If you are a relatively old-school (meaning pre-2000) anime fan then I'm sure you have a few shows or movies that bring back a waff of nastalgia every time you watch them. For me Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie is one of them. The show was first released back in the mid-90's in an edited form -- meaning that some scenes were cut but also the soundtrack was totally re-done. This new DVD is the first time that the movie has been released totally in-tact and with the option of watching the original Japanese language and music tracks, so for me this was a must-buy.
The movie's story is pretty negligable. It's basically a series of fight scenes loosely tied together by a very strait-forward -- and very video-game-like -- story. Bison (or Vega in the original Japanese) is the leader of a crime syndicate called Shadowlaw (or Shadowloo in Japanese). He's going around the world to gather all the world's best street fighters to join his organization, and the legendary fighter Ryu is next on his list. But since Ryu seems to be hard to find, Bison figures that he'll use Ryu's old fighting partner Ken to lure him out.
Like I said, what there is of a story is basically an excuse for a bunch of fight scenes, and the Japanese and English versions are pretty much the same in that respect. The movie tries very hard to include all the characters from the original video game, so many of the scenes have absolutely no bearing on the actual plot. But to tell you the truth, for what it is I think it works really well because it doesn't try to be anything it's not. If you want to watch a fighting movie, sometimes you just want to watch a fighting movie and an over-developed story can almost seem like an annoying distraction. This movie doesn't pretend to have depth, it just gives you what you want -- one fight after another.
And those fights are the reason that I loved this movie back when I first saw it. The scenes were coreographed pretty damn well I thought. The animation was fluid and fast and detailed to a degree I hadn't seen before and haven't seen since. Even the super-gravity-defying techniques seemed to flow naturally and realistically. My favorites are the fight between Chun-Li and Vega (or Balrog in the Japanese) and the one between Ryu and Fei-Long. I remember watching those over and over again back when I first saw this and I had a blast watching them again this time.
The one thing that I was kind of dissappointed by in terms of the visuals was that Manga Ent. didn't re-master the video. It still looks old. Though in a way I suppose that just added to the sense of nostalgia.
As far as the unedited material is concerned, mostly it involved a little more blood splooshes here and there. The major addition that most people will notice is the Chun-Li shower scene. I remember back when I first saw it I just knew that something was cut out. Well here you get to see the full monte, with Chun-Li in all her full-frontal glory. So there you go.
The biggest difference between the English and Japanese versions is the soundtrack, which I honestly think makes the two versions feel like two totally different movies. The original Japanese soundtrack -- when present at all -- mostly includes soft and subtle background music, even during the fighting scenes. As a result you get a very VERY different feel than in the English version, which contains mostly harder-edge guitar sounds and includes some more modern (for the time) heavy-metal tunes from bands like Korn and Alice and Chains. Comparing the two, I think the Japanese version was trying to bring out more realism and emotion with the soundtrack. Although it was softer, it was also less distracting, which allows you to focus more on the fight itself and ponder what the characters are thinking and why they are fighting. In the English version, the music brings out emotion too, but it's more like an adrenaline-pumping intensity and gets you caught up in the action itself more than the characters.
Although I hate to admit it, I really prefer the English version over the Japanese. Although I can definitely repect, appreciate, and even enjoy the subtle drama of the Japanese soundtrack, I think that overall the English version is more effective at being entertaining. Like I said before, this is a fighting movie, and I think the English version takes full advantage of that by enhancing the intensity of the action, and as a result, I was able to get more into it. My guess is that the Japanese culture and sensibilities would probably get more out of the implications of the subtlety. But even all that aside, the Japanese version reminded me of something out of the 80's and tended to sound kind of cheesy. (Given that I usually hate edits in anime, I sincerly appologize and sympathize with all the purists out there.)
In the end, I did enjoy the English version more than the Japanese version. I didn't re-watch the entire English version, I just basically fast-forwarded to my favorite fight scenes, but even so the enjoyment I had for this movie back then still came back to me. But regardless of whether you saw this back in the day or are coming into it with a fresh perspective, if you like strait-out martial arts action then this is an anime you should check out.