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.