As a new reviewer for the site, I just wanted to quickly introduce myself to readers. My name is Jonathan R. Lack, and I’ve been writing film and TV reviews for eight years now, much of that time spent at Denver Post subsidiary YourHub.com where I publish most of my work. Anime isn’t an interest of that reader base, however, which is why I’m excited to write for The Fanboy Review and share my interest in anime with fellow ‘fanboys.’ Enjoy!
Has any anime ever been released so out of order in North America? Collecting the original Dragon Ball series has always been an exercise in frustration, going back to the jumbled release of the 2-disc ‘saga’ sets and culminating in the overdue but welcome blue-brick season set releases. The release of the films made just as little sense. When FUNimation began releasing the movies on DVD, we got uncut releases in the extremely strange order of film 3, Mystical Adventure, film 4, The Path to Power, and finally film 2, Sleeping Princess in Devil’s Castle, which was simultaneously released in a “Movie Box” alongside the other two. Meanwhile, movie 1, Curse of the Blood Rubies, had actually been released much earlier in an edited-and-dubbed only release as part of the material FUNimation (teaming up with various other companies) released in an earlier, failed attempt to bring Dragon Ball to young American audiences prior to their release of Dragon Ball Z. Rights issues related to this period in the franchise’s history meant an uncut release failed to see the light of day on DVD until just recently, just as the first thirteen TV episodes didn’t get an uncut release until the season sets. But the DVD is finally here, completing the long, complicated, and largely jumbled release of the series in North America. That alone may be cause for celebration.
The DVD comes in a surprisingly impressive package; it’s a standard clear DVD case, but the cover art is stylish and catchy, and I really like how it looks on the inside when the DVD is removed – there’s a big image of Shen Long that just looks awesome. The layout is somewhat similar to all of the franchise’s season set releases, with a box in the lower left hand corner declaring it “Movie One.” I believe this is the first time any movie in the franchise has contained the number on the packaging, which is fairly cool, although the design doesn’t exactly fit alongside all the other releases. I suspect the other three films, however, will be packaged like this in the upcoming 4-movie box set.
I, for one, had never seen the film until picking up the DVD, and it was a bit of a revelation to watch. I’ve always considered the tenth-anniversary film The Path to Power the finest Dragon-Ball-universe movie ever, which made me dubious of Blood Rubies, since both are retellings of the same part of the manga and anime: Goku and Bulma’s first Dragon Ball quest. These concerns were quickly washed away as it became apparent that Blood Rubies, while not as polished or epic as Path to Power, is a worthy and above all entertaining entry in the series that deserves to be seen alongside its fellows.
This is a story you’ve seen many times – Goku meets Bulma, they meet Oolong and Yamcha and Puar and Kame Sen’nin – with one big twist. Instead of Emperor Pilaf, the opposing Dragon-Ball-collecting force is King Gurumes, a greedy, monstrous ruler cursed by the precious stones his servants have been digging up. To remove the curse, he needs to wish upon the Dragon, and his henchmen are willing to go to far greater lengths than Pilaf’s buffoons were capable of. The film mixes the new story elements in with the old to surprisingly great effect, telling a tale that feels as fresh as it does familiar. It’s really fun to watch how the film re-interprets classic moments like Roshi’s gift of the Kinto’Un, the first Kamehameha, or the wish upon the Dragon, and the movie’s pace is fluid and consistent. It may be pieced together from multiple stories, but it feels like a coherent whole, one that is exciting, funny, and definitely worth a watch for all Dragon Ball fans.
The newly-produced English dub is going to be a major source of interest to all who pick up this DVD, dub-fans or not, as it is the first item from the original Dragon Ball series to receive a Kai-style dub. That is to say, accurate to the source material with some key casting replacements, and the simple truth of the matter is that if you enjoy the English Kai dub, then chances are you’ll find lots to love here. I myself am in the camp of fans who watch the series in Japanese while respecting the intentions of the accurate Kai dub rather than fully embracing it, so my feelings are similarly lukewarm about Curse of the Blood Rubies.
The script is mostly faithful – you’ve never heard Master Roshi say anything this sexually frank in English before – but with a few strange lines scattered throughout that sound extremely out of place, such as a line from Oolong about panty-fashion. I was also disappointed that phrases like “Wolf Fang Fist” or “Flying Nimbus” weren’t changed to their original “Roga FuFu Ken” or “Kinto’Un,” but I was not surprised, as these names are consistent with what is heard in the Kai dub. Similarly, the voice replacements from Kai can be found here. Monica Rial takes over Bulma from Tiffany Vollmer and proves herself a much more suitable match for the character, easily the best English-language Bulma yet. Oolong’s new voice, Bryan Massey, is far more puzzling. In sharp contrast to the Japanese Oolong’s whiny, high-pitched drawl, Massey sounds like a chain-smoking gangster, complete with all the cheesy dialogue to match the atmosphere the voice creates. I can’t say it’s a horrible voice – it is, at the very least, quite interesting – but it certainly doesn’t fit the character.
Most fascinating of all is Colleen Clinkenbeard as young Goku, replacing Stephanie Naldony just as she did for Gohan in Kai. Just to make sure this doesn’t sound too negative, I’ll say this right up front: Clinkenbeard is a huge improvement over Naldony, whom I always found to be grating, and she really does shine in some scenes. That being said, I don’t love this voice. Like Clinkenbeard’s Gohan or even Luffy from One Piece, I think the performance sounds forced, and I never for a second bought that this was a real young boy. Clinkenbeard’s ‘young boys’ all sound like young girls to me, and I don’t think she displays enough confidence in voicing Goku. That sense of jittery insecurity fits fairly well with Gohan on Kai, but switch over to Japanese and listen to Masako Nozawa’s interpretation to hear just how confident Goku is from this young age. Again, Clinkenbeard is a big step up from what’s come before, and her performance did make me laugh or smile at times, but overall, I still can’t embrace this version of the character.
