A detailed analysis of the Japanese used in Street Fighter II
It was in February 1991 when Street Fighter II: The World Warrior was released by Capcom in Japan. It was a follow-up to the original Street Fighter, and the first one-on-one fighting game to give players a choice from a variety of player characters, an option which created hitherto unknown levels of depth and replay value for an arcade game at the time. I’m sure the game doesn’t need any further introduction, since it has become one of the most beloved fighting games ever created, and the pinnacle by which all other games of the genre are measured – even to this day. Chances are, you’ve spent countless hours hurling ‘Hadoukens’ or ‘Whirlwind kicks’ at your friends, whether in the Arcade, or at home on the SNES (at the time), along with many other popular consoles these days. By now, the SF games have graced every possible gaming system on the market.
It revolutionized the fighting game genre at the time, and due to its interesting characters, special moves, and smooth gameplay, had a tremendous impact on popular culture – even to this very day.
Just last year, for instance, Team Mexico became the World Cosplay Champions at the WCS with their fantastic take on a typical SFII fight between Chun-Li and Dhalsim.
You may know all the special moves and nobody can hold a candle to you in the arcade or on a home console, but in all those years playing the game, have you ever wondered what they’re actually saying while hurling a fireball at someone, or what the unpronounceable battle cry of the ‘Whirlwind Kick’ actually means? Wonder no more… We’re about to delve into the secret language of SFII.
Let’s start with (arguably) the most popular character(s) in the game:
Ryu / Ken.
Yes, I know they’re different characters from different countries, but their styles are so similar, that for the sake of brevity, we’ll mostly refer to Ryu for simplification.
Ryu’s fighting Style in the game is Ansatsuken, which translates to Assassination Fist. This is not a real fighting style unfortunately, though some moves do resemble the style of Shotokan Karate.
So what is Ryu actually saying? His most famous move is probably Hadouken (波動拳), which could be translated to Surging Fist. The first two characters are 波動, pronounced ‘Hado’ or Surge in English, and the last character is 拳 Ken, or ‘Fist’. Another way to read the phrase would be ‘Wave Motion Fist’.
In later SF games, Ryu has a super-charged version of the Hadouken, called 真空波動拳 Shinkuhadouken. We are already familiar with the last three characters (for Hadouken). The first two characters together (真空) are pronounced ‘shinku,’ which translates to ‘vacuum’ or ’empty.’ So, all together we have Vacuum Surging Fist – or a punch that draws forth power from nothingness before surging forward and striking the enemy.
The next famous move, which is also shared by Ken, is Shoryuken (昇龍拳), or ‘Rising Dragon Fist’. The Kanji read as Sho (昇 to rise), Ryu (龍 Dragon) and Ken (拳 Fist).
Ken has a special version of this move, called 昇龍裂破 – Shouryureppa
Essentially, it’s Ken’s Super version of the Rising Dragon Fist. A few, quick uppercuts in a row, followed by a final, massive Shouryuken that does significant damage and sends opponents into the Stratosphere. Taking a look at the kanji, we see that the first two characters, 昇龍 (‘shouryu’ or Rising Dragon), are the same first two characters from Shouryuken. The final two, 裂破, are pronounced ‘reppa’ – a combination of the two readings, ‘retsu’ and ‘ha’ – and represent a merger between ‘rend’ or ‘tear,’ and ‘destroy.’ Put it all together and we have Rising Dragon Rending Destruction. Yes, as with many things, a lot gets lost in translation.
So far, so easy, right? The last of Ken and Ryu’s “big three” special attacks – this down-down/back-back to kick maneuver is commonly referred to in English as the Hurricane or Whirlwind Kick. What are they actually saying while twisting their tongues as much as their bodies? What sounds like an impossible tongue-twister is actually 竜巻旋風脚 – Tatsumakisenpuukyaku, or Tornado Whirlwind Kick. Try to say that five times fast!
One of the most popular characters from the original lineup, Chun-Li has been a mainstay in the SF universe from the beginning. Hailing from China, Chun-Li’s name is Mandarin for “spring beauty” (春 chūn, “spring”; 麗 lì, “beautiful”), but would be read as ‘Shunrei’ in Japanese (On Yomi).
Butt out, upper body forward and pushing out a blue projectile through outstretched palms, this move and accompanying animation is one of the most iconic images of the SF Franchise. Though originally not part of her repertoire, a projectile move was added to later editions of the game due to popular demand, resulting in the now iconic image.
The move is called 気功拳 – Kikouken, which roughly translates to ‘spirit cultivation’, or more freely translated: Qi Gong. You’re already familiar with the ending ‘Ken’, so putting these two together, we get Qigong Fist. Qi Gong is a type of slow, moving meditation, similar to T’ai Chi.
Her official fighting style is actually listed as T’ai Chi, but more closely resembles Kempo, which can have either more Japanese, or Chinese Martial Arts elements, depending on which school of Kempo you belong to.
Next up, we have the “Lightning Kick”, or 百裂 Hyakuretsukyaku. The iconic rapid-fire kick is made up of the characters for (百 hyaku) one hundred, (裂 Retsu) rend, and (脚 ashi) Leg. Combined, we can read the phrase as One Hundred Rending Kicks, which fittingly, sounds a lot like a Chinese Kung-Fu technique rather than a T’ai Chi move.
