"Dragon Ball Z: Kai" is a unique simultaneous re-mastering and re-telling of the classic "Dragon Ball Z" anime series. For the uninitiated, "Kai" takes the original 291-episode run and trims the fat, omitting filler episodes in order to present a series that more closely resembles the original storyline of the mangas. The result is 98-episodes of lean, mean and far from childish storytelling. Initially released in two-volume per season installments, for a total of eight-volumes, Funimation is going back and re-releasing "Kai" as standalone, complete seasons, meaning viewers can enjoy the series as it originally aired, as opposed to encountering false breaks while waiting for a second release.
"Dragon Ball Z: Kai" season two picks up right where season one leaves off with the new Saiyan threat, Vegeta acquiring one of the famed Dragon Balls, which when gathered as a complete group grant the possessor any wish they desire. Season two is not quite the same experience as season one, which truly shined when it was introducing viewers to the Dragon Ball Z world; the arc revolving around Goku's son Gohan training with Goku's nemesis Piccolo and discovering his true power was gripping and far more complex than one might think, culminating in a truly emotional and inspiring moment that one doesn't often expect from your average animated series. Season two begins with the world and new characters fairly well established and does at times devolve into an exercise in action-based excess.
The season is not without its own triumphs in characterization, which arrive firmly towards the middle of the season, once the Dragon Balls themselves take the forefront. However, interwoven throughout are some less than stellar episodes, which trot out some trite clichés including the overused "body switch", plot device. By and large, the good outweighs the bad, but far less so than in season one. The writers do take some interesting steps towards the positive with how Vegeta is portrayed and evolved, but the fights definitely took more of the forefront this time out.
Overall, this second season ends on a less climatic note than season one, with the more gasp inducing episodes occurring several episodes back. The inclusion of so many characters with different personalities and motivations made this season a tad trying to easily digest. However, the best compliment I can pay the continuing series is that manages to keep me thoroughly engaged even at its lows and I have a strong personal bias towards anime; "Dragon Ball Z: Kai" is one of the few extended series that I've found worthy of my time.
The 1.33:1 original aspect ratio transfer is definitely far cleaner and vibrant than the assorted "Dragon Ball Z" material I've seen in the past. There's a very minimal amount of compression in some shots, but considering how this new version of the series was crafted together, some elements still have some slightly faded quality to them. No one will ever mistake this for being a modern piece of animated work nor something from the heyday of classic Disney, but compared to other anime series' of the timeframe, this is a very good looking transfer.
The English Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track has considerable more life than the very flat and thin, original language stereo track. While voice work is incredibly well orchestrated, the dub is a bit more dominant than any other element of the sound mix. Effects are strong as forceful, despite the slight overshadowing by dialogue, but the accompanying score can sometimes go unnoticed. The Japanese stereo track, as stated above is far more flat sounding, but the overall mix is much more satisfactory. English subtitles are included that only accompany the Japanese audio.
The only extras consist of a interview with the US cast as well as the requisite textless versions of the opening and closing music and original series trailers.
Whether you're going to buy "Dragon Ball Z: Kai" depends on how well you love the source material as well as the desire in wanting a leaner series. Chances are if you enjoyed the premiere season, season two will be a no-brainer despite the complete package being a notch lower in quality. As with the first season, if you already have the previous, two-part releases though, I can't say this more compactly packed season one presentation is of any benefit. Any interested parties who haven't made the purchase should definitely grab this release. Recommended.