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Dragon Ball Z Level 1.1 Blu-ray Anime Review

13 min read

Not perfect, but never let the perfect be the enemy of the damned spectacular.

What They Say:
Brace yourself for the arrival of Raditz! Witness the fall of Goku! And tremble at the moonlit-emergence of young Gohan’s inner beast! The last survivors of a cruel, warrior race, the Saiyans have carved a path of destruction across the galaxy, and now they have set their sights on Earth! They will stop at nothing until they have the wish-granting powers of the seven magic Dragon Balls for their very own.

With the fate of his family, friends, and the entire human race hanging in the balance, Goku, the Earth’s greatest hero, must rise to meet the approaching threat. As he prepares for the fight of his life, Goku embarks on an epic journey that will take him to other worlds, pit him against new and old enemies alike, and force him to confront the dark secrets of his own past. At the end of this path, the most powerful opponent he has ever faced awaits: the evil Saiyan Prince Vegeta!

The Review:
Originally airing in 1989 Dragon Ball Z illustrates some of the differences between Japanese and American animation with what the consumers want. Even though DBZ was a sequel to a rather popular series and based off a popular comic it still was produced with a mono audio track, as opposed to Voltron which was adapted and aired in America in 1984 and was a front runner in using a stereo mix. Those who have watched other Dragon Ball Z series in Japanese will find the same mono track here as on other sets, though an advantage of Blu Ray over DVD is it allows the audio track to have all the breathing room it could possibly want.

For the purpose of the review the Japanese track was selected and the track was split well between the front speakers. Outside of one spot which appeared to be an audio glitch (given the sequence there is a small chance it was intended) but other than that it is a very competent track given its limitations and very well produced.

As opposed to the Dragonbox sets which are on DVD, the Blu Ray format allows plenty of space for additional language tracks and FUNimation makes the most of this by including the re-recorded English dialogue with Japanese music in 5.1 and the broadcast version in 2.0, with both tracks being encoded in Dolby TrueHD.

Originally airing in 1989 Dragon Ball Z is presented here in its original 4:3 format. FUNimation has done a stellar job of transferring the series to Blu Ray off of the film stock that they have, but even Toei had limits to the restoration they did for their Dragonboxes off the original masters so there are flaws within. The transfer did a good job of fixing many of the issues found with the series but even considering the popularity of the series, it is still a TV animation from the late 80s through mid 90s and there is some cell damage that came from that period as well as the TV production rush schedule and many, though not quite all, the blemishes have been fixed by the FUNimation team.

For the series, the first thing one will notice (because it is inescapable) is the presence of grain that the format has a high enough resolution to present, and there is quite a bit that is native to its original film stock. Also noticeable along with the grain, though not nearly as prominently, is that bright reds have some issues with spotting and bit of blurring, some print lines, specks, pops & scratches, a very thin, fine level of noise, some shaking & minor wavering, some lighting issues (level fluctuations) on the side of the picture on occasion, as well as some print damage. Additionally there is a momentary spot with a vertical band of static that is diminished, though not eliminated by, the work done restoring it.

This all sounds really negative of the picture but it isn’t in the long run. One of the reasons some directors have chosen to try to move away from using film stock as a medium as it lends itself to these issues and this can be seen on many of the Hollywood pictures made around the same era when they are converted to BD as well. Other than the grain the other issues have been reduced by FUNimation greatly over previous incarnations and FUNimation even went to the trouble of recoding the colors for the presentation based off the film stock and color template they have rather than trying to just increase the brightness of the picture or run the print through a number of film tweaking programs they have used in the past.

Also of note, the first movie opening is used for the initial episodes much like the Dragonboxes used. Along with that the presentation uses English title cards, English credits and lacks the next episode trailers as is present with other FUNimation Dragon Ball Z releases.

The Blu Ray discs come in a standard two disc BD case that has the discs on either side of the case. The front cover features an image of Goku looking like he is leaping at the viewer against a white background. The boarder for the front, the spine and the back are done in the same color and style as the orange brick DVD releases. The reverse side of the cover features a larger version of the Goku leaping against white image with the episodes listed on the far right next to it.

