Reviewby Theron Martin, Nov 25th 2008
Dragon Ball Z
DVD - Season 6 Box Set (uncut)
Having absorbed Android 18 and achieved his perfect form, Cell declares a tournament where the world's greatest warriors must battle to defeat him or he will destroy the world. While first Goku and Gohan, and later others, feverishly train to increase their power levels in the Hyperbolic Time Chamber, Cell arranges the particulars of his tournament, and his worldwide announcement about it sends the populace into panic. Goku and Gohan take it easy for a few days before the tournament starts, during which Goku not only arranges for a new Guardian for Earth, and thus a new set of Dragonballs, but also seems strangely confident despite announcing that he can't beat Cell. When the Cell Games finally begin, Goku stands first amongst the Z fighters, only to concede after a few minutes and relinquish the field to his secret weapon: his son Gohan, whom he declares has the power to beat Cell. But given that young Gohan does not have the same temperament as his father, did Goku possibly make a mistake? What will it take to draw out the young boy's full might, and will even that be enough against a foe who can draw on the abilities of all the greatest warriors?
And will Hercule Satan, the martial arts World Champion, actually ever get around to living up to his self-aggrandized reputation and battling Cell himself?
During the mid-2000s, Dragon Ball Z became a target for much derision from certain (mostly newer) corners of fandom, partly because some saw it as an embodiment of everything that was bad about iconic shonen action series and partly because some wanted to bad-mouth it to help aggrandize their preferred shonen action series – whether it be Naruto or Bleach - by comparison. What those individuals failed to understand is that, regardless of what shonen action series you may prefer, and regardless of its flaws, Dragon Ball Z will always stand as one of the elite. Few series of any type have run as long as DBZ or been as influential in shaping their respective genres into the forms we now see today. Shows like Naruto, Yū Yū Hakusho, and Bleach are what they are because of the groundwork laid down by DBZ and the formulas it established, formulas which were subsequently borrowed, exploited, and expanded upon by other creators. To deny that is to be stubbornly short-sighted.
Season Six, the 29-episode span which covers episodes 166-194 and contains the entirety of the Cell Games story arc, showcases both the best and worst of the series. It is anime power-mongering at its finest, a veritable smorgasbord of power-ups, one-upmanship, intense battles involving combatants wielding literally earth-shattering power, and creative applications of said power. It offers a series of dramatic reversals, never-say-die moments, villains who come back multiple times despite seemingly being defeated and heroes who ever seem able to grasp hold of just a bit more power in a crucial moment. It speaks to basic yet powerful themes like faith, confidence, heroism, sacrifice, love, and understanding what is truly worth fighting for; for all its explosive moments, the single best scene through this span may be Vegeta finally overcoming his overweening pride to unselfishly play a small yet absolutely critical role at a key moment building up to the climax. This season also does not fail to find time for a bit of fun, and time to show that a fighter's life does not have to be all training and intensive effort. Even the greatest of warriors need their downtime, and no one understands that better than Goku.
On the downside, this span of episodes also focuses on yet another iteration of the all-too-common time-killing tournament format, includes a fair amount of training footage, and offers plenty of the dramatic face-downs and prolonged power-up sequences that the franchise is justly infamous for. For all the bursts of intensity in its action scenes, DBZ practically turned drawing out fights into an art form. Granted, none of the individual battles here are anywhere near as long as Goku's epic battle with Frieza on Namek, but nearly two-thirds of this run does come down to what is essentially one long battle fought in stages. Few anime series ever made have also so thoroughly overused hubris in both their heroes and villains; characters who grow seemingly untouchably powerful, only to be put out when eventually upstaged, happen with tiring frequency, and no one on either side can be bothered to make sure a foe stays down once he's down. Worst of all, even with all of the emphasis on the big tournament and the fighting, the series still first kills about ten episodes where little happens (and even goes out on a couple of silly side stories!) before finally getting down to business.
And then there's Hercule Satan, the preening, glory-hound world martial arts champion introduced in episode 173, who may be the most obnoxious major character in the entire series. Sure, he's supposed to serve as comic relief, but just as often his cowardice and efforts to play off the power of Cell and the Z fighters as some kind of trick is irritating. He does at least have the sense to realize when he is utterly outclassed (though not the shame to admit it) and does serve as a yardstick for comparing Cell and the Z fighters to the rest of humanity.
The technical merits of this run of episodes, which originally aired in Japan in late 1992 through mid-1993, are good for series anime of the time period, with the animation-light lengthy face-off scenes balanced out by the explosion of action in the fight scenes. Notably, the animation and artistry completely lack the inconsistencies and occasional breakdowns in artistic quality which plague more recent shonen standards. Funimation has done a wonderful job of restoring and enhancing these episodes to their peak visual glory, allowing viewers to fully appreciate Perfect Cell in all his arrogant glory and Gohan in his more grown-up, fully powered-up form. The 5.1 soundtrack for the English dub also allows viewers to hear the series in satisfying clarity, creating a sharp contrast with the painfully outdated sound of the Japanese dub track. Even if English dubs are not normally your thing, you may find this one worth listening to just for the vastly superior sound quality. Whether the restored original soundtrack and opening numbers are actually better than the manufactured themes used for the TV broadcast is another story.
Funimation's current release features the voice actors most commonly heard in these roles during the this segment's frequent runs on Cartoon Network in the late '90s and early 2000s, featuring the likes of Sean Schemmel, Stephanie Nadolny, and Eric Vale and including Kyle Hebert's memorable work as the narrator. (Really, how many people who grew up on this series' Cartoon Network broadcasts remember his voice more clearly than anyone else's from the series?) The English actors typically give most male characters deeper voices than they have in the original Japanese dub but bring the characters to life just as well, defining the characters at least as much with the style of their voices as with their acting. Sometimes the timing is just a little off, and the dub does get corny with accents on some minor characters, but overall the performances complement the series well. Much more at issue is the English script, which is often more a complete rewrite than an adaptation of the subtitles; it stays silent when the Japanese dub speaks, adds in lines where none existed before, removes character references, renames certain locations, and generally tweaks the hell out of things, sometimes resulting in dialog that is utterly different between the two versions. The English script does flow pretty well, and some parts are distinct improvements on what was originally rather hackneyed writing, so this is only likely to be a major issue for ardent purists. At least this uncut version refers to the world champion as Mr. Satan, rather than using his first name Hercule as the TV-aired version did.
In addition to the full 29 episodes spread across six disks, Funimation includes clean opener and closer on the disks and a booklet which provides character profiles, episode summaries, and a detailed description of the video transfer process. The most notable and impressive feature of the DVDs, however, is this cool option called Marathon Feature, which shows the opener at the beginning of each disk and thereafter skips all of the closers, later episode openers, and irksomely long recaps at the beginning of each episode, allowing the viewer to slam through the episode content without interruption once passed the initial opener. On the six-episode disks, this can chop more than 25 minutes off the total view time. If only this option were available on more boxed set offerings out there!
The Cell Games story arc represents one of the series' peaks and features the last major story line before the upcoming seven-year time jump. Arguably the series starts to slide in inventiveness and storytelling quality beyond this point, but telling a compelling story was never one of the series' strengths. DBZ is all about the cool fighting and elaborate super-powered battles, and once the action finally gets started, this span of episodes does not disappoint.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : C+
Animation : B+
Art : B
Music : C+
+ Plentiful, intense, and flashy fight scenes, well-defined characters, fantastic remastering job.
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