November 18, 2012

Interpretations of Ryu

As many of you out there may know, Ryu is the show-stealing main character of  Capcom’s mega popular Street Fighter gaming series. What has always intrigued my interest in the series was not the addictive, button-mashing, two dimensional fighting system but Capcom’s hands off approach when it came to character design and promotional artwork. In all honesty, they would lock the artist in a room for the day and give him the responsibility to design a character, stage, poster or anything of the like.

This approach was just vague enough to work. All of the sudden the artist would have to go off instinct and not try to mimic the art style of the previous installment of the franchise. So, with an iconic character such as Ryu, an artist would take his trademark features (such as his red headband or his white karate outfit) and fill the rest in with their own flavor of artistic style. From the artistic medium choice to the shade of red used for his headband, fans had an all new fresh interpretation of Ryu with each installment of the series.

Fans got the chance to see a twentieth century version the Homeric and fabled hero, reinterpreted as the times changed. A silent warrior fighting for truth, love or justice, it never mattered as long as Ryu was a heavily decorated warrior through time fighting for the good. Each and every time Capcom would strap his gloves back on to jump back in the ring for another round, he would return with a brand new coat of creativity.  Whether he would come back as a bold colored, heavy stylized comic book inspired character or return as a masterfully painted watercolor warrior, the fans not only bought into a top notch franchise but as a bonus where getting an art show every round, free of charge.  Now, it is true that companies that where smart obviously would throw money into the look or aesthetic of their products but to me at least, Capcom always knew that they had a certain craftsmanship level that maybe was internally imposed to compete with other video games on the market in the past and even into today. Whether or not they felt the heat of the competition, this approach has led to some classic work.

Earlier in the year, my girlfriend bought me a book that had every piece of artwork done for the series to date for my birthday (yeah I know, she’s a keeper). Frantically clawing through every page took me on a ride through the late eighties on into the nineties and even into today. After reading and analyzing the book I came across a startling epiphany. There was a reason I could tell which piece of art came from which decade. Looking at the mediums and artistic fads that have come and gone during the past thirty years, I realized Capcom has created an archive, a graphical, interactive representation of that time in design. Capcom treats this franchise and its iconic main character as their time capsule, with each game freezing one point in time but also remaining timeless, showing Ryu as many remember him but also revealing a fresh face for a new generation.

Image Credit: Capcom

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