Battle Arena Toshinden is a movie you can skip if you’ve never heard of the series and one that’s disappointing if you’re a devoted fan and you’re interested in watching it anyway.
For those unfamiliar, Battle Arena Toshinden is a three-dimensional weapon-based fighting game series that came out in the PlayStation era and had four entries. It had its technical problems, but Battle Arena Toshinden had original fighters, a wide array of moves and a unique style of play that made the games different to other fighting titles from the time. In 1996, an OVA based on the franchise came out, trying to tell the stories of the different characters, but its lack of focus and confusing story leaves a lot to be desired.
Like myriad of films based on fighting games have proven before, making an adaptation of this kind is incredibly tough because you need to balance dozens of characters while telling a compelling and coherent story. The only exception I can think of is Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie, since the film avoided the aforementioned trappings by focusing on a handful of characters, introducing the rest as cameos and telling a mature story anyone could enjoy. Sadly, Battle Arena Toshinden is not an exception.
The plot of this OVA doesn’t seem to follow a straight line. Instead, the film jumps back and forth telling different events and showing the rivalries of the characters or their pasts in the form of flashbacks. As a consequence, it’s remarkably difficult to follow these vignettes and understand the story as a whole. For the most part, you’re following Eiji and his archrival Gaia in mortal combat, but the bout is interrupted by a man called Chaos who works for an evil syndicate known as the Organization and has been sent to eliminate Gaia because he’s planning to take over the company.
In terms of structure, the film has its problems. These vignettes could have been used as cutscenes in a game to provide more context before or after a fight, but as a movie, it feels like a mess of unconnected events. One moment the main protagonist is playing soccer in a field and the next he’s fighting his naked girlfriend Sofia to death.
As someone who has never played a Battle Toshinden game before, this OVA felt incredibly frustrating to watch because it doesn’t provide any context for the fights and flashbacks. I’d recommend this movie to absolute fans who love the games and would like to know more about the story. But even if you’re a longtime fan of the franchise, I get the feeling that this film is disappointing because some important characters barely make an appearance and some fights are too brief.
The number of fighters introduced is dizzying. It’s like the people involved in this project felt the need to include every character from the roster and while some will appreciate the fan service, the result is a mess of a film that makes no sense. If, despite everything I said about the pair of films, you still want to watch this OVA anyway, stay away from the English Dub because it suffers from hammy voice acting and over-theatrical performances, so do some research and try to find a copy of the original Japanese movie with English subtitles instead.
In conclusion, Battle Arena Toshinden is a movie you can skip if you’ve never heard of the series and one that’s disappointing if you’re a devoted fan and you’re interested in watching it anyway. The mind-numbing number of characters, convoluted plot and frantic pace in which the different characters are introduced leaves a lot to be desired regardless of your relationship with the games. It has some redeeming qualities (such as the animation, violent fights and the fact that it’s based on a property not everyone is familiar with,) but for the most part, this is a disappointing OVA you can do without.