"By the Snake, these fighters are extraordinary!"
Not long ago, I reviewed Street Fighter Alpha, the anime movie based on the Street Fighter games. That movie was preceded by a television series, "Street Fighter II V" (yeah, that's not a typo…apparently the creators of the show understand Roman numerals and the English alphabet, but not the connection betwixt the two; the title would be better rendered "Street Fighter 2 V," with the "V" standing for "Victory"). Both are based on the long-running video game series, which began in the arcade and has appeared on virtually every game console from the Sega Genesis to the Playstation. I spent many quarters playing it in the arcade many years ago, but now the only game that matches my feeble skills is Ms. Pac-Man. Street Fighter II was one of the first beat-'em-up video games to feature personalities, back stories, and motivations for its characters. Now those personalities have been brought to life in the Japanese animation style commonly known as anime.
Facts of the Case
Street Fighter II, the game, featured eight playable characters and several "bosses." These characters were from far-flung corners of the world, and each had their own fighting styles. The main character, by virtue of his connection to the back stories of several of the characters, was Japanese fighter Ryu.
"Street Fighter II V" takes that game world and most of those characters and fleshes it out a bit. The main character is still Ryu, who is a seventeen-year-old martial arts nut from Japan. He travels the world with his American training buddy, the independently wealthy Ken. They seek out new life and new civi…whoops. I mean, they seek out new training challenges and new fighters to test their skills.
Street Fighter II V Volume 1 is the first of four volumes of the series that are now available on DVD. Each of the first three volumes contains seven episodes, while the fourth disc has eleven (to round out the complete 29-episode run of the series). Unlike most American cartoons (or virtually any TV series, animated or live-action), the episodes are part of a larger story, one picking up where the last left off. Here's brief summaries of the seven episodes on this disc.
The Beginning Of A Journey: Ryu, working as a lumberjack on his grandfather's island, receives a letter and plane tickets from his American training partner, Ken Masters. The letter cryptically says, "Come to America." So Ryu does. When he gets to San Francisco, Ken introduces him to his über-wealthy parents and takes him out for a night on the town. In a bar, they get into a brawl with a group of Air Force heavies and handily defeat them. But then, in walks…
The King Of The Air Force: …The King Of The Air Force, a hulking brute named Guile with a blond mohawk. The American wipes the floor with Ryu while Ken is off flirting with a waitress. The next day, Ken tracks down Guile at the Air Force base, and if all US military bases have security that stringent, it's no wonder spies are laughing their asses off all the way to their Cayman Islands bank accounts. Despite a raging hangover, Guile beats Ken's pretty-boy face into a bloody pulp. Ryu and Ken soon realize that they're not the amazing fighters they thought they were, so they set off on a globetrotting adventure to hone their skills.
Landing In Hong Kong: First stop: Hong Kong. After a few ambiguously gay scenes in their hotel, Ryu and Ken meet their tour guide: Chun Li, a fifteen-year-old little cutie. Their first stop is an abandoned area of town ruled by an evil kingpin who runs nightly martial arts events. Ryu enters the ring and proceeds to defeat every challenger the kingpin can throw at him. Ryu, Ken, and Chun Li must try to escape with their lives…
Darkness At Kowloon Palace: …which they do in this episode, which is vaguely reminiscent of Escape From New York. The only notable part of the episode is that we're introduced to Chun Li's father, who is a police officer.
Hot Blooded Fei Long: Ryu and company meet Fei Long, a martial arts champ filming his first film role who is also a childhood friend of Chun Li. Fei Long chooses Ken as his on-screen sparring partner, and the two have a battle royale. Oh, and we also get more on the subplot with Chun Li's father, who is getting close to nabbing a gang of drug smugglers.
Appearance Of The Secret Technique: Um, let's see. Ken takes Ryu and Chun Li shopping, which seemed like an excuse to name-drop famous American brands, even though everything has the tacky look of typical Japanese animation. Ryu meets an old man, who gives him some pointers for harnessing the mystical energy force known as "The Force." No, wait, known as "Ki" (spelled phonetically to avoid confusing us silly Americans with its correct spelling, "chi"). I don't know why old martial arts masters who can harness mystical powers would be hanging out in a shopping mall like your average mallrat, but I guess they had to work in those product placements.
The Revenge Of Ashura: Crime lord Ashura is cheesed that Chun Li's dad busted up his little drug smuggling party, so he sends hired goons to dispatch the pesky policeman. Of course, the hired goons are no match for the awesome trio of Ryu, Ken, and Chun Li (oh, she's a martial artist too). It's a convenient way to introduce Ryu et al to the Thai art of "Muay Thai," or kickboxing. I guess they never saw Say Anything. "You ever heard of kickboxing? Sport of the future? Don the Dragon Wilson? Benny 'the Jet' Uriquez? Mercy Mess on the Champions of Sport?"
"Street Fighter II V" is reasonably enjoyable animated fun. I don't think I would have been able to tolerate watching the 3 1/2 hours on this volume in one sitting, but spaced out over several days it managed to keep my interest and to be entertaining. As an example of anime, it's a poor example of the art form, but then so are "Pokémon" and "Speed Racer" and they were all the rage at one point or another. It's a bit more violent than your average American Saturday morning cartoon, with plenty of fighting and bloodshed to warp the kiddie's fragile little minds. However, it's also not particularly realistic, as the fights are presented in such an over-the-top way that I can't imagine any well-adjusted child trying to emulate them. If rated by the MPAA, it would probably garner a PG.
Manga Video's DVD presentation is adequate. Video-wise, it is presented in full-frame in keeping with its television roots. The image is watchable, but it is soft and/or grainy throughout, and occasionally has very noticeable dirt flecks on the negative. It's actually quite disappointing after the excellent video quality of Street Fighter Alpha, which was direct to video, but also was a newer production (the episodes are copyrighted 1996). Audio is unimpressive stereo, in both its original Japanese and English. The English track seemed have better fidelity, but only slightly. Both tracks are lacking in the high end. Extras consist of a trailer, a remix of the show's theme song (presented over a static background), previews of other Manga Video productions, and a Manga Video catalog.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I really wish I could give a better critique of the show than "it kept my interest" and "it was entertaining." Honestly, there's very little else that can be said about it. It's a television cartoon based on a video game, for the love of Elvis, not something that can really be picked apart.
I've viewed quite a few Manga Video products lately, and I find their extra content rather annoying. The trailers and previews on this disc, as well as on most of their discs, are for the VHS releases. This puzzled me at first, especially when I watched Street Fighter Alpha and it said that the TV show releases only contained three episodes. Most of the previews say that the movies are available both in English subtitled and dubbed versions, when you get both on the DVD. They're a small publisher, so I can almost forgive this cost-saving measure, but it's still irksome.
Again, perhaps it's too much to ask of a small label, but it would have been nice if two subtitle options had been provided, one that was a translation of the Japanese, and one that was a direct subtitle of the English dub track. Miramax did this with Princess Mononoke, and I considered it invaluable. Here, the differences between the dub and the translated subtitles are so laughable, it would be a boon to the hard of hearing to be able to sample both.
If you liked the games, you'll probably enjoy "Street Fighter II V." The DVD doesn't offer a presentation that's consistent with most collectors' expectations, but on the other hand anime fans are used to far worse. The $29.95 retail price is rather steep considering the dearth of meaningful extras and the below average audio and video quality, but you are getting 3 1/2 hours of entertainment from a niche label.
The jury humbly requests a $5 reduction in the retail price to make the disc a more reasonable purchase. The material itself is acquitted based on its trivial nature.
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