Street Fighter II: The Animated Feature - A Retrospective
If there was one title that single-handedly defined and changed the face of "Beat-'em Up" gaming in the 90's it was Street Fighter II: The World Warrior. Released to arcades in 1991 it drew huge crowds all over the world. Getting in line for a quick game was no easy task and for me it meant many a frustrating weekend as I tried to get up to the local cinema arcades to play it, but no matter how early you went there was always someone else on the machine. It got to a point though where those not hardened enough to play would soon back off, leaving those who mastered the many techniques and combos to dominate the arena. During the times I did manage to play I got severely hammered and still do to this day, but no matter how hard you get beaten the game has its many rewards and going back to it time and time again is an enjoyable experience.
There are those of us who have our favourite versions of the game and over the years new generations have been easily introduced to various incarnations, ranging from the cult classic up to the SNK and Marvel series. Today the Street Fighter franchise is still hot property, with at least one new game involving the characters being released per annum, not to mention toys, comics and various other spin-off pieces. For me though 1994's Super Street Fighter II Turbo brings the fondest memories as being the pinnacle of arcade beat 'em ups - not only carrying over the four new characters from "The New Challengers" series but also upping the speed considerably. For those who thought the original was too slow well this was the game for them and boy it didn't disappoint.
And it was in 1994 that two movies were released, based upon the hit games: Street Fighter starring Jean-Claude Van Damme and the late Raul Julia and Street Fighter II: The Animated Feature, produced in Japan. The former was an appalling attempt at trying to recreate the game's universe, starring the most bizarre cast line-up of that year, made worse by the fact that none of them were suited to their respective character. Its foul stench was quickly wafted away by what was and still is the definitive movie based upon the game, the animated feature that went on to worldwide acclaim and became a fan favourite, pleasing not only gamers but anime enthusiasts who found its energy and faithfulness to the series admirable. And it is this very feature that I have decided to celebrate for Street Fighter's 15th anniversary.
Any of you who played the game will know the premise is simple; to travel around the world and take on fighters of all cultures, each one trained in their own unique art and sharing a thirst to become champion of the world. And that's it, it is about working your way up to the top and meeting each challenge that progressively gets tougher the further you get. So with this in mind you have to wonder how a game can be turned into a feature length film and offer enough fan service along the way (to use the term in a different sense to its common Anime usage - though if you’ve seen certain cuts you can take it the other way). Well, the creators over at Capcom managed to get together a great team to come up with a premise based on their character designs and that was to take the ones who were considered central to the game. Ryu, Ken and Sagat had already been seen in the original Street Fighter back in arcades, circa 1987 and so it was an easy route to take by capitalising on their back story which was about two friends who went their separate ways to experience more of the world outside.
While still keeping simple the plot manages to successfully bring together all sixteen characters (Seventeen if you count a very quick cameo by Akuma) from the classic Super Street Fighter II - Turbo. It’s the not too distant future and the world is at threat thanks to Bison - the leader of a criminal syndicate known as "Shadaloo" (or "Shadowlaw", depending what version you’re watching) who control a large weapons and drug-running operation within Asia. Bison has recruited a few loyal servants to aid him in his attempt to control the masses but the acquirements of Vega, Sagat and Balrog are not enough for him, he wants greater fighters and sets his sights on a lone traveller named Ryu. Unaware of this interest Ryu carries on with business, walking from place to place around Asia and keeping up with his martial arts training. As he continues to elude Bison, the crime lord decides to go for someone else - Ryu's best friend, Ken Masters. Meanwhile Interpol, headed up by Chun-Li is investigating M. Bison's operation and realise that they need the help of the U.S.A. Air Force. Chun-Li visits Colonel Guile and persuades him to join her in their attempt to crush Bison once and for all.
Forget the plot, there was only ever one way that Capcom and their animators were going to please hardcore fans and that was to pack this with as many trademark moves and fight sequences as possible. Thankfully it rarely lets up from start to finish as every fighter gets his or her moment to demonstrate their skills. Granted the story interferes from time to time and as a result some of the fighters are relegated to smaller roles, with Cammy being one of the most frustratingly underused. Such disappointments are easily dealt with as the film has more than enough in the way of frenzied action, from Ryu's showdown with Fei-Long to Chun-Li and Vega's vicious encounter, before the final three-way battle between Bison and the two united friends. In-between all of this you can be sure to see your favourite character crop up at some point. Despite any particular character being overlooked it is difficult to complain as at least the film does have a plot device of sorts, so the writers can be given credit for trying to do something with the franchise but then on the other hand there are several fights which are nothing more than fillers but good ones nonetheless.
