Thursday, April 04, 2013

Street Fighter Blu

Street Fighter II is one of those rare video game franchises that needs no introduction; it's been so synonymous with its genre of arcade fighters that it was basically the defacto template every other developer used to make their own fighting games, unless they were specifically trying to knock off Mortal Kombat instead. It generated nearly $200 million in arcade cabinet sales in Japan alone, and introduced the phrase "Shoryuken!" to countries that still weren't sure how to say 'sushi'. It remains as critically successful now as it did in its heyday, and introduced the concept of directional special attacks, P2 Colors, and internalized combo systems to the masses. It was also one of the very first games to prove you could literally re-sell the same exact game just by throwing in a couple new boss characters, so... thanks for opening that Pandora's Box, Capcom. It spun out into what might well be countless revisions, ports, cross overs and sequels running up to this very day. Seriously, if you can ACTUALLY READ this bullshit without stopping half way through to put a shotgun against your own gag reflex in a combination of dementia and a sadness for the lack of progress the human race has made in 20 years, get yourself a cookie. You've earned it.

Perhaps just to fuck with future pop-culture historians, 1994 actually saw the release of two separate theatrical experiences meant to cash in on the game's overwhelming popularity: the ill-fated Van Damme atrocity simply titled STREET FIGHTER, and the Japanese produced STREET FIGHTER II: THE ANIMATED MOVIE/ストリートファイター II MOVIE. Both were technically adaptations of the Capcom video game franchise, and both dealt with the same overall storyline and characters. You'd never know this by actually watching the films, though; the Hollywood adaptation plays everything like a stone-faced serious remake of any second-tier 80s cartoon franchise, giving us numerous characters with the same names but often totally different roles and appearances, with a few of them having been literally reverse-engineered by the script to "transform" them into their familiar game appearances through little more than happenstance, with absolutely none of the high-flying fantasy elements or convoluted backstories that made the game so damn fun to begin with. Raul Julia gives it his all as a super-powered parody of a cartoon villain with all the subtlety of Slidely Whiplash reading for a guest spot as Dr. Claw, but it wasn't nearly enough; the end result was still the kind of extended "fuck you" that video game movies were well known for since their very inception with Super Mario Bros., and at this point the two best examples we have remain Mortal Kombat and Silent Hill suggesting that we still haven't quite figured out how to deal with that.

That said, we did get at least one perfect Street Fighter live action experience... too bad it was a part of the Hong Kong produced City Hunter movie, and as such most people probably forget that the damn thing even exists! Wong Jing was actually courting the rights for a Hong Kong film, but having learned that Universal/Columbia has already picked up the rights, he decided to Wong Jing it up anyway and made the mind shattering ultimate raised middle finger in Hong Kong cinematic history, Future Cops... which is, for better or worse, a story for another day.

Anyway, back in Japan the traditionally animated 2D movie came out roughly as the Van Damme atrocity was stinking up American multiplexes, and while I wouldn't call it a ground-breaking step forward in the history of animation, at least it's fair to say that it doesn't particularly suck. Characters are consistently drawn in a high quality style reminiscent of the original arcade designs, the literal animation itself of showing two characters trading blows is unusually high quality stuff, due in no small part to them having been coreographed by actual MMA fighters Kazuyoshi ISHII and Andy Hug. While there isn't a constant barrage of Hadouken's flying around like some latter day Dragon Ball Z episode, there's just enough fanservice to the game's wild and supernatural special attacks that the final results are... well, honestly, they're about the best movie you were probably ever going to get out of Street Fighter II.

Capcom's 1-on-1 arcade brawler itself isn't exactly War and Peace to start with, and Gisaburou SUGII's direction coupled with the general finesse of Group TAC's production simply made a boundlessly fun, technically polished popcorn movie that was thoroughly unashamed of being a well crafted popcorn movie. According to the production credits, it was all co-written by Kenichi IMAI, but he only worked on this and Suugi's own Street Fighter II V series, which makes me think Sugii grabbed an old drinking buddy to bounce ideas off of as a last-minute measure against things getting too weird. It took its source material as seriously as it could. It's all rather goofy when you get right down to it, but so is Street Fighter to begin with. The problem with every live action adaptation the material has had (to say nothing of the American produced cartoon series!) is that it was a wholly different kind of silly. In other words, it's not the kind that actually worked with any of the silliness that made the games work in the first place.

