Reviewby Sam Leach,
Dragon Ball Z Kai: The Final Chapters
Blu-Ray - Part 1
It's been seven years since Goku died and Gohan defeated Cell. Now, it's time for a teenage Gohan to enjoy life as an average high-schooler in the city. Or so he thought! It appears that keeping your absurd superhuman powers hidden from your classmates is easier said and done, especially with the daughter of Mr. Satan on your tail around every corner. What ensues is a series of superhero identities, tournaments, characters coming back from the dead, and an evil space wizard trying to resurrect an evil space genie in this recut, remastered, and re-dubbed edition of Dragon Ball's Buu Saga!
The original run of Dragon Ball Z Kai was a wish come true for me as someone who grew up pretty equally with Funimation's version on TV, as well as the manga. It basically gave me a chance to relive Toriyama's work, pacing and tone preserved to my liking, while also providing me with another experience with the Dallas voice cast, only now with a much more polished dub and remastered visuals.
That's more or less what you continue to get with this new “Final Chapters” series—Kai's crack at the final saga of DBZ, which got left out of the show's original series. Strangely, it took an awfully long time for The Final Chapters to come stateside, having been broadcast in Japan back in 2014. A few things that immediately set this batch of episodes apart from the other Kai sets on store shelves include the music—a brand new soundtrack in favor of either the infamously plagiarized original Kai score or the classic Shunsuke Kikuchi material—and the fact that these episodes come exclusively in a cropped 16:9 format. The cropping doesn't bother me too much here, since they're not selling this as the original DBZ. It only occasionally creates framing issues with the image, but overall it's not too bad considering how much worse it could have looked.
There are a lot of nitty gritty differences that set Kai apart from its original version, but the real meat is always going to be in the story. This is the beginning of the Buu Saga, an arc that I've always had fondness for, but this rewatch was an astounding reminder of just how good it is. Not everybody loves the Great Saiyaman or the choice to make the new big bad a silly pink blob, but I think that's all fantastic. In my opinion, this is one of the best Dragon Ball stories out there.
The main attraction with Kai continues to be its improved pacing. Even by long-running shonen standards, the original DBZ anime was gnarly in its slowness, so I was excited to see how this arc would fare with a new cut, since it's such a momentum-heavy story. For the most part, it meets expectations, though there are a few noticeable drags with the Great Saiyaman stuff and the junior division of the tournament, where a surprising amount of anime-only content got left in. I imagine that was the stuff that got cut further in the even briefer Japanese broadcast of the show.
Regardless, I have an enormous amount of praise for this story arc, especially after a rewatch. It's a constantly unfolding story that leads us down a path of scenery changes and back-to-back hooks. Famously, this part of the series started with the intention of making Gohan the new main character before Goku got brought back almost immediately. That's a good example of how willing this arc is to set something up and then abandon it for something more interesting on a dime. That sounds like a storytelling no-no in theory, but it never has a chance to feel unfortunate because every new thing feels like a genuine escalation. Plot lines don't really get dropped so much as get absorbed into something bigger.
If there's one thing that comes across well throughout these episodes, it's the experience of a normal pedestrian getting brief glimpses into the world of our Super Saiyans. Sometimes it's just absurd disbelief at the tournament, sometimes it's Gohan and Videl's adorable relationship, and sometimes it's the Supreme Kai gasping over how much he underestimated the likes of Goku and Vegeta, only to discover how dangerous Vegeta's strength is in particular. There's a balancing act between what the audience knows, what the outsiders know, and what the main characters have learned for themselves in their seven years apart. It's a lot of fun.
The animation also holds up remarkably well, which was a surprise given how rough a lot of the Cell Games stuff looked before it. The remaster looks great to my eyes, and '90s anime always has that distinct charm to it. It's a shock to the system how much nicer the vast majority of this material looks than the current Dragon Ball Super stuff or the re-animated openings that bookend each Kai episode.
Special features-wise, you've got a full video commentary with Kyle Hebert (Gohan), Kara Edwards (Goten and Videl), Andrew Chandler (Spopovich) and J. Michael Tatum (adaptive scriptwriter). This commentary doesn't exist on the DVD release, but it's nice to see Funimation try and take advantage of that extra storage space you get with Blu-ray. I don't think actually seeing the actors on screen improves my experience over an audio-only commentary, but it certainly doesn't hurt and you get to see them highlight the Videl vs. Spopvich episode—one of the roughest, most violent episodes of the series.
One technical hiccup I noticed is that if you're watching these episodes with stereo audio, certain things will sound incredibly loud compared to the character dialogue, like the narrator and specific sound effects. Inexplicably, this was less of a problem on the third disc compared to the first two. I couldn't tell you what that's about.
If you're a DBZ fan, you've likely made up your mind on both Kai and the Buu Saga by this point, and you get pretty much what you expect with this set. In my opinion, this is some of the best stuff in the series, and it just plows on right ahead into Part Two without giving you a chance to breathe. It's a little weird that Goku vs. Vegeta is advertised on the front of the box, when that fight only barely starts in the last episode, but there's still such a wide breadth of content covered in this set that I found it negligible.
Overall (dub) : A
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : A
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : C+
+ Looks great for the time it was drawn, contains one of the best unpredictable plots in the franchise at a more digestible pace
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