Dragon Ball Movies Box Set (Movies 2-4) (of 1) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Thursday, July 10, 2008
Release Date: Tuesday, February 12, 2008
What They Say
This 3-disc DVD set collects the following Dragon Ball Uncut animated movies: Movie 2: Sleeping Princess in Devil's Castle; Movie 3: Mystical Adventure; and Movie 4: The Path to Power.
Three Dragon Ball movies, one low price. Actually, it's more like one movie and two short specials. But the price is still low, and at least one of them is well worth having.
For the primary viewing sessions I listened to the English audio tracks. Due to the age of the materials, we're essentially dealing with mono here, despite the mixes being technically stereo (and one 5.1 mix in the case of Movie 2). Even so they sound decent in a front-and-center way: nice and clear and free of distortion. I didn't expect the stereo mixes to be real stereo, so I don't mind those. But the 5.1 track in the Sleeping Princess movie feels like a gyp. The rear speakers are dead the entire time as far as I can tell, and the left and right speakers aren't pulling any significant weight. By putting my ear close to each I discovered that they aren't putting out any sounds that don't originate with the center speaker. In other words the center channel has been cloned (at a lower level) in the left and right channels. That does make for a slightly fuller sound than the stereo track, however, so this is the one to go with even on a two speaker setup or probably even straight through the TV. But apart from that there aren't any problems. The one audio track that feels like real stereo is The Path to Power's English option, and that sounds pretty good, all things considered. It has a nice full feel to it and a lot of directional effects - sounds as simple as Goku twirling his Power Pole get spread across the forward soundstage, and all the explosions, crashes, and power blasts that go with the territory sound like they mean it. Especially compared to the straightforward mono Japanese. Between the improved audio and a hilarious dub, English is definitely the way to go on this one for all but the die-hards.
The quality of the movies in this area varies from disc to disc, so I'm going to take the movies one at a time. Sleeping Princess in Devil's Castle has particular problems with the colour red. Reds of any brightness at all (I mean even things like Goku's power pole) bleed noticably and even when they're not they frequently look alive with blocking or other artifacts. Some other colours like browns and light blues can show similar problems, and there's a fair bit of minor noise from time to time. Weirdly, the areas you'd expect to have the most problems, such as the dark blues and greens inside the castle, look pretty good. Source materials are in pretty good shape but you can see a few specks or scratches once in a while.
Mystical Adventure is a little less problematic but blocks a bit during the fast and furious (and very busy) fight scenes. Less active shots can also be prone to more minor artifacting. There's no bleeding of colours I noticed, though, so at least that's a little better. Source materials seem in great shape. A big annoyance at the end is that FUNimation has gone with a split-screen for the closing English credits, and instead of shrinking the image to fit on the left side of the screen, the entire right side has been cut off. Ordinarily this wouldn't be a big deal, but in this case the credits play during the epilogue of the story, so you're missing half the image during an important part of the film. Worst of all you can't even switch angles for this scene, so you have to watch the film with the Japanese language option, selected from the menu screen, to see the thing properly.
Path to Power has a lot of the problems common on early DVD releases: frequent line shimmering and a couple of outright rainbows, along with some minor artifacting here and there. Blocking manifests itself pretty strongly on a dark red robot and a few shots full of strobe effects or explosions, but otherwise isn't too bad considering the source looks like it has more inherent grain than the earlier movies.
Packaging is about as simple as they come: just three clear thinpak cases in a cardboard box. The design of the box is unusual in that there's no write up anywhere - the only text is in the technical grid on the bottom of the box. As such we get just get two fairly standard Goku action pictures front and back. The cover art on the second and third movies' cases are pretty poor, just character art superimposed on backgrounds with a logo overlooking everything from the top. Sleeping Princess in Dragon's Castle incorrectly lists the runtime as 55 minutes when it's actually 43. Path to Power is the only design that really looks like a design instead of a simple Photoshop job: it's an inaccurate but friendly image of Goku riding a Pterodactyl with the rest of the gang and the dragon looking on. The set I got may be an anomaly, but my Path to Power case didn't have any kind of fastener on the hub - the disc just sort of hangs there and falls off easily. Overall, pretty mediocre but no glaring problems apart from that.
Simplicity itself. Static images, music; quick access on all but the profiles section of Path to Power. The setup menus are the smart kind I like, the sort that kick you back to the main menu after you make the selection and save you a button press. Sleeping Princess should really have a chapter selection menu; but there are plenty of chapter stops just as there are on the other two discs which have the chapter menus.
I don't count trailers and sneak peeks as extras, so I've got nothing to say except that Path to Power has a few pages of character profiles.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Before getting to the nub or gist of the review, it would be probably best to state my personal relation to, and familiarity with the Dragon Ball franchise. As far as the TV series goes I know nothing. Nothing at all. I haven't seen a single episode of Dragon Ball or Dragon Ball Z. Or GT. I have however read the first half-dozen volumes of the Dragon Ball manga - and liked them immensely. So that is the perspective of this review: the perspective of a casual, sympathetic, but not particularly knowledgable fan. With that in mind, we can begin.
