Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Ball Z is as popular now as it was in 1986, and I’d like to think FUNimation’s numerous rereleases have something to do with its continued success. From the early Pioneer dubs to the truncated Dragon Ball Z Kai revision, FUNimation has made heavy use of its license, for better or for worse. The latest release brings the martial arts epic to high-definition. While Dragon Ball Z purists might balk at a few alterations, casual fans and those returning out of nostalgia will find the best-looking version that FUNimation has ever produced.
One doesn’t have to go very far to find out what Dragon Ball Z is about; a cultural phenomenon, it is a staple of the genre and you’d be hard-pressed to find an anime viewer who doesn’t know or hasn’t heard of the saga of Son Goku. Set immediately after the events of the original Dragon Ball, Goku, his son Gohan, and his friends are faced with a new set of threats against the planet Earth. Through the course of five seasons, Goku will meet his destiny and become the planet’s mightiest hero against the likes of the dreaded Frieza, the merciless Androids, and Cell, a synthetic being of unspeakable power.
These season sets are FUNimation’s second attempt to bring Dragon Ball Z to Blu-ray. The Dragon Ball Z Level 1.1 series failed due to financial concerns and difficulties in restoring the show frame by frame. The current series has been more successful in its production: FUNimation is on track to release the entire 291-episode series in high-definition with seasons six through eight due before the end of the year. A concession was made, however: the footage on the disc has been altered to fit a 16:9 picture format instead of the original 4:9. The new aspect ratio causes some clipping at the top and bottom of the frame, but not once did I find this to be a distraction. The differences might be noticeable were I to watch them side-by-side with FUNimation’s Dragon Box set, but to be honest, I really didn’t care. The quality of the picture looks so great on my large, high-definition TV that some minor clipping didn’t ruin the experience.
I never thought Dragon Ball Z could look so good. The dirt, film grain, and muted colors that were so prevalent in previous releases have been swept away, resulting in a crystal-clear picture. Colors are beautifully vibrant, especially when characters are filling the screen with high energy Ki blasts that destroy mountains and level cities. Dragon Ball Z is defined by its action scenes and the sets overflow with fast and furious combat melees. During these moments, artifacting is nonexistent, making each kick and punch much more comfortable to watch. However, there was a strange tendency for the images on the screen to bob gently, as if the characters were standing atop a calm ocean. I couldn’t tell if this was caused by FUNimation’s transfer or a byproduct of the original animation, though perhaps I didn’t notice the bobbing effect in past releases because the film quality wasn’t as clear.
It is worth noting that the episodes are completely uncensored, and while the show does attract a young audience, parents should know that Dragon Ball Z gets extraordinarily violent during the Android Saga. Not only does blood flow from wounds of varying severity, a memorable encounter between a reborn Mecha-Frieza ends when a mysterious youth uses a sword to chop the villain into bits before hitting the remains with an energy blast.
Each season is packaged with three audio options: Original Japanese Mono, English Dialogue with Japanese Music 5.1, and U.S. English Broadcast Version 2.0, which was used for Cartoon Network’s Toonami broadcast. Original Japanese Mono will be the go-to option for diehard fans, and it’s a shame that it couldn’t be tweaked or modified for better quality. Despite its label, the English with Japanese Music option omits the original opening and closing music tracks and replaces them with something a little more Western in flavor. The English 2.0 is the same as it was on Cartoon Network, though it discards the “Rock The Dragon” opening theme and instead uses the same title and closing pieces from the English with Japanese Music version. Cheesy as it was, I wonder why FUNimation published the set without the “Rock the Dragon” opener. Why bother offering the English 2.0 track if all it does is change the episode recap music? It could be a licensing issue, or it could be that FUNimation did not want to create more work for itself in editing the title sequence to sync with the original Cartoon Network version.
As far as special features are concerned, the Dragon Ball Z sets don’t offer any particularly exciting material. There are interviews with the cast and a few reprinted featurettes, but on the whole, there’s nothing too exciting on the menu. The Marathon playback option is the set’s greatest feature. Marathon operates a little differently from the standard Play All option; it omits act break title cards and shows only one opening and end credit sequence, presenting anywhere from ten to twelve episodes in a continuous stream.
Despite a mildly controversial change to the show’s aspect ratio, the quality of high-definition Dragon Ball Z is too great to arouse many grievances. This is the best Dragon Ball Z has looked in years, and that alone is cause for celebration.
Dragon Ball Z: Seasons 1-5
directed by Daisuke Nishio
945 minutes, Number of Discs: 20, Blu-ray
Company Age Rating: 13+
Related to: Dragon Ball Z by Akira Toriyama