The major plus element with Street Fighter II is that Capcom being a naturally wealthy company had given the film a pretty large budget for the animators to play with and it shows throughout. Most of the fight scenes move fluidly and gracefully, with expertly choreographed moves that come across considerably well, showing off an enormous amount of respect for the material. From Shoryuken to Sonic Booms' they're all here, and what more could any fan wish for?
Well I'll tell you, right after this...
Street Fighter II has been subject to several cuts over the years and to this day there still isn't a definitive release of the film. When released overseas the film was trimmed, which caused controversy amongst fans, not least of which were complaints about Chun-Li's famous shower scene being practically removed. Meanwhile the UK saw a slightly more forgiving version. When Manga released the film on VHS, sales rocketed and to much surprise the very scenes missing from the USA release had been reinstated almost intact. The shower scene for example was now extended, though still missing a couple of shots from the Japanese cut. However both the USA and UK release were put out in their dubbed form only complete with a new soundtrack. This only went on to anger smaller circles in the anime community, largely because they understandably wanted the original Japanese language track. With the new release came new changes in the form of a rock soundtrack, which included songs from Alice in Chains, Silverchair and more memorably KMFDM. Those of us who were still young at the time had no choice and for many this was the first time that we'd ever experienced the film. In Japan the animated feature is available in its uncut form but unfortunately that means little for those who require subtitles as the release has none. So it's time to look at our options as I take you through the UK, USA and Japanese editions.
Japan: Released through SPE Visual Works. Run time: 1:40:49.
The Japanese release of the original theatrical version is particularly notable for its soundtrack. There are perhaps three standout differences here, the first of which takes place during Chun-Li and Vega's brutal struggle. As Chun-Li sits down to fix her hair after taking a shower she plays a soft ballad called "Cry" by Big Life. After Vega enters and they get down to some serious action this song plays throughout the fight, which gives the scene a more poetic approach but signifies Chun-Li's eventual fall. It makes the fight scene a little more depressing and comes to end early in the action, leaving silence in the background until Chun Li throws her couch at Vega, to which a slow and dark classical piece of music plays.
The second biggest difference in which a song takes over is during Ryu and Ken's fight against Bison. After a classic rendition of the Street Fighter video game end theme, where Ken comes out of his brainwashed state we hear the power pop Japanese song, "Itoshisa to Setsunasato" sung by Tetsuya Komuro. This adds a tremendous amount of energy to the fight and works very well, where the American version went for a darker, action theme that fails to raise the emotions of the scene. The last big song of the feature is T. Komuro's "Good Luck", which plays out during the credits, after Ryu goes to engage the truck that Bison is driving toward him. The rest of the film plays out various themes and relies on delivering more emotion than in the aggressive American version.
Obviously the film here is recorded in Japanese. The Japanese voice work is a little more underplayed in areas and overall has a nice quality about it. Emotions are delivered high when needed and the voices are well matched to each character, though unsurprisingly characters like Deejay and Dhalsim lack that authentic accent.
The film can never be mentioned without Chun-Li's famous shower scene cropping up and it is only on the Japanese edition that you will find it presented in its entirety. Do not believe in false talk from IMDB sad folk or anyone else's rumours that Chun-Li also massages her breasts with soap. There is only one shot that never made it across to the American and UK market and that was one shot featuring a close up of her buttocks, which can be viewed larger by clicking on the thumbnail here, alongside the included breast shot:
The film is presented in a non-anamorphic 1.85:1 aspect ratio. This release is knocking on a few years old now and it is a bit of a disappointment, certainly a new release is overdue. The transfer is the sharpest of all three releases but it suffers from less natural colours; red being the biggest victim as it comes across as having a pinkish tint, which is clearly visible in this shot:
Not only does Ken's gi look off-colour but so does Cammy's wardrobe and also blood, which is unusually pink in texture. In addition the transfer exhibits a lot of rainbow effects and clear haloing, aided by some compression artefacts.
The main reason for even wanting to purchase the Japanese version is so that you can enjoy hearing the film as it was meant to be heard. The Japanese 2.0 track is a little punchier than its R1 counterpart, offering more audible and atmospheric effects, made more noticeable when Bison's plane fills shots. The action sequences are well handled, with plenty of punches, kicks and crunches making it across very clearly through the front speakers.
There are no subtitles for this DVD release.
The original theatrical trailer is featured here, but the biggest draw is a 45-minute feature that takes us on a tour through the Street Fighter series of games. Starting from the original debut this goes through its various guises and then onto the first sequel - the original Street Fighter II: The World Warrior. This then covers the "Super", "Turbo" and "Hyper" spin-offs.
