It has been a long wait for die-hard Dragon Ball Z fans looking for a proper release of their action show. They have sat back and watch FUNimation bungle up all of their previous DVD releases. A group of poor, confusing individual released DVDs followed up with sets of "widescreen, remastered" DVDs that sliced off a large amount of the video just to sell the show to an audience that didn't know any better. Finally, those who were patient have been rewarded with something Japanese fans have had for years: A proper release of Dragon Ball Z. One that may just be FUNimation's best DVD release ever.
What They Say
The battle to harness the power of the seven Dragon Balls explodes in vivid detail like never before. The Dragon Box features over 40 uncut episodes, remastered and restored frame by frame, rendering the legendary action in pristine clarity. Each episode is presented in Japanese or English with the complete opening and closing credits and includes the original episode previews.
The last survivors of a cruel, warrior race, these ruthless villains have carved a path of destruction across the galaxy, an now they have set their sights on Earth! They will stop at nothing until they have the wish-granting powers of the seven magic Dragon Balls for their very own.
With the fate of his family, friends, and the entire human race hanging in the balance, Goku, the Earths greatest hero, must rise to meet the approaching threat. As he prepares for the fight of his life, Goku embarks on n epic journey that will take him to other worlds, pit him against new and old enemies alike, and force him to confront the dark secrets of his own past. At the end of this path, the most powerful opponent he has ever faced awaits: the evil Saiyan Prince Vegeta!
The Dragon Box features two audio tracks. The original Japanese mono track (48 kHz, 96 kbps) and the popular English dub set against the original Japanese soundtrack in a 5.1 mix (48kHz, 384kbps). The Japanese track is perfect. It is clear, crisp and features the famed Japanese cast and soundtrack in all of its cheesy, tinny glory. Considering the age of the show (20+ years!), this track sounds great.
English dub fans may find themselves conflicted a bit with the English track here. The English dub features the same cast they have grown used to but with the original Japanese soundtrack. Not the soundtrack by Bruce Faulconer. The result is much more to my liking. I was never a fan of the Faulconer soundtrack and the way it was used by FUNimation that resulted in the English dub having a near continuous stream of music. I ended up liking the English performances a bit more because this track gave us more chances to enjoy the dub itself without being droned out by its old tracks.
That being said, I still don't like some of the changes done to the English script that changes some characters and their key characteristics.
I honestly don't know how the Japanese managed to get this show looking as good as it does on this set, but they did it without breaking out the DNR machine that has become popular with other "remasters" out there. The colors are vibrant and accurate with no loss in film grain or detail. All presented in its original aspect ratio of 4:3. That fact alone will make fans very happy. The result here is a 20 year old show that has never looked better than it does right here. Any flaws you see in the video at this point are in the source itself. I couldn't be happier.
The Dragon Box is packed in a sturdy cardboard box with a nice piece of Goku artwork on the cover. Inside, the six DVDs are kept within two solid "book" type cases that open up and lie flat. These house three DVDs each. These are black with an etched drawing of Shen-Long on the covers. On the spines are little bits of a bigger picture that will become complete as you collect these box sets. The disc art is very nice as each one features a different character with a clean Toriyama illustration set against a white background. Overall, the Dragon Box really does scream "collector's item" and is at a much higher level of quality than previous Dragon Ball box sets.
The menus for this set is simple, fast and get the job done. Each disc features a different action shot from the show in the background with an eye scouter overlay that has the different disc options in it. Basically, you're looking at the action shot through the eye scouter. Navigating the menu is very quick which is always a plus in my eyes. In a nice touch, each disc defaults to the original Japanese audio. These are not the most eye catching set of menus, but it gets the job done very nicely.
The only extra here in the set is a handsome hardcover booklet that will be the first of many to come. Each page is made from a nice quality glossy paper and is filled with information about the series, show, characters and more. There is data on Goku's early childhood, his family, a character relationship chart, and a guide for each episode. It finishes off with a Dragon Ball timeline, history and a fun look at some of the fashion used in the series. I tend to prefer material extras such as these over extras presented on the discs themselves so I supposed I'm biased when I say that while this is the only extra in the set, its a really nice one and fits perfectly for the type of release this is.
Content (Please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
I have got to think that everyone knows what Dragon Ball Z is all about by now. If you don't, let me break it down for you. This is the sequel to Dragon Ball, Akira Toriyama's light hearted adventure inspired by Journey to the West. Dragon Ball focused on Son Goku's journey from childhood into adulthood through a series of adventures centered around finding the mystical wish granting Dragon Balls. In contrast, Dragon Ball Z cuts back on the light hearted adventure aspect and focuses on high powered fighting that takes place between Son Goku, his friends and the various villains that enter their lives. They grunt, they growl, they power up, they fight, they transform and eventually the fight is decided before moving on to the next one.
The episodes included in the first Dragon Box include the complete "Saiyan Arc" before it moves on to start the much more sprawling "Freeza Arc". In the Saiyan Arc, Son Goku is happily married to his childhood girlfriend turned over-protective, strict mother, Chichi. Their son, Son Gohan has just turned four and Goku is taking him to visit his long time pals that he made in the first series. Son Gohan is the polar opposite of Goku in that he is a whiny crybaby forced into a life of cram school at an absurdly young age. While the happy reunion takes place, Goku is approached by a very strong alien named Raditz. He claims that he and Goku are not only brothers, but Goku is a "Saiyan" who was sent to the planet to destroy it. He nabs Gohan and threatens Goku saying that if he doesn't kill 100 humans and team up with him and his Saiyan buddies, he will just take his son. Raditz is a killjoy.
