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by Christopher Farris,

Street Fighter Masters Volume 1: Fight to Win

Graphic Novel Review

Street Fighter Masters Volume 1: Fight to Win Graphic Novel Review
Udon Entertainment celebrates 20 years of Street Fighter comics by delving into what drives some of its most famous fighters. Party with all the World Warriors at Ken's place for a celebration, then go back to (rival) school with Akira Kazama. Follow Chun-li as she questions how deep her quest for vengeance must go, and check in with Cammy and Delta Red as they clash with Seth. The celebration even extends into the realm of the imaginary, with Street Fighter Omega, plus a colossal collection of cover artwork.

As a lifelong fan of Street Fighter, it's easy to get excited about the potential of seeing my favorite fighters doing stuff in different mediums. The flip side is that Udon Entertainment's hold on the comic treatment of the characters for the past 20 years has repeatedly bounced off me. I won't go into dense detail regarding my overall issues with the company's approach to the franchise—suffice to say their iteration is mired in a lot of third-party-side choices and misinterpretations of characterizations and lore (yes, Street Fighter has lore).

Never let it be said that I can't give something a second, third, or fourth chance, though. So if the first volume of Street Fighter Masters, an anthology of side stories ostensibly celebrating the two decades Udon has had with the property, can sell itself on simply seeing some Street Fighter characters doing cool stuff, maybe it can entertain even a curmudgeon like me. It advertises the involvement of the character Akira Kazama and other Rival Schools alums, and Karin Kanzuki is on the cover! This could be a good time.

The title alleging a collection of the Street Fighter Masters mini-series is a misnomer for this volume. Those issues comprise barely over a quarter of the book, with a few other one-shots filling things out alongside…well, I'll get to it later. The 100th issue special this volume leads with technically ought to be a good foot forward, being an on-page celebration of all the time Udon has spent with the series. Most of your favorite World Warriors put in at least cameo appearances, doing that thing where they rotate in to spout some dialogue, reminding fans of their basic personalities. Why is Dhalsim complaining to Dee Jay about his music making it hard to meditate? Because Dhalsim is the Yoga guy, you know. Yun and Yang show up to serve food and make a passing mention of Gen to Chun-li, that sort of thing. The actual plot hooks of this issue seem to be setting up whatever the next major storyline of Udon's main Street Fighter book will be. It also conspires to facilitate a fight between Ryu, Chun-li, and Guile since you'd naturally want some fighting in your Street Fighter book.

Following that, the volume goes into another special issue and the main reason I was even interested in giving this a look: the Back To School Special featuring Akira, Sakura, Karin, and every other fighting schoolgirl character CAPCOM has had. After all, I am an absolute mark for anything Rival Schools. But as I've learned with so much of Udon's output before, simply acknowledging characters and series I love can't be enough to carry things if there's no true understanding of how to use those elements going on beneath the surface. Sure, it's nice to see Sakura and Karin acting as properly graduated older role models to the younger characters. But everything else reads like the excuse plot to a crossover fighter you don't get to play. If you just wanted to see Street Fighter characters throwdown with Project Justice fighters in decently clever themed matchups, well, here you go. Even if they had to weirdly reinterpret Seijyun Girls' High School as a college here to make it happen.

The character-spotlighting Street Fighter Masters issues fill things out more substantially than the specials, though not by much. The first issue starring Blanka opts for a "silent" gimmick to showcase the power of solid visual storytelling from these comics when they aren't cluttered with cringe-worthy dialogue. Emblematic of that is the following Chun-li-focused issue, where characters and a narrator repeatedly explain her personal arc. The Cammy issue is more balanced as a one-off story with action, characters, and concepts. Though it feels wild that something as significant as Seth changing from their Street Fighter IV body to their Street Fighter V one happens due to an off-panel fight with Juri contained in a Cammy-focused one-shot.

It all amounts to naught but occasionally amusing distractions barely fill the first half of this book. Those stories are followed by Street Fighter Omega, which is a…let's call it an "experiment." Here, Udon proposes a 24-issue "imaginary" series bridging the gap from their Street Fighter V-based stories to Street Fighter 6, with covers, titles, and short plot descriptions. It's an unchecked, wild setting where impossible things can happen, like Remy getting to do something. It's probably the most compelling part of the book since it lets the reader's imagination do the heavy lifting for how cool some of these plotlines could be without them getting too Udon'd up. And as a vector for cramming in more fanservice references to side-series like Cannon Spike, it's way more effective than the character parades of the opening two special issues.

The entire last quarter of this volume is filled with various variants and exclusive covers of these comics. That and the imaginary Street Fighter Omega covers work to call attention to the art in this book, which is as all-over-the-place as you can expect from licensed collections like these. Consistent character designs, especially the faces, are suggestions most of the time. That's not necessarily an issue regarding artists doing their own thing in a book like this. Still, it can be jarring to turn the page showing Ryan Kinnaird's take on Cammy and be greeted by Alberto Alburquerque's very different version of the character. The comics and covers also tend towards the horny type of fanservice (especially Kinnaird's work), but that's honestly parred for the course for both Udon and Street Fighter. It works fine to have Street Fighter Masters give up and turn into an art book in the last stretch here, so long as you appreciate numerous pin-ups of Chun-li and Cammy.

That's your lot with Street Fighter Masters. You're getting a solid collection of character art (much of which can be seen up on Udon's promo pages) with some disposable comic stories where you might get to enjoy some out-of-context obscure CAPCOM cameos. If that's enough to go in on a fancy hard-cover compilation like this, you probably already did so. But if you're like me, and you were on the fence wondering if anything about Udon's handling of Street Fighter had appreciably changed in the past 20 years, well, you can do yourself a favor and not worry about spending your time and money on it.

Overall : C
Story : C-
Art : B+

+ Some nice selections of art, A few enjoyable character cameos, Street Fighter Omega is an interesting experiment
Stories are mostly shallow and slapdash, Cameos are hardly worth much when they don't do anything with the characters, Art can be inconsistent

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