Coming into Dragon Ball Z Kai, I could not have had lower expectations. Fresh off of reviewing Dragon Ball Z - Bardock: Father of Goku, my initial excitement about finally having an excuse to jump into the Dragon Ball universe had all but vanished. I was expecting more of the same, but I am pleased to say that Dragon Ball Z Kai completely reversed my opinion of this franchise and created a new fan. Dragon Ball Z Kai: Season One Part One is classic anime at its finest!
Before the destruction of Planet Vegeta, an unremarkable baby boy named Kakarot is sent by his father to Earth to someday avenge the Saiyans. Kakarot is discovered by Gohan, adopted, and trained to become a great warrior. Since defeating Piccolo in Dragon Ball, Goku married his childhood sweetheart and had a son who he named Gohan, after his adopted father.
All is well in their lives until the day that Raditz shows up claiming to be Goku's long lost Saiyan brother. Raditz wants Goku to join his small clan of remaining Saiyans to annihilate the lifeforms on a particularly challenging planet. Horrified at his Saiyan genocidal roots, Goku refuses Raditz' offer. This leaves Raditz with no choice but to kidnap little Gohan until Goku joins Raditz' gang. Goku and his old nemesis Piccolo team up to take on Raditz. Before his death, Raditz drops the bombshell that the two other remaining Saiyans, Nappa and Vegeta, are more powerful than even him. The story from that point follows the training of Earth's warriors as they prepare for their battle with Nappa and Vegeta. Dragon Ball Z Kai: Part One culminates with the ultimate battle between Earth's warriors and the last two Saiyans.
This series can be best described as Dragon Ball Z: The Good Parts Version. Toei Animation spliced Dragon Ball Z Kai together by removing all the fluff and filler of the original. This reworked version of Dragon Ball Z is said to closely parallel the original manga by Akira Toriyama. The story is tight; a lot of major events occur and huge battles take place in these first 13 episodes. As mentioned, I am a complete Dragon Ball newbie, so I do not specifically know what scenes were removed, reordered, or edited from the original 291 episode series.
This new cut is focused on the main story and keeps the action at the forefront. The story is fast-paced and almost always exciting; most episodes end right at a point where you feel obligated to see what happens next. There were a couple of episodes in the middle that began to lag where three different groups of characters were training for the upcoming battle with the Saiyans. However, the story moved on to the big fights just in time to pick up the pacing without beating you over the head with how much Gohan and Goku were improving as warriors.
As per the Dragon Ball reputation, this series contains a lot of fighting and some truly epic battles. The story itself was quite a bit deeper than expected. However, there were a few perplexing incidents such as Piccolo destroying the moon solely because a full moon turned Gohan into a crazed, giant weregorilla, but for the most part the story is well done. Dragon Ball Z Kai is not the greatest anime tale ever told, but it holds its own against modern action series. The Season One, Part One boxset ends on a huge cliffhanger that leaves you pining for just...one...more...episode.
Sound: I watched this boxset with the dubbed English 5.1 track. The sound is very clear and detailed. There is limited use of the rears, but that is to be expected from a series that never intended for surround sound. Based on my previous experiences with the Dragon Ball Z franchise, I was hesitant to even select the English dub. The word coming into Dragon Ball Z Kai, however, was that FUNimation completely reset the dub. The reworked English track definitely lives up to the hype: it's fantastic! All of the voices sound great and are well acted. There are very few of the absurdly corny lines that mired the original Dragon Ball Z. Sean Schemmel and Colleen Clinkenbeard voiced Goku and Gohan well and carry the show as the main characters. I also enjoyed Nappa, voiced by Phil Parsons, who channels the spirit of Gaspar from Mysterious Cities of Gold as an amusingly dumb brute. The one disappointment was the voice of Kai. After all the buildup surrounding Goku's quest to find the all-powerful Kai, I had much higher expectations. They were going for a Yoda effect where the great master is an isolated, goofy, eccentric who can get serious, but that voice was awful and killed the character.
Video: The image for Dragon Ball Z Kai was digitally remastered and cleaned up by Toei Animation. Some parts were also completely redrawn. The art throughout the series is uniform and I did not detect any particular scenes that appeared newer compared to the rest. The opening and closing credits were completely redone with modern art and new music. The series is presented in its original 4:3 aspect ratio. For a series that is over 20 years old, the remastered image looks outstanding. The art definitely screams of 1980's anime, but it has certain nostalgic charm that is enhanced by the cleanup job. There are a few specks of dust and grain here and there, but the colors are vibrant. This show was a delight to view.
Extras: All that is included are some trailers and textless opening and closing credits.
Final Thoughts: Dragon Ball Z Kai is the perfect jumping in point for Dragon Ball newbies. I finally understand why this series has attracted such a rabid fan base over the years. The episodes adequately introduce the main characters although a few of the secondary characters still remain a mystery--hopefully they receive some more screen time in future episodes. Adult non-anime fans will probably find this series difficult to enjoy, however everyone else no longer has an excuse to avoid Dragon Ball Z. I wish more classic anime series would get the treatment that Dragon Ball Z received here. Recommended.