It’s back to the beginning at long last as Goku begins his journey to find the mystical Dragon Balls.
What They Say
Goku may be small, but this fearless warrior packs a punch as powerful as any on the planet. Left alone after his grandfather's death, this unusual boy is happy to spend his days hunting and eating and eating some more. But everything changes on the day he meets Bulma - a bossy, blue-haired beauty with boys on the brain. Together, they set out to track down the seven magic Dragon Balls and make the wish that will change their lives forever.
And that's just the beginning! Goku also spends some time on Turtle Island where he and Krillin study martial arts under the legendary Master Roshi. The old hermit may not look like much, but if his new pupils can find him a woman, he'll make sure they're ready to rumble at the upcoming World Martial Arts Tournament!
Contains episodes 1-31 (including episodes 1-13, available uncut for the first time).
Dragon Ball has about what I expected from the show when it comes to the audio, particularly since even the high definition releases have such low definition audio for the Japanese side. The English mix gets a decent 5.1 presentation, encoded at 448kbps, which is mostly devoted to the forward soundstage in a somewhat loud and brash manner when appropriate. Generally it feels like it’s more about volume level than anything else, but the track sounds good and fans of the English language side will be pleased. The Japanese language track is done in mono, encoded at a lowly 96kbps. It doesn’t need that much more because it’s not going to sound all that much better no matter what. It’s a very simple show, especially as it was done in the mid 80’s, and what we get here is what most people heard when it was first shown on TV.
Originally airing from 1986 to 1989, Dragon Ball is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. This set has thirty one episodes on it split up in a very strange way, where the first four discs have seven episodes each and the fifth disc has three episodes plus the clean opening and closing, so it’s not using a lot of that space. Having not seen any of the Japanese releases of it, I can’t say how close they are to those, but this set looks really good when taken into the context of the previous releases from FUNimation and the age of the show. It’s not completely clean or anything, there are noticeable areas of blocking and banding to be had at times, generally with dark areas, but overall it’s far better than what we’ve had before and it looks good. Not fantastic, there’s no way this show could look fantastic I think, but it’s the best it’s looked in the US to date. I would have preferred that the episode layout per disc was a bit better though.
Though it’s not my preferred packaging of choice, FUNimation has done right by Dragon Ball by taking what they did with Dragon Ball Z and applying here, but with a great shade of blue instead of bright orange. The digipak is easy to identify with Goku on the front, the sideways logo and a clear listing of it being season one. The back of the slipcover has a very good layout with several shots from the show and a sizeable summary of what it’s all about. The episode count is given a couple of times and the discs features are nice and clean as well. Inside the slipcover we get the standard foldout digipak piece which is done in a good shade blue with the outside featuring the same front as the slipcover and the rest has the blue with the turtle logo. Opening it up to the discs, the background has Shen Long spread out across it in shades of blue. Included in this is a booklet that covers character profiles for those that show up in the first season as well as a breakdown of all thirty one episodes. While I would have preferred a simple slipcover with five thinpak cases to hold each disc, I do appreciate the consistency between the seasons, since Dragon Ball Z is done this way as is Dragon Ball GT.
The menu design for the series is very simple and straightforward as it uses the colors, theme and design of the front packaging. The bulk of the menu is either black or blue space with a small part of Goku from the front cover used to give it some color. The bottom strip has the navigation, which includes the wonderfully useful marathon play for a series like this, and all of it is very quick and easy to navigate. Submenus load very quickly and are responsive though the language menus don’t recognize our players’ preset defaults. Though it doesn’t have much to it, the menus look good and fit with the overall theme of the release and are solidly consistent.
The only extras included with this release are on the last disc which is just the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences.
After far too long in limbo because of legal issues, Dragon Ball finally gets a proper release with this first “season” set. Containing the first thirty one of a hundred and fifty three episodes, the introduction to one of the most iconic anime characters is told as it should be. While I had disliked Dragon Ball Z for some time, I got into some of FUNimation's old chaotic Dragon Ball releases years ago, but never saw them in order and never really got it just right, especially with the first thirteen episodes owned by somebody else. What turned me onto the property overall was finally reading all twenty-odd volumes of the manga and becoming quite the fan of it.
