In 1999, Pioneer began releasing the edited TV version of the first two dub seasons of Dragon Ball Z on DVD. In 2000, FUNimation began releasing their own uncut, bilingual DVDs of the series, starting with the third dub season. In 2005, after the rest of the series was finished, FUNimation began releasing bilingual, uncut versions of the episodes that were previously sub-licensed to Pioneer (now known as Geneon). But those releases were quietly canceled before even the first dub season was finished, leaving a gap of forty episodes that were never released in this format. However, in 2007, FUNimation re-started their Dragon Ball Z DVD releases in a “remastered” format that was cropped to widescreen, and fully released every episode this way from beginning to end in boxed sets. Thus, there has only been one consistent release of all 291 episodes of Dragon Ball Z in North America, but at the cost of roughly one-sixth of the footage from every frame of every episode.
However, very recently, at the end of 2009, FUNimation started over for a third time (or fourth time, if you count the TV edited releases). But this time, the releases are aimed at the “hardcore” fans by mirroring the limited edition “Dragon Box” sets that were released in Japan in 2003, featuring a proper, thorough remastering of the video in its original 4:3 aspect ratio. Additionally, there is increased focus on the original Japanese audio, in spite of all the reversioning treatment and marketing that FUNimation had previously done for the series. As someone who undoubtedly falls into the “hardcore” category, this feels almost too good to be true, and this review will undoubtedly live up to the name of this site.
Before I begin, I think it’s important to explain my perspective on this release. I began collecting FUNimation’s Dragon Ball Z DVDs in 2001, back when there was only a handful of 3 episode volumes available. After a few years, I’d collected nearly all of those individual volumes, save for a few of the final releases. But FUNimation’s cancellation of the releases killed my desire to even attempt to pick up my few missing volumes, and other circumstances soon led me to getting rid of everything I did have. So, at that point, I had gone back to square one and no longer owned any of the Z TV series. However, there was talk of FUNi potentially re-releasing the series in economy box sets from beginning to end, which certainly piqued my interest as a cheap and easy way to re-start my collection. Those sets eventually materialized as the nine season sets, which were not even remotely the type of release I was interested in. I chose to go without owning Dragon Ball Z rather than settling for those, in spite of the fact that I had never even seen most of the pre-Ginyuu episodes, thanks to the way the old releases were handled.
With that, it seemed clear that FUNimation was not interested in appealing to someone with a purist attitude like mine, and combined with the announcement of Dragon Ball Kai, I began to fear that even Toei might phase out their Dragon Ball Z DVDs in favor of promoting the new baby. So, I began gradually importing a few of Toei and Pony Canyon’s single volume releases, thinking that it was probably my only option. But shortly after that, before I’d even had time to watch my imported discs, FUNimation totally surprised me by announcing North American versions of the Dragon Boxes. They seemed to be exactly what I wanted, but at a cheaper price, playable on all of my American DVD players without fuss, and with subtitles so that I can more easily watch the series in social settings. It’s like FUNimation was reading my mind.
But enough about me; let’s get to the set itself. To start, the packaging is the highest in quality that I’ve ever personally seen in a FUNimation release. I haven’t experienced any of the problems with things peeling apart that others have had, and two months later, my box remains in pristine shape. The style of the design is clearly meant to match the Japanese Dragon Boxes, with much of the same original artwork, and it looks great. It shows a lot more care and attention than I’m using to seeing from FUNimation in a Dragon Ball release. I don’t particularly like the fact that some of the discs are layered over each other in the trays, but they seem much less likely to cause problems than some other sets I own with layered discs. And then there’s the Dragon Book, which also reeks of love and care. Like its Japanese equivalent, it’s full of lots of interesting, detailed information, and free of erroneous dub-isms to boot.
As nice as the outside is, however, the most important part to me is what’s on the discs themselves. I’ve only had time to partially watch my imported discs, just to get an idea of the video and audio quality for the sake of comparison. Despite having an extra episode per disc and an extra audio track, the loss of quality in FUNimation’s version seems negligible. There’s obviously plenty of grain, and occasional jitter, but the colors are gorgeous, and the animation is so smooth and free of damage. The positives far outweigh the negatives, at least for me. The audio sounds pretty good, too, but it’s definitely a step down from the Region 2 discs. The Japanese audio, of course. I have not watched the dub track, and probably never will. On that note, it’s definitely a treat to not have to go through the audio menu to pick my preferences anymore, due to the Japanese now being the default. It wasn’t necessary, but it is a nice way to further emphasize the original version of the show, and to make it more convenient for me personally.
