As someone who was largely an anime neophyte few years back when it came to anime in series format, "Dragon Ball Z: Kai" has served as a strong source of education in both anime and the process of adaptation. If you're reading this review you're most assuredly aware of what "Dragon Ball Z: Kai" is and how it differs from the nearly 300 episode behemoth that is "Dragon Ball Z." Actual show content aside, the most apparent lesson to be learned from this unique experiment is that a "filler" heavy series can be properly salvaged and honed into something manageable, engaging, and in some instances downright brilliant. With season four, "Dragon Ball Z: Kai" offers viewers a final 20 episodes, wrapping up the story of Cell, a villain introduced in season three and more importantly a reasonable stopping point for the series.
As stated previously, if you're checking this review out, you've probably already made it through the first 77 of 98 episodes that "Dragon Ball Z: Kai" has to offer and you're well aware that more than a third of the way through, the series' enjoyable but shallow (especially under close scrutiny) formula firmly cements itself in place. Season four does nothing to break this trend, as it has to wrap up story elements introduced in the prior season. In my previous review, I lamented that even at the trimmed down 98-episode run, "Dragon Ball Z: Kai" showed a tendency to be bloated, teasing viewers with a change in the formula, only to quickly get back to the familiar. Thankfully though, it was Cell, who is the main focal point of this final 20-episode run that made me want to see how it all played out..
The biggest piece of negative criticism I have to lob at the fourth and final season, is the overuse of false finishes when it comes to ending the main story arc. The number of times the viewers are meant to think Cell has been defeated after a brutal knockdown, drag out, are too frequent. It's a classic cliché inherent in many films, most notably the "Rocky" films, and it's a perfectly valid way to ratchet of up tension and throw viewers for a loop, but the overuse here become tiresome and thoughts drift away from the show at hand, to what the show could be doing to at least end on a fresher note.
On the very positive side, the final season of "Dragon Ball Z: Kai" manages to assemble a very large cast of characters and chances are your favorite is going to get a chance to shine, sometimes multiple times. The continuing elevation of Gohan made me quite pleased and the final few episodes properly sees this is paid off from a narrative standpoint. More importantly, despite a rocky path, Goku, the hero of the story has a very emotionally gratifying and justifiable denouement to his tale; at times the series seemed to struggle finding a balance in highlighting the very colorful cast of supporting players, while not writing Goku out of the story completely and there were a few points where I feared Goku winding up an uninspired wet blanket on his own story. That's not to say the final season of "Dragon Ball Z: Kai" is a monumental triumph in storytelling; frankly, it's a far shot removed from the mystery and wonder that makes the first and (to a slightly lesser degree) second seasons so effective. The series had an ultimate endpoint and the "Kai" experiment was most definitely a successful one, yes there was some minor filler along the way, but in 98 episodes, there's a hell of a lot of story told and a lot of it occurs very quickly. In short, "Dragon Ball Z: Kai" fully justifies the hype surrounding the "Dragon Ball Z" universe: it's good, technically accomplished, fun.
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 are textless credits.
If you've made it this far, especially considering the mixed bag that consisted of season three, the fourth and final season of "Dragon Ball Z: Kai" is a no-brainier purchase. The series recovers nicely from the minor stagnation that was setting in and the final batch of episodes could never be called anything less than exciting, even if they devolve into mindless action at times. Recommended.