Dragon Ball Z Kai: Part One (Blu-ray), Early Review
By Marc | May 4th, 2010
The franchise that will never die returns, but on Blu-ray in a new ‘refreshed’ version.
Yes, Dragon Ball Z returns as Dragon Ball Z Kai. After stacks of releases in the USA, including the Dragon Boxes, is the modern refresh of Z on Blu-ray the new high bar for the series in the USA?
The packaging for Z Kai is quite nice. We start off with a slipcover made out of basic card stock. It’s worth mentioning quickly that there are a few things textured on both the front and back of the slipcover. The front has a nice clean shot of Goku with a white background, with all the various title information and company logos on an orange-goldish strip on the side (minus the Z Kai logo, which is in the bottom left cover.) It is a surprisingly classy path to be taken for Z Kai considering past Z releases often looked like the equivalent of someone in a room jumping up and down screaming “LOOK AT ME, LOOK AT ME!” This manner of packaging looks far nicer looking at it. The back cover is entirely in landscape (sideways.) It has a picture of Goku along with a tag-line, a few small screen-shots, and the rest is pure information. The back cover is accurate to the contents (with a bit of puffing up of the contents.) The only problem with the back cover is the font used is far to small in nearly every case. Having the font be so small means that the matrix of Blu-ray information sort of bleeds together and is hard to read.
As for the case itself: the insert is exactly the same as the slipcover, although here the smaller font is easier to read due to better printing quality on the paper material used for the insert. The Blu-ray case is a standard Blu-ray case used for material with two disks: one on the left, one on the right. As is standard for these cases, the disks are held firmly, but you don’t have to fight to get them out. You can see through the case to the other side of the insert to see a picture of Vegeta along with an episode list. The blue plastic and the small font used for the episode list makes it nearly impossible to read from a reasonable distance though. While not part of the case, it is also worth mentioning that the plastic strip you have to remove to get into the case has the Japanese title “Dragon Ball Kai” instead of the slightly altered American title. Overall the packaging is quite nice, but a few problems with font size
And oh yes…. this release stops the Funimation tradition going back to the VHS days of having an image montage of some sort on the side of Dragon Ball products so that when they are side by side on your shelf you have a neat image showing off your collection. It isn’t necessarily a negative, but I think it was worth a mention.
The menu is interesting in that it is both a standard Funimation Blu-ray menu, but has a few noticeable differences to what we expect from them (and as always, I can’t capture BD menus, so horrible photographs instead. Although I made an attempt to do some minor color correction on the photos so they don’t look quite so terrible.) The audio for the menu is an action-adventure sounding song that goes quite well over the menu (although an instrumental of the opening or closing song may have been a better choice.) The menu itself is a small white strip with orange text (with a very small orange strip on the left side.) Under the menu are random clips from the series. It’s a very clean looking menu, and the only real problem is (once again) the text is very small for some reason. The pop-up menu is nearly the same, but makes a few relevant small changes (adds a close pop-up menu option, go to main menu, etc.) It’s a clean and classy menu that would benefit from a larger font. The one thing different to most Funimation releases is the menu is actually 4:3. Funimation switched to nearly all 16:9 menus quite awhile ago, and this is the first 4:3 menu they have used on a Blu-ray to my knowledge.
Dragon Ball Z Kai is in no way a new series. Rather it is an attempt to make a new product from what Toei already had on hand by removing the filler from Z. This in and of itself isn’t necessarily a bad idea. Z was known for long bouts of filler, often stretching fights that could have been done in one episode, to needing multiple DVDs to hold them. So at the core of Z Kai is the show we all know and love, simply with the fat trimmed off. The remaining footage was put through another round of remastering by Toei, not to mention getting entirely new audio. The new music sounds like an odd mix of ‘sorta sounds like DBZ’ and ‘modern shonen.’ At times it sounds great, especially when music reminds you of the Z music, at other times it is just sort of… there. On both sides of the Pacific the vocal tracks from Z were thrown out and redone with the original casts (with a few cast members replaced for reasons ranging from death to ‘because we can.’) It is effectively a whole new way to watch and experience what is likely the most popular shonen anime ever created.
