February 25, 2017

DARKSTALKERS: THE ANIMATED SERIES

DARKSTALKERS: THE ANIMATED SERIES
(UPN, September 30-December 23, 1995)


Graz Entertainment, Capcom USA

MAIN CAST:
Michael DonovanDemitri Maximoff, Terramon’s ship computer, various
Ian James CorlettVictor von Gerdenheim, Huitzil, Pyron’s ship computer, various
Zoltan Buday – Anakaris (2 episodes)
Richard NewmanPyron, Merlin, Terramon


            Emboldened by the success of Final Fight in the arcades, Capcom decided to revisit their Street Fighter concept and try to make it a better game. Street Fighter II: The World Warrior, released in 1991, followed a lot of the same conventions as its predecessor, it allowed players the options of playing with eight characters; each with distinct fighting styles and the ability to chain moves into combos. Coupled with brilliantly animated sprites and a soundtrack by Yoko Shimomura, the game became a hit and helped to revitalize the arcade game industry and redefine the fighting genre.

Street Fighter II print ad.

            Over the next few years, Capcom would refine the play mechanics, graphics, character roster and more and release a series of updated versions of Street Fighter II in both the arcade and later on home consoles. While each version was better than the last, the endless revisions became a running gag in the video game community. Meanwhile, other game publishers looked to latch on to Capcom’s success and began developing their own fighting games. Soon, there was Mortal Kombat, Killer Instinct, Samurai Showdown, King of Fighters and more. The fighting genre was beginning to become saturated, and another Street Fighter II revision just wasn’t going to cut it to maintain Capcom’s dominance in the field.

The Darkstalkers universe.

            Capcom decided to use their unique Street Fighter II game engine for a new kind of fighting game. Producer Alex Jimenez suggested making a game involving the Universal Monsters, based on his love of the properties. Capcom petitioned Universal Studios for the license but were subsequently denied. Jimenez decided to create their own characters based on those and other monsters; a process which he claimed took about an hour. The resulting game became Darkstalkers: The Night Warriors (known as Vampire: The Night Warriors in Japan). The game was similar to Street Fighter, but was rendered with the most fluid sprite animation to date conveying each character’s distinct personality, gorgeous background level designs, and introduced air-blocking and extra-powerful attacks.

Character sprites (from top): Demitri, Victor, Raptor, Morrigan, Jon Talbain, Pyron, Sasquatch, Anakaris, Felicia, Bishamon, Rikuo and Huitzil.

            The game was centered on the conflict of supernatural beings known as Darkstalkers. Comic being Pyron came to Earth with the intentions of conquering and devouring it, and only the Darkstalkers stood a chance of stopping him and saving the world. The Darkstalkers came to inhabit Earth through the gradual merging of the Earth realm with the demon world known as Makai. The game featured ten playable characters: Demitri Maximoff, a vampire lord who was banished to Earth from Makai; Morrigan Aensland (named for the Celtic Phantom Queen), a succubus (changed from a female vampire due to Demitri already being one) and adopted daughter of Belial, the king of Makai; Felicia, a catwoman (or bakeneko) raised in a nunnery with a desire to become an actress; Jon Talbain (after the character John Talbot from the Wolfman movies), a werewolf struggling to control his animalistic urges through the study of martial arts; Anakaris, a 5,000-year-old resurrected mummy; Bishamon (based on Japanese god of war Bishamonten), a cursed suit of samurai armor that takes over whatever host that wears it with its murderous bloodlust; Rikuo (named after Ricou Browning who played the Gill-man in Creature from the Black Lagoon), a merman whose race was wiped out by the coming of Pyron; Sasquatch, a member of a race of yetis in the Canadian wilderness with a fondness for bananas; Victor von Gerdenheim, a dim-witted Frankenstein monster whose creator died shortly after making him; and Lord Rapter, an Australian speed metal guitarist resurrected as a zombie who could transform his limbs into chainsaws. The two unplayable boss characters were Pyron and his robotic minion, Huitzil (named for the Aztec god of sun and war, Huitzilopochtli). Initially, Jimenez wanted Felicia to be from Africa with the ability to turn into a panther as her special move, as well as the sexy character. Morrigan’s change to a succubus made her the default sexy one, leaving Felicia to become a cute white cat at Capcom’s request.



