Dragonball Z Kai Season 1 (Episodes 1-26) (Cert 12)
4 Discs (Distributor: Manga Entertainment) Running time: 600 minutes approx.
A brand new Dragonball Z series? Not quite. What we have here is a remastered, remixed and slightly revamped retelling of the original series but in HD! Whoo!
Flippancy aside, in celebration of the twenty fifth anniversary of the original Dragonball series, the show has been giving a digital make over, complete with newly animated scenes, re-recorded digital stereo dialogue tracks from the original Japanese cast and new upgraded sound effects to boot. It also serves as a way to make the franchise more relevant to modern anime fans who missed out on the fun first time around.
Aside from the aesthetic improvements, the material has been streamlined, reportedly sticking faithfully to the original manga of Akira Tokizawa – in other words no filler! This means the story moves a lot quicker and the battles aren’t eked out to cover twenty five episodes, condensed to roughly four at the most.
Since the first Dragonball series is being skipped and we head directly into this second series (actually part of the original long running manga), a brand new prologue has been created that fills us in on the origins of our hero Son Goku, the legendary dragonballs while incorporating a whistle stop tour of prior events.
From hereon in the material should be familiar to loyal DBZ fans – Son Goku is now a father and is forced to defend the earth against malevolent fellow Saiyans, initially unaware of his Saiyan heritage. After falling to defeat against Vegeta, Goku dies and is sent to train in heaven for a year while his three year old son, Son Gohan, trains under Piccolo to harness his powers and learn how to fight.
When his friends are all killed by Vegeta, Goku gets revenge but needs to recover afterwards while Bulma, Gohan and Krillin go to the planet Namek to find the dragonballs to revive the deceased. Vegeta wants the dragonballs to wish for immortality which is the same plan as the devious Freeza. Obviously it is a lot more than that but this has all been covered before in the reviews for the DVD releases.
To give you an example of this improved time management, the material covered in the 26 episodes in this set equates to the first 57 episodes of the original DBZ series – or the whole of season 1 and half of season 2 of the DVD releases! The overall episode count is reduced from 291 to 159, surely making this an easily digestible viewing experience even for the most patient fans. Unless you have a photographic memory, one doesn’t miss the filler material and the newly added scenes are a much better fit.
As exciting as this sounds there are a few cavils that need highlighting. First, the images are considerably and noticeably better and cleaner than the remastered ones on the previous DVD releases. However the artwork is exactly the same as the original series – in other words there has been no modern upgrade both visually and in the animation to match or take advantage of the high definition treatment this show has been afforded.
Only the credits and eye-catches have been given the full make over treatment with new artwork, modernised character designs and pristine sharp digital images – set to brand new theme songs for those who like sing-a-long – which exposes the vast difference in the image quality.
What this means however, is that we are essentially watching the same show as before, just with cleaner images. Many of the original frames and cells were discarded after the original ended so existing ones were used and digital traced over to create the new and cleaner ones. The images are pretty much spotless, the colours are deeper and more vibrant, but there is still that slightly dated haze like veneer that dates its appearance a relic from the past, which may put off newer viewers.
The other niggle is that this has been presented in the archaic 4:3 picture ratio, as opposed to specially cropped 16:9 version the previous DBZ DVD sets boasted. The explanation for this is purely functional as the original DBZ frames which were used as the basis for the newly recreated frames were also in 4:3.
Since this review is based on the Blu-ray release, this might just be a singular issue but the subtitles are rather small and rendered in white with a flimsy single line stroke that doesn’t help the text stand out against any light or white backgrounds. This may be different on the DVD however.
With all that said, is there a need to invest in this release? I suppose that depends on how much of a Dragonball fan you are. The obvious pros are the superior picture and sound quality, and the sprightlier paced storytelling while the cons are that you are essentially buying the same series all over again (albeit with fewer discs), while the excised material means a gap in your childhood memories of the show.
If you resisted the previous DBZ DVD releases then DBZ Kai is as good an introduction to the franchise as any, since none of its original essence has been filtered out here. Otherwise this is strictly for hardcore DBZ collector who should still get a kick out of this visually improved presentation.
English Language 5.1 Dolby True HD
Japanese Language 2.0 Dolby True HD
Disc 2 only:
Textless Opening Song
Textless Closing Song
Disc 4 only:
Textless Opening Song DVD Version 1
Textless Opening Song DVD Version 2
Textless Opening Song Broadcast Version
Textless Closing Song
Rating – ****
Man In Black