"As nice of an idea as Dragon Ball Z Kai was, I personally feel it took away one of the greatest strengths from the series as a whole - The sagas all made use of the (very) slow burn technique, but that's what made many of the big reveals such a big payoff. You invested your time hanging on the edge of your seat, and in the end you were greatly rewarded. Kai offers all the payoff with little build-up or viewing discipline, and in my opinion, greatly reduces the effect of many of the best moments the series has had to offer." - From my Dragon Ball Z Level 1.1 review
The nice thing about opinions? They're always subject to change.
At the time of that writing, I was against the idea of Kai (which in and of itself means 'revised') based on principle. With new technology spilling out by the minute, the latest generation has had their attention span reduced to nanoseconds. That may seem like an unfair assessment, but just think about the current trends in entertainment - Setting aside the time to listen to an album as a whole has gone by the wayside. Now, music is played on devices dedicated to shuffling songs. Sitting down to watch a movie is also hindered, as people constantly take themselves out of the experience to play with their cell phones. So, I felt that Kai was attempting to grab the attention of future generations by replacing the slow burning fuse of DBZ with a speedy trail of gunpowder instead.
Part of the fun of watching Dragon Ball Z, at least the first time around, was playing the waiting game. There were plenty of episodes that did little more than focus on stalling the villain, powering up a (hopefully) devastating attack, or having the main characters go off on needless diatribes. This may sound less than ideal, but it was all done to build the anticipation before delivering exactly what you were waiting for. At least, that's what I used to think. Don't get me wrong - I still think in its uncut form, DBZ is the only way to go about watching the series for the first time. On subsequent viewings? Well, being a husband and father, finding the time to choke down almost 300 episodes is nearly impossible. I have a huge backlog of movies and television shows that I would like to eventually get through, and outside of that, I have a social life and I'm trying to learn how to forge/blacksmith. Suddenly, the convenience of Dragon Ball Z Kai was looking pretty good...
After doing a bit of research, I found that Dragon Ball Z Kai was done to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the show. Although I'm still thoroughly convinced it was merely a way to keep the series 'milkable' for generations to come, my interest was fully piqued with the changes that were going to be made to the series. For one, Kai was going to drop everything that happened after the Cell Games Saga. The fact that I'll never have to watch the Great Saiyaman Saga again thrilled me to no end. Second, new scripts and dialogue were written in order to emulate the original Manga as close as possible. A new English dub was done with most of the original cast, and if any animation was deemed unfit for high-def viewing, it would be replaced. The end result? 291 episodes have now been effectively reduced to a manageable 98.
Although the original Dragon Ball Z pushes forward with what I consider to be a vastly inferior second leg of the series, Dragon Ball Z Kai decidedly ignores everything that comes after the endgame with Cell. Some have been disappointed that Kai will never get around to introducing the intriguing villain that is Buu, but it's an entirely needless series of events. Yes, Buu was part of the Manga's storyline, but was there really anything worth exploring? I think the main character arcs seem to come full circle at the end of the Cell Saga, and everything that comes after is more or less DBZ fan-service. There's seemingly no end to the power of the Saiyans, as they push themselves to the 'Super Saiyan 3' level (really?) and can even fuse with one another to become truly unwieldy warriors. In short, all substance and character development goes out the window and we're supposed to be wowed with all the action. It was all quite fascinating to watch on an 'anime popcorn' level, but I was never truly 'in' to what I was watching as I was with the first half of the series.
So, yes, Cell and Goku continue their epic battle at the beginning of Kai - Part 8, marking the beginning of the end for the villain in green. It's nearly impossible to get into these final 10 episodes (yep, there's only 10 in this set) without spoiling everything for the newcomers, so I'll just say this - The series has been almost formulaic up to this point. A bad guy comes around and stirs up a bit of trouble, Goku gets involved and somehow manages to be placed out of the picture until most of his friends have fought, lost, and in many cases were even sent to the afterlife. These final episodes will break that mold and place the focus squarely on two characters - Trunks, who proves to be a more powerful ally than anyone could have imagined, and Gohan, who has shown more than enough promise since the beginning of the series to surpass his father as a warrior.
So, was the wait worth it? Are the final 10 episodes of Kai a big enough payoff for sitting through the first 88? Oh, hell yeah. In Dragon Ball Z - Part 8, the action doesn't stop. We get to see Goku, Vegeta, Trunks and even little Gohan give all they've got and then some. This piece of the Cell Saga plays host to what's probably the most memorable scenes in the entire series, and thanks to some careful editing by Toei Animation, the action is far more intense than it's ever been. This is Dragon Ball Z at its very best, and Part 8 wraps things up satisfactorily without making me feel like the ending was rushed, or that I wanted to see more.
After watching all 98 episodes, I can now definitively say that Kai is my preferred version of Dragon Ball Z. That being said, this new iteration of DBZ still leaves a bit to be desired -Some of the vocal talent had to be replaced due to unavoidable circumstances, and some of it seems to be inferior to the English dubs that came before it. Also, the amount of blood and 'gore' (if you can call it that) has been toned down a bit. Although this is nothing new to those familiar with DBZ in the States, this still comes as something of a head scratcher. After all, the series is practically bathed in some form of violence or another, so why go through the trouble of censoring a little blood? Despite these minor quibbles, the good outweighs the bad by a large margin. The English dub is now more faithful to the Japanese script, and returning cast members deliver a performance that easily bests their work on the first go-round. Even though there still may be a small amount of questionable filler left in the mix, the revisions keep the action fast and furious without compromising any vital bits of story. One of the reasons why Dragon Ball Z had so much filler to begin with, was so the series wouldn't catch up to the Manga and be left with no story to tell. Now that the filler has been mostly removed, the series really does seem like it's found new life and can withstand numerous repeat viewings.
