If you aren't already familiar with the world of Dragon Ball and its many various sequels and incarnations, I would be surprised. It's gone down in history as one of the most loved (and hated) anime series ever created. It's based on a Manga of great success both in Japan and now stateside, and there are so many devoted (and aggravated) fans that it's hard to remember a time when it wasn't popular in the US. Based solely on sheer expansiveness, it's the equivalent of Pokemon on steroids.
So where does this Dragon Ball film take you? It takes you all the way back to the very beginning of the saga. To put it briefly for diehard fans: this is the beginning of the Dragon Ball TV series retold and with new animation in a short movie format. It introduces you to the concept of Dragon Balls. The concept being, for any potential newbies still out there, that when all seven of the mystical balls are collected you can call out a Dragon to grant you one wish. Then the Dragon Balls disperse around the planet Earth and Earth's Mightiest Warriors (some of them aliens like young Goku) have to find them before the bad guys do. You know... because the bad guys just want to use their wishes for evil and stuff. That's Dragon Ball's plot in a nutshell. However, when you crack it open, you'll find that the characters and the journeys they take are way more entertaining and enjoyable than you might have imagined them to be.
In this film we are introduced to many of the key players. Goku (who you may be familiar with from Dragon Ball Z) is just a wee lad. He's energetic in the best way possible. You can't help but enjoy this character, and I think that is one of the primary reasons why the series has continued to be so successful. We meet him and Bulma around the same time. Bulma is a girl who wants to find the Dragon Balls and she has been tracking them down. She finds one that had been in Goku's possession, and, after they become acquainted with one another, they decide it's a good idea to team up in search of the rest. Unfortunately, Goku's Dragon Ball gets stolen by henchmen working for King Gurumes. These bad guys are collecting them for the King so that he can wish for more food to chow down. In the process, we discover that these henchmen are also collecting Rubies in the King's Kingdom and that they are valuable and have covered the land in wealth. This wealth is not shared with the people though and is destroying the peaceful, earthy environment of the kingdom.
As Goku and Bulma strive to get the stolen Dragon Ball back we are introduced to a number of core characters from the series. The introduction of Master Roshi is in fact a film highlight - we can see how even from the beginning of the story he was just a perverted old man who also happened to be one of the most well respected martial artists in the world. He helps them on their journey while providing some of the more gross-out and juvenile adult humor. If that's the kind of thing that entertains you in an anime, this definitely has an abundance of that -- despite the focus of the film being on the action and adventure.
I won't give away what ultimately happens, but I will say that having seen both the series and this first film, things go down a slightly different course of storytelling. Not everything is as you remembered it. This is best viewed as a companion piece. It is enjoyable action-packed fun with a good heart and sense of humor but it does nothing to really progress or change how one already feels about the show or characters.
I must say that I found the biggest drawback of the film to be its runtime. Honestly, it's so short you can hardly proclaim it to be a "Full Length Feature Film" as promoted on the cover art. It's an actual theatrical film release. That much is true and it won't be debated. Yet that hardly qualifies it as full length with a runtime of only 50 minutes. This is the same length, in essence, as two episodes of the television series and if you aren't prepared for that going in, you are definitely going to feel let down by how quickly the fun ends. It won't entirely 'fill you up' but will instead merely serve as a nice appetizer to the Dragon Ball universe.
The film is presented in both English 5.1 Dolby Surround Sound and Japanese Mono. The English voice language track is a new dubbed version and the voice actors did a great job at updating the feel of the film for fans. The original language track is also a good dub, but I honestly was let down by the mono mix sound quality. It definitely sounded very 'sickly' and was lacking in definition. It was not a pleasant highlight of this release due to its poor quality. The surround audio on the new English dub was impressive though, hence a grade that should reflect my opinion when one considers both options.
Curse of the Blood Rubies is presented in its OAR of 4:3 (Full Frame). This is truly a mixed bag. I think it's the best the film has ever looked as far as I am aware. I have seen it before on previous DVD editions and it definitely looks to have had some decent re-mastering work done. It's been years since I last watched it, and I no longer own the other Funimation release so I can't do a direct comparison. However, I believe that some work was clearly done to present the film better than before. Despite this effort the film is still riddled with dirt and scratches. None of these instances were major distractions from the experience, but it was definitely not as pristine as a full restoration would have shown. Given the age and source of the material, this may have been the best Funimation could do and we may not see a better treatment anytime soon. The colors look rich, and the video seems to be free of compression issues and other ailments. It's a pleasing if somewhat underwhelming presentation.
No bonus features are included on this release whatsoever, unless you count some standard trailers for other Funimation releases. It's certainly disappointing and doesn't add much value to this DVD release.
The story is simple -- but entertaining -- and the characters are the same ones you probably already know and love. If you are starting with this film it wouldn't be a bad way to gain some familiarity with the Dragon Ball universe either. It is not, in my consideration, a better way to be introduced than the series itself, but you won't regret the time spent watching it regardless. I also suspect that this is the uncut release. It doesn't mention it on the box itself but the film seems edgier now than it did when I last viewed it on an earlier DVD release. If this is the case, fans will surely consider this to be a worthwhile upgrade. Recommended.