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Dragon Ball Z: Dragon Box Four

FUNimation // Unrated // September 21, 2010
List Price: $59.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by John Sinnott | posted October 16, 2010 | E-mail the Author
The Show:
It's here at last:  The definitive edition of the most exciting saga in the world's most famous anime series.  The Dragon Ball Z Dragon Box Volume 4 presents 42 more episodes in the classic series including the wrap up of the Android Saga which segues nicely into the appearance of arguably the series greatest villain, Cell.
If you're reading this, chances are good that you already know the story, but in case you don't, here's a brief recap: After defeating Frezia (barely) on the planet Namek, the Z-Fighters return to Earth, minus Goku who is taking the long way home.  Things seem quite for a bit, until Frieza, recovered from the smackdown Son Goku gave him, arrives on Earth with an even more powerful ally:  his father.  There's no way the Z-Fighters could defeat this pair without their strongest member, but a mysterious teen shows up and kills both of the villains with barely breaking a sweat.  This kid, Trunks, has come from the future to warn everyone about a deadly event that's about to happen:  two androids created by Dr. Gero are going to appear in three years and nearly wipe out the human race.  What's worse is that Goku won't be around, as the Saiyan will be killed by a virus that attacks his heart before the androids show up. 
Luckily Trunks has brought back medicine that should will Son Goku once the disease strikes and has given the warriors some advance notice.  They all go off to train and wait for the appearance of the artificial humans while Trunks returns to the future.
As this collection opens three years have passed and the androids, referred to by their numbers, No. 19 and 20, have appears and are trashing a city.  Yamucha confronts them and discovers they have a special ability:  both robots can drain the energy of anyone they touch.  They nearly kill Yamucha and manage to destroy most of the city before Goku lures them out into the desert for a battle.
The fight seems to be going well, Goku turns into a Super Saiyan and Artificial Human No. 19 can't lay a glove on him.  He's dodging all of the robot's blows with ease and obviously overpowering his opponent with little trouble.  Or so it would seem.  In reality Goku's losing energy at a rapid rate and is trying to finish the fight quickly.  The deadly disease, which had not affected him up to this point, attacks his heart in the middle of the battle causing him to nearly pass out. 
While some of the other take Goku home to administer the medicine, Vegetta steps up and totally obliterates No. 19 with easy.  He's become a Super Saiyan also and is really enjoying his new powers.  No. 20 flees to the laboratory where he was created in order to avoid being killed by Vegetta, with the Saiyan Prince crowing at his victory.  That's when Trunks shows up totally perplexed.  The Artificial Humans that the Z-Fighters have been battling are not the ones that destroyed the Earth in his time line.  They deduce that No. 20 has gone to activate other, more powerful, androids and start their search for the lab.  Unfortunately they arrive too late, and Artificial Humans Nos. 16, 17, and 18 are revived.  Vegetta battles No 18, still confident from his easy win over the other android and gets his ass handed to him.  She doesn't even need to use her full power to beat Vegetta into unconsciousness.  The rest of the Z-Fighters are no match even when they fight all together.
Things look very grim for the Earth, with Goku still out battling the virus.  Things only get worse when Trunks and Bulma find an old time capsule, the same one that Trunks used except very old and decrepit, that was used to take a small egg into the past.  An egg that caries the Dr. Gero's greatest evil creation:  the insect-like Cell.  This is a monster that was crafted from cells of Goku, Piccolo and Frieza, and he also has the ability to use a stinger on his tail to absorb other people, draining them of their life.  He's a very tough character, and that's before he evolves.
Every time I watch this section of the show, I'm amazed at how well DBZ creator Akira Toriyama put this story together.  This is the show's high point, and it occurred well into the series run.  At a time when most writers are pulling out their hair trying to come up with the next storyline, Toriyama knocks one out of the park.  One of the impressive things about this story arc is that there are a lot of unexpected events that really surprise viewers, even more so than the earlier stories.  It's great the way the Artificial Human story line gets hijacked by the Cell Saga.  Just when everyone is wondering how the Z-Fighters will destroy the seemingly unbeatable androids, that's no longer the problem. This unpredictable change of events adds a lot of excitement to the show.  It's even more impressive when you realize that Toriyama didn't have to risk alienating readers with such a plot device, the series was incredibly popular when this originally took place and he could have easily rested on his laurels.
There are several shocking surprises in this set too, like when Trunks announces that the androids everyone has been fighting are not the ones he originally traveled in time to warm humanity about.  I still recall the way that revelation got my attention the first time I saw this saga. 
The fights are great too, naturally, but the character development is one of my favorite things about the show.  No, this is never going to be confused with great literature, but seeing Krillian being too afraid to battle Androids 17 and 18 when the rest of his friends were being pummeled was a nice touch.  The struggle between self preservation and coming to the aide of friends in need is a strong conflict and it's played out well, especially for a kids cartoon.   There's a reason this show is popular the world over, and this collection illustrates why.
The DVD:

These 42 episodes arrive on six DVDs that are held in a pair of 'books', three discs each.  Two of the discs are overlapping (boo!) on one side while the third has a side all to itself.  There is also a hardcover book included with the set (more on this in the extras section.)  The three books are stored in a thick slipcase and the books themselves have a spanning spine.  Altogether it's a very nice looking set.
This is the definitive collection too.  All of the episodes are restored, uncut, presented with their original aspect ratio, with the original Japanese openings, original music, and even the original episode previews.  What more could you want??
This time the options are the original Japanese mono audio or a 5.1 English dub (with the Japanese music... the English music is not to be found in this set, which is fine by me.)  I viewed it with the Japanese track, and though the English dub is good and a much more immersive experience (especially during the frequent fight scenes) I enjoyed the original track just a bit more.  Both tracks were clean and free of hiss and distortion and the show sounded great, even in mono.
The image is in its original full screen aspect ratio this time, and I couldn't be happier.  The picture has been cleaned up, frame by frame, from the original 16mm film.  I have the original Pioneer releases and this is an improvement.  There is less grain and some spots have been removed.  The colors are a bit more even, though not as bright as the original releases, which I found a little odd.  Though this version does look a little more realistic, I don't think that's what they were going for originally.  The colors aren't oversaturated though, as has been reported with the FUNimation season sets.  They also didn't go overboard with the digital smoothing as happened with the earlier brick collections.  
In any case the lines are tight and the colors are even and solid.  The blacks are generally deep.  On the digital side of things the shows look good too.  There is some minor aliasing and light posterization in a few places but neither is ever a distraction and other compression artifacts such as blocking are absent.  Overall this is the best looking version of Dragon Ball I have seen, and the set I'd recommend to fans.
There aren't any extras on the discs themselves, which is fine by me.  I'd much rather have the show presented with the way it was meant to be seen.  I can live without the English dub cast 'party' commentary tracks.
There is a 48 page hardcover book that comes with the set and it is a real asset.  Not only does it contain a synopsis of every episode in the set, but there's a profile of Goku's family and a relationship tree that lets you know who is working with whom.  There are tidbits of trivia scattered through the book as well as character sketches.  It's very nice and a wonderful addition to the set.
Final Thoughts:
The stories presented in this collection are arguably the best parts of Dragon Ball Z, a show that is filled with high points.  The Imperfect and Perfect Cell Sagas, along with Cell Games are my favorite arcs in the long running show.  It's wonderful to have this in a definitive edition at last.  This is a classic show that belongs any complete collection of anime.  A DVD Talk Collector's Series title.
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