            The arcade game was released in Japan in June of 1994 to generally favorable reviews. Pleased with the results, Capcom was quick to give Darkstalkers the Street Fighter II treatment and released an updated version the following March in Japan, which also saw a North American release in April. Night Warriors: Darkstalkers’ Revenge (Vampire Hunter in Japan) featured new combos, two types of special moves that required different levels of the special gauge, and made the bosses playable. It also introduced two new characters: Hsien-Ko, and Donovan Baine. Hsien-Ko was transformed into a jiangshi, a type of Chinese reanimated corpse, with formidable magical powers. Her sister, Mei-Ling, keeps her in check as the fu (or ward-paper), on Hisen-Ko’s hat. Donovan was a dhampir that wielded a magical sword called “Dhylec” that can channel divine and elemental powers. Donovan traveled with and protected emotionally-detached young girl Anita, who possessed powerful psychic powers. Both Hisen-Ko and Donovan were Dark Hunters and gave the sequel its Japanese name.  

Pyron and Huitzil hold Rikuo captive.

            The series proved popular enough for Capcom to begin marketing it in other media. Graz Entertainment optioned the license to produce an animated series based around the game in North America (it should be noted Night Warriors was that market’s first exposure to the franchise, as the original game wouldn’t be released to home consoles until 1996). Expanding upon the game’s limited story, Pyron (Richard Newman) had returned to Earth to find it teaming with humans. To restore the balance where Darkstalkers ruled them and, in turn, served him, Pyron recruited Demitri Maximoff (Michael Donovan, using a slight Transylvanian accent) and Morrigan Aensland (Saffron Henderson, using an Irish accent) to head up his army.

Morrigan and Demitri take down Victor.

            Demitri used Pyron’s ship’s tractor beam to recruit said army. He awakened Anakaris (Scott McNeil & Zoltan Buday, using an Egyptian accent) from his deep sleep, which seemed to have warped his mind causing him to speak gibberish at times; Bishamon (Colin Murdock, using a Japanese accent), who was dismayed to discover his curse persisted; and Lord Raptor (McNeil, using a British accent), after resurrecting him from the plane he crashed in while on tour in 1970. He also attempted to recruit Jon Talbain (Lee Tokar) while he was on a hunt; the vain Rikuo (McNeil) as he lamented the loss of his kind; Victor von Gerdenheim (Ian James Corlett, impersonating Arnold Schwarzenegger) who was dormant in a movie studio prop room; Bigfoot (Sasquatch renamed, voiced by Dale Wilson) as he was with his nephew, Hairball (Laura Harris); and Felicia (Lisa Ann Beley) as she was rejected from yet another stage role. However, they avoided his efforts to recruit them.

Harry tries to keep Donovan from killing Felicia.

Felicia attempted to find help against Pyron’s forces by heading to the home of Elijah Grimoire; a powerful wizard descended from the legendary Merlin (Newman). Instead, she found young Harry Grimoire (a new character originally named Bobby Bridges, voiced by Kyle Labine) who had inherited his ancestor’s power, but not the knowledge to use it. Complicating matters were the Darkstalker hunters Donovan Baine (Garry Chalk) and Hsien-Ko (Beley using a Chinese accent), who attacked without discrimination regardless of their targets’ intent. Felicia and Harry served as the series’ primary protagonists as they sought to increase Harry’s powers and thwart Pyron’s plans; teaming-up with the random Darkstalker they’d encounter. Likewise, Morrigan and Dimitri served as the primary antagonists with the others appearing every so often.

Jon Talbain, Rikuo, Klaus, Bigfoot, Harry, Felicia and Victor at Victor's castle.

Darkstalkers: The Animated Series premiered on UPN on September 30, 1995. The series was written by animation veterans Richard Mueller, Christy Marx, Katherine Lawrence, and Douglas Booth, along with Kat Likkel and Brooks Wachtel. Mueller also served as the story editor. Hyun Young Enterprise Co. LTD. handled the animation while William Anderson and Anderson Scores composed the music. Jimenez, Yoshiki Okamoto, Eric Luther, Phillip Reed, and Nobuko Tomita served as consultants on behalf of Capcom.

Anakaris joins a video conference on Pyron's ship.