Last, but certainly not least, here’s a move everyone’s familiar with. She quickly does a sort of handstand, and jumps into the air with her legs outstretched in a split, then spins around upside down – gravity be damned – moving towards her opponent like an unstoppable human helicopter. A devastating move if caught inside it, this kick mainly serves as a great defense against jumping attacks. While executing this move, she simply says: “スピニングバードキク, or ‘Spinning Bird Kick”. also known as Kaitenteki Kakukyakushu (回転的鶴脚蹴 Kaitenteki Kakukyakushū), literally meaning “Rotating Target Crane Leg Kick”.
While there are many more characters in SF games these days, that’s it for Japanese speaking characters for the original SF II. Of course, to round out this in-depth analysis of the Japanese used, we have to take a look at the quintessential Japanese fighter – E Honda. Though he doesn’t say much in the game, there are a few items we can point out.
Starting with the enigmatic E, we quickly discover that it actually stands for Edmond. So his full name is エドモンド 本田; Edomondo Honda. A Japanese Sumo Wrestler in 1991 named Edmond? Who’d have thunk?
Honda-san embodies a combination of typical Japanese cultural items and traits. Obviously, his fighting style is Sumo, but his face is painted in the kumadori style of makeup usually associated with kabuki, giving him quite an imposing look.
E. Honda’s stage is called Edo no You (江戸の湯 Hot Water of Edo)
It is inside of a fictional sentō (銭湯) (public bath) in Kapukon Yu (加富根湯), Higashi Komagata, Tokyo. Kapukon Yu is located in the western part of Tokyo better known as Yamanote.
His signature move is the Hyaku Retsu Harite (百裂張り手), or Hundred (rending) Hand Slap, also known as “Hundred Violent Sumo Hands”.
During his iconic headbutt move, he says ‘Dosukoi’ which is a typical exclamation from Sumo. There’s no specific meaning to this word, but very loosely translated, we could think of it as a sort of self-motivational battle cry along the lines of “Geronimo”. Rumors are that a long time ago, back when amateur sumo was still a thing in villages, one of the taunts that got thrown around was “doko e iku?” (“Where to, next?” which in this context is probably more like “What’s next?”). The crowd repeated the chant as “doko e”. “Doko e” turned into “dokko e,” which turned into “dokkoi,” which ended up as “dosukoi”.
Introduced to the character in ‘Street Fighter II: Hyper Fighting”, The Sumo Smash (スーパー百貫落とし Sūpā Hyakkan Otoshi, “Super Hundred Kan Drop”), also known as the Sumo Splash and informally as the “Butt Slam” is one of the most unrealistic moves in the franchise. An extremely heavy Sumo Wrestler effortlessly jumping into the air and dropping on the opponents…. Respect! All the criticism aside, it is a rather effective and devastating move.
While there are many more characters in the SF Universe, and hundreds of moves in the game with their own, very interesting stories and tidbits of information, Ryu/Ken and Chun-Li in addition to E Honda are the main ones from the original SFII who use Kanji and/or Japanese, which is why they are highlighted here .
To close out this analysis of SFII’s cultural impact and language, we’ll leave you with a few interesting tidbits, observations, and hidden meanings in the game to ponder.
- At the end of a round, upon winning, Chun-Li jumps joyously into the air and exclaims やった! (great / I did it!) with great delight, while making the ubiquitous “peace” sign with her fingers. She is a Chinese character, however; this mannerism would be much more easily attributable to Japan.
- The car you get to smash in the bonus round is actually based on a real car, namely the first generation Lexus LS400.
- Chun Li was the first playable female character in a fighting game
- Balrog’s original name was M.Bison, which was a reference to Mike Tyson, and Vega was originally named Balrog, which means that the final Boss (M. Bison) was originally named Vega.
- The original concept for Dhalsim made him look more like an Indian Deity with 6 arms and an Elephant’s head rather than a human being. The inspiration for his unique style with elongated arms and legs came from a Manga: Jo Jo’s Bizarre Adventure.
- Dhalsim’s skulls around his neck aren’t from previously defeated fighters as some might think (this isn’t Mortal Kombat after all), but rather to remember and honour the sick children who died from a plague in his village.
- The correct pronunciation for RYU is actually /RiU/, meaning the “I” sound is barely audible, rather than the typical North American pronunciation of /RY YU/.
- Street Fighter II was the first fighting game to offer a choice of characters with unique moves.
- The Street Fighter series is in the Guinness Book of World Records eight times, including: Most prolific Fighting Game Series (127 games by 2014), Longest Running Fighting Video Game Series, Best-Selling Coin-Operated Fighting Game, Best-Selling iOS fighting Game (SFIV), First Female Player Character in a Fighting Game, Highest Score in Super SF IV Arcade Mode, Most Tournament Wins in SF/First Woman to win a professional SF event, Longest Videogame Marathon on a Fighting Game (48hrs).
- The game has been influential in hip hop culture, as the video game most frequently sampled and referenced in hip hop music.
The success of Street Fighter II popularized the fighting game genre and sparked a renaissance for the arcade game industry not seen in many years. It appears on several lists of the greatest and most influential video games of all time, and continues to be a cultural phenomenon to this very day.
For more information about SFII characters, have a look below…