One of the biggest anime franchises in the world is Dragon Ball (and it's continuation, Dragon Ball Z) so it's no surprise that some of the first anime to make it to Blu-ray comes from this show. FUNimation, who owns the US rights, has already released two of the later films on Blu-ray (read Todd Douglass' review here) and apparently sales warranted another Blu-ray release. This time they've gone back to the first two films that were released: Dead Zone and The World's Strongest. While these features aren't as appealing as the actual show, they're entertaining enough and the Blu-ray discs look fine, though not outstanding.
While Goku is out fishing one day, which for Goku involves swimming in a lake until he finds a 200 pound fish and catches it with his bare hands, three people attack the Saiyan's home. They take out the Ox King and his daughter Chi Chi without breaking a sweat, and kidnap Gohan. They also kill Piccolo without much trouble. These are some serious fighters.
It turns out that Garlic Jr. Has hired these guys to help him collection the Dragon Balls. They captured Gohan for the ball on his hat. Along with the other six Dragon Balls they already have, Garlic Jr. Is able to summon the Great Dragon and wishes that he was immortal. The dragon grants his wish just before Goku arrives. Even with out Garlic's immortality, Goku has his hands full with the three henchmen. But when Kami arrives to stop Garlic Jr's evil plans, and Piccolo, who wasn't as dead as everyone though, turns up looking for revenge, the battle doesn't look very one sided at all.
This movie takes place before the Dragon Ball Z series started, but outside of the regular DBZ continuity. Goku still has his power pole on his back, Gohan is still an innocent kid, and Piccolo and Goku are still enemies.
At only 41-minutes in length, there isn't really much time for a deep plot or much characterization. They take care of the plot in the first ten minutes, and the rest of the movie is one long slug fest. Not that it's a bad thing, since so much of DBZ is devoted to fighting, but these fights don't have the same effect. In the series there is often a lot of build up before the battles, and that was missing in this movie.
When all is said and done, this is a fun, but light movie. It doesn't have any effect on the regular DBZ story, and the fight is fairly forgetful.
This second Dragon Ball Z movie is a step upward in quality and manages to capture more of the fun spirit the TV show has. In this adventure the evil Dr. Wheelo, who has been encased in ice for the last 50 years, is revived and plots to take over the world. With his genius the task shouldn't be too hard except for one thing: He doesn't have a body. It was destroyed by frost bite and the only thing that survived was his brain, now housed in a glass dome. He needs a new body, but not any one will do. He wants the body of the world's strongest fighter. (He is a megalomaniac after all.)
He has his assistant set out to bring a strong warrior to his icy base, and his first choice is Master Roshi. Bulma gets kidnapped also to ensure Roshi's cooperation, but the old master is well past his prime and fails the tests that Wheelo puts before him.
When Goku discovers that Roshi's gone, he goes off looking for him, followed by his son, Gohan and Krillin. When he gets there he finds more than he counts on. Not only does Dr. Wheelo has a trio of mechanical monster to do his bidding, but he's brain washed one of the most powerful fighters on the planet to attack the Saiyan: Piccolo.
I enjoyed this film a lot more. Running at just over an hour it has more time to let the story unfold and doesn't feel quite as rushed. It's a lot of fun seeing Master Roshi do battle with the bio-robots, which is something he does only infrequently in the show, and there's also a humorous scene where Gohan dreams of being a great scholar.
Of course DBZ is all about the fighting, and this one has some great battles. Yes, most of the film is taken up with combat scenes, but it does a good job of switching foes and escalating their power so that it never gets dull or monotonous. This is one of the DBZ movies that manages to capture the feel of the show, something that most of them miss out on.
The Blu-ray Disc:
I wasn't too enthralled with the image quality over all. Both of these films were presented with a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, which I believe is reformatted from the original full frame ratio. I couldn't find a definitive answer to what the original aspect ratio was, but the original releases of these movies had them at 1.33:1, and with FUNimations reformatting of the TV series to 1.78:1, it doesn't come as a surprise. While FUNimation does a lot right with this disc, presenting the films with both the original Japanese music and an optional track with the more familiar US score, giving viewers the original Japanese soundtrack and releasing the films uncut, it's a shame that they didn't preserve their original aspect ratio.
Aside from that, the AVC encoded image looks about average. The lines are sharp and the colors look nice, but the prints to both films are in less than pristine shape. There are a myriad of spots, dirt and micro-scratches that harm the presentation. Large patches of color also seem to shimmer slightly. The ending credits of Dead Zone is a good example. As the credits roll, Gohan is running on a spinning globe as the Eternal Dragon flies by overhead. The whites of the clouds could be a little brighter, but the blue sky looks bad, with the solid color shaking the whole time.
This disc has three sound options: the original stereo Japanese track,
and two English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 dubs; one with the Japanese music and
the other with the more familiar (to region one viewers) US music.
I switched between the Japanese and True HD 5.1 tracks as I watched, and
though I preferred the original track the dub was more exciting to listen
to. The English 5.1 track was very enveloping, with music and sound
effects coming from the rear channels that made the movies just more fun.
It was nice to hear the original music too, which works much better than
the US music. All three of the tracks were very clean and clear,
with no hiss, distortion or other audio defects.
This disc included a commentary on the first film with Chris Cason, ADR director, and Chuck Huber who played Garlic Jr. I'm not a big fan of commentary tracks on anime shows, and this commentary is a good example of why. They don't have a lot to say about the movie or the show. They talk a little bit about how they got their starts, but a lot of the show is talking about action on the screen or Chuck telling Chris to be quiet when his character was talking. There wasn't much that I learned, though the two commentators sounded like they had a good time.
There are also trailers to four FUNimation shows.
While the first movie is just so-so, the second one is a lot of fun and makes the disc worth a purchase. If you don't have a copy of these yet, the Blu-ray is the way to go with HD sound and, though the image isn't a vast improvement over the SD version, the picture is better. Recommended.
Note: The images in this review are not from the Blu-ray disc and do
not necessarily represent the image quality on the disc.