The show took some liberties with the source material in order to make it more suitable for their intended audiences. Instead of using the Japanese character designs, the characters’ models were redesigned by Frank Brunner, Patrick Gleason, James Glader and Paula LaFond. As a result, Morrigan and Felicia’s bodies were toned down and covered up a bit more. While still a succubus, Morrigan was made the descendant of Morgan le Fey (also Henderson). Donovan’s sword was simply called the “spell sword”, and Anita (renamed “Amanda” as she was in the North American versions of the game) absorbed the power of the sword after surviving an attack by Demitri (her origin remained consistent, but the identity of the attacker tended to change between media). Raptor relied on sonic attacks from his guitar rather than transforming his limbs into chainsaws as in the game, and often quoted song titles and lyrics in his speech. Bishamon’s curse was housed in the sword he possessed, rather than in the armor, and once freed from the curse he had to fight on the side of good in order to be reunited with his dead wife. Victor was made a bit more intelligent and was given a manservant in his father’s castle in the form of Klaus Schmendrick (Gerard Plunkett), whose family had always served the von Gerdenheim’s. Similarly, Hsien-Ko was in the service of the goddess Quan Yin (Venus Terzo), who was responsible for her creation and her mission.



The series didn’t perform well with audiences. Many criticized the series’ writing and poor animation, as well as the addition of the annoying lead character, Harry. As a result, the show was cancelled after its single season. A second attempt at a Darkstalkers animated series came when Madhouse and DR Movie produced a four-episode OVA in Japan called Night Warriors: Darkstalkers’ Revenge. McNeil was retained to once again voice Lord Raptor (called Zabel Zarock), while Kathleen Barr, who played Harry’s mother, became the voice of Morrigan. In comparison, the OVA was better received than the North American series.

Concept art for Marvel vs. Capcom 3 (2011) showcasing the Darkstalkers members of the roster.

Morrigan and Felicia proved to be the most popular with gamers, and appeared in many of Capcom’s efforts to follow (particularly Morrigan). UDON Comics published two Darkstalkers comics as part of their license with Capcom, and in 2017 put their Street Fighter franchise with them for a crossover mini-series. However, on the game side, the Darkstalkers series proper had been allowed to suffer and stagnate under a series of revisions and re-releases. Lackluster reception to these efforts prompted Capcom to cancel any plans for future installments of the franchise.


EPISODE GUIDE:
“Out of the Dark” (9/30/95) – Pyron returns to Earth and summons the Darkstalkers to help him conquer it, and the only one Felicia can find to stop him is the descendent of a powerful sorcerer.

“Donovan’s Bane” (10/7/95) – Harry and Felicia head to Great Britain to find a ring connected to his family, while Morrigan seeks out her own heirloom to take on the Dark Hunter.

“Pyramid Power” (10/14/95) – Morrigan, Demitri and Anakaris travel back in time to find out the fate of an ancient gem while Mrs. Grimoire heads to Egypt to investigate a floating pyramid.

“The Game” (10/21/95) – Pyron pits Morrigan and Demitri against each other to see who can capture the most heroes.

“And the Walls Come Tumblin’ Down” (10/28/95) – Raptor’s guitar, Harry’s ring and Anakaris’ computer all detect something strange that sends their respective owners to investigate.

“Ghost Hunter” (11/4/95) – Raptor investigates a possible Darkstalker to be recruited while Felicia asks Rikuo to look into the mysterious death of a man in Africa.

“Little Bigfoot’s Last Stand” (11/11/95) – Pyron abducts Harry and Hairball, leaving Felicia and the Bigfoot tribe to figure out how to rescue them both.

“My Harry’s in the Highlands” (11/18/95) – It’s a race to retrieve a magical ring from Harry’s ancestor before Morrigan gets her hands on her own.

“Aliens Keep Out” (11/25/95) –Rikuo recuperate in Atlantis after escaping the Dark Hunter, but their rest is cut short when Pyron appears and is captured by an ancient robot.

“Samurai’s Honor” (12/2/95) – Donovan stops Demitri from devouring a young girl and takes her to Felicia and Harry for help, only to discover there’s more to her than there seems.

“There’s No Business Like Dragon Business” (12/9/95) – Harry and Hairball find a dragon in the snow who’s turned against Felicia by Raptor.

“Darkest Before the Dawn” (12/16/95) – Demitri comes to possess a powerful mystical crystal.

“Everyone’s a Critic” (12/23/95) – Pyron is forced to team-up with the heroic Darkstalkers in order to save the world from his brother, Terramon.

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