Goku decides to confront Raditz and teams up with his old nemesis from the first series, Piccolo. In Piccolo's mind, Raditz is a threat to the planet he is going to rule soon so he is game. The two take on Raditz and after a prolonged battle with interference from a suddenly powerful Gohan, Piccolo kills both Goku and Raditz. Things are looking up for Piccolo until the Saiyan announces that his two super-powerful friends, Nappa and Vegeta, are on their way to the Earth to destroy everyone and take the Dragon Balls for themselves. They will arrive in one year's time. To prepare for their arrival, training must be done! Goku is taken to the after life to train with the series' narrator King Kai (okay, it's just the same voice), Piccolo kidnaps Gohan to properly train him and the rest of Goku's friends (Kuririn, Tenshinhan, Yamucha and Chaozu) are taken in to train with the Guardian of the planet. One year passes and all hell breaks loose.
I like the Saiyan Arc for two reasons. First, it still retains some of the fun humor and characterization that made Dragon Ball so great. Characters such as Bulma, Master Roshi and Kuririn keep things grounded in the middle of all of the events. Kuririn is especially useful in providing a sense of humor in addition to being a capable fighter on his own. Gohan and Piccolo show a good bit of character progression in the year leading up to the Saiyan invasion. After Raditz's death, Piccolo takes Gohan and leaves him deserted in a remote part of the planet to "toughen him up." Like his father before him, he takes to his environment nicely (who knew dinosaurs still existed) and proves quite capable of adapting. Piccolo's character softens up as the two form a master/student relationship that would come to define them in the future.
The second reason I like this arc is the confrontation with the Saiyans. Throughout the training, they were built up as very strong opponents and they do not disappoint. Piccolo, Gohan, Kuririn, Yamucha, Tenshinhan and Chaozu are the first to meet up with the duo. Nappa is the muscular brute while Vegeta is the shorter, more powerful fighter. The severity of the battle is evident almost right off the bat as our heroes are killed off, one by one in brutal fashion (the show's "Get Out of Jail Free" card, aka the Dragon Balls, will not help them this time). The "Z Fighters," as they would be called later on, try their damnedest to work together just to survive but Nappa's onslaught is too great. They manage to hold on time until a freshly trained Goku arrives. Then the main event begins.
Goku vs. Vegeta is the highlight of this set. There is no question about it. This fight is the beginning of one of the best rivalries in action anime history. Vegeta is clearly the superior fighter in terms of power. He is the Prince of all Saiyans. His pride and confidence are his defining qualities and his greatest weakness. Goku, of course, is highly trained and powerful in his own right. Over the course of several episodes, these two pound the hell out of each other in a fight that reaches its apex with a wonderful duel of their most powerful techniques. A duel won by Goku. If only it were so simple of a victory though. Vegeta is much tougher than this and he uses every technique at his disposal to come out the victor. It then becomes a battle of survival as Gohan, Kuririn and an unlikely hero come back to join the fight to fend off the tenacious Vegeta. Each fighter is pushed to the absolute limit and just because they are the main characters, doesn't mean they will live through it.
While the action contained in this fight is what will be remembered by fans, I will always remember this confrontation as the point where the villain is turned into a character you sort of want to root for. Yes, Vegeta is pompous, arrogant, self-serving and an egotist. These are not only his weaknesses but these traits are also the fuel that drives him in his fight against the Z Fighters. As he is turned back by the surprisingly powerful Goku, he peels off layers of his quickly shattered pride to do whatever it takes to win. He turns into a Great Ape, even though he despises the form. When he is turned back yet again, he continues to fight on. When he is hit with the most powerful move in the Z Fighters arsenal, he somehow crawls to his feet to fight on.
He shows a determination that it usually only seen in the heroes of a show. Not the villains. He has exhausted his options, he has no more tricks up his sleeves, but he fights on. If he wasn't trying to kill the heroes, you would be rooting for him fully. If you take in Vegeta's determination and persistence as a whole, you will understand why Goku sees him as a worthy rival and desires to fight him again in the future. Needless to say, Vegeta was a great antagonist and he quickly became my favorite character.
This set of episodes isn't all sunshine and beam cannons though. It has problems with pacing, filler and as a result, can be wildly repetitive. While I didn't count, it wouldn't surprise me if Goku spent one-third of these 42 episodes running along the road to King Kai's planet. He runs and runs and runs. Then he is forced to start all over and run again! We also spend a lot of time watching Gohan cry and whine about being left alone in the wilderness. When the fighting begins, there are a ton of cuts back to Master Roshi's house where the rest of the cast watch the fight. They react, they overreact, they faint, they react some more. So on and so forth.
I feel I must announce my disdain for Goku's wife Chichi. I can understand a mother being distraught over her son getting caught in the middle of a battle that could destroy the world. Not to mention being missing for a year being trained by the planet's main threat before the Saiyan's appeared. I also understand that she is a parody of an overbearing, Japanese mother during this time frame. However, she shows such complete and utter disregard for the livelihood of her husband that I can't help but wince every time she appears. Be it in English or Japanese, she is insufferable in almost every way. Yajirobe said it best: "Hey Goku, can I slap her?"
The "Saiyan Arc" may have its ups and downs but it is still my favorite storyline arc in the series. It manages to retain just enough of Dragon Ball's humor and characterization while ramping up on the action. It climaxes with a great confrontation that culminates with the birth of a fan favorite. I also give them credit for eliminating the over-reliance of the Dragon Balls to get the characters out of trouble.
The Dragon Box is the definitive Dragon Ball Z release here in the US. FUNimation has finally done this series justice and this set is essential for the true fans. The fans who demanded better. The fans who would not settle for less. This is for you.
Features Japanese Language, English Language, English Subtitles
Samsung PN50A400 50" Plasma HDTV, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver, Yamaha 5.1 Surround Sound Speakers, PlayStation 3 Slim via HDMI @720p
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