Reviewby Theron Martin, Jun 26th 2010
Dragon Ball Season 4
The 22nd World Martial Arts Tournament progresses through the semifinals and into the finals, resulting in a titanic duel between Goku and Tien Shinhan. Despite the Crane Hermit's push for vengeance over the death of his brother Tao Pai Pai at Goku's hands, Master Roshi's earlier efforts (as Jackie Chun) to appeal to Tien's buried good side come to fruition, resulting in the Turtle Hermit and friends finding themselves with some new allies in the aftermath of the tournament. The added friendship comes none too soon, either, for a new and deadly threat quickly arises: the return of King Piccolo, an awesomely powerful creature of evil who, a hundred years ago, brought the world to the brink of destruction. Friends, innocents, and fellow fighters alike fall before the terrible power of Piccolo and his minions, while the survivors struggle to find any way to counteract Piccolo and his efforts to rejuvenate his full strength by using the Dragon Balls himself. A new friend, old acquaintances, and even an enemy from the past show up, but ultimately saving the day comes down to Goku, who must undertake a particularly deadly quest to unlock the latent power within him before going to face Piccolo in a battle for the ages.
What Funimation calls “Season Four” covers episodes 93-122, which runs from the Jackie Chun vs. Tien Shinhan semifinal match in the World Martial Arts Tournament through to the resolution of the climactic Goku/King Piccolo battle in East City. In the greater scheme of the Dragon Ball universe this is one of the more important runs of episodes in the series, as it introduces several important fixtures and concepts which will have lingering consequences. The early episodes, for instance, mark the point where Tien Shinhan and Chiaotzu get won over to the side of light and the first time that a major character dies. The middle episodes introduce DBZ stalwart Piccolo (albeit not in the form that he is known in DBZ), more major character deaths, and peripheral character Yajirobe, who here clearly establishes the “watch from a safe distance and poke my nose in when I have a chance” routine of behavior commonly seen of him in DBZ. Later episodes bring back several characters from the series' earliest episodes (including Chi Chi and Ox King) and introduce another important concept: the special quasi-magical item or ritual which unlocks a character's “hidden potential,” a theme that later gets used several times in DBZ and eventually becomes a staple of shonen action series in general.
The content of the volume can be exactly divided into two major arcs. (Unlike in most other places in the franchise, the storytelling here does not piddle around with side stories in between.) In the conclusion of the WMA tournament arc, the three remaining matches each offer a major draw: the Jackie Chun/Tien Shinhan semifinal reveals that Master Roshi has long had an ulterior motive for playing the role of Chun in the tournaments, the Goku/Krillan semifinal allows the long-awaited opportunity for the two similar-sized friends to face off against each other in earnest, and the Goku/Tien final presents the most dramatic and intense duel to date in the series, even though it does overplay a cheating card a bit. The ensuing King Piccolo arc gives the series its first true save-the-world story, thus upping the ante to a deadly-serious level the series has not really seen before this point. For the first time the series steps beyond just being a fun little tale and reaches for a sense of epic scale, which helps makes the ultimate Goku/King Piccolo showdown a thrilling and intense ride.
The fun factor so intrinsic to Dragon Ball is not entirely set aside, however. The instrument-based naming conventions for Piccolo and his henchmen prevent the content from being taken too seriously, as do Yajirobe's rather ignominious treatment of one of King Piccolo's henchmen and his antics in dealing with Goku about the Dragon Ball. (His experience with Korin's senzu beans is also rather amusing.) Piccolo is also so ludicrously evil that he gives the series the kind of campy vibe that older American viewers would probably associate with Saturday morning cartoons. On the downside, Pilaf and his pathetic minions return for another round of annoyance and Bulma once again has so little impact on events that she is relegated to minor supporting character status.
The artistry and animation in these episodes conform to the long-established standards set by the franchise. Though every attempt is made to reinforce how evil King Piccolo is, he and his henchmen still have the slightly goofy look typical of all villains in the series, which partly interferes with him evoking a suitable sense of menace, and other established adult human characters occasionally have an odd sense of body proportion, especially in the way their shoulders are drawn. Yajirobe has a suitably roly-poly mountain boyish look to him, though. The rounded look of everything makes the series largely immune to complaints about its style looking dated, although its age does show some in the older-style look of the massive explosion scenes late in the King Piccolo arc. Through this stretch the animation seems to be increasingly relying on shortcuts such as sliding characters across terrain rather than actually having them move, but this is not usually obvious unless one is looking for it. The rapid-fire punches thrown in the fight scenes also give the illusion of more motion than what the series actually has.
These episodes retain all of the normal standby themes and musical gimmicks heard in earlier episodes, although heavier emphasis falls here on the more menacing and sinister themes, which only reinforce the campy feel of the content. The original opening and closing themes remain constant, as do their English language adaptations.
In the English dub, Christopher R. Sabat ably reprises his performance as Piccolo from Funimation's dub of Dragon Ball Z, giving King Piccolo here the full-bore cartoon villain treatment and keeping up well with all of the throaty growling and evil laughing required by the character. Piccolo's henchmen Piano, Cymbal, Tambourine, and Drum all have suitably monstrous English voices, too, and Mike McFarland impressively steps up to do double duty in two dramatically different performances as Master Roshi and Yajirobe. (Most will not be able to tell that it is the same voice actor performing both roles.) Unless the creative accents or different vocal quality given certain roles by the English actors bother you, these are actually some uniformly solid performances. The English script leaves more room for complaints, as it still washes out some of the more extreme wording (Goku says “defeat” in English vs. “kill” in the subtitles on more than one occasion, for instance), is inconsistent with the subtitles on various numerical measurements, and frequently changes the wording to something entirely different, which results, among other things, in Goku coming across as less severe and bloodthirsty than he is in Japanese. Still, those changes are not obvious unless you listen to the dub with the subtitles on, as the English script does maintain the smooth flow that Funimation dubs have typically been known for.
Funimation's quad-fold case contains five DVDs for the 30 episodes, with seven episodes to a disk for the first four and a mere two on the fifth disk, which also has the clean opener and closer and company trailers. (Really, what is the point to doing it this way instead of consistently putting six episodes per disk?) As with earlier sets, the case also includes a 24-page color booklet with hero and villain profiles and episode summaries.
Although this set of episodes contains what are arguably the series' best fights and establish important long-term characters, they also introduce what will become one of the franchise's most annoying recurring gimmicks: sequences where Goku gets some advance training/power boost and then spends a couple of episodes rushing to get to the scene of a big battle to help out his friends, who are struggling to just hold on against a major villain. (This later gets repeated several times in DBZ.) Still, it is a good set for those who have been enjoying Dragon Ball so far, and unlike previous Funimation “season sets” this one actually cuts off at a sensible break point.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B-
Animation : C+
Art : B-
Music : B-
+ Important new characters, some of the series' best battle scenes.
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