The Dragon Book is pretty much the only extra we have, aside from trailers for other FUNimation products. Although more is generally better, I’m perfectly content with what we do have. The Japanese extras were split between two boxes rather than seven, so I’d assume that if FUNimation has access to them, they may be saving them for the set(s) with fewer than 42 episodes. If not, then I still think the Dragon Books, and the ability to watch all 291 episodes in high quality with all the previews and credits, are more than enough. In fact, I probably care more about the previews and credits than all of the potential extras, save the two TV specials (which shouldn’t be “extras” in the first place). I’m the kind of person that hates the “marathon” modes, because I really enjoy the experience of watching everything. The recaps have catchy music and help to play up the story, the eyecatches are cute, and the previews are nice little instances of characters being silly. And I could go on for a while about how amazingly bizarre the opening and ending are, but I will say that seeing them with their proper credits provides a greater feeling of authenticity, and shows respect for the original staff.
As for the actual content of the show, this is Dragon Ball Z. It’s a cheesy action show about martial artists trying to overcome seemingly invincible villains. It’s not perfect, but I love it, and have been a huge fan for ten years. However, as I mentioned earlier, this was actually my first time seeing most of these particular episodes. I have seen parts of things when they were on my TV in the background, and I do know the main story very well because of the manga, so it’s not like I went in completely blind. But this was my first time really sitting down to watch these episodes. I would say that the highlights are the Raditz fight, Gohan befriending the robot and the dinosaur, Gokuu’s sidetrip to Hell, the training with Kaiou, the big Nappa and Vegeta battle, the brief quest for the spaceship, and every scene with Lunch. Most other story elements are things I’d file in the “okay” category, but there are a few things that I really dislike. Namely, most of the cuts to Kame House during the big battle are pointless and/or annoying, and the episodes with the fake Namekkians are just awful and stupid so far. The box ends before the conclusion of the latter, and it will thus resume at the start of the next box, which is an unfortunate trade-off for using even amounts of episodes instead of breaking the series up into numerous mini-arcs. But for the most part, this is definitely an enjoyable part of the series to sit down and watch.
So I like the packaging, I like the playback quality, and I like the episodes themselves. But there’s something else I also like, and that’s seeing FUNimation treat the series with respect. Until this release, their treatment of DBZ paled in comparison to their treatment of later properties, with everything from poor quality DVDs to a wildly inaccurate dub. They’ve shown that they can do better with other shows, including some that were produced concurrently with the Dragon Ball series. They’ve even publicly mocked DBZ fans at times. But in spite of all that, the series still brought FUNimation from a tiny company into the North American anime giant they are today. Thus, it seemed that they could do anything to do the series and still be successful, so the chances of ever getting better treatment looked slim. And then FUNimation turned around and released this. Some would say they just wanted to milk the Dragon Ball cash cow even further by appealing to another aspect of the market. But me? I would say, “Thank you.” This is everything I could have ever wanted in an American Dragon Ball release. The only other thing I could ask for is to see the rest of the Dragon Ball franchise released this way as well.
Also, I’d like to dedicate this review to the memory of the recently deceased Daisuke Gouri. This box prioritizes the original Japanese audio, and he was a huge part of that. Throughout all three Dragon Ball anime, you could barely go a few episodes without hearing his distinct, amazing voice somewhere.
Show: A- (It’s a great, fun show, but it’s not exactly perfect.)
Packaging: B+ (It looks very pretty, and has held up well for me, but I wish the discs didn’t overlap.)
Video Quality: A (Although it’s been remastered beautifully, it still has a few flaws.)
Audio Quality: B+ (The original audio sounds much better than it ever has on a North American release, but it could be a little better.)
Extras: B (There could be more, but I’m content with what we do have so far.)
Overall (not an average): A (There are some minor flaws and nitpicks, but I am beyond pleased with what we do have.)
Gallery and copyright information under ad. All caps are lossless PNGs taken in MPC-HC. (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.)
This show was reviewed using a retail purchased copy.