It's hard to mess up a story with a title as good as Sleeping Princess in Dragon's Castle, but the first movie in this set (which is actually movie 2) comes pretty close. But it begins promisingly. After an evocative narrated prologue and a dubbed song, we get a good comedy opening with Goku showing up at Master Roshii's house to sign on as a student, and Krillin arriving on his heels for the same purpose. Master Roshii gives them a task to complete before he grants their request: find and rescue the (you guessed it) sleeping princess from the dark castle we were told about in the prologue. And bring her back to the old letch for undisclosed purposes. There follows a pretty fun scene of Goku and Krillin racing each other to the castle, Krillin trying to fend off Goku with every dirty trick in the book. But once we get to the castle disappointment sets in. The requisite monsters appear on cue, but the fighting is strangely slow-moving for Dragon Ball. And the plot is deadly dull. Bulma gets herself captured, Yamcha and the two shapeshifters try to save her, blah blah blah. There a feeble attempt at a plot twist with the princess but it only struck me as an anticlimax. The one bright spot is the appearance of Lunch. Thank goodness for a character too funny to be ruined under any circumstances. This "movie" is pretty clearly the black sheep of the set. Even the dub is the weakest of the lot.
Only a good beginning, the slight novelty of a plot that doesn't involve dragon balls at all, and some Lunch personality changes keep Sleeping Princess from absolute boredom. It may be the audience who winds up doing the sleeping. But better fare is just around the corner.
Sleeping Princess tried to make do with a routine plot. Mystical Adventure tries to make do with practically no plot at all, instead squeezing as much action as possible into a scant 45 minutes. There are brief overtures toward a plot to overthrow the emperor, but it's so perfunctory (the bad guys want to get the dragon balls and wish the emperor off the throne) that it can't really be taken seriously. And it isn't meant to be. It's just a way to get the gears moving to throw the characters into as many fights as possible. If the fights were as unexciting as they were in the previous film this would have spelled disaster. But they're not. They're a blast. And in addition to some really good martial arts there are some pretty fun chase scenes with Bulma's plane and other aircraft. There's even a Dr. Slump cameo thrown in for good measure. I can't say Mystical Adventure is particularly memorable but it is good fun while it lasts. The best, however, is yet to come.
The main draw of the set, and the only story that really feels like a movie, is movie 4: The Path to Power. At 82 minutes it's almost twice as long as the others, and almost twice as good into the bargain. I've read enough of the manga to tell that it's alternate version of the origin story: how Goku and Bulma set off to find the dragon balls, and met up with the colourful group of weirdoes, good and bad, that inhabit Toriyama's inventive universe. In summary it's the same old dragon ball plot: everybody's after the dragon balls. But in execution the story works better than I would have even dared to hope. It works thanks to a dexterous script that walks the tightrope between a continuing story and the necessary episodes where the dragon balls are obtained. It also moves with terrific speed. Perhaps it even moves a little too fast at times - it seems like everyone could find the dragon balls if they're as easy to get as all that, and the very end is a tiny bit rushed - but even that is an error in the right direction. But the film owes almost as much to its jaw-droppingly staged action scenes. These are a long way removed from the laboured battles of Sleeping Princess. Choreography and "camera moves" are in some scenes almost unbelievably good. The climax, where Goku takes on the entire Red Ribbon army (including its air force) single-handed, is a real rouser. Now this is what Dragon Ball is all about.
At least it's one side of what Dragon Ball is all about. Another side is comedy, and that has just as much a place in the story as the quest and the martial arts. That brings me to the subject of the English dub. This is, in a word, fantastic. The entire cast is great: Goku's actress has the giggle down pat, as well as combining toughness and innocence during the fight scenes; Bulma is spunky and pert; Yamcha warps effortlessly and hilariously between his tough guy and scared-of-girls personas; Master Roshii sounds exactly the way the dirty old turtle guy ought to sound; Oolong is all the funnier for sounding perpetually crabby; and the bad guys all sound just like the kind of people you want Goku to beat up. And the cast has a wonderful adapted script to perform. The sometimes rubber-stamp lines of the subtitled version have been replaced with very funny comedy dialogue that electrifies some already good scenes and salvages some of the weaker ones. I can't help but be in awe of the process whereby a predictable line like "Who took off my panties?" becomes "I want every one of those mental pictures back!" The script also adds in some dialogue where the original track is silent, often in the form of priceless ad libs from Oolong ("These ancient castles have everything: trap doors ... rocket ships ..."). It's not exactly a reverent dub, but it is most certainly a hoot.
Fans of the Dragon Ball franchise make out pretty well with this set, since they essentially buy Path to Power and get the other two short movies for free. Path to Power is well worth getting, and as somebody who watched the film twice in two days - once dubbed, once subbed - I can vouch for its rewatchability. Of the other two Mystical Adventure is worth catching at least once; but I think only a card-carrying fan could love Sleeping Princess. I could wish that edited versions had been included in addition to the uncut versions here - it's not as if the shorter films at least didn't have plenty of room left over on the discs. That would have made the set more child-friendly and perhaps more palatable to some of the adult audience as well. I can't shake the thought that Dragon Ball just works better clean. All the same, it's a pretty good value, particularly with easily available discounts. Goku at his best is not a thing to miss.
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Path to Power Character Profiles
Sony 35" KV-35XBR88 SDTV, Sony SLV-D370P DVD Player (via generic component), Yamaha RX-V550 DD/DTS Receiver, Infinity Primus C25 and 150 speakers.
Mania Grade: C
Audio Rating: C+
Video Rating: C
Packaging Rating: C-
Menus Rating: C+
Extras Rating: C
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: FUNimation Entertainment, Ltd.
Running time: 185
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Dragon Ball