So Funimation released the first part of Dragon Ball Kai (dubbed Z Kai) today; as a huge Dragon Ball fan I have quite a bit to say on this release.
I own EVERY release of Dragon Ball that has been released here in America, by this qualification I definitely know about the fandom’s ups and downs when it comes to Funi’s releases. It goes without saying that the Dragon Box is by far the best release of the original Dragon Ball Z in America, pristine picture quality, full frame aspect ratio, and for the first time, TRULY uncut and unedited. So how does Z Kai stand up?
Dragon Ball Kai is a recent production in Japan to celebrate the 20th anniversary of DBZ. It has been upgraded from the source to be Hi-Definition (1080p) with newly recorded voices and music, brand-new openings and closings, and picture touch-ups to enhance effects or fix mistakes from the original. Keep in mind however, that it is the original video from 20 years ago and NOT totally new animation.
Funimation’s release flat out provides the best release of this material as possible. I am not going to focus on the content, as I usually do, because this is the umpteenth release of DBZ in America, instead I will focus on this release specifically. I picked up the Blu-Ray release so keep that in mind as you read this review.
The video truly is HD, no crappy up-convert or faux HD. This presents the material in a fantastic light. Using the same setup, I compared this to my Dragon Box using Blu-Ray up-conversion. The Dragon Box looks great up-converted from DVD as the video looks as it should. For DBZ Kai, the video looks even cleaner. The colors are more vibrant and the lines very well defined. The new animation looks so good that I never want to see this particular footage on DVD with a standard DVD player!
While watching this set I did notice some extreme blemishes such as dirt and dust. After comparing it to the Dragon Box I have concluded; it is not an issue with Funi’s transfer or the Kai version in general as these blemishes ARE in the original. Since this set is true HD and not an up-converted DVD you simply see the blemishes more clearly and are thus, much more noticeable.
A lot of people have written hasty reviews stating that the video for the old footage is blurry and looks horrible....WRONG!! This footage looks the same as the Dragon Box, but because of the new animation thrown in here and there it becomes more noticeable that there is a quality difference. If there was a marathon feature on the disc, these “blurry” scenes would not be as noticeable. The footage where touch ups have been integrated with the old footage looks great. On the lo-fi fansubs these scenes looked very odd and obviously out of place. With this Blu-Ray release it looks as if Vegeta ALWAYS had black hair when first introduced!
The video is presented as intended, 4:3 aspect ratio!! Just like the Dragon Box, this is the ONLY way to watch Dragon Ball and thank GOD they didn’t go with another widescreen release! My only slight issue is that it is forced 4:3. With the Dragon Box, the picture morphs to fill my widescreen TV without distorting the picture. With Kai, the video stays centered with black bars to the left and right (which is only slightly distracting), and if I try to force the picture to fill the screen the video becomes extremely distorted so...black bars it is!
Onto the audio; just like the Japanese version, Funimation has gone back and totally re-dubbed the voices. For the widescreen releases they did the same thing but the quality of that dub was on par with what they had done previously (post Freeza arc when they stopped TOTALLY sucking). This dub is much better!! Some of the voices that seemed flat before are given new life and finally there is a DB dub on par with Funimation’s other releases. Gohan is no longer annoying, Bulma finally has some emotion outside of stupid valley girl, and all the other characters (especially Kuririn and Raditz) just sound good. The only exception to this is King Kai (Kaio-sama), he is still just as annoying as before. The dub script is only slightly better however. It follows the original script a little better than the old dubs and does have a better feel and seems less fake and forced, so congrats on that! But the original JP scripts still seem superior in its presentation and delivery.
Before this release I would always say, stick to the Japanese audio track. The Japanese audio track is still far superior and the best way to watch DB, but this dub is finally “do-able.” It isn’t annoying but rather enjoyable when you just want some background DB (which is what I’m doing as I write this!). As a side note, the new dub’s narration is much better than the old dub but he totally reminds me of the Pokemon narrator, this provides me with great comedic pleasure!
The new Japanese music is kept intact throughout the dub, which is great! The only issue with the new music, as it pertains to Funimation’s release, is the opening and closing songs. As with recent Funimation dubs, they have translated and re-recorded the opening and closing songs. Honestly, they just sound bad! The new songs are great and this dub just sounds off and extremely uninspired. Plus, while listening to the dub songs with the JP subtitles on you can really tell that they just wrote new songs with the same music. The meaning and feel of the lyrics are totally gone, which is a total shame. If you are a dub only kinda fan...fine, just please switch on the JP audio for these great songs!
As for content...it’s Dragon Ball! These 13 episodes cover roughly the first 30 episodes of the original DBZ. All the filler has been removed to follow the original manga more closely. This isn’t distracting, obvious, and annoying like the American edits of years past however.
Visit Daizenshuu EX and Kanzentai for a more in-depth description of the differences between Kai and the original DBZ.
Needless to say the core story is still intact. I have a deep love for a lot of the original filler and it is missed here but, at least with this set, it is not glaringly obvious these scenes are missing. The action is fast and the tension is high but it never seemed too rushed for me. The pieces fit together so nicely that unless you are an old fan and/or super-obsessed (like me) you won’t notice.
This is a fantastic set for what it is. Older fans will likely prefer the original but this is sufficient enough as a highlight reel and the new music/animation is really worth it. Dub fans may not like this new dub but for JP fans who hate the old dub, this is definitely the set to pick up just to watch DBZ as a background thing. Fans of the original Japanese DBZ might be better served to stick with the Dragon Box, unless you are crazy completists who NEED the new animation and music, like me.
For any DBZ haters out there who have never even bothered to watch the show or couldn’t stand some of the drawn out fight sequences, you should absolutely pick this up. With its filler-less pace it is much easier to get into and enjoy the story. The picture blemishes are excusable because heck, it IS HD and the show IS 20 years old!
All around a great set that I am glad to add to my already excessive collection. This is the best DBZ dub release in America, and a thoroughly enjoyable time. I will continue to pick up these Blu-Ray sets till the end. But don’t think for a second that I will stop picking up the Dragon Box sets! They are still the definitive release of the original series!