In my 15+ years as an anime fan, I have somehow managed to avoid all things Dragon Ball until reviewing this DVD. Not knowing Goku from Gohan or what a Dragon Ball even was, I didn't want to go into Dragon Ball Z: History of Trunks cold. Obviously, the target audience for this release is fans of the show; I wanted to watch this movie with that mindset, as much as possible. So, I did a little research and read some primers to prepare myself for my first journey into the Dragon Ball universe.
The History of Trunks, ironically, takes place in the future. Goku succumbs to an incurable virus after which Earth is attacked by a powerful android duo known only as Number 17 and Number 18. These androids were created for world domination and they take great joy in exterminating the human race. All of Earth's fighters fall to the androids leaving Gohan, Goku's son, as the sole fighter capable of giving them a fight. Trunks was merely a baby when the androids began their attacks; now 13 years later, Trunks wants to help Gohan take the fight to the androids. Will Gohan train the promising young fighter to finally gain an ally? Can they possibly put an end to years of the unstoppable chaos induced by the two androids?
I'm surprised to say that I found some enjoyment in this 48 minute made-for-TV special. The storyline isn't the deepest or most original by any means, but it did have enough to maintain my interest. The main cast is full of appealing characters and this show was a good origin story that explains Trunks' motivation for becoming a fighter. If a Dragon Ball noob, like me, finds the story interesting, then I have no doubt that established fans will love this view into Trunks' background.
Without picking too many nits in what I consider a decent enough story, History of Trunks did have some head-scratching story elements. The androids have inexhaustible power, pure hatred for all humanity and they destroy cities with greatest of ease. Yet, after nearly 13 years of their reign of terror, life seems rather ordinary for people unless the androids show up and attack. That's over twice as long as World War Two! The future presented in History of Trunks was extremely optimistic and could have easily been a post-apocalyptic style setting.
The story feels abridged and not as developed as they could have been. Perhaps some of these story elements are revisited during the series and more fully fleshed out? It's a small complaint, however. Less is probably more in this case: the story, as it is, is tight and focused with no tangents or needless subplots to fill time.
The English dub is bad. FUNimation apparently listened to the criticism of the original DVD release and put the Japanese music back in with the English dub, but that does nothing save a lousy script. The voice acting isn't the worst I have ever heard, but the lines are absolutely filled with cheese. Veteran voice actors Chuck Huber and Meredith McCoy, who play the two androids, were not given much to work with in this script. Anytime the Android Number 17 or 18 talk, viewers are subjected to awful, cringe-inducing dialogue.
I was curious how the Japanese version of the show compared so I watched a few of the scenes with the hokiest lines. Turns out, the Japanese script is much better than the English version. The English writers took many artistic liberties with the script and it's all for the worst. FUNimation could have just used the subtitle script word-for-word. The Japanese version had none of the corny banter during fights; the androids made no silly taunts ("come back here you speedy little devils"), no dumb hair color jokes, and used no awkward slang like they did in the English version. In the Japanese track they were ice-cold killers and it made them much more interesting villains.
Video: History of Trunks originally aired on Japanese television in 1993 and is presented in 16:9 widescreen. FUNimation digitally remastered the video and it looks good for what it is. Make no mistake, this movie definitely shows its age; the video has some scratches and it's shaky in parts. However, the picture is sharp and the colors are about as vivid as possible given the source material.
Audio: The English dub is remastered for Dolby Digital 5.1. This being a TV release from the early 90's, the original track was never meant for surround sound. FUNimation did make an effort to clean up the sound quality and add some juice for the surround speakers. Still, the surrounds weren't very noticeable, but that wasn't unexpected. The English track's sound quality is clearly superior to the Japanese mono track, but it's still not enough to compensate for the cheesy English script. I usually go for the dub when given a choice. However, if I had to rewatch this DVD, I'd definitely watch the Japanese sub.
Extras: FUNimation included a few trailers for other releases and that's it.
Bottom Line: This show didn't manage to convert me into a Dragon Ball fanatic, but I did find it somewhat entertaining. The English dub may have 5.1 surround sound, but upon rewatching some scenes, the Japanese language track is superior in content. Dragon Ball Z fans will likely enjoy this special; those who aren't predisposed to absolutely hating Dragon Ball will also find this movie to be watchable. I can't recommend a full-price purchase since The History of Trunks is only 48 minutes in length and lacks any extras. If Dragon Ball fans find this DVD in a bargain bin or in a bundle, then there's no reason they shouldn't add it to their collection. Otherwise, Rent It.