Dragon Ball Z Kai: Part Five
by Jef Burnham
Available on Blu-ray & DVD on June 18, 2011 from Funimation Entertainment.
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The premise of Kai is an admittedly clever one: take the unwieldy, 291-episode run of the 1989 anime, Dragon Ball Z, and condense it into a much more manageable 98 episodes. Free of the so-called “filler” that would drag DBZ’s battles endlessly on into the dozens of episodes, Kai has been streamlined and provided a whole new script in order to more accurately reflect the pacing of Akira Toriyama’s action-packed manga. And with a new script comes an all-new dub; and those who grew up watching DBZ on American television will be happy to hear that much of the English cast has returned for the re-dub, including Sean Schemmel (Goku), Christopher Sabat (Vegeta), and Sonny Strait (Krillin).
While this recut experience will no doubt make it easier for newcomers to DBZ to justify investing their time, I’m not so sure it’s an improvement over the original. In fact, I’m quite positive that it is at the very least equally as flawed as the original DBZ. Sure, there’s less filler and it plays out more like the events in the manga did, but the pacing of a manga is substantially different from that of an anime and honestly doesn’t translate all that well. As such, Kai moves almost TOO fast. Additionally, Kai’s opening and closing sequences are accompanied by some truly embarrassing tunes, even if those sequences’ newly rendered animation looks incredible.
Still, to my mind (as an admittedly half-hearted DBZ enthusiast), DBZ’s extensive battles are far more tolerable in the truncated, Kai format. And yet, there is immense loss of characterization among the series enormous ensemble cast, brought about by the trimming of “filler.” As a result of these contradictory effects, it’s ultimately a toss-up for me between the original series and the recut Kai.
But the one thing that Kai has going for it that the original doesn’t is a Blu-ray release! And this is an important distinction for those with impressive sound systems to make, because Dragon Ball Z Kai has a truly BD-worthy sound mix if ever I’ve heard one. The picture, on the other hand, doesn’t hold up quite as well to an HD transfer as the sound does— with the exception, of course, of the newly animated opening and closing sequences. Although the series’ animation has been touched-up, reworked, and tweaked in God knows how many ways, there is still a considerable amount of deterioration carried over from the original animation. Thus, the picture quality of Kai’s HD transfer pales in comparison to Funimation’s HD restoration of Yu Yu Hakusho.
As to the content of Dragon Ball Z Kai: Part Five, I found this to be an extremely curious cross-section of the series. It begins with the very last episode of Goku’s battle with Frieza on the planet Namek; goes through the subsequent battle with Frieza and King Cold on Earth, the training preceding the android saga, and the battles with Androids 19 and 20; and then concludes with the very first episode of the battle with Androids 16, 17, and 18. That the set begins and ends with single episodes from much larger confrontations is of course merely a by-product of the fact that each Kai set consistently features 13 episodes, but it certainly makes for an awkward stand-alone set.
The special features included in this set are limited to a textless opening and closing, as well as a trailer gallery.
Jef Burnham is a writer and educator living in Chicago, Illinois. While waging war on mankind from a glass booth in the parking lot of a grocery store, Jef managed to earn a degree in Film & Video from Columbia College Chicago, and is now the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com.
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