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Dragon Ball Z Kai Season 2 Blu-ray Anime Review

12 min read

Kai is DBZ powered by rocket fuel- which means it is even more a rush than even the original show delivered.

What They Say:
Krillin and Gohan test out their new and improved powers in a throw down with Vegeta, Frieza struggles to unlock the magic of the Dragon Balls, and Goku races through space on a collision course with the Ginyu Force! This installment of Kai has it all: seven Dragon Balls, four epic heroes, and three horrifying villains bent on world domination!

The Review:
Present on this release are two audio tracks- an English 5.1 track and a Japanese 2.0 track and fortunately Blu Ray allows for plenty of space which allows for both the English 5.1 track and Japanese 2.0 track to be present in Dolby TrueHD. For the purpose of this review the Japanese track was used and it was found to be really solid with the stereo providing a nice depth to the images on the screen and while not being as much of an emersion type of feeling like one might get from a 5.1 (or higher) mix it was a step up from what has been available previously. While the series and most of the animation originates from the 1989 run the use of new cuts and footage pretty much necessitated that the dialogue would have to see a re-record. To this end the Japanese track gets an upgrade from its original mono track…all the way to a stereo one which frankly while an improvement is a disappointing one (the English track also had the same issues in needing a new recorded dialogue track, though FUNimation recorded both in 5.1 from the start of their DBZ rerelease).

Originally airing in 1989 Dragon Ball Z is presented here in its original 4:3 format in 1080p using the AVC Codec. Given this series was marking the 20th anniversary of DBZ’s initial run Toei decided to do something special to celebrate and went with this reworking of the original material. To that end they capitalized on the work they had done to create the Dragonboxes while also making some tweaks to color and a few additional scenes were animated to fill in now existing gaps where excised material used to belong. The transfer did a good job of fixing many of the issues found with the series in the visual department in previous releases 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 items likely caused by the TV production rush schedule and many, though not quite all, of these blemishes have been fixed.

One of the things that Toei seriously minimized was 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- even the most cursory comparison between Kai and FUNimation’s short lived BD transfer will show the inescapable difference in its presence along with the difference in the colors used as the ones on Kai are much, much brighter. There are also a little issue with bright reds and spotting and bit of blurring, and some shaking & minor wavering that is variable between slightly annoying at times and at others looking like it is a more than modest attempt to induce a sense of seasickness.

Overall though the material comes off as fantastic and, barring either a complete reanimation or some future leap in computer technology that will create a machine capable of correcting for all the various pops and other issues that human can’t possibly do and have the process be cost effective this is probably the best that the source material will ever look. And the possibility of reanimating the series doesn’t hold a lot of promise to me, not just because of the cost but also the fact that the new additional scenes that were created for this series as bridges just don’t look the same as the original material, though once one gets used to it the contrast really only jumps out heavily in the eye-catch and new closing and openings which frankly have a bit of a plastic appearance to them. On top of that, the open and close also is a haven for other technical problems as this new animation introduces in jaggies to the release, which thankfully I couldn’t notice in the restored material.

The release arrives packaged in an almost PS3 sized case that is thicker than the standard Blu Ray case which forgoes the use of hubs on the case itself but instead the case contains two “flipper” trays which each house one disc on each side so that there is no disc overlap. The discs are all a sort of soft yellow-orange that is almost crème colored that uses a slightly darker shade for contrast so that an image of Shen Long is present but in a muted fashion. Additionally over this background, just to the left side of the disc hub is the series logo while the right side has a white rectangle which lists the disc number as well as having a single yellow-orange star present.

The cover for the release follows the pattern set by the previous release as it uses the same off-white background with gray Shen Long image though the set puts an even more action face on things by using an image of Goku and Frieza from late in their fight that is chronicled almost in its entirety in this release. The back cover uses the same background though it is busier given the presence of the logo, copy, quotes and five stills that take up the majority of the space and stand over the releases copyright and technical information.

Also included with the release is a simple O-card style slip cover which mirrors the disc’s cover. FUNimation does make use of the transparency of the Blu Ray cases though as it includes an episode listing on the left side (with the episodes on the odd number discs listed in black and the even disc numbers listed in the now familiar yellow-orange while the right side simply has a single yellow-orange star, though both sides markings are present over a large (and now also familiar) image of Shen Long. The discs themselves continue the pattern of the original releases as the odd numbered discs have 9 episodes while the even have four.

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 play in rotation with a short and simple instrumental track playing in the background. The different options are listed in black with a lime green square marking the currently highlighted option. Clicking on one of them causes the bar to rise and with the sub menus options appearing in the place of the original options. To finish things off the menu is quick to respond to changes and implement them however, but I think a serious improvement would be made if only they lost the changing sound that happens when a selection is implemented as it is gratingly obnoxious.

The extras present on this set are a bit different than on the previous set as only one set of clean open/close songs is present, though FUNimation did add a 7+ minute interview with some of the cast members talking about the show. Bizarrely it is presented in a letterbox format which just seems a bit of a ridiculous way to format anything these days but particularly so considering this is a Blu Ray release.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The stakes are raised for the fighters from Earth as Vegeta has just beaten Frieza’s minion in front of them and is demanding the Dragonball that Kuririn has been holding. Fortune favors Kuririn and Bulma however as his joy at believing he now has the last ball to make his wish come true has him in a generous mood and because of that he is willing to spare their lives as long as they hand the ball over immediately. Vegeta is even willing to spare Gohan when he comes across him (though not without giving him a “message” for Goku) after leaving the others from Earth as he goes to collect the last Dragonball, though he does so not knowing that Gohan has already managed to retrieve that Dragonball which will now keep Vegeta from having all seven. Once Vegeta is safely out of sight Gohan takes the purloined Ball and meets up with Kuririn and Bulma as they move Bulma and the Ball to a new location since Vegeta knows the old before the two fighters setting off to have Gohan meet with the Namekian Elder and get Gohan’s power raised.

