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"Darkstalkers" Round One: Fight!

The Darkstalkers, the old races of Earth, have returned. Some of these creatures—like the catgirl actress Felicia and lord of the seas Rikku—are good. Others, such as the succubus Morrigan, the vampire Demitri, and intergalactic despot Pyron—are not. While this might have been decent Saturday fare ten years ago, how does this story (adapted from a hit Japanese fighting game) hold up in the world of Playstation Portables and UDON Comics? In this review, the Darkstalkers of the American animated series face off against the Darkstalkers of the American comic book.

The Darkstalkers game never was as popular in America as its big brother Street Fighter II, so it didn’t get many adaptation: there was no live-action movie and only a short-lived American cartoon and comic. The Animated Series is nearly a decade old, while the comic’s issue six (the temporary end of the current UDON series) came out the first week of June.

The original game never offered much plot. A bunch of monsters stripped out of legend and lore, the Darkstalkers, combat in a tournament for their own reasons, inevitably to face off against the despot-aflame Pyron. With such a small story to work from, the adaptations had a chance to expand in most any direction.

In the cartoon, Pyron is the bumbling evil villain who has come to take over Earth. To aid him, he plots to acquire as many Darkstalkers as he can and recruits Demitri, the original Dracula, as his general. Morrigan, a succubus who does very little succubussing in the series, plots (to no avail) to be Demitri’s superior. On the side of good is Felicia, gaming’s main catgirl, along with a host of other rotating characters, including the “curiously attractive for a fish man” Rikuo and multiple Sasquatches (sasquatchi?). Unfortunately, the show’s producers felt the need for a main character that kids could relate to, so they created Harry Grimoire (anticipating by a couple of years another magic-casting Harry), who is the descendent of Merlin. Harry’s not a bad character, but he certainly feels out of place. The show has the traditional faults of low-budget ’90s cartoons, including plot problems (why would a character say he’d never be able to stand in the sun while standing in the sun?!) and animation gaffes (a vampire speaks with the all-important computer program’s voice). Casting isn’t perfect either, with Bishamon, the ancient possessed Japanese samurai, coming off like the “I Will Rule You!” alien from Aqua Teen Hunger Force.

Still, I remember having fun with the series as a kid—and, I’ll admit to owning a life-size wall-poster of Morrigan. Chances are kids today might find it worthwhile in a world of card battles and Saturday-morning superhero shows.

Darkstalkers (which comes to us via UDON Comics) is an entirely different beast. It’s not played down for children and even lacks the Comics Code Authority or any other rating. Instead, it’s intended for the fans of the games. Origins are well done, but the series as a whole seems to lack a goal. Many different factions are formed, but they aren’t for the sole goal of taking down Pyron—each person has his or her own mission, and none seem to come to any conclusion. Still, the great art and enjoyable writing (and the knowledge that, like the sister series Street Fighter, it might tie all the plotlines together) make it a fun read.

The DVDs come with no extras, but they are plentiful in the comic. Besides the core stories, each issue has a back-up one-shot and a one- or two-page joke comic featuring the characters.

It’s surprisingly hard to choose between the two. The complete animated series can easily be found for five dollars, while all six issues of the comic would run you fifteen. (No doubt they’ll do a digest trade down the road.) Still, if you can only pick up one, I’d spend the money and get the comic.

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