. She wonders what that makes of them. This particular mix of the absurd and the tragic is exactly what Tekken should look like on screen. Sadly, that’s probably the only thing about games blood revenge was right.
In what is apparently tradition with Tekken adjustments, blood revenge does not take advantage of the impressive stable of characters from the original games. Instead, it focuses almost entirely on Ling Xiaoyu and the robot assassin, without making their fighting styles unique. It’s such a weird place to fail. Not only did the filmmakers only have to come up with two distinct forms of combat, one of them was for a chainsaw robot. There was so much potential for a fun style. In The Mandalorian, when the IG-11 droid stands in one position and spins segments of its body to shoot everyone around it, there’s a nice creative robotic precision to its movements. Something thoughtful and unusual could and should have been part of Bloody revenge.
Dwight H. Little’s 2010 live-action Tekken movie gets it right. In the movie — which current Tekken games director Katsuhiro Harada apparently called it “terrible” in a since-deleted tweet – all the different fighting styles actually look different. Capoeira is different from kung fu, which is different from boxing, etc. Everything else in the movie, however, is just not Tekken. It’s far too serious in its premise, omits the characters’ memorable backstories, and ends up spoiling Heihachi (played by Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) by seriously toning down his deadly nature.
So what would a perfect adaptation of Tekken look like? It would seem absurd at first glance, given its huge roster of colorful characters, but it would be able to find drama and heart in their battles and interactions. It would be based on real martial arts, the way Avatar: The Last Airbender and its series sequel The Legend of Korra are, though like those two shows, it can get fantastic and explosive with them every once in a while for a good show. More importantly, however, it would take the audience on a journey that replicated the feeling of mastering a Tekken. game, showing us just how necessary the simplest martial arts work can be.
Sadly, this basically describes Netflix Cobra Kai, a series with its own pedigree, stories and fandom. Tekken fans will just have to wait for an adaptation that takes the games strengths seriously. Until that unlikely future happens, they have at least one long and memorable series of video games to keep them busy.
Tekken: Bloodline is currently streaming on Netflix.