Naika Reviews “Street Fighter 2: The Animated Movie” on Blu-Ray

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The arcades were a thing of beauty.  Every weekend trip with either my Mom or my Dad to one was filled with awe as we geared up to play a plethora of pixelated punchfests.  I remember how amazing it was to see Samurai Showdown for the first time on a big red Neo Geo MVS cabinet at Dennis, The Place for Games in Chicago.  I remember my Dad taking me to a suburban arcade after his basketball meetups in Addison, Illinois to mash bad guys on Konami’s X-Men or The Simpsons.  I’ll never forget my Friday trips to Fun Zone by Lane Tech High School, where all I really did there was play the shit out of King of Fighters ’96.  However, the allure of Street Fighter 2 was one of a kind, and you’d be a fool to walk by that awesome cabinet without dropping in a quarter to play.  Street Fighter 2 mania was real folks and it was fantastic.  I can attest to this, because I was there.  I experienced it.  I read it.  I lived it.  I breathed it.  It was a worldwide phenomenon and when it got animated, it was a dream come true.

Street Fighter 2 has obviously gone through multiple iterations, but Super Street Fighter 2 – The New Challengers was glorious to me on so many fronts.  First off, we got four new characters with four amazing stages.  Secondly, new moves were also added to the old roster with even better animations.  This followed with more color schemes for characters and we even had a kick-ass home version for the SNES.  However, the glory exploded into full-on awesome sauce when the world was finally given an anime film based on the Street Fighter 2 story.  None of us could believe it, but we flipped out and had to have it on VHS.  Some of us were obviously disappointed with the Van Damme SF2 film (which, in hindsight, wasn’t all that bad), and this, to my eyes at least, was going to be the film that would get the real story right.   We all knew that this would not only look awesome, but that it would have that feel of Street Fighter while bringing us back to the story of Ryu and Ken.  However, is this anime film worth your time?

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The short answer is ‘yes,’ but only if you’re familiar with the SF2 legacy.  If you’re a novice, then the confusion about who’s who will only add up exponentially.  Therefore, I would strongly advise folks to just read up on the fandom and some of the scant backstories of each of the characters.  Once you’re up to speed, Street Fighter 2 becomes a treat for fans and fledglings alike.

The first thing to mention about SF2 is the animation.  Group TAC, under the excellent direction of Mushi Pro veteran Gisaburo Sugii, did a marvelous job in bringing all our favorite fighters to life with amazing movement and bone-crunching choreography.  From Fei-Long’s showdown with Ryu in China to Chun-Li’s jaw-dropping battle with Balrog (or Vega in the U.S.), Group TAC truly brought out the ‘fight’ into Street Fighter without any flaws.  Although the film itself isn’t as colorful or as vivid as you’d expect from other anime films of its time, SF2’s art design exhibits a grittiness befitting the urban underworld of street brawling.  It’s only when we escape to the mountains of the Himalayas, or in the streets of India do we some more sky and color.  From globetrotting landscapes to the ferocity of street fighting, Group TAC did an outstanding job in bringing the world of Street Fighter to the silver screen.

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Another strong quality to point out for SF2 is Shuko Murase’s character designs.  These are strong characters with a great deal of muscle without any excess.  This is a fighters’ world, and every character is designed to look like someone capable of whooping-ass at a moment’s notice.  This is even evident with both Dhalsim and E. Honda, two characters that were slim and stocky respectively in the game but have bulked-up considerably for this film.  The standout character design however is Chun-Li.  Her lithe frame is complimented by a wealth of strong features, not excluding her legs.  In Japan, there’s even an animation book focusing entirely on her character designs and artwork from the film.  All in all, the look and feel of Street Fighter 2 is not only intact, but amped to the power of ten thanks to Shuko Murase.

Now with anime adapted from games, you can expect the story to be less than ideal.  SF2’s plot is pretty simple and takes tons of cues from American movies when it comes to international crime syndicates, drug rings, cabals of Western elites watching a Brazillian jungle fighter taking on a Soviet-era wrestler and every other bad person you were told to hate in the 1990s.  That’s all just there for the sake of a setting.  In a nutshell, SF2 is all about the search for Ryu and how these interested parties collide.  You first have Ken, who’s pretty much dissatisfied with his way of life as a martial artist, where he hopes to have another showdown with Ryu, whom he studied with in Japan.  Then there’s Chun-Li and Colonel Guile, who are under a joint collaboration with Interpol and the U.S. Air Force to take down Vega (or should I say Bison), who, it turns out, is also searching for Ryu in order to convince him to join his unscrupulous gang of drug loving martial artists (yay!).  Interpol realizes this and tasks the both of them to use this as a way to close in on Shadowlaw, Vega’s syndicate, and take it down for good.  Really folks, if this doesn’t scream 90s to you, then I don’t know what will.

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Speaking of the 1990s, another hallmark of this anime film is the music.  Remember that VHS tape we ALL had with tunes from Korn, Silverchair and so on?  Well throw that out the window because thanks to this Blu-ray from Discotek you can either relive those times, or listen to SF2 the way Japan did, and that’s thanks to the awesome J-Fusion stylings of Yuji Toriyama and Alph Lyla.  The guitar work here is tremendous thanks to Toriyama-san and will blow those dusty American tunes away.  During SF2’s heyday, both these musicians (and a whole host of others ) were synonymous with not only the game, but with Japan’s huge love for Jazz fusion in general, and it wasn’t uncommon for game musicians to team up with their favorite musicians for image / arranged albums.  Yeah, I understand that “Hooray for the Street Fighter” can sound stupid, but use your ears to give the original soundtrack a chance and soak up how this film was intended to sound like.  You’ll not only come away with sounds that are a better fit for the film, but you’ll also get a sense of what the music scene was really like in Japan at the time.

Thanks to Discotek, we’re reliving this monumental film event with amazing clarity.  That graininess I recalled on my VHS tape is a thing of the past and I can only marvel at how clear androids, muscles and movement can be.  At this moment, I have not gone through all of the Special Features, but the ones featuring the Japanese movie game are interesting and gives us more of an excuse to check out Shuko Murase’s designs.  Along with having the choice of watching the U.S. or Japanese versions of the film, Discotek did an amazing job here and I urge you guys to own it today.

All in all, Street Fighter 2: The Animated Movie is a product of its time that helped to extend the craze that surrounded one of the most influential arcade games of all time.  Thanks to Group TAC, the amazing direction from Gisaburo Sugii and Capcom, the world of anime finally had a game adaptation that we could all be proud of up to that point.  Now that we have a Blu-ray that gives us everything here in the States (yes, that shower scene is there too, you perverts), we can relive all of that in crystal clear glory.  It’s not perfect mind you.  In fact, this film is pretty simple in retrospect, but the sheer magnitude of what Group TAC achieved here during the SF2 craze was magnificent for those of us that lived through it and this anime film was the window into it.  It was the moment where we finally witnessed a massive gaming phenomenon being acknowledged in the form of an anime film with widespread appeal.  Now go, sit back and clench your teeth because once you pop this into your Blu-ray player, Street Fighter 2: The Animated Movie  will have a Shoryuken wound up and ready with your name on it.

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