Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Jul 14th 2012
Dragon Ball Z Kai
Blu-Ray - Season 1 Part 8
The Cell Games continue full blast as Cell and Goku duke it out in front of Goku's flabbergasted allies. Soon enough Goku determines that he's no match for the perfected monster and taps outs, naming Gohan to take his place. Can Goku's quiet little boy really take down the universe's most powerful being? Oh yes, yes he can. But not before the evil android wreaks massive havoc, and not without a little help from his friends.
The DBZ Kai experiment ends here, at the end of the Cell arc. While not the best that this streamlined version of Akira Toriyama's action classic has to offer, this set is a testament to the experiment's success. When it ends, the dissatisfaction we feel isn't with the story—though god knows, we have the right—but with the series for ending where it does. That we'll never see a trim, swift(er) version of the bloated Buu arc is a bigger disappointment than any of the cheap shots, fake-out endings, or vestigial thumb-twiddling of the Cell arc's climax. Which is saying something.
They're all there though. That shouldn't be overlooked. A great many of DBZ's customary problems persist even with the fat cut away. While as close to pure, undiluted action as the series gets, the Cell Games still pause frequently to let fighters jabber on or glare in manly rage, or to let onlookers explain things that should be self-evident, or to get reactions from distant family members, TV viewers, comic relief goobers, and other people we really don't give a crap about. Speaking of comic relief, Mr. Satan is still hanging around being a dumbass—which admittedly can be funny, but gets kind of old after the umpteenth “Mr. Satan fakes a stomachache to avoid fighting” joke. Worst of all, though, is the army of Mini-Me Cells who are thrown out (more like butt-barfed out, but we'll leave the logistics out of it) to drag out the final fight. Even with their interlude pared down, they giggle and prance and beat on the Z fighters for something like two episodes. If it could have been reduced to, say, zero that would have been nice.
Then there are the issues that no amount of trimming can reduce, much less eliminate. Systemic things. Things like the fact that every fight is ultimately resolved by raw power, and every gap in power resolved by leveling up. The fact that we have long since grown accustomed to (and then jaded about, and then sarcastically cynical about) the show's action customs: the undefeated enemies who are conveniently shrouded by the smoke from an attack, the savage barrage of blasts that is always ineffective, the enemy that just. Won't. Die. If you count the business with time machines, Cell croaks three times this set. The number is closer to five if you count the times he's defeated but not dead.
The trick that Kai pulls off isn't in getting rid of all of the stuff that has bedeviled DBZ fans since the beginning of DBZ fandom; it's in reducing it while maximizing the stuff that created that fandom. It's a ratio thing. Dial down the frustration, and the payoff seems bigger in comparison. Put another way, there's more butt-kicking per unit of wheel-spinning crapola. That is especially true here, where the Cell arc finally breaks out the big fights. And big is definitely the word. These are the kinds of vein-popping, energy-spouting, Earth-shaking, mountain-shattering, power-screaming, fist-and-ki fights that earned the series its reputation for jaw-dropping bombast. They're ridiculous to be sure—all of the characters have powered up so far that they've long ago abandoned even the faintest connection to reality—but also pretty much awesome. And thanks to Cell's long delayed comeuppance, also pretty darned satisfying.
And there are lots of them. Goku vs. Cell. Gohan vs. Cell. Gohan vs. Mini-Cells. Vegeta vs. Cell. Everyone vs. Cell. Gohan vs. Cell again. Whatever it lacks on other fronts, the series makes up for in raw, testosterone-fueled, bone-headed action. Maybe those Mini-Cells are intolerable, but watching them get decapitated, crushed, blown up and punched in half is a hell of a lot of fun.
The series' priorities are right there to read in its visuals. The Cell saga is from the era of the show when roughhewn (some might say sloppy) traditional animation gave way to sleeker, more controlled digital rendering. But other than that, it's the same beast it always was. The backgrounds are empty and unimpressive. Characters are blocky and border on unattractive, only looking good when their muscles bulge and they bellow and belt each other in the face. This is a show that laughs in the face of subtlety and nuance. The only emotions that are convincingly animated (or written) are extremities of rage, fear and hate, and it's only truly in its element when CG ki is pouring from screaming warriors as they shatter landscapes and each other.
That's just the DBZ experience, take it or leave it. And Kai works hard to ensure that the experience remains as little changed as possible—barring the tighter pace and relative dearth of filler, of course. It makes a serious attempt to be as seamless as possible, which can't have been easy since it ultimately cuts out about half of its content. One suspects, since it's composed of the final battles, that less was cut from this stretch of episodes, but you can spot enough hiccups to see that there's excision taking place. There are some minor continuity errors that hint at missing footage and the new footage used to weld some scenes together is easy to spot: while stylistically consistent, it's too bright and clean to be the same age as the somewhat grimy main footage. Still, it's a remarkably smooth job given how massive an undertaking it must have been.
Funimation's new dub combines the best of two worlds: the hammy relish and main cast (or most of it) of their original DBZ dub, married to the more restrained scripting of their recent dubs. It's a good listen, elevated a step above the Japanese by Sean Schemmel's bright but manly Goku. After the, um, interpretive script for the original dub, this one seems almost tame: loose enough to sound easy and even surprise with an ad-lib, but tight enough to qualify as wholly faithful. Thanks to a great many returning veterans and some invisible substitutions and despite the new faithfulness, the dub sounds almost exactly like it did all those years ago. Which is a very good thing. Unlike some of the DBZ box sets, there is no audio track on these discs with the American background music, leaving the original score—simple, old-fashioned, sometimes embarrassingly obvious—as the only choice. The English version features dubbed songs, by the way. Which is not a very good thing.
With all the thrills and less of the stuff that makes you want to shoot your television, Kai has to this point been the version of DBZ to put your money down on. Which is why it's such a bummer that it ends without doing the favor for the entire series. Now if a fan wants the complete series in its most enjoyable form they'll have to get DBZ Kai and then tack the interminable Majin Buu DVDs on the end. It seems so…asymmetrical.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C-
Animation : B
Art : B-
Music : C+
+ Action flies thick and fast as Cell finally gets what's coming to him; better payoff to pain ratio than the original version.
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