Dragonball Z Complete Season One (Episodes 1-39) (Cert 12)
6 Discs (Distributor: Manga Entertainment) Running time: 906 minutes approx.
Every once in a while a title comes along which forces a reviewer to think long and hard about what they are going to write. This may be due to a lot of things – concerns about being too effusive, too scathing or merely jumping on a current bandwagon to win over the reader. Or it may be that the title is practically review proof and will be a success despite (or in spite) of one’s opinion. In this writer’s case the title in question is one of the most influential and globally known anime titles of the last two decades, which did as much for introducing the genre to new young fans as seminal classics such as Akira did for adults many years earlier.
After what seems like an interminable wait, Dragonball Z has arrived for the first time in the UK on DVD, uncut and remastered, to give new fans a chance to see what they’ve been missing out on and older fans an opportunity to wallow in the nostalgia of their youth. It may comes as surprise but this reviewer actually falls into the former category – since my childhood days were long over when the show first arrived on these shores in the mid 90’s – marking my first steps into the expansive universe that is Dragonball franchise.
Created by Akira Toriyama, Dragonball first appeared as a manga in 1984 with the inevitable anime adaptation following in 1986. The story is loosely influenced on the famous Chinese saga Journey To The West and centres around a young monkey-tailed boy named Goku who trains as a martial artists and embarks on a long mission to track down the seven fabled dragonballs with which a wish granting dragon can be summoned. Upon its completion in 1989, the sequel Dragonball Z took over which brings us to this review.
Set some years later, Goku is now married to a woman named Chichi and they have a four year old son named Gohan. Everything is hunky dory until a Saiyan warrior named Raditz crash lands on earth, searching for his brother Kakarrot – aka Goku! He too is a Saiyan warrior sent to earth as baby to destroy it many years ago but a bump on the head erased his memories and aggressive temperament.
Believing the Saiyan race – of which he and two others are left – were betrayed, Riditz has come for vengeance. Battle naturally commences but Raditz boasts some supreme strength, forcing Goku to team up with Piccolo (the antagonist of the first series) in order to defeat Riditz.
And that’s just the first five episodes! Over the remaining thirty four, which make up the now subtitled “Saiyan Arc”, Goku is forced into a year long journey in the afterlife to receive some additional training from a God while young Gohan is taken under the wing of Piccolo for some extensive training of his own after displaying some incredible latent power.
And familiar faces from the first series return – including Krillin (or Kuririn according to the subs. Will someone please have a word with Funimation’s translators about this?) Yamcha, Yajirobe, Chiaotzu and Tien Shinhan – to aid in the combat against two very powerful and ruthless Saiyans, Vegeta and Nappa. Phew!
So, how does the show fare against modern anime? Well, one needs to remember this was aimed at the younger audience – although US censors weren’t so happy at the time – so the script and dialogue is fairly uncomplicated in the US dub which deviates greatly from the much darker (and occasionally mature) original Japanese script.
The action scenes are plentiful and very noisy which is just how youngsters like them but the budget being what it was back then means plenty of blurred movements and huge flashes of light and colour to disguise the sloppy animation but young eyes won’t be so critical about this.
To that end time hasn’t been too kind to Dragonball Z, and at the risk of blaspheming, it makes Naruto look sophisticated. Anyone coming into this for the first time will probably wonder what the fuss is all about having been usurped by the modern shows that followed in its wake. However if one can remember when it was made, it’s groundbreaking credentials become quite evident as hints of its influence creep through as the show progresses.
Others who wish to rekindle the memories of their post school TV viewing will relish in owning this box set (the first of nine to include all 291 episodes in this series) and arguably delight in having the whole thing uncut for the first time. Hardcore anime fans are likely to gravitate to the original Japanese dialogue track (quite why hulking father on one Goku still has the voice of prepubescent boy remains a mystery) while others may want to stick to the more familiar US dub. The Japanese version also includes the original Japanese theme songs and not the limp muzak replacement on the US dub.
The show has also had a digital make-over with the original film reels from Japan being transferred onto digital medium and mastered at 1080p with each frame cleaned up and the original colours restored to give us the cleanest picture possible. There are a few little blips here and there and some of the colours are a little gaudy, but considering how old the source material is it would be churlish to complain about it.
The picture has also been cropped to 16:9 ratio from the original 4:3 to give us the same widescreen experience modern shows give us. If none of this makes any sense then check out the features on the DVD extras for a clearer explanation.
Dragonball Z has already earned its place in anime history and this release will merely cement that position. It’s very much a product of its time and it shows but with an eager audience of old and new fans out there, its longevity is assured.
English Language with Japanese Music 5.1 Surround Sound
US Broadcast Version Stereo
Original Japanese Language Mono with English Subtitles
Disc 6 Only:
Dragonball Z: Rebirth
A New Look
Ratings – ***
Man In Black