The back of the cover contains the copy, four images from the series and a list showing how the episodes will breakdown in regards to future sets and it also comes with a sleeve that mirrors the cover. The discs themselves use the image of Goku from the label cover and the release contains a small insert card that features an image of Vegeta on one side with a replica signature a brief statement from him on the other from Christopher R. Sabat, Vegeta’s English voice actor as well as series voice director.

The main menu uses a feature similar to many Blu Rays in that it has a simple bar in the bottom of the screen while the rest of the screen has images from the series as well as an orange title screen play in rotation with a short and simple instrumental track playing in the background. The different options are indicated as the color changes to a reddish orange and a (rather unappealing) sound effect indicates one has changed options. Clicking on one of them causes the bar to drop and a bar with the sub menus options listed in a horizontal rather than vertical manner to raise in its place. The menu is quick to respond to changes and implement them however. If only there was a different audio track and they lost the changing sound effect it would be greatly improved.

The only extra on the set is a featurette focusing on the restoration of the material and the team at FUNimation behind it that was done for the Blu Ray release.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Dragon Ball may be the series that needs the least introduction and has the biggest level of fan knowledge in America- even encompassing those who have never watched a single episode. While some of the younger readers here may not recall as well, in the late 90’s the series played on Cartoon Network and exploded into the mainstream in a fashion that may only have been second to the Pokémon craze. Toys filled store shelves and Burger King ran out of kid’s meal toys when they ran a promotional tie in. Dragon Ball was a king of the mountain, and this latest release helps to show off why the series climbed to that peak.

Dragon Ball Z is really the second half of creator Akira Toriyama’s biggest hit- and not just his, but also one of the biggest manga hits ever. Dragon Ball tells the story of Son Goku and his journeys from a young child to adulthood as he becomes one of the greatest martial artists of all time while defending the Earth from a number of powerful opponents who look to control the planet. Along the way he will make friends out of a number of his former opponents and gain a form of respect and mutual understanding if not friendship with others.

Dragon Ball Z picks up five years after the end of events which have Goku defeating Piccolo Jr. and saving the world from coming under his brutal rule. The intervening years have been an era of peace that the world has not seen in some time and the various characters from the previous years have had time to pursue their own desires, many of which it turns out have been training in the hopes they can surpass Goku which has replaced their desire for world conquest.

Goku meanwhile has settled into a sort of married bliss with Chi-chi during this age of peace and they even have a son named Gohan after Goku’s grandfather. Chi-chi has decided that her son will exercise his mind the way his father has his body and has dedicated herself to making sure the four year old boy becomes as great at learning as his father is at martial arts. While this isn’t exactly how Goku would see the boy raised he has long since learned that when his wife is obsessed with doing something he needs to back down. Given the era of peace that exists he really doesn’t see the harm in his son pursuing academic studies, even if he doesn’t completely understand the importance himself.

The world’s fragile peace shatters though when a small round spaceship lands on the Earth and a single figure emerges. This figure will upend everything Goku thought he knew about himself and herald a new age of conflict. The figure calls himself Raditz and he proclaims that he is Goku’s older brother and that Goku is an alien who had been send to Earth as a child to wipe out all life on the planet. Now Raditz will take it on himself to do what his younger brother didn’t and extinguish all the life on the orb and it will take Goku making the ultimate sacrifice for the Earth to have a chance to survive this family reunion.

Things won’t get any easier as not only is Raditz the most powerful threat ever to face the planet, even worse he turns out to be a harbinger as he is merely the least powerful member of a trio of survivors of the same race know as Saiyans -and the weakest one at that- who now have their sights set on Earth. With Goku dead his friends and even a former enemy will be scrambling to try to prepare themselves for the arrival of these powerful new beings.

Luckily all hope is not lost as Goku’s body is spirited away to the afterlife in the hopes he can meet and train with the powerful being who trained Kami and become stronger before his friends wish him back to life by collecting the Dragon Balls. Goku isn’t the only member of his family to be taking on a new role however as during the fight with Raditz Piccolo notices that Gohan has a hidden power in him, a power which may surpass anything Piccolo has even dreamed of before. Piccolo decides to kidnap the youth and spend the year they have before the aliens arrive training him in as harsh a manner as he can in the hope the boy will prove to be the planet’s trump card.

