I bet you are wondering why I’m reviewing Kai again…
I decided since I have both on hand to not leave our DVD only friends hanging without proper caps and a review. When it is appropriate I’ll be using text from the Blu-ray, but anything that is different for the DVD version (packaging, video quality, audio, etc) will be freshly written. And as a small note: Any grades I give here will be specific to what is expected or wanted from a DVD, so if a video or audio grade is higher here than it was in the Blu-ray review, it does not mean the DVD is superior. And if you want to read the Blu-ray review first: Dragon Ball Z Kai: Part One (Blu-ray), Early Review
Z Kai has the packaging we tend to expect from Funimation at this point with a few flairs. The slipcover has relatively weak cardstock with some foil and texture on it. 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 (although it is worth mentioning it is far more readable than the slipcover for the Blu-ray.)
Inside the slipcover is two thinpaks. One thinpak has an image of Vegeta and the other has an image of Raditz. The images are actually on the back of the case inserts, and slightly goes over to the front. The front itself has a field of stars. Both are very clean and well designed. The thinpak itself is clear, and on the opposite side we get an episode list of what is on the DVD in that case. The star field also makes a repeat appearance. The packaging overall is a slightly fancier version of what we expect at this point.
The menus for Z Kai on DVD are designed entirely different from the menus on the Blu-rays. Instead of a small white strip we get a large orange strip with a static picture of Shen Long. It’s clean and a nice looking menu. Sub-menus have orange text with character art on the side. It’s a very clean and well done menu.
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 only started getting a home video release a bit over half a year ago.
The video in Z Kai is likely the best Z has ever looked on DVD. It’s encoded at 480p based on 1080p masters. Z Kai won’t fool anyone into thinking it is a new show, but it is a good remaster with a few quirks based on the fact that they chose to add small bits of new 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. But the new remaster, and the lower resolution of DVD leaves everything looking clean and really nice. Very rarely does it appear crisp and sharp, but everything looks quite fantastic.
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.
It is also worth mentioning that the American Z Kai DVD appears to be taken from a source prior to any tweaking being done. So the color appears darker than either Blu-ray. This leads to colors that appear slightly bolder. It also avoids the washing out of brighter colors that happens on both Blu-rays.
The lower resolution of DVD, combined with less a processed picture leads to a significantly different visual experience than the Blu-rays. No doubt there will be many discussions about if the different colors of the DVD lead to a better viewing experience.
The audio for Z Kai is very good. English gets a 448k Dolby 5.1 track. Japanese gets a 192k Dolby 2.0 track. Both tracks are quite crisp. The English track is a touch louder and has a bit more bass to it. While not as clean as lossless Blu-ray audio, both of these are definitely the best audio tracks anything Z has ever had on DVD.
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.
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. In the case of the DVD we actually get one up on the Japanese DVDs in that ours are the proper aspect ratio.
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 it isn’t anything special.)
Video Quality: A- (The video is the best Z has ever looked on DVD. There are very few things that could be improved.)
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 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. The menu screen shots are 853×480 for the same reason.)
This show was reviewed using a screener in retail packaging.
This DVD is labeled to work in Region 1 and Region 4 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!)