|| Mewtwo Strikes Back
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Dogasu's Backpack | Movies & Specials Guide | Mewtwo Strikes Back!
The first Pocket Monsters movie, Mewtwo Strikes Back, was released in theaters in Japan on July 18th, 1998. When the movie came out in the U.S., however, certain changes were made to the film. And no, I'm not talking about script rewrites or changing the music here, though this movie certainly had an abundance of those. No, what I'm talking about are changes to the animation and completely redrawn scenes that resulted in a film having much more CGI in it than the Japanese theatrical release.
This newly edited version would later be known as the Kanzenban (完全版).
When Mewtwo Strikes Back! was originally released in theaters, there was only one piece of computer animation in the entire film - the movie's title screen. Every other part was traditionally hand colored, and the special effects in the movie were created using the same old school techniques that animators had been using for decades at this point. And this was considered good enough; nobody had any reason to believe that Mewtwo Strikes Back! was ever going to leave Japan back then.
The first VHS release of the movie came out in Japan on February 12th, 1999. The LaserDisc version of the movie (I wonder how many of you reading this even know what a LaserDisc is!) was released a few months later on July 17th, 1999. Both of these contain the movie as it appeared in theaters. So far, so good.
On July 8th, 1999, things changed. TV-Tokyo aired what they called Mewtwo Strikes Back - The Kanzenban as part of a two-hour special to promote that year's new movie Revelation Lugia. Now the word kanzenban (完全版) can mean many things in this context - "full version," "unabridged edition," "special edition" (think of the Star Wars movies here) - so I've opted to just call it The Kanzenban for simplicity's sake.
(It's worth nothing that the word Kanzenban is only ever used in the marketing for the movie; the word never shows up anywhere in the actual movie itself)
As the title implies, this version of the movie is "more complete" than the one that had aired in theaters and had been released on VHS at that point. A ten minute animated adaptation of the previous year's radio drama The Birth of Mewtwo was tacked onto the beginning of the movie (bumping the running time up from 75 minutes to 85 minutes), and the rest it - the part that, y'know, actually aired in theaters - had a number of changes made to the animation in an effort to give it some extra polish. Some scenes simply had CG added to them while others were completely redrawn from the ground up.
It turns out that all of this was work was done for the November 10th release of Pokémon The First Movie in the U.S. Here's what the movie's official website (which has been archived here) has to say about the movie:
I have no idea who actually put up the money for all these edits and changes, but I'm willing to bet that 4Kids (the company who dubbed the movie) and / or Warner Bros. (who distributed it) put up at least some of the cash for this, if not all of it. But I have no way of knowing.
All of this sort of makes sense if you realize how big a deal this movie being released in American theaters really was. Other Japanese animated movies had gotten releases in the U.S. before then, sure, but all of those only played in small art house theaters in just a few select cities across the country. This one, on the other hand, was set to enjoy a wide release of over 3,000 theaters nationwide. This was a huge deal. Even Studio Ghibli films - even Studio Ghibli films released after Miyazaki won the Oscar, for crying out loud! - don't get this much of a push. A release of a Japanese movie on this scale was unheard of at the time, and it seems like Shogakukan wanted to make sure that Mewtwo Strikes Back! had on its Sunday best for its big North American debut.
What's kind of funny about all this is that the movie trailers and the promotional music videos all, for the most part, use footage from the original theatrical version despite the fact that the Kanzenban had already aired on Japanese TV (and was therefore all ready to go) months before any of these promotions started.
A VHS release of the Kanzenban would come out in Japan on November 12th, 1999, two days after the U.S. debut. And ever since then, every release of the movie - the DVDs, the Blu-rays, every rerun of the movie on TV - has featured the Kanzenban footage.
So what are the differences between the version of the movie that Japanese people saw in theaters and this Kanzenban? I briefly went over some of them earlier, but let's take a closer look.
One, a ten minute prologue, referred to in the end credits as Myuutsuu no Tanjou (ミュウツーの誕生) or "The Birth of Mewtwo," was tacked onto the beginning of the movie. This animated short is an adaptation of the radio drama of the same name that gives a little more insight into the hows and whys of Mewtwo being created. An English dub of this short was made and was included on the first DVD of the movie released in Japan, but the majority of the footage got cut for the original North American theatrical release. Theories as to why range from "Warner Bros thought the subject matter was too dark and were worried that leaving it in would lose them the G rating" to "4Kids didn't think the audience wanted to wait 20 minutes for Ash to show up." In Japan, The Birth of Mewtwo is now considered to be the first ten minutes of Mewtwo Strikes Back! while in the U.S., it's treated as a standalone short.
Two, a number of animation changes were made for the Kanzenban. Some elements / special effects were replaced by computer animation while other scenes were redrawn completely.