Life for Gohan will not be easy in this though as despite the hidden strength he has, he has been pampered all his life and so he is unprepared for the world Piccolo suddenly thrusts him into. Now he has to try to muster his courage and fortitude as he has to survive on his own in a savage wasteland and learn to fend for himself in brutal conditions. The little boy will have to endure hardships and pain and the end result will either hone him to a fine edge or have him perish. And if he can survive this ordeal, he will still have to survive the training that awaits him at Piccolo’s hands as the clock ticks down to the arrival of a pair of enemies bent on destroying the world.

Dragon Ball Z seems to be one of those series that really lends itself to polarization. Some people really love it while others simply loath it, and often for the same reasons. The series focus is on action and these later stories move a bit farther away from some of the humor that Toriyama made so central to the earlier tales, though it doesn’t disappear completely. In some ways the series has grown a bit over the years when it comes to maturity in general, though there are still the occasional moments of juvenile humor to be found. In some ways it feels like the series grew along with its core audience and central character.

Dragon Ball isn’t the most complex story one will find though it does deal with no small number of really deep subjects- sacrifice, death, the afterlife- in a manner that can broach these heavy topics in a way that makes them a bit less intimidating to the viewers, though the Dragon Ball wishing aspect does take away some of the emergency and powerful emotions of these events. This approach can make Dragon Ball seem as deep as one wants or as shallow as characters just fighting and powering up. Books could probably be written on the opposing philosophies that can be found in the series while arguments can be made people are reading too deep and it is just a simple cartoon.

Dragon Ball Z has risen to legendary status due to its popularity both in its home market of Japan and in numerous other markets around the world. Whether it is completely deserving of this status is going to vary greatly in the eyes of the individual viewer however. Watching these early episodes shows some of the same elements found in shonen series today in terms of themes as well as the use of filler episodes to pad out a storyline as the animation crew waits for the author to write enough material for them to adapt, though the themes of friendship and overcoming diversity are present as well.

There is some filler to be found even in this early arc, from an expanded amount of stories of Gohan trying to cope with surviving to Goku spending forever on his task of trying to meet the character who will train him in the afterlife and the results are a touch mixed. Goku’s running just takes forever and gobbles screen time while Gohan’s story both emphasizes how sheltered he had been and how brutal events are during the six months he is to be alone. A good deal of this material was excised in the Kai series so those who find this to be a slog should move over to that series, but I found much of the material to have some entertaining merits. I especially enjoyed a good deal of the Gohan material as it helped develop his character even if it does at times fall into the realm of stretching even this series believability.

Even with that all taken into account this set contains a good deal of fun to be found as while the action is almost a main character in its own right the series never becomes morose. The episodes are largely all well paced individually and there is a fair balance used in presenting the stories so that individual characters get present but the series doesn’t become overly bogged down in the trials that any one individual member is going through. This mix allows for characters emotions to play nicely at intervals where as if they were featured in an individual story on their own they might become tedious. It is this balancing act which really helps the series get the most bang for its buck as it were and give the audience a well crafted wave of emotions and drama to ride.

In Summary:
This Dragon Ball Z release is the first Blu Ray of the original DBZ series to be made available and it is clear that FUNimation took their years of market experience and home video production into account. They then combined this with a very knowledgeable and detail oriented transfer team in order to make the best presentation they could with the materials they had available. While the results aren’t quite the same as the one’s Toei came up with for their Dragonbox releases they are no less impressive in their own way. Though this release lacks some elements that Toei’s had (no Japanese title cards or next episode trailers) it does present a gorgeous picture that those who enjoy seeing the full details from the original (or second generation which it is more likely FUNimation has in their vaults) film stock present, grain and all will find very satisfying. This release probably won’t completely replace the Dragonbox sets for fans of the Japanese version but it is a worthy companion to those sets. Fans of the English side of things will be happy to see that the English language side is fully presented as well, though they may still be a touch disappointed that it is still the new dub and not the one they may have seen all those years ago on TV.

Japanese 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Dragon Ball Z: Film to Blu-ray, Textless Opening and Closing, Marathon Play

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

Readers Rating: [ratings]

Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: November 8th, 2011
MSRP: $34.98
Running Time: 425 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1

Review Equipment:
Samsung 50″ Plasma HDTV, Denon AVR-790 Receiver with 5.1 Sony Surround Sound Speakers, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080.

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