The Animated Movie had a particularly convoluted release in the US back in 1995, where it was given both "PG-13" and "Unrated" releases, with the former being a heavily censored release and the latter... well, the violence and f-bombs were all left intact, but Chun Li in the shower was still trimmed to the point of redundancy. This English dubbed version was released on every major video format up until the mid 00's, pan-scanned just to rub salt into the wound. The English dub was a unique affair as it replaced the entire soundtrack with Korn, Alice in Chains, KMFDM and other mainstays of vintage MTV in a bid to catch a hipper, cooler audience than... background instrumental tracks, I, guess? Twenty years on, it's almost adorable how hard Manga Entertainment was going out of their way to convince the average British 12 year old how amazingly badass that Street Fighter Cartoon really was. And it is pretty awesome, if you take it for what it is and willfully ignore everything it isn't - like emotionally possessing even the weakest grasp of things like physics and common sense. If you can watch Ong Bak 2 or and walk away with a grin on your stupid face, this film is working on that same basic level - it's just removing itself that much further from reality.

For those wondering where the hell this Region B Blu-ray came from, Kazé is actually a French label that, in recent months, has made a gradual shift to including English audio and subtitle options on their releases for export to the UK (where your options are, basically, "Manga Entertainment" and "Import From Anywhere Else"). I guess it makes sense; projected sales in English speaking Europe have never been especially great for anime, and if Kaze can sell more units while simultaneously bleeding what they may logically see as competition dry, all's the better for them. When you put the disc in, it asks if you want to start the menus in French or English, the latter of which ignores the French audio and subtitles on the disc - and, incidentally, switches up which trailers play after the piracy warnings.

Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie has had a pretty grungy track record on home video. The earliest iteration was the letterboxed LD master minted in 1994, which the vast majority of subsequent "uncut" releases have been based off ever since, in one form or another. (The English dubbed masters were mostly PAL sourced and cropped to 4:3, so let's pretend those just didn't exist.) Australian anime specialist Madman released a "Remastered" version of the film on 16:9 anamorphic PAL DVD, but as OTHERS HAVE ALREADY POINTED OUT, they were still using the same letterboxed NTSC masters - they just did a substantially better job of cleaning them up first. In effect, the bar for this one is so low that the Blu-ray can't help but impress: Manga Video re-released the film on DVD in North America back in 2006 using a DVD-10 (ie: a "flipper DVD), presenting the "Unrated" dub from a PAL conversion source on one side - complete with the Chun Li shower scene partially restored (and in the wrong spot, no less. Classic Manga Entertainment!), and the original, unedited Japanese version with English subtitles on the other. The latter looked about as good as a non-anamorphic analog NTSC master from the mid 90s was going to get, and the former... well, it was still pretty shit, but that surprised no one. Underwhelming as that surely sounds, that's been the best release this poor flick has had up until now.

Kaze presents STREET FIGHTER II: THE [ANIMATED] MOVIE in 1080p High Definition in its complete, unedited form at just shy of 100 minutes, with Japanese credits running over the finale, framed at its original 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio. Having seen this on an uncut VCD* back in the day, and having been fascinated by the evolving ugly DVD releases that followed, I can say this much; Street Fighter II never looked half this good on home video, and I doubt it looked appreciably better on 35mm prints, at that. If you do own this on DVD, you should probably just toss it in the garbage now: While the new Blu-ray might not be absolutely perfect, it's easily eclipsed every previous home video transfer in every way possible, and fans who have put up with crumby looking releases up until now should be very satisfied with the results. Resolution and outline clarity are quite good indeed, print damage is minimal and regulated to minor black and white dust spots, and there's just enough telecine judder during optical effects to remind observant viewers that this was clearly produced before digital editing was in its prime. The image is pleasant in most ways, and anyone who remembers just how damn ugly this film has been on DVD up until now should be satisfied.

That said, the transfer is... kind of a mixed bag, wavering between the extremes of clean simplicity and analog limitations. Brightly lit scenes have the plasticine sheen of a transfer that's been hit with a fairly thick slathering of DVNR, while darker scenes are awash in a harsh noise I can only assume is the result of an old-school CRT scanner. Sometimes you'll have dark blue and browns swimming in noise and brighter greens and peach skin tones utterly devoid of digital noise in the same shot; once you start noticing it, good luck un-seeing it. Final Boss M. Bison's crisp, blood-red uniform has not a speckle of video noise on it, yet his hunter green cape and charcoal gray hat looks like it's made out of undulating sand paper; if anyone reading can come up with a sensible explanation for this disparity that doesn't involve digital noise removal, as always, I'm all ears.

That said, the print is perfectly stable and quite clean, outlines are almost always crisp and defined, and the color timing - while a bit darker than one might expect - remains both faithful to previous releases, and looks like a largely accurate representation of Capcom's iconic original character designs. It looks good, more often than not; much like the Aniplex releases of the Rurouni Kenshin OVA Blu-rays or the Japanese box set for titles like Card Captor Sakura and Space Adventure Cobra, the DVNR has been applied with a substantial amount of care and finesse. I wouldn't say it looks like 35mm, but it's hardly a disaster... it's just so damned inconsistent about it I can't help but wonder how nice it could have looked had we gotten a higher quality 35mm scan and little to no digital tinkering after the fact.