There were a huge number of edits of this nature made, so I've compiled image galleries to show each and every change made to the film. Click on a link below to see a comparison between the two.
| Mewtwo's Birth | Mewtwo Works for the Rocket-Dan | Mewtwo Strikes Back | The Storm | Playful Mew |
| Waiting on Mewtwo | Mewtwo vs. The Humans | The Copies Leave New Island | The End |
Further complicating this is a short called Satoshi no Tabidachi (サトシの旅立ち), or "Satoshi's Journey." It was added to the beginning of the movie before The Birth of Mewtwo, bumping the 85 minute runtime of the Kanzenban up to 90 minutes, but it's only there in certain versions of the Kanzenban. It's on the VHS release of the Kanzenban and is sometimes shown when the movie's rerun on TV but is missing from everything else, for some reason. None of the DVDs have it and the Blu-ray set doesn't have it, either.
So anyway, what is this Satoshi's Journey thing? Well, you know the "World of Pokémon" segment from the beginning of the fifth movie? Well, it's basically that. That five minute sequence was originally created for Mewtwo Strikes Back! The Kanzenban and was later recycled for the Japanese version of Latias and Latios, The Guardian Deities of the Water Capital. And I have to say "Japanese version" here because the English version of the fifth movie uses different footage.
Either way, those of you wondering why this segment only features Generation I Pokémon even though it was attached to a movie starring Generation III Pokémon now know why - it was made before any of those Pokémon existed!
Want to know something else? There's a Kanzenban version of the Birth of Mewtwo adaptation as well!
I know what you're thinking: but Dogasu, didn't you just say that the The Birth of Mewtwo was created specifically for the Kanzenban? How can there be a "theatrical version" of something that was never released in theaters?
We know that the Kanzenban was created for the movie's November 1999 release in the U.S. Now the Japanese Mewtwo Strikes Back DVD wouldn't come out until June 23rd, 2000 but it does include the English dub of The Birth of Mewtwo. That same short wouldn't make its North American debut until December 4th, 2001 when it was included as an extra on the Mewtwo Returns DVD. In other words, the English dub of The Birth of Mewtwo came out in Japan a full year and a half before it made its American debut.
Based on this, we can deduce that the English dub was being worked on while 4Kids was dubbing the rest of the movie and that the decision to cut the short from the final version of the film wasn't made until much later. The uncut version of the movie was probably submitted to Warner Bros. and then got sent it back to them with a note saying that the opening was too dark and so 4Kids went in and cut it down to the version we're left with today. The English version existed; it just wasn't made public at the time.
The version of The Birth of Mewtwo that's on the Region 1 Mewtwo Returns DVD is different from the one that's on the Region 2 Mewtwo Strikes Back DVD. While the English audio on both discs are the same, a number of Kanzenban-like animation edits were made to the short. It's the same kind of thing you see in the main release; some scenes had background elements redrawn, others had CG added to them, and others still were completely reanimated.
I think it's probably safe to say that Japan sent the animation that you end up seeing on the Mewtwo Returns DVD to 4Kids for them to dub back in 1999 and then, sometime later, decided to update that footage for the Japanese home release. 4Kids never got this updated footage (or even knew it existed?) and so when it was time to put this short on the Mewtwo Returns DVD they just used the only version they had.
Similar to the main feature, a gallery has been compiled comparing the original version to the Kanzenban version. Click on a link below to see a comparison between the two.
As far as I know Japan's never seen this original, unaltered footage before which means that those fans in America who have the Mewtwo Returns DVD have a rare gem on their hands.
So, here's the thing: it seems like Shogakukan has kind of de-existed the original theatrical version of the movie. This sort of makes the Kanzenban like the Star Wars Special Edition of the Pocket Monsters franchise, which is oddly fitting given how the title of the movie itself is supposedly an homage to The Empire Strikes Back.
Whenever the movie is rerun on TV, it's the Kanzenban. And whenever the movie's re-released on DVD / Blu-ray, it's the Kanzenban release. Additionally, the English version uses the Kanzenban footage (as you would expect since it was made for that in the first place), which in turn means that every other foreign language dub that's based on the English dub uses it as well.
You can check out the home releases page for Mewtwo Strikes Back to see which release has which version of the movie. But, long story short; the theatrical version, for all intents and purposes, "doesn't exist" anymore. Once the Kanzenban came onto the scene, Shogakukan and OLM just sort of swept the theatrical version under the rug, hoping we'd forget about it.
What's kind of strange is that all the promotional material for these DVD releases and TV reruns always make the effort to point out that the version of the movie they're selling / showing is The Kanzenban, drawing attention to the fact that there's a different, "less complete" version out there. They just don't have any intention of actually letting us see it without making us hunt for old out-of-print releases from nearly two decades ago.
Do you wish the original theatrical version was given a modern day release for historical reasons? Or do you think the Kanzenban that we have now is good enough? How to you feel about an extra ten minutes being added to the beginning of the movie to expand on Mewtwo's origin? No matter what your opinions on the subject are, I hope that I've been able to help clear up some of the confusion surrounding this truly strange part of the history of the Pocket Monsters franchise.
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