And the group is going to need all the power they can get as Frieza’s most powerful fighting unit, the five man team known as the Ginyu Force, arrives. The threat they pose is such that even the proud Vegeta will be forced to swallow a large dose of humility and propose a team up with the two fighters from Earth in order to stand a chance against the fighters after it is discovered that the Dragonballs need a password of some kind to activate and so Vegeta isn’t going to have his wish fulfilled before encountering the group. The fight goes badly enough from the start as the Ginyu Force captain takes all of the Dragonballs that had been gathered together to Frieza but things only get worse as the remaining members stay and put the now combined Saiyan/Earth team fighters through their paces. The battle has its ebb and flow but it soon becomes apparent that the recently formed team isn’t going to be able to overcome the Ginyu Force and it is going to take the arrival of yet another alien to turn the tide in their favor. But even that recent arrival may not be enough to handle the unbelievable might of the Ginyu Force who has a very powerful ace card to play.

But what lies beyond that mountain to climb is even worse as Vegeta relays that Frieza is far more powerful than the Ginyu Force- and it turns out as events play out that Vegeta doesn’t even know Frieza’s full strength. Even the surprise appearance of an ally isn’t going to be enough to turn the tide of battle as they face off with a being capable of destroying entire planets. With everything at its bleakest will Goku be able to pull one last rabbit out of his hat to save the day? Or is everything going to depend on the appearance of the one thing in the universe that Frieza fears- the strongest fighter in the universe spoken of only in rumors that few actually believe exist, the legendary Super Saiyan?

This set of 26 episodes brings in everything theme wise that I love about Dragonball. While much of the series is combat based with some incredibly fast paced (and made even faster here thanks to the excising of a good deal of material the original anime staff added during the DBZ television run) and brutal fighting as well as the often unexpected comedy side that Toriyama created his characters with and is still present. I love how he can spin his tale so that desperation in the face of an overwhelming threat resides right next to some of the most absurd comedy and this set has one of the best examples of that in the Ginyu Force.

Admittedly in DBZ the Ginyu Force stuck around long enough that they threatened to wear out their welcome but their appearance here feels almost too short as the series has created a place for such nonsensical beings from its very first run in the original manga and it is great to see the return of some comedy to help break some of the tension created by the imminent danger that the heroes are placed in. In addition to this one of my favorite scenes in this arc (which I won’t spoil) is perfect because of how it calls back to the original series and a moment of peril there while also throwing in a twist to change events up.

Probably the best part of this set though is found in the evolution (admittedly small in Vegeta’s case) of the characters that the audience has known for years in some cases and for a decent amount of time in others. The viewers get to watch as Kuririn more firmly adapts to his role even when fighting a foe he can’t possibly beat as well as Gohan coming into his own and learning to overcome his moments of hesitation that have popped up along the way. Along with this the audience gets to see the first crack in Vegeta’s armor as he has to confront the fact that he vastly underestimated his opponent as well as the potential of one of his former adversaries and accept for the first time that he actually needs the help of others. But the greatest evolution is found in Goku who has gone from a little brat who trained for the sake of training and fought either for fun or to win to a man who has come to take more than a little enjoyment in the act of fighting itself while pitting his strength against someone else. This leads to him now acting as a fighter who will resist going for a quick, and possibly seemingly cheap, win in order to fully match himself against his opponent- which is a state of mind the pre-teen version that the audience was introduced to would never have conceived of.

Really the only major negative I have here as that at times things seem to move too fast. Granted this follows the manga pacing much better and in a real fight an enemy wouldn’t let up to allow for their opponent to come to terms with all that had happened but Dragonball is far from reality. Part of what I miss from the filler stacked original DBZ is the time for the characters- and thus the audience- to take a step back and fully process the implications of an event that just happened. While this can go too far (and DBZ certainly had more than its fair share of that) at certain points that pause can allow the enormity of a situation to sink in rather than chancing that it is lost in the rush of continuing events. Still, if one wants the time to reflect there is always the “pause” button and there is a lot to be said for the rush that a breakneck pace can bring to a series.

One additional problem that existed in the original series and which is made worse here is to be found in the inconsistent passage of time. At times days go by in the space of a dissolve where as at other times events are announced to be happening in a very limited time (5 minutes for example) but then they stretch over the course of a couple episodes (though not as many as the original DBZ had). While it is a narrative tool to increase the tension the lack of any resemblance to the actual passage of time can hinder the enjoyment to an extent of some of the battles on occasion, but this was a flaw that was found in the original series and given its narrative use on that it would be hard to work around in any case.

In Summary:
Going from (just slightly before) the intro of the Ginyu Force to (just short of) the end of a very pitched battle and major arc in this one set is a spectacular run that is even more amazing when one considers it achieves this endeavor in almost half the episodes that it took the original DBZ to do. The action found here is presented at breakneck speed which just brings the danger facing the series heroes crashing down on them like waves in a typhoon. This is the perfect series for those who found the original DBZ too slow t times in its pace and this new cut has the potential to reenergize all those long time fans who wish to revisit the series they love but have some hesitation because of the length and some of the parts that were extended out. While it falls just short of being truly amazing, in part because of how quickly things pass and the decreased time to process some events, it still brings the series original heart and comedy along for the ride which it blends with enough action to make an adrenaline junkie feel this series is a dream come true.

Japanese Language, English Language, English Subtitles, U.S. Cast Interview, Textless Opening Song, Textless Closing Song

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

Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: May 22nd, 2012
MSRP: $54.98
Running Time: 625 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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