Reviewby Theron Martin, Jun 6th 2010
DVD - Season 3
Goku has scaled Korin's town to get strong enough to defeat Tao Pai Pai but finds more than he bargained for. He ultimately will not allow either the dreaded assassin or even the entire Red Ribbon Army to stand in his way of gathering the Dragon Balls so he can resurrect Oopa's father, however. Along the way he and his friends also meet Fortuneteller Baba, who allows them to fight her stooges in place of paying her exorbitant fee – and her last fighter is someone Goku knows! Once the Dragon Ball matter is done, Master Roshi dispatches Goku on a three-year-long training journey until the next World Martial Arts tournament, while Yamcha and Krillan stay behind to train further with Roshi. During the journey Goku encounters a three-eyed fighter and his diminutive white-skinned companion, both of whom he and his friends later encounter again in the World Martial Arts Tournament. Naturally, Jackie Chun also makes an appearance to defend his title and Bulma and Launch are still hanging around.
What Funimation calls “Season 3” constitutes episodes 62-92, the period covering the conclusion of Goku's exploits involving the Red Ribbon Army and associates up through the quarterfinals of the second World Martial Arts Tournament arc. Significant events in this span include bringing Yamcha back into the picture as a regular cast member and disciple of Master Roshi's school (which seals his long-term association with Goku), the complete defeat of the Red Ribbon Army (which sets the stage for the Android Saga in Dragon Ball Z), the apparent final defeat of the assassin Tao Pai Pai (we'll see him again in DBZ, albeit briefly), and Goku getting his tail broken off for the first time, but the most important events in this span are the introduction of three characters who will continue to have prominent presences long into DBZ: the fortunetelling witch Baba, the three-eyed future Z Fighter Tien Shinhan, and Tien's regular companion Chaiotzu. Like many of those who will become Z Fighters, the latter two do, of course, start off as ruthless bad guys, and this set does not last long enough to see them get won over to the side of light. Still, it can be fun to go back and look at how these characters started out and reflect on how they later changed, and the groundwork for those changes is being laid here.
While the Red Ribbon Army/Tao Pai Pai business does have a suitable level of thrills and there are a few good jokes scattered here and there throughout, the highlights of the set are unquestionably the Yamcha/Tien Shinhan and Krillin/Chiaotzu duels in the World Martial Arts tournament quarterfinals matches. These duels represent Dragon Ball's action component at its finest, with fists and legs flying furiously as characters zip around, beat each other up, dodge attacks, and throw out exotic powers. A bit of this exhilarating spirit is achieved in the later duels at Baba's residence, Goku's earlier duel with Tao Pai Pai, and a brief run-in that Goku has with Tien prior to the WMAT, but only in those duels does the series truly capitalize on its potential and promise as one of anime's premiere martial arts action series. The rest of the fighting leading up to those duels seems like kiddie fare by comparison.
And perhaps that is why the episodes in between the Red Ribbon Army affair and the quarterfinal rounds of the WMAT sag so badly. Sure, Emperor Pilaf makes a brief reappearance (original manga-ka Akira Toriyama certainly seems enamored with pint-sized dictatorial bad guys, doesn't he?), but it is no less stupid than the one-shot adventures that Goku has after collecting and using the Dragon Balls and prior to the three-year time jump. The fights during that run, and even during the earlier business with Baba, feel uninspired and are often more than a little silly. (Admittedly, though, that's par for the course with the franchise.) The younger viewers that the series was originally targeted at may appreciate more the simple fun and spirit of adventure that those episodes try to embody, but older viewers may find the episodes in the 70s and early 80s to be more of a chore to wade through.
The artistry certainly does not help. Dragon Ball has always been predicated on simplicity in its artwork, which is why the terrain never varies too much and rarely puts too much attention to detail. Character designs typically take archetypal forms and tend to get redundant in minor supporting roles, although Bulma does change her clothing style quite a bit over this span and even at one point dramatically changes her hairdo – something that would be unthinkable in most series. The animation gets minimized when characters are not fighting, apparently so Toei Animation could devote the bulk of its effort to the fight scenes. Though it reeks of old-school tricks and shortcuts, it actually does not fare too badly by comparison to more modern efforts, however. The artistry does also have its strong points, such as the standard it sets for displaying big energy blasts and hyper-speed fighting maneuvers or the way it ably brings to life the goofiness inherent in the whole setting and premise, and actually the series does not look quite as dated as one might expect. These episodes might have been made in 1987, but one would have to step ahead to at least to the mid '90s to see a substantial improvement in shonen action series visuals; even DBZ just refined the look a bit more and added more flash. Do watch for just a little bit of nudity in these unedited versions, though!
Unlike with later DBZ airings and releases, these episodes have always retained the original soundtrack, complete with all of the cartoonish sound effects and musical gimmicks. While this does the job for the content being shown, it also more firmly entrenches the series as kiddie-oriented fare. The series maintains the same opener and closer throughout this run, with the English versions (unlike with later English adaptations of DBZ) merely being remakes of the same song with English lyrics and slightly upgraded instrumentation, as per Funimation's regular dubbing practice in the early 2000s.
The English dubbing for DB has always been an issue of some contention, especially with purists, and not without reason. Funimation does the original Japanese dub no favors by leaving it in original mono audio (although it is possible that this could have been a technical limitation), but it also gives the English dub track some big plusses and minuses that, for the most part, balance out. Voice casting for Funimation's dub sounds like it was done much more to fit the characters than the original performances, which results in mostly strong casting choices as long as one is not trying to compare them to the Japanese casting. The shakiest English choice among prominent roles is Laurie Steele's gravelly rendition of the young Krillan, but Stephanie Nadolny gives Goku a more even-tempered and likable sound and Mike McFarland does a great Master Roshi. The dub's rampant use of creative accents is very hit-or-miss but certainly adds some extra flavor to the characterizations. The English script is more a rewrite than an adaptation, often resulting in characters saying things in English which are completely different from the subtitles, but this is really only a problem in places where it is used to dodge around the earthy humor in the original dialog, such as references to “taking a #1 vs. a #2,” hunting for female companionship, or making comments about Bulma and Launch's breasts. Granted, in some cases this had to be done to make the series broadcast-worthy on Cartoon Network's Toonami programming block a few years back, but one who watches the series both subbed and dubbed may find this approach to sap the series of some of its best humor and make some replacement comments incongruous with the visual reactions they draw.
The only Extra in this set is a pairing of clean opener and closer on the last of five disks. Funimation's “Marathon Mode” option is available to shorten the tedious practice of flipping past repeats of the closer and opener, though. Clearly not updated for this release are the original subtitles, which still use old forms of the character names which are not consistent with current pronunciations and commonly-accepted spellings (Kuririn vs. Krillan, Karin vs. Korin, and Lunch vs. Launch, for instance).
This set still retains the fun-loving spirit and emphasis on silliness which provides the greatest point of separation between Dragon Ball and DBZ, but it also lacks the sense of overarching plot that the later series has. It can be quite entertaining – even thrilling – at times, and for the slow parts? That's what the Fast Forward button is for.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C+
Animation : C+
Art : B-
Music : B-
+ New and important characters introduced, some excellent fights, silly, fun-loving spirit.
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