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Dragon Ball Z Kai Season 4 Blu-ray Anime Review

13 min read

Dragon Ball Z Kai Season 4The powerful Cell initiates his own tournament and there is no title of “World’s Strongest” to be awarded, instead the prize is the fate of the Earth.

What They Say:
Cell has finally reached his perfect form, and he won’t rest till civilization falls! Only a herculean effort by Earth’s heroes can stop Cell’s rampage, but a superhuman slugfest of unprecedented brutality leads to Goku’s shocking retirement! Young Gohan alone must now battle the monster and his miniature minions. The outlook appears bleak, but somewhere Goku lurks, waiting to lend his strength to Gohan for one final Kamehameha Wave. Will it be enough to save the world?!

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. While the series and most of the animation originates from the run that started in 1989, 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) and the changes in vocal range of some of the cast- as well as cast changes that needed to be made for other reasons- probably will take the die-hard Japanese track fan a while to get use to, if they ever do.

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 on TV in Japan Toei decided to do something special to celebrate and went with this reworking of the original material. To that end they capitalized on the restoration work they had done to create the Dragonboxes while also making some tweaks to color and a few additional scenes were animated out of necessity to fill in now existing gaps where excised material that the anime series added but which were cut out for Kai. 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 and print irregularities 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 new open and closings are 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 disc’s labels 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 entries as it uses the same off-white background with gray Shen Long image while adding the cover image for this set of Gohan and Goku looking like they are launching a joint attack. 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 both discs one and three having seven episodes while disc two has four and disc four has three reflecting the smaller than series average of twenty one episodes in the set.

The main menu uses a feature similar to many Blu Rays in that it has a simple bar at 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 colored square marking the currently highlighted option and clicking on one of them causes the bar to rise and with the sub menus options appearing in the place of the original options. While basic in form the menu is quick to respond to changes and implement them, though from a personal standpoint I think a serious improvement would be made if FUNimation lost the changing sound that occurs when a selection is implemented as it is gratingly obnoxious.

Present on the release are the almost standard clean openings and closings but FUNimation puts a bit of a bonus onto the set for English fans of the series as it includes a (roughly) four and a half minute interview with the series’ English director (and voice of Piccolo and Vegeta) Chris Sabbat along with Goku and King Kai voice actor Sean Schemmel as they talk about some of the things they have learned since they first worked on the original Dragonball Z, though sadly those who want to see more of their interaction are directed to go to FUNimation’s site rather than having more of the conversation included on this set.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The fight against Cell continues but it looks like things may end shortly as Vegeta has returned from his training in the time defying room in Kami’s palace with a strength even Goku can’t match and he proceeds to show Cell just how large the gap between them is. Unfortunately as Cell is on the path to defeat the antagonist convinces Vegeta to allow him to absorb Android 18 and achieve his Perfect form in order for Vegeta to fully test his might. The situation is only made possible by Kuririn’s inability to overcome the crush he has on her and deactivate her which looks like it will be the end of the world as Cell’s assimilation of her places him on a level beyond imagining and the villain proceeds to deal a tremendous blow to Vegeta’s ego to say nothing of the rest of his body.

After defeating Vegeta, Cell decides to hold a tournament for the whole world to watch as he challenges all comers to try to save the lives of everyone on the planet and he magnanimously gives the fighters of Earth ten days to prepare. Each of the fighters decide to try to spend their time as they feel is best for them with Vegeta returning to Kami’s room to train and Piccolo doing likewise while Goku decides instead to rest and do some regular training rather than spend some of the precious time remaining in the amazing room again. Has Goku got a hidden level of strength to deal with Cell or has he finally realized that he has met his match and further struggling is futile…or perhaps is Goku going to turn his role of Earth’s mightiest defenders over to another? With the world on the line and the Dragonballs no longer an option for most of the fighters, will they manage one last miracle at great sacrifice or will they simply be the first step in Cell’s eventual conquest of the universe?

Watching through this collection of episodes it is difficult not to come to the conclusion that this arc and its conclusion may actually be the best stopping point for the series as it seemingly wraps up all the themes that author Toriyama had been developing since the time jump that introduced Gohan (which was given the designation of Dragonball Z in the animation) and all the hints Toriyama laid as to Gohan’s potential in the greater scheme of things throughout this time is delivered, even if only after more than a little pain. This works nicely from the point of view of both paying off all the work on Gohan as well as it plays off the character of Goku whose original introduction stressed the importance he put on his family (his grandfather) and which has also seen him at odds with his own brother as he had chosen to side with the family he had created rather than that of blood which he had never known as well as underscoring all of the work Goku put in getting Gohan to pass him. The theme of family and growth also appears with the relation between Vegeta and Trunks as the audience gets to see a peek at some of the deeper emotions that the often cruel Saiyan claims not to have but which it is obvious that exist through a couple of key moments in this set which adds depth to the often shallow in nature appearance of the character seemingly solely concerned with his pride and being the strongest in the universe.

