I discovered this film recently: Tekken: Blood Vengeance. I’m not a fan of Tekken. I don’t know anything about its story or characters. The movie had an art style reminiscent of Advent Children’s and probably would have some great fight scenes though, so I figured at least that’d be entertaining. Besides, I wasn’t a Final Fantasy VII fan the first time I saw Advent Children, and I loved that movie anyway. It could happen again. You never know.
Blood Vengeance was everything I expected… and more.
There were pretty, action-packed fight scenes, but I didn’t really care about them though. Something was missing. Even for a fan film, Blood Vengeance is pretty mediocre, but its fight scenes were visually similar to Advent Children’s. What’s the difference? The answer is simple: I don’t understand what motivates any of the characters to fight. Blood Vengeance is heavily reliant upon its audience’s knowledge of the Tekken universe.
I had to wonder if Advent Children was any better. Unlike what I did with Blood Vengeance, I didn’t go into Advent Children with absolutely no knowledge of what I was about to watch. I’d played through the first disc of Final Fantasy VII. I recognized Cloud and most of his friends. I knew who Aeris was and that… spoilers… she dies. I knew who Sephiroth was. Perhaps this previous knowledge was the only reason I could engage in the characters’ battles…
No. Surely, surely, Advent Children isn’t this bad at character development!
Let’s compare the first fight and the last fight in Blood Vengeance and Advent Children to see what makes one more entertaining than the other for non-fans.
The first fight scene in Tekken: Blood Vengeance is also the first scene in the movie, making it even more important to introduce the characters and their motivations. The scene begins with Nina Williams, who appears to be on the run. She is ambushed by a giant semi-truck driven by Anna Williams and seems to expect it, further suggesting that she’s just done something wrong. Both women begin the fight by attempting to brutally murder one another. They emerge from the wreckage unscathed, call each other sisters, and continue fighting. The point of this fight is hidden in a single, easily-missed detail. Nina holds up a flash drive, an item she no doubt stole from Anna.
Good thing this scene and the next two make absolutely no sense if you miss it! Good thing also that the English translation of this movie is awful, but that’s beside the point.
So these women have a reason for fighting. Is it enough to sympathize with either of them? Not really. Remember these sisters started the fight by trying to brutally murder one another. Personally, I can’t relate to that without any background information. Can we ever sympathize with either of them? A movie doesn’t have to reveal all of its secrets at once after all. Once again, not really. In fact, the further we get into the movie, the more distasteful these women get.
Nina and Anna work for rival organizations, Mishima Zaibatsu led by Jin Kazama and G Corporation led by Kazuya Mishima respectively. Jin and Kazuya are after information on the M gene, a genetic mutation, for the sole purpose of using it to become immortal and more powerful. What’s in it for Anna and Nina? Why do they work for these crazy people? Anna spends the movie beating on the main characters and being evil for no reason. Nina briefly questions the possibility that her boss might destroy the world and then continues working for him.
She helps the main characters, but only to thwart G Corporation and piss off her sister. These seemingly good deeds are driven by her incomprehensible hatred and her company’s unexplained rivalry with G Corp, which aren’t noble or reasonable motivations.
In contrast, the first fight scene of Advent Children gives us plenty of information to speculate on why the fight happened and a character we can understand. We know a few things about Cloud’s personality. He’s negligent and moody, but at some point, he was nice enough to make some friends, ones who still care about him. He’s also somewhat vulnerable because of some pain in his arm. The audience is much more likely to have experienced depression and pain than to have experienced invincibility and mindless hatred, which already makes Cloud much easier to relate to than Nina or Anna even though we don’t know a lot about him yet. Loz, Kadaj, and Yazoo are still pretty mysterious, but we know that they’re childish and looking for someone. They also start the fight for no apparent reason, establishing themselves as the bad guys. The beauty of this seemingly pointless battle though is that Cloud is as clueless as we are, giving us another reason to engage in his plight. Most likely, this battle started because Kadaj and his gang wanted to fight for fun, which matches their childish behavior, and to gather information on “mother,” who Loz and Yazoo ask about soon after the fight begins.
Even if we have no idea what Final Fantasy VII is, Advent Children gives us plenty of clues to help us determine who our hero is, why we should sympathize with him, who the bad guys are, and why they are fighting. This extremely simple but effective character development lets us spend more time watching some great action and less time figuring out why we should care.
An audience member who’s never played Tekken before will have a much more difficult time getting into the action in Blood Vengeance since it gives us no reason to like anyone and few visual clues as to what’s going on. I’m not saying all characters need to be established as good or evil like Advent Children does. I suspect that Tekken is (or could be) full of morally grey characters with interesting relationships and motivations for their actions, and it’s a shame that this movie doesn’t take advantage of that. It could be more successful as a standalone film if it gave more hints as to who these characters are and why they do what they do.
Next episode, how do these films handle the final boss fight where the boss is someone only fans can truly appreciate? Talk at you next time and also…
[I’ll be your refrigerator.]