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Dragon Ball Z Kai Part 1 Blu-ray Review

9 min read

Recut, remastered and in high definition, Goku kicks even more ass in streamlined fashion.

What They Say:
For the first time in history, experience the legendary Z as the master intended with this manga-centric, fresh take on Akira Toriyama’s original vision!

The last descendants of an evil race of warriors known as the Saiyans are on a collision course with Earth, and Goku – the strongest fighter on the planet – is all that stands between humanity and extinction. To save his friends and the world he loves, Goku must travel to a realm from which few return, but should he survive, he’ll discover the power to face the villainous Saiyan warlord – Prince Vegeta.

Contains episodes 1-13.

The Review:
Dragon Ball Z Kai gets a good audio presentation for its release as both language tracks are done in Dolby TrueHD. The Japanese mix, which was naturally updated for its current airing in Japan, gets a solid stereo presentation though I do wish they’d get on the ball more about using 5.1 mixes for their shows. The forward soundstage gets a solid workout in general with a fair bit of directionality and a whole lot of clarity when compared to the weak DVD releases we’ve had over the years, be they in stereo or mono. The English 5.1 mix has a much richer and fuller sound as expected and it utilizes the overall soundstage effectively, though the rears don’t get a huge workout in general. Similar to past releases, it really comes down to which cast you like the best (both of which have casting changes), but I’m very pleased that we got lossless audio tracks for both and that they’re free of problems.

Originally airing from 1986… and then remastered and airing again in 2009, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio in 1080p using the AVC codec. The series was broadcast in Japan zoomed and in widescreen but FUNimation’s releases mirror the Japanese Blu-ray releases by giving us the show as it should look. The release uses a dual layer and single layer disc set so the spread is nine episodes on the first and four on the second. Having watched the show numerous times in different sets over the years, this is definitely by far the best it has ever looked. Colors look great, detail is spot on and outside of some source related blemishes that they didn’t clean up for whatever reason, it’s a great looking release. It takes the warmth of traditional animation and moves it to a more detailed level than we’ve seen before and with a very clean and solid look to the colors it’s even more impressive. The various kinds of animation used throughout here, with the original that’s been tweaked and cleaned up, the redone pieces and the new pieces all provide for a very disjointed look. It can be quite jarring at first, but as the episodes progressed it bothered me less and less. After the variety of really bad releases over the years, especially remembering FUNimation’s own first Dragon Ball Z DVDs, I can say that while this isn’t perfection by a stretch, it’s left me pretty pleased.

The release is done with a standard blu-ray case with a cardboard slipcover that replicates the case artwork itself. The front cover is nicely done with a straightforward new visual design image of Vegeta looking all angry in his battle suit set against a white background that really draws the eye to the character. The logo is kept to the lower left and is surprisingly small but fits well so the character artwork gets most of the attention. The right side has an blue strip going down where it has the logo and the volume numbering along with a couple of expected company logos. The back cover is done sideways where the blue strip extends around to it a bit and is then given over to a dark gray. There’s a good image of Vegeta here surrounded by energy that has him looking mean and powerful while below him they keep to the technical information and a bunch of logos. The majority is given over to the summary which covers the basics of the show along with a good push of the updated aspect of the series. We get a few small shots as well though they’re small enough to not really matter or help to sell things. There aren’t any show related inserts included but we do get artwork on the other side with a close-up action shot of a few of Freeza’s underlings set against a blue background while the other side deals with a sideways episode breakdown by number and title.

The menus for this release are something of a disappointment overall and problematic, though perhaps more for these old eyes than for the young pups out there watching on smaller HD se-tups. The menus are all about the clips from the show playing out in bold action with lots of vi-brant colors and that looks good. I like that. It sets the mood just right. The problem is with the navigation strip along the bottom, which does double as the pop-up as well, where they use small – small – blue text on top of a silver background and shuffle it all off to the right. With the font used and the combination of the colors, it’s unattractive and hard to read at even the tiniest bit of distance, even on larger setups. The menus do work flawlessly, discounting the fact that they don’t read the players’ language presets which continues to be a big pet peeve of mine, and everything is very easy to move about in.