There's still something to be said about having patience and waiting for the inevitable payoff. In fact, I still highly recommend that newcomers watch Dragon Ball Z in its uncut form to experience that effect, but for the previously initiated, Kai is a breath of fresh air. Not just in its drastic reduction from 291 episodes to a brisk 98, but since there are only four seasons to purchase (or 8 'parts' that are half the price of the full season set), you don't have to sacrifice your bank account or even a lot of shelf space to store the series. Even if you do decide to start with Kai right off the bat, I can say with confidence that you won't come out at the end feeling like you're watching a gimped version of the show. As a DBZ veteran myself, I wasn't made to feel that way either. You can't go wrong with Kai, familiar with the original source or not.
I was somewhat underwhelmed by the 1080p, AVC encoded image (4:3), but that's probably because I've watched the Level sets prior to seeing Kai. The Level sets were a massive undertaking by FUNimation, as the original 16mm elements were scanned and were subsequently subjected to a clean-up project that fortunately didn't implement any digital noise reduction. What we were given was an image that was faithful to the source as possible, and for the first time ever, actually allowed Dragon Ball Z to look like film as opposed to the overly contrasted Dragon Box sets, or the cropped digitally scrubbed 'Orange Brick' season sets.
Dragon Ball Z Kai features an HD remaster from Toei Animation's source, and they've painstakingly cleaned up most of the imperfections which results in a clean presentation. The image is a little soft however and is mostly devoid of grain, so some DNR is evident. That being said, I'm not exactly sure I blame them for doing so. DBZ has always looked 'clean' on television, but more important, any section of animation that was deemed unfit for HD was actually replicated with new animation. I assume 'cleaning' the source of heavy grain would allow the new animation to sit with the old seamlessly, and I have to say that I'm pretty impressed with the results. Shadowing and changes in line consistency are dead giveaways, but if you're not one to notice that sort of thing you'll be hard pressed to notice where the new footage has been spliced with the old. This is especially impressive when one considers that there are new pieces of animation also created for the purpose of bridging minor story gaps.
As far as the technical presentation on these discs, there's really nothing to complain about. Black levels are fairly solid, contrast and colors are presented without the harsh boosting that was apparent on the Dragon Box sets, and digital anomalies are minimal even at their very worst. After all is said and done, Kai isn't the absolute best I've seen Dragon Ball Z look, but it's still a nice leap from the previous DVD incarnations that didn't have a lot going for them in the video department.
This release contains both Japanese and English audio tracks (Dolby TrueHD 2.0 and Dolby TrueHD 5.1 respectively), and these are brand spankin' new in every conceivable way. Both languages feature newly recorded dialogue from (most of) the original voice actors, and they now sound clean as a whistle. Unfortunately, the rest of the sound design is still somewhat flat, but the English 5.1 track actually does a decent job of separating effects across all channels. It's not a completely immersive experience or anything, but it's appreciable nonetheless.
It's the music that may make some people do a double take - A new musical score was done by Kenji Yamamoto, who has some experience composing tunes for the DBZ video games. He was laid off by Toei Animation though, as it was discovered he was stealing music from other artists in the business. Toe Animation had no other choice but to replace Yamamoto's music with that of Shunsuke Kikuchi, who created the original soundtrack for the Japanese series. In the States however, we had already received the first two seasons of Kai on Blu-ray, so they were pulled from the market and replaced with the version containing the Kikuchi score some time later (which is the version I listened to for this review). Part 5 was also delayed in the States to accommodate the change in score. Personally, I have zero problem with the change. I love the original Japanese score (even though the music used on Toonami back in the day will always hold a special place in my heart), and I am not cool with someone plagiarizing the work of others. Toei did the right thing, and still having a (reworked) version of the original score is ideal. Unfortunately, the score is still rather flat, but the music doesn't really need to be all that immersive.
Much like the video presentation, the audio is good, but not great. On the technical side of things however, there's absolutely nothing to complain about. Dialogue isn't 'thin' or tinny, and the sound effects sound better than ever.
Online Interview with Mr. Sabbat and Mr. Schemmel - I was a little concerned when I saw this, because I thought it was going to be one of those BD-Live exclusive supplements. Thankfully, that's not the case. Still, it's only about four and a half minutes in length, and isn't really that informative.
As with previous volumes, there are Opening/Closing Theme Music with no text obscuring the animation.
I've been a fan of Dragon Ball Z for quite some time, and I've seen all 291 episodes multiple times, in both English and Japanese. This unfortunately gave me a negative bias towards Dragon Ball Z Kai, but now that I really can't justify sitting down to watch that much television over a reasonable amount of time, the option of Kai was looking pretty good. Needless to say, I wasn't disappointed with Kai - Part 8 - The new script, editing and splicing really capped the final ten episodes in an explosive way. This portion of the series was always amongst the most intense, but Kai somehow manages to make it even more memorable than before. The remastered audio/visual presentation bests the previous DVD boxed sets, for sure, but the extras are severly lacking. However, Dragon Ball Z Kai - Part 8 still comes highly recommended. I would advise those uninitiated with the series to try to get their hands on all 291 episodes so they don't rob themselves of what's probably the more rewarding experience, but if you just can't justify setting aside that much time or money, Dragon Ball Z Kai is perfect for vets and newcomers alike.