Reviewby Michael Fitz-Gibbon, Nov 28th 2009
Dragon Ball Z
Dragon Box 01
Five years after defeating Piccolo at the Tenkaichi Budoukai tournament, Son Goku has settled down with Chichi and had a child, Gohan. However, the peace is broken by the coming of Raditz, a member of an alien race called the Saiyans, who claims to be Goku's elder brother! Goku and Piccolo are forced to team up to defeat him, but that's only the beginning: two more Saiyans, more powerful than Raditz, will arrive on Earth in a year! While Goku trains in the afterlife, having sacrificed himself to defeat his brother, Piccolo trains his spoiled son on Earth. Will Goku, Piccolo, Gohan, and their allies be prepared for the coming of two powerhouses from a brutal warrior race?
No matter how many times you dress up Dragon Ball Z - which Funimation has done many times now - it's still Dragon Ball Z. This Dragon Box edition is a more pristine, honest version of the show than we've seen since Funimation first licensed it, granted, but it's still grunting strongmen shooting lasers from their hands, dying reversible deaths, and stopping to watch the grass sway and the clouds pass overhead as they power up for fourteen minutes. Nobody's learning a greater truth about humanity here. There's nothing here to make you contemplate the essence of life, the universe, or the purpose of all things; in the 42 episodes included in this inaugural Dragon Box, it boils down to Kung-fu Huck Finn versus a Russ Troll with attitude.
That said, after so many years, it's still fun to lose yourself in this colorful, often exciting, occasionally humorous, and almost always entertaining action show. There's a reason it's considered a classic, a staple of action anime.
The episodes contained on this set cover the first arc, from the arrival of Raditz until the defeat of Vegeta, and a little of the next arc, the trip to Kami's homeworld of Namek. The set ends in the midst of filler episodes that bridge the two arcs. It's quite a dizzying amount of episodes, and the filler at the end makes the viewer long for the next set, or else wish it had ended with the defeat of the first arc's major enemy. It's a long series, but with six sets more to go, it's hard to be picky about where the set leaves off.
The series' biggest strength is its cast of characters. There are a lot of them, naturally, and they're all quite colorful and quirky in their own right. Goku, for instance, is naïve and guileless, a sort of manchild whose desire to always fight stronger opponents makes him a little selfish. He has a good heart, though, even if he comes off as clueless. The best way to describe him is to say that he's unsophisticated. He has no concern for how social customs work, and finds himself in a family by coincidence and misunderstanding.
The series - which, let's not forget, is a sequel to the original adventures of lil' Goku, as chronicled in Dragon Ball - does tend to push its past behind it pretty quickly, though, especially concerning the characters. While Roshi, Yamucha, and Tenshinhan were all important players in the previous series, here they're supporting cast at best, and cannon fodder at worst. It's a little disappointing, and it's definitely a strike against the show, but it's not difficult to adjust to. It's just one of those warts that as fans of the show, you likely come to accept. At least those guys aren't Lunch. The poor woman barely gets a cameo.
One thing that never gets enough attention in Dragon Ball Z is the orchestral score composed by Shunsuke Kikuchi. He's been composing for anime adapted from Akira Toriyama manga since the first Dr. Slump series. He composed for the original Dragon Ball series and continues the trend with some takes on old pieces while introducing brand new ones. The original score, with its hints of old martial arts films and operatic epics, are every bit the fabric of the series as the animation itself.
The Dragon Box features Dragon Ball Z in its original 4:3 ratio, remastered by the folks at Toei. So no more faux "remastering" from Funimation, the type from the previous boxsets, with the top and bottom of the image chopped off to accomodate 16x9 televisions. The video is pristine, with none of that oversaturation of the previous releases. There is still some grain, but at twenty years old, it's part of the experience of watching the series. As we saw with the most recent season box sets, by removing the grain, you also remove detail. No color swaps exist here, either. When Goku fights Vegeta, there's a sea green sky, as opposed to the baby blue of previous releases. It is Dragon Ball Z in its purest form.
The Japanese mono track is the default audio, but there is an English dub, in stereo, presented with the original Japanese score. You won't find the Bruce Faulconer score here, as Funimation has phased it out in this release. Original next episode previews are included, as well.
The Dragon Box looks beautiful from the outside, too, as it mirrors the premium Japanese release; it's bright yellow with a classic shot of Goku looking extremely pleased that he's about to punch someone. Based on this first box, a similar image of Goku punching something will come into view on the spines of the DVD books and booklets, after collecting the rest of the sets. The books containing the DVDs can be a little tricky, as they contain overlapping disc trays, as a lot of other Funimation releases. The books themselves are a deep purple, with an image of Shenron (he's the titular dragon, in case you didn't know) adorning their covers.
The special "Dragon Book" sandwiched between the DVD books a (sometimes roughly) translated version of a portion of the books contained in the Japanese release. It can be assumed that more is yet to come in the following sets. The first book reads left to right like manga and contains a summary of Goku's life until this series, character profiles, an episode guide, a timeline that points to various historical events occuring during the first airing of the program, and a character art guide. You'll see a lot more strict romanizations of character names here, so "Kuririn", not "Krillin", and "Tenshinhan", not "Tien".
The English dub track is, frankly, a relic of the past, and is often inaccurate in both word and tone. It may hold nostalgia value for the people who grew up listening to Goku's various stiff, generic tough guy voices and over-the-top morality speeches on television (which is a lot of people, to be fair), but it tends to gloss over some of the nuances of the Japanese version. Masako Nozawa's performance as our hero in orange captures a bit more of his personality, where Sean Schemmel's seems to go more for a voice that fits the body type. A lot of subpar scripting and awkwardly inserted jokes makes the antiquated English dub seem more than a little cheeseball.
So, while Dragon Ball Z may be as thought-provoking and "deep" as a kiddie pool, but if you have the spare time and the desire to see folks getting slammed into rocky pillars, strap on your nostalgia goggles, switch off your brain, and your wish will be granted. The Dragon Box, at the very least, provides the most untainted version of the show thus far, in a handsome box. There isn't much more you could ask for from this release.
Overall : B-
Overall (dub) : C-
Overall (sub) : B
Story : C
Animation : C-
Art : B
Music : B-
+ Classic chest-pounding, aggressive action; some legitimately sweet scenes with little Gohan; beautifully restored
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