What the series also does very well here is provide a sense of closure for many of the characters in the series, both more prominent characters such as Goku who gets to have some last words as well as Future Trunks who gets a chance to settle his problems with the Androids that plague the time he comes from as well as a chance to save himself but cloture isn’t left to just main characters. With at times just a simple line a couple of the characters who have played a fairly substantial role in the Dragonball universe get a quick chance to say farewell after having been shown to have recognize they are so far outclassed in fighting Cell that their continuation in fighting in the future (if there is one) wouldn’t make sense but the series doesn’t just drop them off the map (much like seemed to happen to Lunch after the original series) without giving that small opportunity for parting and it even Goku’s family gets a few moments to come to terms with the events.

One of the other things the arc gives the opportunity for is it allows characters to come to terms with their own mistakes, a couple of which if done differently could have changed the outcome and some of the fall out of the events depicted. In some ways a number of characters seem to be operating on a different levels as Trunks knows how dangerous Cell can be due to the life of horror he has lived and as such he has conflicts with some other characters- primarily his father- who are motivated more by proving their own superiority than in making sure that they take care of the enemy directly in front of them. Vegeta isn’t alone however as a number of the characters that would be considered heroes also make some choices that allow for Cell to become more powerful and each has to deal with the feelings of guilt that come with that and at least one pays a much higher price for his decision to try to push someone further than they are currently willing to go.

Probably the one place where this span of episodes goes awry is with the introduction of Mr. Satan and how almost all of his scenes are one note in nature with him disbelieving what he is seeing in this seemingly inhuman battle and his need to refer to all of it as “tricks” while also playing up his own persona. When he appears in the Dragonball Z version there is enough space between his scenes that he doesn’t feel like he is dominating the events but in the condensed form of the series found in Kai his antics just become overwhelming and distracting. Not helping that sense any is that the audience barely gets to see him established before he drops in and starts to make claims about the actions and abilities that the audience has come to know and believe but which clearly in a “normal” world would logically be thought of as some sort of illusion or fakery. Also Mr. Satan barley gets to show off just why he has the title of World Champion by breaking a large number of tiles and punching through the side of a bus (which in a normal world would also be met with skepticism) and this creates a character who just becomes an albatross around the series at this point as he drags things down but one they also can’t lose due to the part he plays in the Boo/Majin Boo arc.

All of which brings things to an interesting place as the last episode here really does what would almost be the perfect wrap to the franchise as it gives a look at the immediate lives of the characters while hinting at some of the adventures Goku has in the otherworld but leaving characters at a place where everything feels finished- and it is in Japan in a fashion as Kai never grabbed the fans like the producers hoped and so the series ended in Japan here. FUNimation on the other hand has seen enough sales in America that they have contracted with Toei to continue Kai through the Boo/Majin Boo arc allowing fans to get to see all of Dragonball Z in this form and honestly after this set I am conflicted on that. Having seen all of Dragonball Z I know there is more but the producers created such a perfect ending here that I am not sure the tone can be matched with the final arc (not to mention how that arc undercuts the development of Gohan). I am sure once the time comes I’ll watch the episodes but right now this ending feels so complete that I am content even if the next arc takes a bit of time before being released as the current finale just puts the perfect cap on these characters, their struggles but also their triumphs in a powerful way.

In Summary:
Dragonball Kai comes to a kind of end (at least temporarily in the US) and it finds that its characters are going to once again be pushed to their very limits- and perhaps beyond- as they attempt to save the Earth one more time from a being that possesses frightening power. With its mix of action, heart and consequences the Cell arc wraps with a perfect summation of some of the best parts of the Dragonball franchise on display as it gives its characters a chance to show off the growth that they have had since their initial appearance. While the series will carry on one day and finish the final arc what exists here may be the most perfect of endings that will allow fans to enjoy the ride and still feel satisfied in saying goodbye to many of the characters they have spent a good deal of time with. While the appearance of Mr. Satan throws the work out from being as good as it could have been the overall impression left is a fairly positive one and it is easy to see just how it is that the franchise has captivated so many across the world.

Japanese Language, English Language, English Subtitles

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

Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: March 12th, 2013
MSRP: $54.98
Running Time: 295 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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