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Dragon Ball Z: Rock the Dragon Edition Anime DVD Review

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Dragon Ball Z: Rock The Dragon
Dragon Ball Z: Rock The Dragon

Funimation stole my “Let’s rock this dragon…” pun, so I’ll write a real teaser. This set is full of nostalgia and totally worth it for the 20-something fan with the disposable income to buy it.

What They Say:
HFIL has frozen over, and your wish has been granted. Now get ready to Rock the Dragon like it’s 1996!

FUNimation is busting open the vault and finally unleashing what fans have sought for so long: the original Toonami broadcast version of Dragonball Z! This ultimate fanboy release features the legendary Ocean dub and the long lost alternative score penned by famed composed Shuki Levy (Inspector Gadget, Power Rangers). This is the Dragonball Z you watched while eating your afterschool snack, the anime phenomenon that helped launch Cartoon Network, and an essential piece of your Dragonball Z collection. No one else in the world has this, and you can’t live without it. Celebrate 15 years of Dragonball Z in North America by kicked your cred into the stratosphere of super fandom! You never really wanted to grow up – isn’t it time for feel like a kid again?

Contains episodes 1-53, Movie 1 – Dead Zone, Movie 2 – The World’s Strongest, Movie 3 – Tree of Might

The Review:
Audio and Video:
The audio sounds like its coming out of some crappy TV speakers, and that’s because it is. The original TV broadcast is preserved in all of its glory and flaws with this set. Similarly, the video is pretty much garbage, but it’s not like it’s unwatchable. It looks just like it looked like on your TV way back when, because it’s likely a TV or VHS rip from back when—and thus is presented in 4:3. Everything looks a little grainy and the line work looks sloppy. But the set isn’t about showing off Dragonball Z’s animation (which isn’t stellar to begin with); it’s about remembering what once was. It isn’t like you’re buying this set for its video and audio quality, you’re buying it to re-experience days long past.

Packaging:
FUNimation pulled out all the stops with the packaging on this box set. I have seen one other thing from FUNimation that comes close in surpassing the quality of packaging in this set, and that’s the Beck amplifier box, which just looks cool. The package is reminiscent of NISA’s Premium Edition sets and it’s every bit as gorgeous. It combines the thinpack cases into the art book that NISA typically packages separately inside of a nice chipboard box. FUNimation opted for a combination art book/DVD holder. I’ll talk more about the art book in the Extras, but the DVD casing is really nice, and of noticeably sturdier material than the art book pages. It isn’t the nicest thing in the world, but it gets the job done and it does it well.

Of note is the comparison between this set and FUNimations other recent Limited Edition sets. My personal copy of The Woman Called Fujiko Mine came in, which was an LE, and it’s noticeably less nice than this Rock the Dragon set (in that its sparse on physical extras; the packaging itself features really pretty artwork and a nice chipboard box). DBZ has always been FUNimations bread and butter, but it’d be nice to put some packaging effort into their other products.

Menu:
Pretty simple set up for the menus. Just a play all and episodes button, because there’s no Japanese track (remember these are edited episodes). It plays the Rock the Dragon song in the menu and, curiously, it still has the dialogue audio in it, which means the only recorded version of the song FUNimation had was the opening. It’d be a pain to cut out or quiet the dialogue, and why do that when you can keep it in there as a bomb of nostalgia?

Extras:
The art book is really the only extra on the set, other than FUNimation’s trailers (check those out on YouTube instead). It gives a breakdown of the heroes, allies, and villains of the show, with the major folks getting their own page (your Gokus and Piccolos). Curiously, Vegeta shares a page with Nappa and Raditz gets one of his own, even though Vegeta gets a more prominent role as the series moves along. Though, the set only goes up to when Goku goes Super Saiyan, so Vegeta’s role is still of reluctant ally rather than anti-hero, as he becomes in the next arc. The artwork is really good in the art book, and the glossy pages display them really well. There is some grainy line work, but it’s not a detraction. Reminds me of watching the show after school on a 13 inch 4:3 TV!

The best part of the art book is the Dragonball Z: The Rise of a Pop Culture Icon timeline that runs from 1996 (when Dragonball Z ended in Japan AND when it premiered on US television) all the way up to 2013 (when the Battle of Gods movie came out).

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
I bet you might not have known that Toei, the company in charge of animating Dragonball Z, has been around since 1938 in one form or another. As we know them today, they’ve been around since 1948. They’ve been behind some of the great shows of our time, like Shotaro Ishinomori’s Cyborg 009, Go Nagai’s Mazinger, Leiji Matsumoto’s Galaxy Express 999, Sailor Moon, One Piece, and, yes, Dragonball. Dragonball Z’s director Daisuke Nishio has few credits to his name, but he’s been in charge of Dragonball since the very start. You could call it his life’s work as much as you could Akira Toriyama. Script Composer, Takao Koyama, has a few more things under his belt, most notably Saint Seiya (ask your Latin American friends about that one!) and Slayers.

My journey through Dragonball Z, and anime fandom, started like so many others’ did. I was about 9 years old when I first started watching Dragonball Z back in 1999 or so, and that was a year removed from Toonami’s debut of the series. It was also the year that Toonami started using FUNimation’s (slightly less cut up) dub, starting with episode 54. Since then, I fell deep into the anime culture, but fell out of it around 2002 or 2003, I fell out of the scene until 2007, and I haven’t left since.

I recall watching this first Raditz arc AFTER I recall watching the Saiyan and Frieza arcs. In fact, my earliest memories of Z are of watching Freiza’s arc, episode by episode, day by day. Looking back on it now, this initial arc does two things very well: It’s exciting for a teenager to watch and it’s a sequel to an already popular franchise without being solely dependent on having watched Dragonball.