I have little doubt most people will be perfectly content with the video quality, so as long as nobody starts shouting about it being a 10 out of 10 or Five Stars whatever the hell they say when they think things couldn't get any better, I'll just casually shake my head at these Damn Kids and their DVNR Buttons and get back to posting some delicious screenshots:

The AVC encode hovering at 21 Mb/s average is... adequate, a few scenes that drop off to not-quite-black aside (see cap 9 for a painfully perfect example of what I'm talking about). There's actually some pretty garish macroblocking here and there, but the combination of harsh, dancing digital noise and unusually fast-moving animation means that the glaring artifacts you'll see in a random still frame is substantially less obvious on actual playback. If you wanted to be a dick about it you'd surely find a number of macroblocks kicking around Ryu's iconic Hadouken launch right before the opening credits, but that scene is so over the top with its flashing lights and flickering colors that I'd be hard pressed to assume that cranking the bitrate substantially higher would have netted a particularly worth-while improvement.

So, here we are again in the middle. It's neither the gritty perfection attained by Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and The Last Unicorn, nor the digitally scrubbed horrors of Galaxy Express and The Aristocats - it's just a totally middle of the road, adequate HD transfer for a film that, let's face it, probably wasn't ever going to get a lot money thrown at it anyway.

All three audio tracks (Japanese, English, French) are presented as 2.0 LPCM. The JP track is 24-bit while FR/EN are both 16-bit. Whatever. The Japanese mix has some subtle analog hiss over the 'silent' Capcom logo as well as high-end distortions whenever the action picks up, and to be honest I wouldn't be shocked if the sound were pulled from the optical stereo track present on whatever 35mm elements this transfer was pulled from. The English track is substantially louder, crisper and free of any obvious analog distortions when compared to the Japanese audio, but exactly how you'll respond to the "Export" soundtrack (to say nothing of the dated English dub itself!) will determine how much clarity you're willing to settle for pretty damned quick. To be fair, while neither sound incredible, both sound as good as you'd reasonably expect them to; Japanese audio for feature films in general doesn't sound particularly great until you get into the last decade or so, and even then low budgets often prevent all but your top-tier event pictures from having a big, fat, bombastic 5.1 mix.

And, yes, I know, Manga Ent. and Madman have both presented these mixes in 5.1 surround, but if you've ever actually heard any Manga produced 5.1 mixes, you'll know you're not missing out on anything a bog-standard audio reciever with Dolby ProLogic II couldn't easily deliver. Never having subjected myself to the English dub before I couldn't tell you if there are any pitch issues to speak of, but having been produced by Animaze in the USA I can't imagine it would be an issue to start with. Both English Subtitles and English Slates are included, and the film is broken up into 10 chapters.

I don't think any extras were produced for the Animated Movie itself, so while I certainly wouldn't have complained about the inclusion of some original trailers or even a retrospective on the games of some kind, I'm not going to pick any fights over the film being presented without them. This release is already available in (and thus shipping from) France, with the UK release of the same exact disc set to drop May 13th, with a current Amazon UK pre-order price of just under $30. Recommended for those with an affinity for over the top 90s anime; it's aged better than it has any right to, but it was never top shelf material. With Japan dominating the "Region A" market with an iron fist, I can't imagine any theoretical English friendly local release will sell for less (or come with more material) than the Kaze release.


Kriztoffer Swank said...

I popped some serious wood here. This movie is a staple of my childhood from when my brother first began searching out the unrated VHS.

Glad it has both Japanese and English as I really dig the soundtrack on the latter, ha. Mostly for KMFDM's "Ultra" blaring during the Chun-Li and Vega (uh, Balrog) fight. Gonna import this sum'bich ASAP!

Buster D said...

One of the few cel-based anime BDs not yet released in Japan. Wonder if I should wait for a JP release or just get it now. Waiting for Roujin Z and Venus Wars hasn't paid off yet. Got the latter from Amazon It already but wanted to re-encode it at 1080p24 with the LD audio before watching it.

Guess I'll order from SFII from Amazon UK along with Roujin Z. Oooh, a cheap BD set of HSOTD with the OAD is coming out in the UK in May, too.

Kriztoffer Swank said...

Wasn't aware Venus Wars had a Blu-ray release. Is it from the same master used for Discotek's DVD? I think that's a really nice looking release when upscaled so I'm probably satisfied, but having it in hi-def sure is tempting... Bad characters/story, amazing animation.

Saw HSOTD getting a Blu release with OAD. Already own the Sentai BD, dunno if it would be worth importing just for one episode...

Buster D said...

Yeah, Venus Wars is available in Italy:
It's Region B and 1080i50, so I assume it's a master made specifically for Europe (I'm guessing from a film master removed several gens from the o-neg), but I've never seen comparisons with the new DVD.

