Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Mar 8th 2010
Dragon Ball Z
Dragon Box Z Set 2
The fight with Vegeta piled the corpses high, so Gohan, Bulma and Krillin head to planet Namek, home of the last functioning set of Dragon Balls to revive a select few of the fatalities. Namely Piccolo, Yamcha, Tien and Chaozu. They've done this kind of thing before, so no complications are expected. Until Vegeta arrives, eyes on the prize of immortality and by extension the Dragon Balls that can grant him it. Soon enough, though, Vegeta is the least of their worries. Vegeta's boss, the aptly titled Emperor of Evil Frieza, has dreams of immortality also and he and his lethal cohorts are paving the way to eternal life with the bodies of those who stand in their way. And any bystanders unlucky enough to be nearby. Goku of course rushes to the rescue—if you can call training in space for half a season rushing—cutting a swath through ruthless underlings and body-swapping freaks in a race to go fist-to-fist with the universe's most powerful being: Frieza himself.
So much of what Dragon Ball Z gets blamed for begins in earnest here. The Vegeta arc was the last of the DBZ arcs where you could expect action satisfaction in a relatively tight bundle. With the Namek and Frieza arcs the series sprawls out into the big, bloated beast that so many have come to know and love. The hunt for the Namekian Dragon Balls becomes a thirty-episode game of keep-away, the balls bouncing from one owner to the next and back again until their changing hands becomes a kind of background noise. Background noise to an endless series of shifting fights. Various combatants—Goku's buds, Vegeta, Frieza's henchfolk—chase and pummel each other, the martial pairings changing constantly as weaker opponents give way to stronger ones and everyone powers up again and again and no one is defeated until several episodes after you're sick and tired of watching them run and pummel. And then it all repeats again, this time with even more powerful opponents. It's endless, it's ridiculous, there're no real consequences (someone dead? That's what Dragon Balls are for!!) and it takes itself far too seriously, balancing the fates of worlds on every glowing punch and blast of ki.
It's also horribly addictive. You want to see where it goes, who triumphs over who and how, but it's constantly leading you on, teasing with a little progress each episode before cutting off and leaving you no choice but to charge onto the next. It's like watching sloths race, but with the tantalizing bait of Commander Ginyu or Recoom or some other irritating goon's humiliating demise waiting at the end of the slow-motion run. In the meantime you are treated to endless acts of manly one-upmanship; acts that somehow, contrary to all logic, are really cool. Something about bulked-out dudes screaming and popping veins until they glow with energy and can split planets with their fingers strikes a juvenile chord deep within, a chord that responds no matter how long ago it was that you last wished for the ability to vaporize mountains with your eyes (fifteen years and counting for me). And when the cool ki moves and villain beat-downs finally do combine, as when Goku thrashes the Ginyu force after twenty episodes of doing space-crunches, the catharsis is like a drug, its fixes that much more addictive for coming only every twenty-some-odd episodes.
But is the fix worth all the aggravation? That's a sticky question. DBZ is a show, particularly during its Frieza stage, that is addictive without necessarily being much fun to watch. It's far too dark and dreary for its own good, burying the breezy humor of Dragon Ball and even its own later stages beneath a dark and unbecoming solemnity. It has its moments of levity—the Ginyu squad's penchant for Noh theater and sentai posturing providing most of them, along with Ginyu's ultimate fate—and some of its more blatant quality-control lapses add unintentional humor. (The drifting hole in Krillin's armor takes on a Marty-Feldman-in-Young-Frankenstein life of its own). Nevertheless the series is mostly portentous open space—both literal and narrative. Wind-swept plains are its favorite locales, and sticking Goku in limbo (drifting space pods, recuperation tanks) while evildoers do their evil and viewers scream for his intervention is its favorite pastime. The result is as infuriating as it is habit-forming.
However, marketed as the Dragon Boxes are to hard-core fans—for whom all of this is old news—the more pertinent question might be: is it worth buying again? This is by far the nicest, if not most economical package the series has seen: hard-bound yet space-conscious, completely uncut, nicely mastered and featuring the series' two best audio tracks (original Japanese language and English language with the strangely old-fashioned original score). It's aesthetically pleasing and even has its pretty hard-bound booklet cleverly incorporated into the overall package. But it's still the franchise's umpteenth repackaging, and really it offers nothing content-wise that fans haven't already gotten from the uncut season box sets. It's the same show, with the same drawbacks, the same advantages, and the same brazenly unfaithful dub. You can watch Sean Schemmel turning Goku from martial artist to straight-up superhero just as easily on your old sets as this one, can enjoy the flip-flopping of the original dialogue, the secretly snarky asides and fully re-scripted fights just as much when they're stored in flimsy boxes or reams of singles. Perhaps even more, given the importance of nostalgia to just about anyone's DBZ experience.
Few anime series have mainstreamed it the way Dragon Ball Z has. To a certain generation of television consumers its characters are as well known as any in the animated realm, and for many it was the first step into the wilderness of anime fandom. It's been parodied, copied, and, infamously, adapted into a big-budget Hollywood debacle. In short, it's one of the giants. And giant it is, if not necessarily in complementary ways. Bloated as this arc is, you may want to wait for the streamlined Dragon Ball Kai compilation before tossing more money down the throat of Funimation's perennial cash cow. Unless you really need that snazzy new packaging.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : D+
Animation : C+
Art : B-
Music : B-
+ Purty packaging; addictive as ever; no matter what anyone says muscle-bound guys punching each other through mountains is really cool.
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