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Dragon Ball Z Kai

 

It’s been many a full moon since a certain dubbed anime premiered on Cartoon Network and was summarily dismissed by this reviewer as being “too boy” for her tastes.  The unsophisticated animation, the frequently ugly character designs and entire weeks of episodes spent watching people standing around vibrating and growling as they “powered up” just wasn’t for me.   I don’t know if it was the sheer tenacious programming of the show -- it was on constantly -- or someone letting me in on one character saying to another, “catch my monkey,” getting my attention, but by whatever inexplicable means, Dragon Ball Z became part of my daily viewing routine, which inevitably, inexorably swelled into a full-blown obsession. 

Dragon Ball creator Akira Toriyama’s tale (NPI) of the unlikely life of Son Goku reads like a Japanese version of Superman with a side of the Monkey King fable.  His numerous battles against foes from every corner of the universe began with our hero as a small child living in the wilderness without a clue as to his extraterrestrial birth or superhuman abilities.  Everybody has a long ape-like tail and turns into a were-gorilla, don’t they?  The arrival of Goku’s first friend, the spunky, scientific genius, Bulma starts the naïve nature boy on his journey to discover seven mythic orbs - the Dragon Balls of the title - that when gathered together, waken their reptilian deity spirit to grant the bearer a wish.  Goku and Bulma’s hazardous adventures gain the pair many friends and even more enemies who would also like to have a mystical, wish-granting lizard at their disposal.  Dragon Ball ends happily with Goku as a teenaged martial arts prodigy on the verge of a precipitous marriage to Chi Chi, the world’s strongest girl.

Dragon Ball Z picks up some five years later with Goku, Chi Chi, and their four-year-old son Gohan living a life of rural bliss.  Little Gohan is a polite, timid boy whose mother loads him down with books and education instead of following his paternal inclinations toward martial arts.  The Son family is so cut off from the rest of the world, that a birthday visit to Goku’s former trainer, the perverted Turtle Hermit, Master Roshi, shocks the old man and Goku’s running buddies, Bulma and best friend, Krillin, all unaware that Goku was a dad.  The peace of the day is broken by another birthday surprise of a whole other stripe as an armoured, hot pants-wearing fellow with very large, spiky hair flies out of the sky.  Regaling Goku with details about warrior races from planets far, far away, the muscular guy introduces himself as Raditz, Goku’s Saiyan older brother from the destroyed planet Vegeta.  Big bro has come to check on Goku’s progress in annihilating the people of Earth so the planet could be stockpiled for intergalactic sale; an assignment programmed into Goku as an infant flown through the galaxy in a space pod.  A conk on the cranium of the baby conqueror has apparently saved the fate of humankind as Goku’s savage leanings were knocked out of him.  Instead of destroying the earth, Goku’s instinct is to save it and those he loves upon it.  This is where Goku’s problems and Dragon Ball Z begin.

Early on, I alluded to the interminable length of a fight scene on Dragon Ball Z.  A single battle could literally take months of weekly shows and while it could be a gory extravaganza of flying fists and feet, the waiting for anything to happen was a big trade-off.  Also, as one of the longest-running anime series of its time, there was filler galore.  Much of it amusing, but when one was desperate to get to the business of bloodshed and actual story progression, the delays could often cause large clumps of hair to be pulled from the scalp.  The veering away from the Toriyama manga was a constant complaint of hardcore Dragon Ball Z aficionados.  

Out of that desire to see the animated version in a manner that Toriyama himself would have approved, comes Dragon Ball Z Kai.

Whittled down to an amazingly sleek 99 episodes from Dragon Ball Z’s original run of 291 (- toldja there was loads of filler), this streamlined series gets right down to brass tacks with the introduction of Raditz and his nasty attitude straight away.  We are given a whiplash-quick, ‘Son Goku, this is your life’ sequence at the opening, which is plenty for new eyes to get the gist.  It also introduces Piccolo, who in these first DBZK episodes, initiates his first team up with Goku, his mortal enemy from the Dragon Ball show, thus marking the beginning of a beautiful friendship.  Raditz’s very necessary exposition of our hero Goku’s roots will loom large on the story going forward, explaining a whole lot about the gifted cat with the funny hair. 