What this arc really does is set off a butterfly effect of events that finally culminates in Goku fighting Freiza on Namek. If you think about it, the Saiyan arc is directly correlative to this Raditz part and Freiza’s arc directly correlative to the Saiyan arc. This is, I doubt, part of Akira Toriyama’s plan for the manga (plot holes and contradictions like the destruction of Planet Vegeta are indicative of this), and rather him making things up as he goes along. But that’s merely my speculation and, regardless of Toriyama’s intentions, the stories are always exciting from the point of view of a teenager. It’s your typical shonen tournament formula, but it works and it works really well. Other shows fail in that they’re cheap knock-offs of shows like Dragonball. Dragonball had the luxury of coming before some of the knock-offs and perhaps set the stage for shonen tournament shows as we know them today.

The Saiyan saga does have something that loses a lot of its luster later on, and is important for any TV show to have, and that’s stakes. When Piccolo dies, we believe for a good few episodes that Yamcha, Tien, Chiautzu, and Piccolo are going to stay dead. Now, this fear is lost pretty quickly when it’s pointed out that there should be dragonballs on Namek, but it was still there momentarily. Toriyama wrote himself into a black hole of drama where you don’t really fear for your characters and, after this arc, you’re watching it because it’s cool and exciting. When I’m a teenager, there’s nothing wrong with that, but as an adult, I want more out of my entertainment.

Vegeta’s power is also magnitudes larger than Goku’s at the time that they first fight in this arc. You never believe Goku is going to lose after this arc. Arguments can be made for Gohan v. Cell or Goku and Vegeta v. Buu, but you know the outcome. This is a shonen tournament fight show and the good guys are going to win. But maybe…Just maybe…They could lose here. Goku is literally four times weaker than Vegeta in this fight. This is explicitly stated when Goku goes Kaio Ken x4 to defeat Vegeta, which multiplies his power by four. And he’s just barely on equal grounds with him then. That’s amazingly interesting television and the last part of the series where you truly fear for Goku’s life (perhaps when his body was stolen by Captain Ginyu too?).

Vegeta’s turn to an anti-hero from a villain was a great change, and possibly the last great character move in the series. Vegeta finds himself against his greatest enemy, Frieza—the man who destroyed his planet, and against the people who put him near death, our Z Fighters. His change is gradual in this arc and, while it isn’t on this DVD set, his death at the hands of Frieza was absolutely tragic. I’ll be brief since it isn’t present on these DVDs, but seeing the Great Warrior Vegeta break down and cry, begging for his then-mortal enemy to defeat Frieza, was an amazing moment in television.

Frieza’s arc is also the last arc with any scale of power in it. It feels like, after Goku went Super Saiyan, everything kind of went to hell in terms of scale. Toriyama just added numbers to Super Saiyan to represent a boost in power. It was rather tangible with Goku’s Kaio Ken, multiplying his own power to give us a relative sense of scale. With the addition of the scouter over sensing power levels helps put the power levels (which are often over 9000) into scale.

The arrival of the Ginyu Force truly spells the beginning of the Frieza arc, as everything up to this point has been a lot of busy work. What the Ginyu Force really spells is the return to the kind of campy silliness that’s present on this set thanks to the dialogue, but not in Dragonball Z in general. Dragonball really exceled in the silly—like Emperor Pilaf or Eighter—but Dragonball Z got relatively more serious with more focus on the fighting and less on the comedy. Remember that arc in Dragonball when Goku eventually fights Grandpa Gohan? Ginyu Force kind of reminds me of that arc.

The movies are pretty typical shonen jump movie formula. An enemy is introduced, all the good guys get together to defeat him, and then the movie ends. The Dead Zone movie was shockingly short, running less than an hour. But aside from that, the other movies are much the same content. They’re a concentrated dose of Dragonball Z without having to watch the show. I personally was never a huge fan of the movies, so I can take them or leave them.

Dragonball Z delivers in excitement, no matter what age. When they’re fighting, it’s great and watching the Saibamen means living through the greatest kind of excitement that Fist of the North Star delivered back in the day and One Piece continues to deliver now. Watching this, and especially Goku’s arrival and fight against Vegeta, is perhaps the height of shonen tournament fighting in this era. I don’t know if I should be professing this on the internet, but it reminds me of the days when I used to basically LARP Dragonball, Digimon, and other such things with my friends in elementary school. Those were the days of my youth.

The edited dialogue is often hilariously cheesy (dare I say dangerously?) and brings me back to the good old days of not recognizing just how cheesy it really is. Of course, as an adult, I watch it and the formerly just fine dialogue is now the funniest part of the show. What is most definitely more hilarious than the dialogue is the edited video. No objectionable material is shown, such as butts or penises (which were prevalent in Dragonball and some in Z). Most of these edits are perhaps the cheapest things I’ve seen in animation in a while. However, on top of the dialogue, it only adds to the cheesy nostalgic charm of everything else. I know it’s bad and I can’t help but like it.

In Summary:
The show does not hold up as I remember it, but I am older, wiser, and more pretentious than I was in my wee elementary school days. If there is a way for me to watch the show, it would be this corny set or as Dragonball Kai. The set, however, is perfect. It’s a huge blast of nostalgia and anyone who watched Dragonball Z back in the day with the Ocean Dub, stupid jokes, and over 9000s will love it. Anyone with any sense in themselves watching it for the first time, however, will probably hate it (unless they’re, you know, like 7). The grade below reflects my feelings on the set as a nostalgia piece, but as a critic, I’d give this set a C now.

Features:
English Stereo, Trailers, 48 page Hard back Art Book

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

Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: August 13, 2013
MSRP: $99.98
Running Time: 1480 Minutes

Review Equipment: Radeon 7850, 24 in. Vizio 1080p HDTV, Creative GigaWorks T20 Series II

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