There are a few primary flaws with how Z Kai has been put together though. The first is that when short seconds of filler were used to fill out a scene, characters would move around. This becomes obvious when all of a sudden one character will be on the other side of a room without them walking around. It isn’t the biggest deal, but it can be annoying if you happen to notice it. The second is that Dragon Ball Z was not the beginning. Instead of starting Kai at the beginning of Dragon Ball, they skip over the initial one-third of the manga. For a version advertised everywhere as a version true to Toriyama’s vision and manga, starting 17 volumes into a 42 volume story just isn’t right. Sure, we get a quick overview of Dragon Ball in three minutes at the very beginning (not to mention this overview is after a scene that was never in the manga… so the ‘true to the manga’ version of Z begins with filler…) but it is just very annoying to skip over Dragon Ball. I don’t enjoy Z Kai nearly as much as I do Z. In general it just feels like things are missing, and it’s a bit annoying knowing instead of Toei just doing a new series from scratch, they just chopped Z up and gave it a new title. I can definitely understand plenty of new fans coming to Dragon Ball through Z Kai, though older fans will have to decide their thoughts on Z Kai themselves.
Perhaps the most interesting part of Z Kai is that we are getting it so quickly. It only started airing in Japan a little more than a year ago, and started getting Blu-rays a bit more than half a year ago. It means that for the first time we are getting a Blu-ray of a show still airing in Japan.
The video in Z Kai is an extremely mixed bag. Z Kai is 1080p with the AVC codec at 19988 kbps (average bitrate of the first episode.) Z Kai has a few different kinds of animation in any given episode, so let’s start there. The first and primary kind is animation from Dragon Ball Z. This is animation that has been recaptured from the original film stock, remastered, and had color tweaking. The second kind is animation from DBZ that has been traced over, and replaces the animation it was traced over. The final kind is brand new modern animation.
Starting with the original animation, it just needs to be said. Dragon Ball Z was never a high budget show with a high level of detail. The animation just does not hold up at this level of detail. Toei also appears to have done its best to remove grain and tweak colors to make it look ‘nicer’, but this just leads to everything looking sorta fuzzy at times (especially in close shots.) Sometimes you get semi sharp lines with bold color, other times you get some of that fuzz.
The redrawn animation is a mixed bag in every way. Sometimes it has been traced in such a way that it just looks like crap (with details drawn or colored wrong), other times it looks decent enough that you can mistake it for the original animation. It never looks ‘great’; at best you can hope that it doesn’t look bad.
The brand new animation is only used for the intro, outro, and eye-catches. It’s sharp, bright, bold, and it honestly makes me angry. Instead of getting a new series that looks like this, we basically got Z with a new intro. Watching this new animation shows the biggest flaw with Z Kai… they redid everything… EVERYTHING…. (music, vocal tracks, intro, etc.) except the animation in the show. Unfortunately even this animation isn’t perfect. Often there is very low detail, or characters being drawn poorly.
The video quality overall for Z Kai is likely the best Z, in any form, will ever look (unless they do a new series from scratch), but as I said earlier, it just doesn’t hold up.
The audio for Z Kai is the exact opposite of the video. Both English and Japanese get lossless tracks that were newly recorded. The audio is almost always crisp and clean. The only thing honestly worth mentioning is that the audio in the English track seems significantly louder. No real problems worth mentioning though. The audio for Z Kai is absolutely a delight. When you consider how bad Z audio has sounded at times, having it completely redone and crisp is something absolutely worth smiling about. Right below is detailed info on each audio track based on a scan of the first episode (average bitrates).
Z Kai gets a dub that at the core is a complete 180 from their Z dub. Everyone involved seems to be giving extra effort to make this THE dub to listen to. Instead of a rock and roll soundtrack, the original Japanese music is kept, and the intro and outro songs are dubbed. The songs themselves sound like the best dubbed songs Funimation has done yet (and is worth mentioning with it being done less and less.)
The script is far more accurate to what is in the Japanese script than the prior dub. Some things are still rewritten to sound better in English, but tone and meaning is almost always kept. The only time things seem to be rewritten is that some jokes are altered to jokes that are more understandable to English speakers. The only thing worth mentioning is that a few prior dub names are kept.
