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Dragon Ball Z Kai - Season Two
The nice thing about opinions? They're always subject to change.
At the time of that writing, I was against the idea of Kai (which in and of itself means 'revised') based on principle. With new technology spilling out by the minute, the latest generation has had their attention span reduced to nanoseconds. That may seem like an unfair assessment, but just think about the current trends in entertainment - Setting aside the time to listen to an album as a whole has gone by the wayside. Now, music is played on devices dedicated to shuffling songs. Sitting down to watch a movie is also hindered, as people constantly take themselves out of the experience to play with their cell phones. So, I felt that Kai was attempting to grab the attention of future generations by replacing the slow burning fuse of DBZ with a speedy trail of gunpowder instead.
Part of the fun of watching Dragon Ball Z, at least the first time around, was playing the waiting game. There were plenty of episodes that did little more than focus on stalling the villain, powering up a (hopefully) devastating attack, or having the main characters go off on needless diatribes. This may sound less than ideal, but it was all done to build the anticipation before delivering exactly what you were waiting for. At least, that's what I used to think. Don't get me wrong - I still think in its uncut form, DBZ is the only way to go about watching the series for the first time. On subsequent viewings? Well, being a husband and father, finding the time to choke down almost 300 episodes is nearly impossible. I have a huge backlog of movies and television shows that I would like to eventually get through, and outside of that, I have a social life and I'm trying to learn how to forge/blacksmith. Suddenly, the convenience of Dragon Ball Z Kai was looking pretty good...
After doing a bit of research, I found that Dragon Ball Z Kai was done to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the show. Although I'm still thoroughly convinced it was merely a way to keep the series 'milkable' for generations to come, my interest was fully piqued with the changes that were going to be made to the series. For one, Kai was going to drop everything that happened after the Cell Games Saga. The fact that I'll never have to watch the Great Saiyaman in action again thrilled me to no end. Second, new scripts and dialogue were written in order to emulate the original Manga as close as possible. A new English dub was done with most of the original cast, and if any animation was deemed unfit for high-def viewing, it would be replaced. The end result? 291 episodes have now been effectively reduced to a manageable 98.
I was pretty excited to see how the Kai variation of the Frieza Saga would be handled. Well, the second season wastes no time and introduces the Ginyu Force within the first two episodes. After a very intense first season of Kai, their comedic presence is more welcome than it's ever been. Some consider their inclusion to be obnoxiously unnecessary, but they do serve a purpose. Besides relieving a bit of tension, they cause Vegeta to begin what's undoubtedly the most interesting character arc in the series. Sure, he's still a villain in the truest sense of the word, but the arrival of the Ginyu Force pushes the proud Saiyan to begin thinking about what it means to be a true warrior - Is it about going solo and facing unbeatable odds, or is there something to be said about camaraderie? Little by little, Vegeta learns some valuable lessons and we can almost see his hardened exterior begin to crack, especially as he tests his mettle against Frieza.
The only thing I wanted to see excluded but wasn't, was when Bulma was transformed into a frog courtesy of Captain Ginyu. Granted, Kai reduces the amount of time we spend watching this piece of filler by quite a bit, but I wish they could have found a way to discard it completely. The rest of the season is fairly predictable and almost formulaic - Goku spends the first half of the season or more training under heavy gravity, much like he did when he had to train with King Kai. Once most of his friends are ultimately discarded by Frieza, Goku happens to show up just in the nick of time. The battle between Goku and Frieza is, of course, the main reason to watch this particular season of Kai, especially since the clash of these titans of power plays host to some of the best moments in the series entirety. Even so, their encounter is still a little long in Kai, but at least the we don't have to relive five minutes of in-show time playing out over the course of five episodes.
The more I watch Kai, the more I consider it to be my preferred version of Dragon Ball Z. That being said, this new iteration of DBZ still leaves a bit to be desired - Some of the vocal talent had to be replaced due to unavoidable circumstances, and some of it seems to be inferior to the English dubs that came before it. Also, the amount of blood and 'gore' (if you can call it that) has been toned down a bit. Although this is nothing new to those familiar with DBZ in the States, this still comes as something of a head scratcher. After all, the series is practically bathed in one form of violence or another, so why go through the trouble of censoring a little blood? Despite these minor quibbles, the good outweighs the bad by a large margin. The English dub is now more faithful to the Japanese script, and returning cast members deliver a performance that easily bests their work on the first go-round. Even though there still may be a small amount of questionable filler left in the mix, the revisions keep the action fast and furious without compromising any vital bits of story. One of the reasons why Dragon Ball Z had so much filler to begin with, was so the series wouldn't catch up to the Manga and be left with no story to tell. Now that the filler has been mostly removed, the series really does seem like it's found new life and can withstand numerous repeated viewings.
There's still something to be said about having patience and enduring the slow burn in the original series. In fact, I still highly recommend that newcomers watch Dragon Ball Z in its uncut form to experience that effect, but for the previously initiated, Kai is a breath of fresh air. Not just in its drastic reduction from 291 episodes to a brisk 98, but since there are only four seasons to purchase (or 8 'parts' that are half the price of the full season set), you don't have to sacrifice your bank account or even a lot of shelf space to store the series. Even if you do decide to start with Kai right off the bat, I can say with confidence that you won't come out at the end feeling like you've watched a gimped version of the show. As a DBZ veteran myself, I wasn't made to feel that way either. You can't go wrong with Kai, familiar with the original source or not.