The only extras included in here are on the second volume with clean versions of the opening and closing sequences.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Watching the opening arc of Dragon Ball Z Kai was certainly interesting in seeing the kinds of cuts and edits they made in order to streamline the show. With the introduction of Vegeta and the Saiyan’s, which made clear Goku’s own origins, Dragon Ball Z Kai had a lot of material to cover but it did it in a fairly choppy way that made the pacing feel too rushed, too forced at times. On the plus side, Goku’s time running down the Serpent Path was cut down incredibly short and that made it all worthwhile. As the show got past the awkward opening stages and into the fight with the Saiyan’s, it definitely evened out.

Much the same can be said about this set of episodes as we get thirteen more episodes that moves us quickly to the next stage. Goku’s fight against Vegeta is fun in its streamlined form as it’s brutal and quick, giving it more impact that way. The fight is over in just a few episodes here after Vegeta creates an artificial moon to help him transform into the giant beast but compliations arise from it as well. It’s interesting to see Vegeta in this instance since unlike Goku, he’s very much aware of what he is and is able to use it to his advantage whereas Goku has floundered in a way for years because of his lack of knowledge. There’s always a complication in the mix and as we’ve seen from the first arc, Gohan is something that’s not what anyone expects and his youth and unpredictability changes the course of things.

The show does deal with one of the worst parts of dealing with heroes however. When Vegeta is defeated, at least in this instance, Goku won’t allow him to be killed because he believes so strongly in redemption (or rematches as the case may be). Even though it’s plainly apparent that Vegeta will be a problem again, and they’ve made it clear that Saiyan’s gain more power after every battle, he’s allowed to live and Vegeta manages to snake his way back into space to the base of his current master, a creature named Freeza that is hellbent on controlling the galaxy. Allowing Vegeta to live is certainly noble of course, but the inability to do anything with him quickly to prevent his escape is an unfortunate problem.

Having him escape does allow the series to progress to its next phase though. With Vegeta hav-ing inadvertently given Freeza the information about the Dragon Balls, he has to hustle his way to Planet Namek before Freeza can get them and his chance of getting out from under his control is gone. While that plays out, Bulma and the others work their magic to get a spaceship of their own to head out there so they can get access to the Dragon Balls that may exist there so they can restore their friends on Earth and start the Dragon Ball cycle all over again. It’s actually good to see a mission helmed up by Bulma the serious with Gohan and Kuririn going along with it to provide a bit of muscle while Goku is healing up after his near death experience against Vegeta.

The Namek Arc is one that really was problematic in the original, much like the Vegeta arc was at the start with him and his companion going against Goku and Goku’s spirit world time. Namek brings us some good material as we see where Piccolo comes from and the remnants of that society that has had its fair share of problems over the years as well. Similar to how Kami was in that he was aging and things are going to disappear with him, the Elder there on Namek is close to his end and the Dragon Balls there, much larger than the Earth ones, are almost at the end as well. Freeza’s search for them begins before Vegeta can get there, which shaves off some time, and gives us a look at the cruelty of this character and the kind of people who he uses as his underlings.

Dragon Ball Z Kai’s shortened form works well with the Namek arc so far as the fights against Freeza’s underlings are relatively quick and the search for the Dragon Balls occurs in a smoother fashion. A good bit of time was spent just in traveling over the planet, with Kuririn’s meeting the Elder, Vegeta’s journey and the way he got captured and escaped as well. The amount of time spent on the journey to Namek feels better here, though we do get the passage of time dealt with overall. Bulma’s trip has some nice moments to it before they get there and Vegeta is there in the blink of an eye and even Goku’s eventual trip behind everyone else has a good feeling to it where it doesn’t drag on. With the length a lot of the original material dealt with, the Namek arc and the trip segment makes out very well in this condensed form.

In Summary:
After the first release of the series, I wasn’t feeling to awful confident about this incarnation of the show but wanted to see how it could do once it got into the meatier sections. This set, without the basic setup that the first had, gets things together in a much better way where the streamlined design of it comes into effect more. There’s a lot extraneous time filling material that’s excised here and the end result is a show that moves quickly, gives the fights more impact and takes out a lot of the travel time. Those pieces didn’t fit well in the first set but here everything feels like it’s really come together well and given us a story that’s more coherent and less choppy. It’s definitely giving me some hope for the next few sets to see how that gets adjusted.

Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing

Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: C
Extras Grade: B-

Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: May 18th, 2010
MSRP: $34.98
Running Time: 325 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1

Review Equipment:
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70″ LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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