Dragon Ball revolves around twelve year old Goku, though he looks about half that age or so with his diminuitive stature. Goku has spent some time living alone in the mountains after his grandpa died, a man who was apparently quite the accomplished martial artist that passed on much to his adopted grandson. His life has been quiet and he's extremely happy until he runs into the first girl he's ever seen, sixteen year old Bulma. Bulma's an outgoing girl who is on a quest to find the seven Dragon Balls with her special radar. Once all the balls are together, they can grant that person anything they wish. Goku has one of those balls, a memento left by his grandpa. He agrees to travel with her to find the others and loan his to her, though he'll keep it on him until then, because he thinks seeing the world will give him some much needed additional training.
It's this journey that takes us out into the world that Akira Toriyama has created. It's an interesting world that's not bound by convention. While it's done with a number of Japanese elements, he's brought in so much more that keeps it open to anything. In these early journeys, Goku and Bulma come across dinosaurs, werewolves, an army that's out to conquer the world and a pint sized would be despot that's also in search of the Dragon Balls. There's a good mix of magic, technology and good old fashioned man making the best of himself that's at work here. A sort of spirituality of self that grows over time, often though the things that Goku unknowingly does as he trains to be the best that he can be.
In these episodes, we see a lot of the groundwork that becomes a lot more apparent as the series goes on. A lot of characters are introduced in this first batch of episodes that play a role for a long time. Bulma and her use of capsules and the dragon radar she creates is key for a lot of things. We're introduced to Yamucha, a bit of a scruffy desert fighter who is looking to get better and he ends up going after Goku for the wrong reasons for awhile before discovering a better path. There's a bunch of smaller characters along the way as well, such as Oolong the transforming pig and Gyumao and his daughter Chichi who eventually become a lot more across the entire franchise.
Arguably, the two most important characters introduced in this set are Muten Roshi and Kuririn. Goku and Bulma come across the very perverted old man Roshi in their journey and Goku ends up going back to visit him later to sign on as his pupil. A legendary warrior who trained both his grandpa and Gyuamo, Roshi has a lot to teach with plenty of experience considering he's apparently immortal. His training is exactly what Goku needs in order to truly start achieving greatness. What helps to egg him along, and Roshi at that, is the arrival of another young man named Kuririn. He's been sort of cast out of his own dojo because of his size, but he has a lot of skill and someone like Goku and Roshi draw that ability out of him. Bald, calculating and filled with quirky fun, Kuririn is like Goku in a lot of ways but nowhere as naïve and not quite so... simple.
While a large chunk of this set focuses on the smaller single story adventures, introducing the characters and showcasing the world as well as Goku and Kuririn's training, there is something more established here. And that is the Tenkaichi Tournament. Goku and Kuririn enter that after going through a lot of their training so they can test out their skills. Roshi wants them to do it so they can understand that there's always someone stronger out there. The tournament is pretty small and tame here, but it serves as a solid introduction for Goku to the larger world and those who will follow him for many years to come in other Tenkaichi Tournaments. The Tournament doesn't last all that long all told, but it has a good flow to it and really showcases the diversity of the fighting in the show that will only continue to grow into the future.
Having not seen the first thirteen episodes before because of the license issues, I was very glad to finally sit down and watch this show as it was originally shown. There's a lot to like here with fun characters, a whole lot of pervertedness that's surprising at times and lots of action. In some ways, at least from watching the Japanese version, it's still surprising that this show made it over here considering what's said and done. The core of the show is very much the character, their interactions and the growth of so many of them with their martial arts. With a wide open setting that includes science, magic, dinosaurs and more, Dragon Ball isn't constrained by much. For some shows that can be a real problem. But Dagon Ball has such a sense of fun and whimsy at times that it can pull it off without much trouble at all. This set is the best that this series has been presented in the US and is one that has long needed a release like this. Very recommended.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.