"I'm going to add those strong arms of yours to my collection!"
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 2 is the second 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. In Volume 1, we were introduced to Ryu, Ken, and Chun Li, and followed their adventures from the United States to Hong Kong. Picking up where that volume left off, here's brief summaries of the seven episodes on this disc.
Trap, Prison, And The Scream Of Truth: Our ill-fated heroes find themselves in trouble at the Bangkok airport. A guy in a mask who looks vaguely like the Asian version of Steve Buscemi knocks over Ryu in line. When dogs sniff out Ryu's knapsack, they find a bag of opium. Off to prison Ryu goes, where he's greeted by…well, he would be greeted by daily anal rapings, but this is a cartoon, so he's only forced to lick up his gruel off the ground. He also meets Sagat, the big-shot prisoner who rules the place.
The Superstar Of Muay Thai: Ryu must battle Sagat in between enduring flashbacks of Sagat's life outside prison. Seems he was the Muay Thai champion before refusing Ashura's demands to throw the fight. As hirsute viewers will recall, Ashura is the bloke who's the head of the drug syndicate that Chun Li's father was battling in Hong Kong. One of his operatives was responsible for framing Ryu at the airport, and it was this same trick that landed Sagat in the poke. Meanwhile on the outside, Ken is looking for the one-armed man…whoops. I mean he's looking for the guy with the scar on his face who slipped the drugs into Ryu's knapsack.
Dark Omen: With Ryu out of prison, the duo goes on the trail of the weasely guy with the scar. Their search leads them to the headquarters of Ashura. They kick ass and capture the scar guy and Ashura, and take them all to the police. Now that Sagat's name is cleared, he is released from prison, and he informs Ryu that he should seek out Dhalsim in India to further his training in the Hadou.
Visitation Of The Beasts: In India, Ryu and Ken meet Dhalsim, who at first refuses to train them. When he sees Ryu and Ken's dedication, he relents and begins their training. First though, he shows them a cave outside of the village, and says that they are never to enter it because there is a monster guarding the cave's treasure.
The Deadly Phantom Faceoff: You just knew it was coming…no sooner does Dhalsim tell the duo they can't enter the cave than they are presented with the need to enter it. The need arrives in the form of evil white treasure hunters, who threaten to kill the entire village unless Ryu and Ken enter the cave to bring out the treasure. Dhalsim warns them that the monster they will face is a mirror of their souls. Uh huh. Anyway, they fight what appears to be a monster, but ends up being each other. Once they realize this, the illusion leaves and they can take the treasure back to the treasure hunters, who Dhalsim chases off with his mystic teleportation powers. I wonder why he didn't do that in the first place.
The Legend Of The Hadouken: Ryu learns to harness ki to perform the mighty hadouken martial arts defense. If you've played the game, that's his fireball move. Now you know where he got it. The boys receive a message from Chun Li to meet her in Spain, so off they go…
The Bloodthirsty Prince: In Spain, Ryu and Ken meet up with Chun Li. They attend a bullfight, where they meet the Street Fighter Vega, who is quite smitten with Chun Li. That night, he mysteriously enters her hotel room, only to be frightened off by Ken.
"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. 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. However, Volume 2's episodes seem to be a bit more violent than those on the first. The episodes in general take on a more serious tone, as Ryu and Ken mature from brash kids just looking to be the best to real martial artists looking to hone their skills.
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
Again, I can't really offer a better critique of the show. It's fun and involving, which can't be said of that many American television cartoons. The episodes on this particular volume seemed to stretch the material quite a bit in an effort to expand the mythos. In other words, they seem like filler. The three episodes in Thailand could have easily been only two; the same goes for the three episodes in India. It's unfortunate that the seventh episode ended where it did, because now I'm going to have to find a copy of Volume 3 just so I'll know what happened!
I have the same complaint about the extra content here as I had with the first volume. The trailers and previews on this disc 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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