I was somewhat underwhelmed by the 1080p, AVC encoded image (4:3), but that's probably because I've watched the Level sets prior to seeing Kai. The Level sets were a massive undertaking by FUNimation, as the original 16mm elements were scanned and were subsequently subjected to a clean-up project that fortunately didn't implement any digital noise reduction. What we were given was an image that was as faithful to the source as possible, and for the first time ever, actually allowed Dragon Ball Z to look like film as opposed to the overly contrasted Dragon Box sets, or the cropped digitally scrubbed 'Orange Brick' season sets.
Dragon Ball Z Kai features an HD remaster from Toei Animation's source, and they've painstakingly cleaned up most of the imperfections, which results in a respectably clean presentation. The image is a little on the soft however and is mostly devoid of grain, so some DNR is evident. That being said, I'm not exactly sure I blame them for doing so. DBZ has always looked 'clean' on television, but more important, any section of animation that was deemed unfit for HD was actually replicated with new animation. I assume 'cleaning' the source of heavy grain would allow the new animation to fit with the old seamlessly, and I have to say that I'm pretty impressed with the results. Shadowing and changes in line consistency are dead giveaways, but if you're not one to notice that sort of thing you'll be hard pressed to notice where the new footage has been spliced with the old. This is especially impressive when one considers that there are new pieces of animation also created for the purpose of bridging minor story gaps.
As far as the technical presentation on these discs, there's really nothing to complain about. Black levels are fairly solid, contrast and colors are presented without the harsh boosting that was apparent on the Dragon Box sets, and digital anomalies are minimal even at their very worst. After all is said and done, Kai isn't the absolute best I've seen Dragon Ball Z look to date, but it's still a nice leap from the previous DVD incarnations that didn't have a lot going for them in the first place.
This release contains both Japanese and English audio tracks (Dolby TrueHD 2.0 and Dolby TrueHD 5.1 respectively), and these are brand spankin' new in every conceivable way. Both languages feature newly recorded dialogue from (most of) the original voice actors, and they now sound clean as a whistle. Unfortunately, the rest of the sound design is still somewhat flat, but the English 5.1 track actually does a decent job of separating effects across all channels. It's not a completely immersive experience or anything, but it's appreciable nonetheless.
It's the music that may make some people do a double take - A new musical score was done by Kenji Yamamoto, who has some experience composing tunes for the DBZ video games. He was laid off by Toei Animation though, as it was discovered he was stealing music from other artists in the business. Toei Animation had no other choice but to replace Yamamoto's music with that of Shunsuke Kikuchi, who created the original soundtrack for the Japanese series. In the States however, we had already received the first two seasons of Kai on Blu-ray, so they were pulled from the market and were replaced with the Kikuchi score some time later (which is the version I listened to for this review). Part 5 was also delayed in the States to accommodate the change in score. Personally, I have zero problem with the change. I love the original Japanese score (even though the music used on Toonami back in the day will always hold a special place in my heart), and I am not cool with someone plagiarizing the work of others. Toei did the right thing, and still having a (reworked) version of the original score is ideal. Unfortunately, the score is still rather flat, but the music doesn't really need to be all that immersive. It just needs to drive the story along.
Much like the video presentation, the audio is good, but not great. On the technical side of things however, there's absolutely nothing to complain about. Dialogue isn't 'thin' or tinny, and the sound effects sound better than ever.
There's not much in this season set. There are some Interviews with Members of the US Cast which shouldn't be marginalized since it's an intriguing 7 and a half minutes, but all we have outside of that are Opening/Closing Theme Music with no text obscuring the animation.
I've been a fan of Dragon Ball Z for well over a decade, and I've seen all 291 episodes multiple times in both English and Japanese. This unfortunately gave me a negative bias towards Dragon Ball Z Kai, but now that I really can't justify sitting down to watch that much television over a reasonable amount of time, the option of Kai was looking pretty good. I'm man enough to admit when I was wrong, and, well, I was wrong. The new script, editing and splicing really served the second season better than I ever could have imagined. Surprisingly, none of the main story or character arcs seemed to suffer in the least. There were hardly any instances where the editing failed to be seamless, and the newly recorded dialogue is the best yet. The remastered audio/visual presentation bests the previous DVD boxed sets, for sure, but the extras are severely lacking. However, Dragon Ball Z Kai - Season 2 still comes highly recommended. I would advise those uninitiated with the series to try to get their hands on all 291 episodes so they don't rob themselves of what's probably the more rewarding experience, but if you just can't justify setting aside that much time or money, Dragon Ball Z Kai is perfect for vets and newcomers alike.
-About the Author- Michael Zupan is primarily a film guy, but has a variety of places where you can enjoy his work otherwise. Check Bytesizeimpressions.com for video game op-ed pieces and podcasts, and be sure to check out the sister site, Byte-Size Cinema, linked up top. This writer also contributes significantly to in-print magazines such as Minecraft Explorer and Fortnite Explorer!