If you've been following our anime reviews here at DVDTalk, you've probably noticed that a lot of Dragon Ball comes our way. John, Bobby, and I have all taken our crack at it, and generally speaking I think we can all agree that the series is pretty damn good (though I'm not putting words into their mouths). It's hard not to like a series that has been popular for 25 years and pretty much embodies anime for most non-anime loving folk. Despite it's popularity the series does have its flaws such as stretched runtime and bloated episodes that are filled with unnecessary dialogue.
The sequel series, Dragon Ball Z lasted for over 200 episodes before it came off the air. As one might imagine that's a lot of material to cover, though frankly the majority of the program could have been trimmed down to reduce the fat. That's where Dragon Ball Z: Kai comes into play. This attempt to retool the franchise came about last year. Rather than reinvent the wheel, the folks at Toei Animation went back with the original material that still existed, filled in the blanks, and retooled the series. Think of it as a remastering where the original fat is trimmed out, and all that remains is lean tasty meat that is familiar, yet new all at the same time. It's a risky endeavor, but it's one that is paying off for fans of Z and newcomers alike.
FUNimation owns the license here in America and they pretty much milks it to its fullest. Dragon Ball has been a major cash cow for them and Kai is sure to be just as profitable. For this release FUNimation is pulling out all the stops with a standard definition DVD and Blu-ray high definition release. The first part with 13 episodes has landed on my doorstep and I just finished checking out what the first part has to offer. What's the verdict? Kai is totally worth it!
In case for some reason you've been living under a rock and don't know what Dragon Ball Z is all about, know that Kai keeps things virtually identical to the original. That means it's all about an alien from a race of warriors known as Saiyans whose planet was destroyed by an even more powerful alien named Freeza. The surviving alien was sent to Earth (ala Superman style) and was taken in by an old man and trained in the ways of fighting. This was Son Goku, the man who would become a legend and defender of Earth. The first Dragon Ball series followed him on his earlier adventures, and Z picks up later in life where he's married and has a child named Gohan.
The first episode of Kai gives us a brief introduction into the franchise and abbreviates the origin tale to the point that we get all the information we need to know what's going on. Then another Saiyan named Raditz shows up claiming to be Goku's brother and goes on about how Saiyans troll the galaxy removing all life from planets for profit. Goku was shipped to Earth in order to destroy it, but due to an unfortunate accident that involved him bumping his head as a child, he forgot about his mission and protected the planet instead. Raditz kidnaps Gohan to see his mission fulfilled and it's up to Goku to stop Raditz in his tracks and rescue his son.
He fortunately doesn't have to do it alone, however. Piccolo steps in to help Goku and in the process winds up taking care of Gohan and teaching him how to be a warrior while Goku spends some time in the afterlife. Raditz lets the Z fighters in on a little secret, and drops the bomb that more Saiyans will be arriving a year from now to destroy the world. Everyone begins training at this point to prepare, and even Goku learns a few things from King Kai on the other side. In this first part we see the end of the year long wait and Vegeta shows up to destroy the world just as promised. The thirteenth episode ends on a cliffhanging note and we're left breathlessly waiting for the next installment.
In just about every way Kai can be considered epic. The original series is so popular for a reason, and I'm sure you can just imagine how much better it would be with all the filler chopped out. The thirteen episodes here are lean and mean and the story doesn't suffer in the least. Whether or not you were ever a fan of Dragon Ball Z you should check this out. It's a familiar beast with a whole new attitude, sense of energy, and style.
Dragon Ball Z: Kai is presented on Blu-ray with its original 1.33:1 fullframe aspect ratio. The show comes with a 1080p up-conversion and AVC codec. Compared to the DVD, the Blu-ray offers slightly more vibrant visuals with improved clarity and a lightly noticeable step up on resolution. I'd liken the presentation to some of FUNimation's other Blu-ray releases, meaning the picture quality looks better than DVD, but not quite as good as other shows on the format.
No matter how you slice it parts of this show are still very old, despite Toei Animation's new artwork and mastering. There's still quite a lot of grain in the image, and there're other signs of aging throughout. These traits aren't necessarily bad, but they do date the material to an extent. Overall the show looks adequate, but this high definition transfer isn't necessarily as good as it could be.
Dolby TrueHD with English 5.1 and Japanese 2.0 selections are available for this edition. As far as the dubs are concerned they have been redone to fit the content of the show, and where possible the original cast has returned for their parts apparently. Any differences are negligible in this regard, though the biggest change here comes from the music presentation. New scores have been added and all around the soundtrack has been spruced up. Both tracks offer improved clarity over the DVD and the 5.1 track is the more dynamic of the two by far. The sense of immersion isn't the greatest, but some of the action packs a punch and the soundtrack really takes center stage.
Disappointingly the only bonus features available on this release are clean animations and some trailers. A featurette about the reimagination or work put into this title would have been greatly appreciated, but nothing is available here.
From top to bottom Dragon Ball Z: Kai is a stunner. The original Dragon Ball Z was good enough, but Kai really takes it one step further. It's a new beast with a cleaner presentation and with all the fat cut out of the show (they trimmed this down to a planned 100 episodes) only the good parts remain. Newcomers and fans alike will find something to love here, though I'm sure some naysayers out there will gripe about miniscule details being changed in the process. Don't listen to them. Kai is awesome and it's an absolute "must buy". Which edition is better? Both the Blu-ray and DVD offer comparable quality, though the edge here slightly goes towards the former.