Kinda surprised that I hadn’t seen this Darkstalkers anime before now. I love the video game it’s based on, since it’s a mash-up of Street Fighter and old school monster movies. I guess I avoided it since it’s one of those dreaded video game to anime adaptations. Those things almost always suck.
And you know what? This one sucks too! Way to keep the trend going, Darkstalkers!
It isn’t a completely suckfest, though. There’s some genuinely cool bits in this series. The fights, which are few and far between, are well animated. And they’re especially cool in that they lift moves straight from the fighting game without making it feel forced. It all melds together into generally cohesive action scenes, with Morrigan, Felicia, Demitri, and the like tossing fireballs and doing their versions of dragon punches and all that. Unfortunately the best fight comes right at the beginning of the series, where Morrigan and Demitri face off. After that, the fights slow down, and when they do happen they tend to be pretty abrupt. They still look good at least.
And while the actual plot behind their motivations is all but non-existent, the main villains are pretty cool. The Huitzil robots were placed on Earth by an alien civilization, and they awaken whenever life on Earth reaches an apex. When they awaken, they basically act as an extinction event, wiping out most life on Earth and allowing it to effectively “reset.” And I always dug their Mesoamerican look. They’re, like, fertility god robots that shoot lasers.
Pyron, the big bad, has a cool backstory as well. He’s another alien entity, and it’s implied that he’s the mythical “sun-god” that all of said deities on Earth are based upon. His arrival on Earth is essentially his “second coming,” and he’s here to judge us… through what amounts to a Dragonball Z styled fighting tournament of sorts.
This is one reason why this OVA sucks. Pyron has this cool story to him, but he devolves into Cell from DBZ. He’s on Earth to find a worthy opponent, so that he can experience a genuine, satisfying victory before he destroys the planet. He goes around, challenging the various Darkstalker characters, and kills them. It all plays out exactly like a DBZ arc.
If that were the only problem with the story, I probably wouldn’t mind. If we got to see this pseudo-tournament play out over the course of the OVA’s four episodes, it’d probably be silly fun. But Darkstalkers has more on its mind. It doesn’t want to be a mere fighting anime about aliens and vampires and werecreatures. It wants to touch on the human condition. Or, rather, the demi-human, half-Darkstalker condition.
At least half of the series is devoted to Donovan. He’s your Vampire Hunter D/Blade sort– half-Darkstalker, half-human, all angst. He’s supposed to be some badass monk type, decked out in huge Buddhist beads and carrying around a huge sword that he can fly on like the Silver Surfer, but he spends all of his time spouting variations of the same monologue. His Darkstalker blood is bad, but he wants to be good, so he kills Darkstalkers, but he’s still hollow, oh woe is Donovan, why can’t he just be human. The only thing keeping him from being straight out of Twilight is that he only has fatherly feelings towards his underaged companion, a little demon girl named Anita who has whatever super power the story finds convenient at the moment.
So while the world is falling apart at the hands of two invading alien forces, we ignore all of that and follow Donovan around as he waxes philosophically about his existence. Sure, he fights Bishamon, the samurai zombie ghost thing from the video games, but that fight ends with Donovan’s altruism confounding the spirit. Yeah, Donovan is SO DEEP that he makes ghosts blow up with his thoughtfulness.
What makes all of this even worse is that the series begins with some promise. Not only was the initial fight between Morrigan and Demitri cool, it also sets things up to where Demitri is going to invade the Demon World and claim its throne. It’s a simple set-up, but it was the perfect platform to allow for all sorts of crazy Darkstalker on Darkstalker combat. The monsters could have chosen sides, with some going with “I’m just M. Bison as a Vampire” Demitri and the others going with Morrigan. Instead, the series brought in the two bosses from the original video game to act as antagonists and completely dropped the Morrigan/Demitri conflict in favor of Donovan’s mope quest.
And I wanna talk about Morrigan for a moment. Considering that she’s the sexpot poster girl for the series, I was shocked at the general lack of fanservice centering around her. The series portrays her as a soft-spoken but dignified leader who can kick ass. She could have been a genuinely compelling heroine if the series didn’t choose to forget about her.
So yeah, I was expecting this to be an orgy of vampire-on-frankenstein-on-succubus-on-mummy-on-whatever fighting. Instead, the series focused on all the wrong things. It isn’t incompetent the way some other fighting game anime can be. It sucked because it didn’t want to be a fighting game anime.