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Dragon Ball Z Kai Blu-ray Season 3 Blu-ray Anime Review

12 min read
Dragon Ball Z Kai Season 3
Dragon Ball Z Kai Season 3

Do Saiyans dream of Android nightmares?

What They Say:
The epic showdown between Goku and Frieza reaches its climax as planet Namek crumbles beneath their feet! In the aftermath of battle, neither fighter is anywhere to be found, but Earth’s few remaining heroes have much bigger problems. A mysterious and powerful stranger known only as Trunks arrives from the future with a warning: the Androids are coming, they take no prisoners, and even Goku – wherever he may be – is no match for their kind!

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 and 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’s track is recorded in 5.1).

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 that the anime series added but which were cut out for Kai 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 (or perhaps FUNimation) seriously minimized in this release was the presence of grain that the Blu Ray 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 of DBZ- 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 most times while 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. 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 Trunks and Frieza as the youth is dispatching the villain. 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 and FUNimation makes 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 more episodes with disc one having nine and the third disc having eight while both the even discs 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 yellow square marking the currently highlighted option on the first disc set and a light blue color used for the box on the second. 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 only extras present on this release are the almost industry standard clean open and closings.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Frieza appears to have been stopped but it looks like Goku is going to pay a higher price as even in his severely mutilated form it seems that the-would-be-universe-conqueror will have the last laugh as he can survive in space while the Saiyan is out of luck as the spaceship he came in is too far away and Freeza’s ship is destroyed and his newfound power doesn’t include surviving in a vacuum. On Earth the grief is almost unbearable given the tremendous losses that have been suffered- but luck is once again with those who would risk it all to save the planet as the aliens they helped save have a secret of their own, one which will help turn tragedy into triumph though one key friend will choose to continue his training apart from the rest.

A year later and the peace that Earth has been experiencing is about to be rocked again as Freeza returns, this time rebuilt and more powerful and in the company of his father as he looks to make sure that when Goku returns Frieza has given him proper payment for the injuries received in their previous fight. Even knowing that they stand no chance Earth’s mightiest fighters assemble to try to stall the villain but instead of a futile struggle they find a greater mystery as an unknown youth appears who has the same ability to go Super Saiyan as Goku and they watch in disbelief as the young man defeats both of his alien opponents with seeming ease. But it is the message that the youth brings that is the most shocking of all as he comes from the future and he warns of a new menace on the horizon, one that even he in his time can’t beat.

However it seems that history is going to play out differently due to the traveler’s actions as there is a pair of opponents he didn’t know about initially taking the stage and the pair he came to warn of is now a trio, and if anyone manages to make it past them there is an unprecedented menace that awaits- one which has many of the abilities of Earth’s strongest fighters at his disposal. With Goku out of commission and the proud Vegeta having to face the ease of his defeat at the androids hands it may be up to Piccolo’s desperate gamble for strength to give the universe a chance to survive- and even that may not be enough to stop the mighty Cell from starting on his path to extinguish all life in the universe.

One of the trickiest parts of many long running shonen fight series that authors face is how to get their characters past the latest seemingly overpowering enemy so they can grasp victory and on many occasions the method used is to have the heroic characters find a brand new strength or powerful attack in order to finally vanquish their opponent. While this can produce some dramatic fights and some cliffhanger moments it is potentially a double edged sword in terms of the next story arc as the author is then stuck having to create a new and even more powerful menace in order to continue the exploits of the characters that they are writing for and it is possible that no franchise epitomizes this circular pattern more than Dragonball.

Toriyama somewhat compensates for this repetition by trying to infuse his various antagonists with a personality that not only attempts to make them memorable in their own right but also create one which will allow the protagonists to shine brightly but which isn’t always as effective as one might hope, and the condensing of the Dragonball Z material done to create a more manga accurate story does some undercutting of the antagonist characters. While this condensing creates the perfect environment for the action to flourish and gain the spotlight it leaves some of the fights feeling less than epic as some of the lack of depth to the various combatants involved makes some of the fights seem shallow, particularly when it comes to the first pair of androids whose presence largely exists because of the earlier appearance of the Red Ribbon Army in the adventures Goku had in his youth and little exists here to really establish them apart from simply being part of that organization.

Luckily things improve somewhat with the next trio of androids who each are given a bit more to their own personalities which help to carry the material forward and make the fights feel like more than just flash without much substance as it provides some heft to the struggles as the new characters are given some dimension that takes them beyond the opponents existing just to beat Goku though the material is still more thin when it comes to these androids than that which the Dragonball Z program fleshed out, even if much of it is considered filler. The biggest improvement in creating some memorable characters is found in Cell who takes the threat most of Dragonball’s enemies present beyond just being killed his opponent as Cell has the ability to consume them and add their energy and unique abilities to his own making him a darker monster than has been present in the franchise to date which adds a bit of unique spice to his presence as the (latest) ultimate monster.

In final measure the changes that are made to make the Dragonball Z animated material to make it fit closer to the original manga really emphasizes just how different in pacing the two mediums are and how it is that what story wise creates acceptable characters in one format (the original manga in this case) just doesn’t translate well when the fights (and the buildup to them) are longer and require more fluid transitions and material to build up the characters that leave the less developed characters waning while on the other hand it does make for some spectacular fights. That isn’t to say of course that the original animated series material was without flaws either as a number of the characterizations either went on too long or managed to distract from what should have been the series flow, a problem largely owing to the attempt to make the series as Toriyama was writing the manga and so needing to create material in order to give the creator time to move the story along. Largely Kai comes across as a more action oriented show than Dragonball Z because of the compression of material which contains enough of the characters to carry the events but not quite enough to make the series as special as it might have been if the production had actually done a full reboot and tried to stay more faithful by using completely new animation rather than creating the series by chopping up the original Dragonball Z animation and using a few new bridge animations to cover things. Fight fans come out the better for it but character fans won’t feel quite the same victory, though the cutting of so much superfluous material does make it a much less time consuming task to complete the same material and it may allow some people who don’t want to invest nearly 300 episodes worth of time into a series that has become a legend in multiple countries around the world.

In Summary:
The latest collection of Dragonball Z Kai episodes takes the viewer from the fallout from the fight between Frieza and Goku on the planet Namek back to Earth as a young man from the future arrives with a dire warning as the series introduces one of its most popular members and barrels headlong into one of its most action packed confrontations. With its manga paced focus Kai removes much of the material that stood between the fights as it drops its characters into desperate fight after desperate fight and it leaves its audience on the edge of their seats as the brutal battles unfold. This set offers both a financial and timely economical way for anime fans to experience one of the most heralded anime series of all time and gives them a front row seat into just what it is that propelled the anime series into a worldwide phenomena.

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

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

Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: September 11th, 2012
MSRP: $54.98
Running Time: 600 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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