Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie (Special Edition) Review
In 2005 I put together a retrospective feature on Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie for DVD Times. If you’d like to know my thoughts on the film then feel free to browse the article. The purpose of this review is to simply talk about the A/V quality and inform the reader of what they can expect in terms of comparison between the original Japanese and subsequent U.S. re-edit. Released in 1994 the movie has been the best adaptation of one of the most successful arcade franchises of all time. Twelve years on since its UK debut and with Manga Entertainment still hanging on so dearly to the UK distribution rights, it sees a new release that by rights should be every bit as good as the film itself.
The following is taken from my 2005 piece:
Street Fighter II has been subject to several cuts over the years. 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.
And now the legendary Japanese cut is available for the first time in the United Kingdom. Since its initial release in the west we’ve had to put up with poorly compressed non-anamorphic transfers which frankly look terrible. Even the Japanese release is plagued with artefacts and the same non-anamorphic troubles. And it continues to baffle me why the problem has yet to be rectified. The very same complaints that I’ve dished out in the past come back to haunt me once again as I take a look at this so-called “Special Edition”.
Manga Entertainment releases both cuts of Street Fighter II on individual discs: Disc 1 contains the U.S.A. edit, while disc 2 is home to the original Japanese version.
Manga has been very cheeky in the past when advertising one of the biggest titles in their catalogue. The DVD release prior to this boasted a new 5.1 English remix and a “digitally remastered” image. Both were underwhelming. Let’s keep it simple. If you’ve ever owned this film on DVD at some point then you’ll already know what to expect with this one. Wisely they seemed to have skipped over the digitally remastered blurb, instead going with the “Uncut, Unleashed” tag. However you dress it up there’s no getting past yet another lacklustre effort concerning this prolific title.
Presented in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio, though given non-anamorphic treatment, both transfers of Street Fighter II get off to bad starts and continue to go downhill from here. The most obvious flaw first of all is the amount of unsightly digital artefacts that frequently plague the image: rainbows and cross-colouring often manifesting as ugly yellow lines that can be seen overlaying the standard black ink work, in addition to dot crawl, haloing and blocking. Unfortunately being non progressive NTSC-PAL conversions also means that they’re victim to ghosting and interlacing, the latter of which doesn’t pop up nearly as often though. You can see some of these problems in the following comparison. Below are shots taken from the U.S.A. edit (top) and the original Japanese cut (bottom), both culled from this new Manga release:
As you can see both have their faults. Although both transfers feature halo effects the former is significantly softer and harbours more print damage. The colour palette is also slightly more saturated, though reds are still prone to bleed outs, while the latter shows a little more natural vibrancy, as is required of a feature this rich in colour. Contrast, black levels and shadow detail remain unimpressive between both transfers. The U.S. transfer exhibits a grey hue, but marginally better contrast in comparison to the boosted nature of the Japanese transfer’s levels. While it might appear as if the Japanese version is sharper it in fact loses a lot of detail because of several similar looking shades merging together. In the end I don’t see either as offering faithful renditions of the original source material.
As for those cuts, well there isn’t a great amount of excised footage in the U.S. edit. When it comes down it we’re left with a couple of missing shots of Chun-Li enjoying a shower, which you can see in full on disc 2. In terms of edits Street Fighter II is far more noteworthy for its altered soundtrack, which we’ll move on to next.
2.0 and 5.1 Surround is offered for both cuts of the film. I believe that this is the first time the Japanese version has been released with such a remix. I have to say that neither audio track sounds particularly impressive. The emphasis on the surround placements lies squarely with upping the voltage on the soundtrack, so be prepared for a lot of noise when the action kicks in. In terms of separation there is very little to define this release from any previous one - that goes for both versions incidentally: surround effects are generally pumped up in line with the film score, so punches and kicks don’t come across as distinctly as they perhaps should. Dialogue is generally fine, although the Japanese version offers better clarity throughout in comparison to the slight muffled sound at times from the U.S. edit. But I’d personally go with the 2.0 options anyway; they’re effective without becoming too much of a burden on the ears.
At this stage in my review I’m going to refer back to my original feature in discussing the differences between the U.S.A. and Japanese soundtracks, but since that time I've grown even more accustomed to the original source. So, here we have two incredibly different sounding tracks. Of course most of us have been familiar with the U.S.A. one for many years, which consists primarily of aggressive rock music. The Japanese version I have to say is better produced all round and that’s because it gets to the heart of the matter. It becomes clearer on each subsequent listen that the overseas replacement entirely misses the point. It tries to up the sense of urgency with impersonal music, more often than not trying to keep up with the pace, rather than signify the importance of music in relation to a particular character. Undoubtedly it has its fans, but there’s really no contest when comparing it to the originally intended 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 Balrog - or Vega as he’s commonly known in the west - enters and they get down to some serious action (meaning fighting) this song plays throughout, which gives the scene a more poignant leniency as it leads up to Chun-Li’s eventual fall. It makes the fight scene a little more depressing and draws to a finish early on, leaving but silence in the background until Chun Li throws her couch at the nasty Spaniard. A slow and dark classical piece then builds toward the climax. This was a track that stood out originally on the U.S. edit, but has since grown on me as an all round better fitting piece. It makes more sense for Chun-Li to be playing this song as she sits on her bed after exiting the shower and allowing it to simply continue playing amongst the agonising fight that ensues.
The second biggest difference in which a song takes over is during Ryu and Ken’s fight against Vega. After a classic rendition of the Street Fighter II video game end credits theme, where Ken comes out of his brainwashed state we hear the power pop Japanese song, “Itoshisa to Setsunasato” sung by Ryoko Shinohara. This adds a tremendous amount of energy to the fight and works very well, while the American version went for a darker, foreboding theme that completely does away with the integrity of the characters and the emotions they feel within. The last big song of the feature is Shinohara’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 with an engaging score, which like the songs is mostly far removed from its American counterpart.
As for languages, take your pick; they both have their cheesy moments, though the Japanese tend to get a little more dramatically involved. The only thing that I need to point out is that in the west some character names were changed for all video game, film, series and comic adaptations. This was brought on by Capcom fearing a potential lawsuit from Mike Tyson in regards to the similarly named M. Bison. Therefore the boxer known as M. Bison in Japan became Balrog. The name Balrog was originally associated with the Spanish assassin, who then became Vega, which left the Shadaloo dictator, once Vega, to be known as M. Bison. Hope that wasn’t too confusing.
Optional English subtitles are provided for the Japanese cut on disc 2. It appears to offer a good translation and in comparison the American dub isn't particularly far off. For those concerned the subtitles present on disc 2 are not dubtitles.
It’s a shame that there aren’t any to speak of. I’m not going to consider some measly character profiles as being a nice bonus. There isn’t even an original movie trailer. It’s obvious that Manga’s only goal was to provide the cut that everyone had harped on about for years, rather than do it any real justice.
The only positive thing I can say regarding this release is that at least the Japanese cut is finally available in the UK and it’s no worse than the currently available non-subtitled Japanese version and previous western releases. But that shouldn’t excuse anything. This is simply not good enough. A solidly entertaining film let down once more on DVD by a lack of compassion on behalf of the distibutor.
Presently that leaves fans with the Australian release from Madman Entertainment, which I shall try to cover in the near future.
8 out of 10
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