The first box set encompasses episodes 1-13; the start of DBZ and gets only so far into the first battle between Goku and that little fella with the great big ego, the displaced Prince of All Saiyans, Vegeta.  In an unfortunate instance of kickbuttus interruptus, the second DVD of the set ends just when Goku gets serious and declares his intent to put an end to their fight.  If said during the regular run of DBZ, I would have scoffed heartily, knowing that meant we only had 35 more episodes to go before a serious punch was thrown, but here the materials are so chiseled you even have to watch the lead-ins for moments you’ll blink and miss.  The picture is crystal clear, the aspect ratio converted to widescreen, so you’re not missing an inch of frame and remastered in as crisp high-definition as could be from a hand-drawn animated program that just turned old enough to drink.

That said, I’m already noticing little edits which I would rather not have seen from this edition.  With such a momentous release of one of the most violent animated series ever shown on television and also in this age where limbs fly and gore is loosed regularly on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim anime block, do we really still have to erase blood from the brows of characters drawn twenty-odd years ago?  On a sillier note, will Goku’s infant wee-wee really cause the FCC to drop the hammer on Funimation?  I’m thinking no.  Not that it’s necessarily a deal-breaker, but it’s in the original Japanese version and that’s what I want to see here.  It hasn’t happened yet, but I’m waiting for the appearance of the dark grey clouds that Funimation would use to cover up scenes of extreme violence.  This sort of editing with this commemorative edition is out of place and makes me wonder if there aren’t plans for an “Uncut, Dragon Balls-Out” version for adults due after this initial pack has been released.  As I said, not the most dire drawback, but for a serious fan it's a major one and in complete opposition to the whole “Toriyama approved” ethic. 

Nitpicky?  No, just a fan.  Considering that these censures date back from when the show was first aired over a decade ago, I think perhaps some reconsideration is due.  The very notion that the DBZ-devoted would hunger for this new version of their old favourite is testament to the quicker expectations and shorter attention spans that seem synonymous with younger anime viewers who are not used to the days of long, drawn-out narratives that were typical of their time like Dragon Ball or Dragon Ball Z, Ranma, or any of those casually epic series.

As Funimation’s Dragon Ball Z is one of the few English-language dubs I truly enjoy, I’m having a strange time hearing Christopher R. Sabat, whose Vegeta is one of the greatest voice performances I’ve ever heard, sound as if he’s been redubbed.  The result is a softer, less dominant and pompous Vegeta, which is just not on.  In DBZ Kai, Sabat, who must be the busiest man in Texas, takes over Yamcha’s voice, as well.  I do miss the goofy tone of Ted Cole here.  Likewise, I prefer Stephanie Nadolny’s performance as Gohan by far to Colleen Clinkenbeard’s, whose girlish delivery distracts terribly as so much of the action turns toward Goku’s son.  She simply doesn’t sound like a boy.  Kyle Hebert’s cheesetastic narration on the opening and closings would have also been great to hear.  

There should have been some actual extras other than the theme songs with and without text; perhaps some words from creator Toriyama himself or any of the voice cast would have been wholly appropriate.  Even some notes or DBZ trivia inside the case would have been nice.  I also don’t understand why this needed to be in a two-case box set when one case with the two DVDs without a box would have sufficed.

Maybe I’m naïve, but I put the majority of these quibbles down more to the haste to get the product out to the public than greed.  I do think that more can and should be done to make this the ultimate DBZ home-viewing experience.  Despite choosing to watch this box of Dragon Ball Z Kai in the Japanese subbed version, I’m still thrilled to have this stripped-down, streamlined version of one of the greatest anime series ever made.

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

May 21st, 2010

 

 

 

 

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Images:

(Courtesy of Funimation)

 

 

 

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