Reviewby Theron Martin, Jul 25th 2011
Dragon Ball Z Kai
Blu-Ray Part 5
Though defeated on Namek, Frieza struggles to survive long enough to get in the last word against Goku, who then must frantically try to escape the dying planet. Back on Earth, Bulma, the Z Fighters, and the Namekians figure out a way to bring everyone back and send the Namekians on to a new home, but Goku takes his time in returning. Things remain peaceful for a few months until the Z Fighters sense that Frieza not only wasn't completely finished off, but is also coming to Earth slightly ahead of Goku with his equally powerful father, King Cold, in tow. The arrival of a mysterious young man who can also turn Super-Saiyan and strike Frieza down with ease startles everyone, but even more disturbing is the news he brings: in three years super-powered androids created by Dr. Gero of the Red Ribbon Army will appear, kill all of the Z Fighters, and ravage the world, and Goku won't be around to stop them because of a heart virus which strikes him down. Armed with that knowledge and a cure for the deadly heart virus, the Z Fighters train and prepare relentlessly, and do, indeed, find themselves facing two powerful androids at the appointed time three years later, one of which turns out to be Dr. Gero himself in android form! As Goku falls ill from his anticipated virus and Vegeta steps up to take the lead in his newly-acquired Super-Saiyan form, the young man returns again from the future to lay a shocking revelation on everyone: those aren't the androids he was referring to earlier. Those two, Androids 17 and 18, must be stopped before being allowed to reawaken or they will be the world's doom. But cocky Vegeta just wants to slug it out with them using his newly-realized Super-Saiyan power. . .
The Dragon Ball franchise is not one known for dropping big surprises on its audience. Perhaps because it originally skewed a bit younger (or, at the least, was made to be accessible to younger audiences), it tends to telegraph its major developments. Even when characters die, it rarely comes as too much of a surprise because the franchise – especially during its DBZ run – has shown a willingness to kill off its cast and characters almost never die when not in life-or-death situations. When it does have jaw-dropping moments, it is usually because someone has said or done something phenomenally, mid-numbingly stupid, such as the Ginyu Force's first group pose.
This set, which contains episodes 53-65 and corresponds to episodes 105-136 of DBZ, is different. Those who are watching this material for the first time will be hit by a couple of doozies, each of them involving the appearance of Trunks. Those who have seen DBZ before will note faint signs of one of those developments in preceding episodes, but really, when this material first aired, who actually saw the identities of Trunks' parents coming? And who wasn't shocked to see the ease with which Frieza, the most powerful villain ever to appear in any shonen action series to that point, got cut down so easily the second time?
On the downside, this is the point where the series first starts to show strain from the stress of trying to maintain the one-upmanship in power levels. Seeing Vegeta also achieve Super-Saiyan level was only natural and expected, as the nature of his personality would prevent him from stopping before he achieved that level, but what did the story come up with to give the Super-Saiyans a sufficient challenge? It introduces androids (or perhaps more accurately “cyborgs” in the case of all but No. 16, although “android” is the term used in the dub) with supposedly-infinite power, in the sense that they can constantly maintain their power levels and thus never tire out. How such a thing is possible is, of course, never explained but ultimately irrelevant, as the “how” never matters as much in series like this as the “what” does, but the suspension of disbelief required here is higher than in most other places in the series. Still, Android 18 is significant for being both the first long-term female villain in the franchise and its first female character who can hold her own against any of the boys/men in a fight at full power. Seeing the series dredge up some of its Dragon Ball history is also a neat touch.
The story editing effort is as smooth as what was seen in the earlier part of Kai, with only a couple of minor hiccups where even a non-devotee might realize that something got cut out. The main missing chunk is the Garlic Jr. Saga, which ran in episodes 108-117 of DBZ; the only parts of those episodes carried over are the few short training clips of Vegeta as he searches for Goku. It was all originally filler material made specifically for the anime version, though, and the fact that its absence has no bearing whatsoever on the story here proves its long-term lack of worth. Also removed entirely was the ridiculous episode involving the driving test. Unfortunately kept in its entirely is Goku's ridiculously overplayed struggle with the heart virus; apparently Saiyans suffer from vastly more pain in their sleep than what humans do.
The technical and musical merits for this set mostly maintain standards set earlier in the series (for better and worse), although this set shows slightly more frequent occurrences of characters being off-model and other quick lapses in quality control. Amongst new character designs, Future Trunks and Androids 17 and 18 are notable for being the rare DBZ characters beyond Bulma who actually dress in a modern hip style, while Android 16 gives off an Arnold Schwarzenegger-in-Terminator vibe – likely intentionally so. The opener music remains the same but its graphics update to account for the arrival of the androids, while a new closer begins with episode 55; its English version is sung by Caitlan Glass (Winry in all Fullmetal Alchemist properties) in an attempt to ape the style of the Japanese original, but the effort is unlikely to impress.
Funimation's revamped English dub continues to shine. Despite outright changing what's being said in some places, the English script is still closer to the original than any previous version. The acting performances are also solid, with Christopher R. Sabat's performance as Vegeta impressing the most through this run and Chris Ayres' Frieza being given a mechanical resonance which corresponds to his conversion to, essentially, a cyborg in his reappearance; this was not done in the Japanese dub. The voice of Android 18 is actually Colleen Clinkenbeard using a nigh-unrecognizable soft, low-key, and slightly sultry tone which fits the character well, while Chuck Huber is an equally fine fit at Android 17. The only complaint, and it is a minor one, is the gravelly sound Eric Vale applies to the Future Trunks.
Funimation's Blu-Ray release splits the thirteen episodes across two disks, with only clean opener and closer on the second disk for Extras and a reversible cover in the plastic case, with a cardboard slipcase covering all. As with previous releases, the episodes are presented in 4:3 format and encoded with a 1080p AVC codec, with TrueHD 5.1 audio on the English track and a TrueHD 2.0 mix on the Japanese track. Both tracks sound excellent and feature well-distributed sound effects, while the video looks as clean and sharp as Dragon Ball Z content has ever looked
Overall, Part 5 represents a transition period in the series. It puts the final touch on the Goku/Frieza battle, cleans up all of the lingering details of the Saiyan and Namekian Sagas which dominated the first 52 episodes of the series, and both looks back and ahead to initiate its next mega-arc – the Android/Cell Saga. Along the way it shows that Super-Saiyan power-ups will not be limited just to Goku and introduces two new and critically important characters: Future Trunks (who plays a major role in the upcoming arc) and Android 18 (who will continue to play an active role in the series through to its end). While it does not showcase the series at its best, it does offer a reasonably entertaining set of surprises and solid short battle scenes.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C
Animation : B-
Art : B-
Music : C+
+ Some neat surprises, Frieza gets his due in impressive style, wraps up storylines to date.
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