For quite some time now we have been watching the Dragon Ball franchise on DVD. From the original releases back in the day to the more recent uncut and digitally remastered upgrades to Z and GT, it's safe to say there's a lot of love for Dragon Ball here at DVD Talk. More to the point fellow Anime Talk member John Sinnott and I hold a special place for the series close to heart. I mean, we're obsessed with anime, so it only makes sense that we spend some time with the show most people in the general populous associate with Japanese animation. Right?
While I think it's safe to say that Dragon Ball Z may have been the most well received, the original is definitely nothing to scoff at. It's the flagship that launched Akira Toriyama's franchise and garnered more than 150 episodes before it came off the air in 1989. Who would have thought that over twenty years later the series would be given new life. FUNimation has taken the restorative efforts they showed other parts of the franchise and applied them to this one.
Before I get too far into this review I want to admit something that's rather embarrassing: this is the first time I have watched the original Dragon Ball. There, I said it. I started out watching the franchise from Z on forward, so naturally I missed some stuff along the way. What did I miss? What's this show all about? Let's fill you in!
The story for this iteration of the franchise is much the same as it is with the others. It all starts when a young boy with a monkey tail named Goku is found on Earth by an elderly martial arts master who raises him as his own grandchild. From there Goku learns a lot about what it means to be human and befriends several other people along the way. Not the least of which is a girl named Bulma, who joins up with Goku on a quest for Dragon Balls. It's a quest that turns Goku into a man, introduces him to many villains, and gives us plenty of fights to watch.
One of the first things I want to mention is that Dragon Ball is very similar in structure to Dragon Ball Z. That means you'll find that the show is broken up into "sagas" and just about every episode is packed with filler content. Bits from one episode spill over into the next and there's all kinds of dialogue and posturing scattered amongst every fight scene. Someone gets knocked down, they get up again and grow more powerful, they get up again, rinse, wash, and repeat. Thankfully the quality of the story that backs everything is damn good. It's also worth noting that the characters are deep, insightful, and well-developed. Few shows can claim to have a cast quite like Dragon Ball's, and that's a testament to the creative genius of Toriyama.
On this first installment of Uncut Dragon Ball we receive five discs and thirty-one episodes. Included here are the two sagas which introduce us to everything Goku and kick his journey off on a well tread path. The first saga involves Emperor Pilaf and sees Goku, Bulma, and Oolong teaming up to take him down. Along the way there's plenty of sidetracked fighting and we even get to see quite a bit of Goku's Saiyan heritage in the form of an ape-out. The second saga on this set is the Tournament, and I'm sure you can guess what that ones all about. In case you can't, well, all you really need to know is that Goku enters a fighting tournament and gets a good test of his abilities. Before this volume closes we do get the first few episodes of the Red Ribbon Army Saga, and that leaves us looking forward to the second release!
The original Dragon Ball hit all the right notes out of the gate. The characters are incredibly developed, the story is unique and fascinating, and the charm is undeniable throughout. This first show still suffers from the trademark filler content that bogged down Z, but it's so much fun that it's easy to overlook. This is the one that started it all and I'm pleased to say that the first 31 episodes are a great way to experience what the show has to offer. I'm pleased to see FUNimation continue the same packaging trend and restorative efforts and can't wait for the next set! Bring it on!
Much like the DVD release of Dragon Ball Z, this one hits DVD with a nicely cleaned up transfer that is sure to please many fans. I will say that one thing I was surprised about was the decision to present this DVD in the original 1.33:1 fullscreen. After all the hoopla about how they improved DBZ and made it more modern with the anamorphic widescreen, I don't understand why they dropped it for this release. Either way it's worth noting that the show looks great for its age, aspect ratio aside.
The restoration that took place here definitely cleaned things up a bit. There's very little in terms of dirt in the transfer and grain is kept as minimal as can be for an animated show that's over twenty years old. The colors are also incredibly vibrant for their age and overall the show has a nice clean look. DBZ's transfer looked a little sharper, but this one definitely holds its own.
Dragon Ball includes audio quality mostly identical to what came before it. This means that you can expect the original Japanese Mono track and a track for English stereo and surround. I enjoyed the original Japanese track the most and listened to that for much of my viewing. The English dubbing has always sounded cheesy to me and therefore it is a "must avoid" while watching in my opinion. There are some out there who would rather deal with the English dub and not bother with reading flawed subtitles.
As far as the quality is concerned what is here is fine but not groundbreaking. The 5.1 English track certainly offered more immersion during battle sequences with some ambient noise kicking in at times. The stereo and mono tracks were noticeably lackluster in the technical presentation but all around the sound quality was crisp and clean.
Like the DBZ releases, this one features the Marathon Feature for extended play, a booklet, clean animations, and some trailers.
The original Dragon Ball hasn't been seen on DVD or TV for quite a while now. I suppose that means the timing is right for an updated release, and thankfully FUNimation obliges that craving. This uncut boxed set features the first 31 episodes of the show as they were meant to be seen, with a little digital restoration to brighten the day. The show itself is a lot of fun to watch. Goku's incessant naiveté will win you over, the fights will keep you coming back for more, and the story will keep you glued to your seat. I had a blast watching this set!
Of course with that being said there are some filler episodes and some of the content suffers from pacing issues. Things aren't perfect here, but the show has far more plusses than minuses and it's truly timeless. Highly Recommended.
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