The rest of the cast, for better or for worse, is unchanged from the original Dragon Ball dub. I have always loved Mike McFarland as Master Roshi – he’s pretty damn perfect, as far as I’m concerned – and it’s great to hear him working with a more accurate script. On the flipside, Christopher Sabat may have improved his performance as Yamcha, but I still think it’s the wrong voice, and his Shen Long is far too harsh for my tastes. There’s only one major ‘new’ character in the film, Pansy, and Cherami Leigh does an impressive job. In the end, this dub did nothing to change my mind about Dragon Ball in English. It’s getting better, but there’s nothing to sway me from the original Japanese. However, if you are a dub fan, then rejoice – this is the best treatment ever given to the original Dragon Ball, and it’s too bad the real body of the series probably won’t get this same level of quality in the foreseeable future.
The English track also sounds very good on DVD in a 5.1 surround mix. It’s not a particularly active soundtrack, but it makes decent use of the surround channels, and the aged elements of the track—like the Japanese music and sound effects—blend in very well with the modern voice recordings. The Japanese Mono Track does not fare as well. Probably a result of poor, extremely aged source material granted to FUNimation, it’s the absolute worst-sounding Japanese track I’ve ever heard on a FUNi release (and I’ve heard more of them than I care to admit). It sounds muddy in some spots, tinny and frail in others, and generally rough around the edges, the kind of sound you’d hear on a second or third generation VHS recording. It’s not unlistenable, and I don’t blame FUNi for the quality of the master they were given to work with, but it is the most disappointing aspect of this release, and Japanese-only fans will want to factor it into their purchase decision.
The video quality is actually fairly pleasing, once you get past the first few minutes. For some unknown reason, the intro is the worst looking part of the film. In addition to a heavier amount of blemishes, it appears to be of lower resolution and has some major interlacing issues, and while it’s not indicative of the quality of the transfer as a whole, it is something worth mentioning. As with the audio, the video is whatever Toei gave FUNi to work with, and I’m willing to give FUNi the benefit of the doubt and say that the surface flaws in these first few minutes are probably attributable to years-old print damage – typically, the heaviest damage on a film print is seen at the very beginning, and this probably held true for the print Toei used to strike the master eventually given to FUNi (it’s probably no coincidence that the poor Japanese audio sounds worst here as well). Clearly, whatever FUNi did in making the DVD – via poor interlacing or resolution – compacted the problem.
Still, it’s not a very big problem, and everything improves quickly. The words “Digitally Remastered” are nowhere to be found on the packaging, contrary to many recent releases. Indeed, the image is nearly identical to what one would see on the releases of movies 2, 3, and 4 or the old 2-disc “saga” sets, rather than the DNR-remastered image found on the recent blue-brick season sets. There’s a heavy layer of dirt, scratches, and occasional burn-marks, and detail is inconsistent, though less blurry than on the season sets. On the plus side, the colors are fairly strong and pleasantly accurate. Clearly, no DNR work was done here, which I applaud. It keeps the colors from being washed out and the detail stronger, and although that results in more dirt and scratches, it’s a trade-off I can live with. Again, it comes down to preference. If you preferred the season set video quality to everything that came before, then you may be disappointed by this; if not, you’ll find the image to be perfectly serviceable, if far from exemplary.
The same could, in a sense, be said of this entire release. On one hand, it’s really cool to finally have an official North American release of this film in its uncut form. I was surprised by just how fun the feature is, and I’m overjoyed to finally have a complete Dragon Ball movie collection. The DVD, however, isn’t nearly as impressive, with subpar video and audio quality (at least in Japanese) and, unsurprisingly, a total lack of bonus material – I would have appreciated something, given the historical value of the film and the rocky journey it’s taken to get here, but after many years of collecting FUNi DVDs, I can’t say I’m disappointed. The dub, on the bright side, is the best the show has ever sounded in English. It’s far from a perfect package, but then again, the days when we’d have to pay $20 or more for this exact kind of release are long gone. You can’t pay more than $15 for this DVD, and it’s on sale at most places for between $10 and $13. At that price, I think it’s definitely worth checking out. You more or less get what you pay for, and if you’re a fan of the series wanting to finish your collection, I think you’ll be happy to make this small investment.
Video Quality: C+
Audio Quality: B+ (English) D- (Japanese)
English Dub: C+
Gallery and copyright information under ad. All caps are lossless PNGs taken in MPC-HC, feel free to request more. (Caps are sized 640×480 so as to display properly on computer monitors, they were modified to this resolution via Photoshop CS4 as MPC-HC takes screen captures at 720×480 on the disc. Having the caps be 640×480 makes them appear at the properly intended aspect ratio. Menu caps are ×480)
This show was reviewed using a store-bought DVD.
This DVD is labeled to work in Region 1 and 4.
Dragon Ball – © 2005 BIRD STUDIO/SHUEISHA, TOEI ANIMATION. ©1987 TOEI ANIMATION CO., LTD. Licensed by FUNimation® Productions, Ltd. All Rights Reserved.