Reviewby Theron Martin,
Dragon Ball Kai
Blu-Ray Part 4
As Goku finishes healing, Vegeta, Gohan, Krillin, and Piccolo, with the odd assist from Dende's healing power, desperately try to fend off Freeza's third form. Freeza is no fool, though, and soon both removes their source of healing and shows Gohan and crew the terror of his final form and the horrifying power that it represents. When Vegeta's attempt to become a Super Saiyan fails and people start to die, only Goku can save the day. Even he finds himself sorely challenged by Freeza's might, however, and when even a massive Spirit Bomb fails to finish Freeza off and more people die, Goku is left with only one option: finally accept his Saiyan heritage and channel his righteous anger to the utmost, allowing him to assume an ultra-powerful, gold-haired form that represents his achievement of true Super Saiyan status. As the planet starts to fall apart behind them, Goku and Freeza duel as only the most powerful warriors in the universe can, while King Kai and Kami hatch a desperate plan to use both Earth's and Namek's restored Dragon Balls to bring all of Freeza's victims back to life and transport them to Earth.
Meanwhile, Bulma struggles to stay alive on a planet that seems truly out to get her and temporarily loses her body, too.
Episodes 40-52 of Kai equate to episodes 84-104 of DBZ, which constitutes the lowest rate of compression seen to date in this revamp. Doubtless that has to do with the minimal amount of filler and padding in the original content for this part of the story, for this block does tell one of the most momentous sequences of events in the series' entire run: the last of the build-up to the epic Goku/Freeza showdown and the entirety of that showdown itself.
Or at least that's what I'd like to say, but this block finishes one episode short.
That Funimation is rigidly releasing Kai in 13-episode seasonal sets is perfectly understandable from a business sense, but this is one case where they should have considered making an exception. Though the battle is more or less decided at the end of episode 52, episode 53 is where it really ends. That episode also has an even better cliffhanger ending, too, the perfect kind of moment to end a set with. By stopping on 52, though, they have just another frustrating oh-we-ended-in-the-middle-of-a-story break.
The story content of these episodes represents both the greatest and the worst aspects of shonen action series. Few battles ever rendered in animation as readily deserve the title “epic” as the Goku/Freeza head-to-head does; in fact, it set the standard for all “big boss” shonen action battles that followed in the 20 years since its original airing. There is something almost poetic about the most evil figure in the universe duking it out with a warrior who rises to become the universe's mightiest on the surface of a doomed planet that is going to Hell around them. Fists and knees fly, mighty blasts of energy get hurled about, Spirit Bombs get generated, nuclear-level explosions go off, characters get tossed through hillsides, dramatic reversals occur multiple times, someone starts a chain reaction which will destroy the planet, and characters bulk up to their ultimate power levels in a spectacle so great that, even in condensed form, it still takes up the last ten episodes of this set. Multiple characters die in the lead-up to the battle, Captain Ginyu makes a brief reappearance, and Bulma is not entirely forgotten, but the most significant occurrence is Goku finally accepting his heritage as a Saiyan and thus being able to achieve the gold-haired Super Saiyan status, an event which shapes the course of the rest of the franchise. The moment in episode 48 when he finally declares that he's a Super Saiyan is indisputably one of franchise's defining scenes and arguably one of the greatest individual moments in the entire genre. It is also one of the extremely rare times where an English dub uses Goku's full name (i.e. “Son Goku”).
On the downside, the Goku/Freeza battle also solidifies some of the most irritating idiosyncrasies of both this series in particular and, to a lesser extent, the genre in general. The voluminosity and inane repetitiveness of the trash-talking will strain most anyone's patience and, unfortunately, did not get trimmed much or at all by the edits to the original content. The power-up sequences, both for characters and for the Spirit Bomb, go on much too long and characters piddle around too much before resorting to their elite techniques when clearly they should have been necessary from the start. Merciless beatings of clearly defeated foes also go on for much too long. (See Claymore for an example of how to do these scenes properly so they maintain their edginess without overstaying their welcome.) And on top of that, the normally goofy King Kai turns from funny man to recalcitrant worrywart. The artistry and animation also take a hit through this stretch. The big battle is still a well-staged affair with plentiful flurry-of-blows scenes, destroyed terrain, and all of the dramatic hits and blasts that one could ask for. The progressive destruction of planet Namek also looks good for the source content's age. Character rendering loses fine definition in some places, though, and some of the destroy-the-terrain animation is clearly recycled.
The musical score, contrarily, shows some minor improvements. It still relies too much on the lame, lethargic themes used heavily in previous episodes but occasionally sticks in some meatier and more hard-edged dramatic pieces, including a couple of insert songs. The opener and closer remain the same.
Nothing much can be added about the English dub through this stretch of episodes that hasn't been said in previous reviews. Chris Ayres still knocks his dub job for Freeza out of the park; even when stuck voicing dully repetitive threats and insults, his intensity level never wavers. Sean Schemmel is also at his best through this stretch in voicing Goku. While the English script still varies some from the original, it is accurate when it most counts.
Like previous volumes, Part 4 is imprinted on Bu-Ray disks with a MPEG-4 AVC in 1080p resolution, though the aspect ratio is still 1.33:1. The English track is done in TrueHD 5.1, while the Japanese track is in TrueHD 2.0. Episodes come in a 9-4 distribution across two disks, with clean open and closer and some bonus interior artwork as Extras. The print is as clean as could possibly hoped for, showing the benefits of frame-by-frame removal of print flaws rather than just a typical remastering.
If you're not collecting all of the Kai sets but just want the highlights then this one is one of the sets you'll want to have. It showcases one of the greatest of all shonen action battles and delivers tons of highly destructive action as well as a bit of cleverness on how the Dragon Balls are used. With judicious use of the fast forward button, watching this set can be a great trip down Nostalgia Lane.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C+
Animation : B-
Art : B-
Music : C
+ Goku becomes a Super Saiyan, one of the most epic of all animated fights.
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