There are no subtitles to accompany this feature.
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U.S.A. : Released through Renegade Home Video and Sony Entertainment. Run time: 1:38:45.
The most striking aspect of the American distributed version is that it does away entirely with the original score, in favour of bringing in several rock songs. This is a hit and miss collection that at times borders on being annoying but at other times manages to enhance certain scenes. There is only one real stand out track for me and that is KMFDM's "Ultra", which plays during the Chun-Li and Vega fight. This adds a greater sense of danger to the scene and continually raises the tension. It is as aggressive as the fight itself and isn't as detestable as one might imagine. Aside from this there is no other song that grabs my attention and for the rest of the feature there is also a few instrumental moments that take place during Calcutta for example, that do not stray too far from the Japanese score.
Chun-Li's shower scene only exists in parts. There are no Buttock or breast shots - just back and head shots. The scene otherwise flows the same and maintains a slow, tense build up.
Onto the dub - this is a thing of love or hate. It is without a doubt a very cheesy track but it's performed well enough, if not a little overly macho at times. When it comes down to each character's signature move the voice actors do pretty amazing jobs at pulling it off. Even the Japanese version pales in comparison when Guile screams out his "Sonic Boom" attack, with Chun-Li's "Spinning Bird Kick" sounding authentic, not to mention the many other moves throughout. I should also comment on some of the lazier dubbing efforts, particularly Deejay, who sounds about as Jamaican as Mr. T. but then Dhalsim hardly sounds Indian either - ah well.
This version is also presented in a non-anamorphic 1.85:1 ratio and suffers from the same problems that inflict the Japanese transfer. There are noticeable rainbow effects throughout and it is noticeably darker. It does have slightly better colour though, with reds coming across much stronger as can be seen here:
If you compare this to the same shot provided above you'll notice to the right that the image is slightly cropped, this is also the case vertically but the differences are marginal. Also the image is slightly softer than the Japanese transfer.
Again we have a 2.0 track that sounds pretty good, all things considered. Some of the louder effects don't sound as deep as in the Japanese version but even so there is very little to separate them. The new score is handled particularly well, with a few of the fight scenes benefiting from the energetic songs.
There are no extras for this release. There aren't even any menus!
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U.K. : Released through Manga Entertainment. Run time: 1:38:24
The UK release is practically identical to the USA edition, with the score and rock tracks being included. The only difference between these two in terms of content is that part of Chun-Li's shower scene has been carried over from the Japanese edition. While the buttock shot is still missing the breast shot is included fully intact. You can view this shot in full by clicking the thumbnail here:
Manga Entertainment presents the film in a non-anamorphic 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Annoyingly they state on the package that the transfer has been digitally re-mastered and once again I find myself frustrated by their claims - this looks like nothing more than image softening. The image is slightly softer than both the Japanese and USA releases and because of this the rainbow effects and haloing aren't as noticeable, that doesn't mean it scores any extras points though. If you look at the picture provided here you'll notice the aspect ratio and colour definition is nigh on identical to its R1 counterpart:
This DVD also features the U.S. dub and no Japanese language track. Manga Entertainment once again tells us fibs, claiming this time that the film features a new 5.1 Surround mix. Having listened to this track I must say I'm disappointed. I never expected a full on surround track anyway so it beats me why they decided to even do one. The track comes through the speakers clear but separation is practically non-existent, so there is really nothing that stands out or can be considered worthwhile. Dialogue is good but there is a slight tinny sound for some parts.
There are optional subtitles though, which is nice. These are for English, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Portuguese and Spanish languages.
Nothing but a trailer reel for a load of Manga releases, as well as some DVD ROM content.
In 2001 at the time of this UK re-release, Manga Entertainment told the press that they would not be including the original Japanese track due to the difficulties in syncing up the Japanese audio to the UK and US cut releases. I find this somewhat dubious considering we're talking one shot here. In order to release the full uncut Japanese version they would have to take the print to the BBFC and have it re-classified and released on a separate DVD. If the current UK edition sells well enough then Manga have said that they'd consider releasing the Japanese edition. While I'd like to see this happen I won’t hold my breath.
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It feels strange now to refer to Street Fighter II as a retro game, for me it is. Fifteen years have gone by so fast and all those childhood memories come flooding back. It's a joy to revisit such a phenomenon and go through some of the experiences all over again. I hope this little feature has entertained readers who appreciate this franchise also. Perhaps one day we'll see a perfect edition of the film released and if not then we'll have to make do with what we have.
Keep bashing those buttons...
Last updated: 30/05/2018 13:53:21