I'm getting the new HSOTD Blu-ray set mainly for completionism's sake since I hear it's nothing special, I already have the JP BDs for the series and originally had the OAD on pre-order, but forgot to pay for it and by that time it was long sold out, and I wasn't going to pay some scalper for it.

Kentai 拳態 said...

Kriz: The new Discotek VENUS WARS DVD is indeed based on the Italian HD master. It was a labor of love, however, as not only did the Yamato HD master feature Italian titles (with the JP credits included as an extra, thankfully), but it also had MONO JP audio sourced from the 35mm optical soundtrack. The Discotek DVD has proper digital stereo sources for both JP/EN tracks, which had to be re-synced from scratch. If it weren't for the fact that it was encoded as a DVD rather than a Blu-ray, it'd be the definitive release easily.

For what it's worth, the HOTD OAD - while not especially bad - isn't as good as the rest of the show. I'm tempted to grab the "Complete Edition" myself, but I'd seriously consider downloading it first and deciding if it's (essentially) worth $25 to you.

Buster: I could be wrong, but I'd imagine Yamato Video asked for a new 35mm IP, similar to what they did with VAMPIRE HUNTER D. I've little doubt that a new scan of the OCN would yield superior results, but with nobody else interested in creating an HD master to begin with, I'll take whatever I can get.

There's also a Studio Canal UK release of CASTLE OF CAGLIOSTRO, for those who might be interested. I'm disappointed (but not the least bit surprised) to find that it's literally just the 1080i 60Hz Japanese HDTV master with English audio/subtitles added. At least you also get the storyboards as a PiP extra, I guess.

Kriztoffer Swank said...

I've been considering getting that Cagliostro BD. From the screens I've seen, it looks quite problematic, but I'll likely enjoy it a lot more than an upscaled DVD.

Discotek Media rules so hard. I just wish they were getting in more revenue to do more Blu-ray releases. Venus Wars should have been a BD, but like I said the DVD looks really stellar—to the point where I almost don't mind or notice that it's standard def. It just sucks having HD-ready elements that are only being encoded for DVD. Apparently the old CPM DVD looked like it had a wash of diarrhea across the screen throughout, so I'm satisfied regardless, and I'll continue to support Discotek, even DVD releases when I'd prefer BD. They seem to be one of the few who actually work hard toward getting good-looking releases out; they're kind of like the Synapse of anime (but with even less money). Even when all they're doing is cleaning up old analog video masters and color-correcting them, I appreciate at least that much; AnimeWorks never did such a thing to the extent that Discotek does. The Discotek Golden Boy DVD sure looks purdy compared to AW's "remastered" one. Now if only they'd hurry up and release Dead or Alive: Final... (which is supposed to be from a newer master that's anamorphic and has no burned-in subs)

What's the word on a Vampire Hunter D Blu-ray anyway? Has that gotten anywhere? I'm also curious when there will be an English-subbed release of the Japanese version. Good dub on the English one, and I realize it was recorded first and all that, but the Americanized dialog is pretty lame at times and Left Hand's voice and character were obliterated completely.

Sky_Captain said...

Received it today. English audio track is censored, for fucksakes. :(

Kentai 拳態 said...

Sky_Captain: Fudge me running! Can't say I've ever willingly watched the English dub front to back; what's been changed?

Kriztoffer Swank said...

Ugh. Worst tidbit of news ever. It seems the English track on the Blu-ray is the less profane version. One example is Guile says, "Bison, I'm gonna rip your lousy heart out, you filthy bastard!" instead of, "Bison, I'll rip your fucking heart out, you filthy bastard!" I can only assume the two variations were recorded at the same time and the former was used for the PG-13 cut which I never saw. Both are strangely on the US Manga Ent. DVD: censored for the 5.1 track, complete with swears for the stereo track.

Oh wait. Oh shit, dude! I just read Sky_Captain's post on the board. Seems this version of the dub is even more censored. According to him, Guile says, "Bison! I'm gonna rip your lousy heart out, you creep!"

So I guess somewhere down the line somebody decided that "filthy bastard" was also too profane.

Ugh........ More and more I keep running into instances where I want the Blu-ray for the image quality but would like to rip the audio from a better source. You're gonna have to give me some pointers on how to do that, Kentai, ha ha. Sounds like I'll be ripping the uncensored audio for this.

sky_captain said...

Yep, all instances of swearing removed. You can see blood and Chun-Li's bouncing tits, but no naughty language. Really not a fan of the Japanese score, so I'm not best pleased.

Ten Four, Anal Pore. said...

"Discotek Media rules so hard" MY ASSHOLE.

Kriztoffer Swank said...

"Discotek Media rules so hard" MY ASSHOLE.

Hey look, a troll! *sniff, sniff* Is that you, UseYourIllusion?

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