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Dragon Ball Z Level 1.2 Blu-ray Anime Review

9 min read

Two of the greatest opponents in anime meet for the first time (well, in non-Kai form anyway) in glorious High Def.

What They Say:
Fear the sinister Saiyan onslaught! Celebrate the heroic return of Goku! And prepare for an epic showdown with Vegeta! 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:
Audio:
Those who have watched other Dragon Ball Z series releases 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 mono Japanese track was selected and the track was split well between the front speakers. There were no dropouts or distortions noted while watching and the dialogue is clear. Overall 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.

Video:
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. 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, there are some print lines visible as well as specks, pops, scratches, a very thin, fine level of noise, some shaking and minor wavering, some lighting issues (level fluctuations) on the side of the picture on occasion, as well as some print damage.

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 one of 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 though once the footage changes and includes the Saiyans the opening returns to using the TV version. 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.
Packaging:

The Blu Ray discs come in a two disc eco-BD case that has the discs on either side of the case with large bits of plastic removed around the hubs. The front cover features an image of Vegeta 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 Vegeta 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 and helps grant a little more stability to the eco case. The discs themselves use the image of Vegeta from the Blu-Ray packaging cover . The release also contains a small insert card that features an image of Goku on one side with a replica signature from Sean Schemmel, Goku’s English voice actor as well as voice for some other characters from the series, including Kaio-sama (King Kai).

Menu:
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 uses 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 by the color changing from white to a reddish orange as a (rather unappealing) sound effect indicates one has changed options. Clicking on one of them causes the menu 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.

Extras:
For this set FUNimation included the standard textless open/closing extras that one might expect but they also did something a bit more creative by having two extras that focus on the English staff. The first extra, “An Engineer and a Pen: Autograph Collection Part 1” features headshots from various members of the voice staff to the audio engineer. Many of the shots contain a personal note and all have signatures on them. The second one features a series of headshots of Christopher R Sabat that have been edited (mostly drawn on with a marker) to make him look like some of the characters he plays in the series.

These extras are going to depend on one’s tastes but they didn’t quite work for me as the messages written on the pictures weren’t always legible on the first extra and the second looked like some in-jokes were there-and one image seemed to have been edited. If you want faces to go with voices this may appeal more to you but I’d rather have something else- maybe a US history of DBZ, shots of US merchandise or actors talking about their roles rather than what is here, but your mileage may vary.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The day that the two Saiyans reach Earth is approaching rapidly and those looking to stand in their way are working as hard as they can to hope to be able to stop them. Gohan is taking his lumps as Piccolo is finally directly training him while some of Goku’s friends have gathered all seven Dragonballs and are just waiting on Goku to complete his training in the Other World-training which hasn’t even started yet as Goku is still running along the Serpentine Road in order to meet with Kaio-sama.

Just when Goku (and perhaps the viewers as well) is starting to wonder if he will make it to his goal suddenly the tail of the trail comes into sight. After a rough start upon first finding the small world on which Kaio-sama lives which includes some mistaken identity and misunderstandings Goku is ready for training, though the form his training takes may seem a bit pedestrian (or flat out odd) at first glance. But will even training in a super heavy gravity field be enough to even bring him up to the level with monsters that grew up in such an environment?

Will he make it in time when Kaio-sama makes a mistake about how long it will take Goku to get back to Earth? As Goku has to try to travel the path back at an accelerated speed the Saiyans make their landing which will leave his friends facing a force many times greater than they can imagine. As his friends start to fall it looks like Goku may not return in time to save the Earth before it is destroyed. As desperate gambits play out the strength of the invaders is on full display as they handily make their way through Earth’s only defenders with almost no effort.

As the action increases the casualties will mount and the demise of the planet looks certain. Even if he somehow arrives in time is it possible that Goku will find an opponent far stronger than he ever dreamed who is practically malevolence incarnate? What chance will he have fighting against a being raised on conflict who has been honing his fighting ability since he could walk? The odds look dim and this time Earth’s defenders may simply not be up to the challenge.

The second Blu Ray set of Dragonball Z finally pays off some of the events started on the first set. Goku finally makes it to encounter Kaio-sama, Gohan continues to train with Piccolo and, probably more importantly, Vegeta and Nappa finally arrive on Earth. In some ways this last event is undercut slightly by a previous episode showing the two Saiyans on another planet which demonstrated their strength but the impact here just feels more real and memorable.

What this volume really brings is a bit of a delicate balance to events as some of the earlier episodes have a good deal of humor (particularly those with Kaio-sama and Goku interacting) but the later episodes are almost pure action. The fights begin and continue only with brief pauses, generally just long enough for the viewer to try to process the fallout from the previous brutal fight just before the next, even more brutal fight commences.

The fights are brutal and, with the results from a particular action, they look like the effects are going to be far longer lasting than before as previously the Dragonballs could be used to mitigate things. Now however, those will be taken off the table which creates a type of urgency and permanence to events that has been absent a bit since early in the original series. With characters believing they are facing real- and permanent- consequences, the ensuing emotional outpouring really helps draw the viewer in and amp up the tension for the scenes.

In Summary:
The second volume of DBZ on Blu Ray kicks off with some longer goals finally being met as Goku’s run to meet Kaio-sama finally bears fruit. While the initial episodes spend some time playing with a few characters and their peculiarities the set of episodes turn rather sharply as Goku finally comes face to face with the character who will become a lifelong rival- though Goku will have to actually live through the encounter or it will be an awfully short rivalry. This volume brings a tremendous amount of action to the table as it attempts to not just beat other action titles on the market, but to leave them senseless in the process. The reasons for Dragonball Z’s popularity can all be found here- quirky characters and humor as well as some of the most impressive fight scenes ever animated. This set is terrific for old fans to relive and new fans to see just what the buzz is about.

Features:

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

Readers Rating: [ratings]

Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: December 13th, 2011
MSRP: $34.98
Running Time: 410 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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