As for the cast themselves, everyone is giving a great effort, and it is especially interesting to compare some of the cast members who weren’t necessarily great (or even decent) actors to how much they’ve grown over the years. Dub fans will be happy they have the majority of their cast back, and we may even see a few DBZ dub haters give Z Kai a chance with its much better script. It’s especially worth noting that Chris Sabat gives us a Piccolo that sounds quite a bit different than the one he has voiced for a long time. He speaks with a far less gravely voice that comes across far smoother than the previous voice. It’s one of the few voices I felt necessary to bring up. The others have to do with cast changes… The primary cast change people will notice is that Stephanie Nadolny has been replaced as Gohan by Colleen Clinkenbeard. Considering Nadolny had consistently played Gohan for a long time (along with also playing younger Goku quite a bit) it’s a surprise to hear a completely different voice (especially since Nadolny was in games last year.) Clinkenbeard does a good job as Gohan though, any negativity is purely in hearing a new voice in the role. The other cast change is that Kyle Hebert is no longer the narrator. As someone who used to watch DBZ on Toonami all the time, this may be a more jarring change than Gohan honestly. It’s just odd to hear a different voice. This seems to be a change made to fit with the different tone of the Z Kai dub, since Hebert is still in the cast. Luckily the new narrator, Doc Morgan, is up to the challenge. It comes across almost as an 80s cartoon narrator. It’s an interesting change that shows overall just how much the Z Kai dub is different than Z’s dub.
Z Kai has very few extras in this initial set. We get clean versions of the intro and outro. That’s it for this set. The one thing worth mentioning is that the clean versions do not have lossless audio.
Dragon Ball Z Kai has brought Dragon Ball back to mainstream popularity in Japan. While it never got that popular here in the USA, it’ll be interesting to see how a shorter and more concise version will do, considering it is getting both DVD and Blu-ray releases, and will be airing both on cable and Saturday mornings on a broadcast network.
The package Funimation put together for the first 13 episodes is as close to perfect for Kai as we could expect or hope for. The video appears to be on par with what I’ve seen of the Japanese release and both languages get lossless tracks. The packaging is even quite nice.
Z Kai definitely isn’t perfect, far from it. But it’s Dragon Ball. And even if it was Dragon Ball at its worst, it would still be worth the time for any fan. I can definitely imagine this bringing in a lot of new fans.
Show: B- (It’s DBZ but shorter. It isn’t bad in any way, it is just hard to think of it as awesome when most fans already have it sitting on their shelves already. I wanted to give it an even lower grade, but it’s still DBZ, and it is still oh so much fun to watch.)
Packaging: B+ (It’s a nice package, but small fonts ruin it a bit.)
Video Quality: C+ (The video honestly isn’t that good. Nothing wrong with the disk itself, it’s just old low budget animation. Your mileage may vary on this one based on your expectations.)
Audio Quality: A (Everything is clean and crisp.)
English Dub: A- (It’s the best dub DBZ has gotten. The only real flaw is a few holdovers from the prior dub as far as name changing goes.)
Extras: D (Clean intro and outro are average, but Z Kai screams for commentaries and look backs and any number of other extras.)
Overall (not an average): B+ (It’s DBZ. Even not necessarily liking Kai, I found myself watching episodes when I should have been writing the review.)
Gallery and copyright information under ad. All caps are lossless PNGs, feel free to request more. (Caps are 1140×1080 matching the resolution they are stored on disk, and meant to be viewed at. Black bars on the sides were cropped off.)
This show was reviewed using a screener in retail packaging.
This Blu-ray is labeled to work in Region A and Region B on both the packaging and disks.
Truthfully I hated the very concept of what they were doing with Kai rather than giving us a new series. And boy did I have some rants about it that I was looking forward to give. Some made it in various ways, but as much as I wanted to fanboy froth at the mouth, I had to relook over what I was writing when I kept noticing I was paying attention and watching the show in the background while I was writing the review and just sitting back and enjoying it. It really is worth a look despite some meh video and the general distaste of how Toei went about editing Z together into a ‘new’ series. (At the very bottom under copyright is a special surprise, so go take a look!)