Back in the early 2000’s a series aired on the Cartoon Network that I had seen glimpses of in the form of trading cards that a few Japanese friends of mine often brought into school. I had even seeing some clips advertised on tv when on holiday in the states but never actually came to realise what this franchise was all about. The series in question is Dragonball Z.
The series debut on Cartoon Network hooked me from the outset. Yet the one thing that was never present over here in the UK was a home video release (back then on VHS). I knew it was available in other countries and I’ll readily admit I imported some of the VHS and DVDs but never everything because of two reasons. The first, and perhaps very predictably given my age at the time, was the lack of money. Paying £20 for three episodes (sometimes four if you were lucky) on a single DVD or VHS certainly made the funds dry up quickly. The second reason was that I was always hopeful there would be a physical UK release. Well that time has finally arrived. After years of yearning, wanting and hoping, the Dragonball Z television series is at long last being released in the UK. Coming to the masses in the form of season long box sets nicknamed ‘orange bricks’ (because of their packaging design), the first, season one obviously, encompassing the Vegeta saga (also known to many as the Saiyan saga from when it aired on television.)
As you can tell I’m a big fan of the franchise. (Phrasing it like that may be an understatement in itself.) But for the benefit of those who might not be as familiar with Dragonball Z, allow me enlighten you in as short a time frame as possible.
Dragonball Z is the second part of Akira Toriyama’s ‘Dragonball‘ franchise that had a primary focus surrounding seven golden balls, each containing a certain number of red stars. Legend foretold that if all seven of these balls were gathered together a Dragon would appear, hence the name Dragonballs, and would grant the user one wish. The series followed the exploits of Goku, a young boy with a tail raised by his grandfather in the countryside who is in possession of the four star ball belonging to his grandfather, Gohan. During the series we see him progress through life in a variety of ways including his martial arts training and even saving the world by taking armies & demon kings.
Now we come to this first box set of Dragonball Z. Set five years after the closing events of Dragonball we begin with the arrival of a man from outer space, clearly puzzled that the Earth still exists. We come to find out he is Radditz, the unknown brother of Goku who is not human but part of an alien race known as Saiyans. (This of course meaning Goku is not human.) After learning more shocking details of Goku’s unknown past what results is a battle that sees Goku and his fiercest rival, Piccolo, team up to take on Radditz. The battle certainly changes the balance of power on Earth but in turn reveals there are more of these Saiyans and they are now heading to Earth also.
What this turn of events does allow is for Goku’s son, Ghoan (named after Goku’s grandfather), to take centre stage in much the same vain as Goku did during the original Dragonball series. We see him put into an unknown situation and get to see him develop over a prolonged period of time into something he was clearly not destined to be in the eyes of his mother, Chi Chi. We are then graced with a gigantic battle to save the earth as the Saiyans arrive to claim what they feel should already be theirs.
So with that (somewhat) brief overview of the story out of the way I’m now going to focus on this boxset in a few sections. Beginning with differences between what has aired on television and what’s in these releases.
The 39 episodes in this set will differ to those who remember watching Dragonball Z in the UK on Cartoon Network. When it originally aired over here we saw the edited version of the program licensed by Pioneer. To clarify what I mean by ‘edited’, I’m referring to the fact that Pioneer were able to condense these original 39 episodes into approximately 25. They removed a lot of material that they perhaps deemed too violent or perhaps even not required for the audience they were marketing to. (Don’t quote me on that, but that’s what I’m led to believe.) What this resulted in was skipping out on a variety of details that would have appealed to fans of the original Dragonball series, such as the whereabouts of certain characters and a lot of the development of Gohan. While watching this set, despite already being a huge fan of Dragonball Z, I can actually say I’ve never watched this original season ‘uncut’ as people like to phrase it and it’s amazing how much more is added to these episodes because of it. There are so many details present that I had no idea even existed within the series that they were a delight to watch. While I was aware there were edits made for the original Pioneer version, watching this set now really brings to light just how much was taken out by them. The development of Gohan in particular being one aspect that looking back was chopped to pieces thus making this ‘uncut’ collection aspect of season one a big selling point. For newcomers to the Dragonball franchise, there will be some references that may go over your head including the other characters I mentioned and the odd previous encounter from Dragonball that is referenced. But these details aren’t so prevalent that it will affect your enjoyment of the show, if anything it may make you want to find out more about said characters and those past battles. Dragonball Z does a great job of establishing the characters and situations as they are for the setting at hand. You understand the relationships of characters and are not left in the dark as you might expect to be.
The next aspect of DVD I want to focus on is the animation. What you need to remember is that Dragonball Z began airing on Japanese television way back in the early 1990’s and as a result the animation is older and may look slightly outdated. However what Funimation (the US distributor) did with this collection (and the others that will follow) to counteract the age of the program was to digitally restore the footage from the original broadcast master tapes kept in Japan. This means what you are effectively getting is an HD style transfer of the original animation. (A much higher quality that previous releases made available on VHS in the USA.) In fact you are able to get some information relating to this very subject in one of the special features contained with in this set. (More details on that to follow.) The other key thing to remember is that the picture has been modified. When originally broadcast it was in 4:3 format (meaning not in widescreen to those unaccustomed to that phrasing). Funimation altered the picture by cropping it to 16:9 (aka, widescreen). While I’ve seen many fans of the series comment that this is big detriment to the set, honestly I don’t think it is. In fact it hardly ever came into my mind while watching this set it had been modified like that. There are moments when you can tell where the picture may have been cropped, perhaps because of a character speaking and them not being fully in shot as an example, but it did not affect my enjoyment of the episodes whatsoever. What also helps hide this fact in my opinion is that the footage has been restored meaning the colours are vibrant. If it had been an older transfer converted into widescreen it may have been a different story.
From an audio perspective you are treated to three settings. You get the original Japanese broadcast audio, you are also given a US broadcast audio that features more background music utilised (like you would see in many shows of similar ilk nowadays). Think of it adding to the emotion of the scenes at hand. The Japanese audio can have many moments where there is silence in the background and it’s left solely to the voices and animation to carry to the story. However this is where the box set is kind to those want to watch it dubbed but want to sample the Japanese version of the audio because a unique mix with the English voice cast and the Japanese broadcast audio is also included, in fact it’s the primary audio track on the box set. Certainly a unique selling point (and a very intriguing one at that) to see how each version differs and adds to the story, particularly to those who would rather watch the series with the English voice cast. Both versions of the audio are a delight to have accompanying the series and I encourage everyone to sample both versions.
To refer back to a previous a point about different versions of the English audio, the English vocal cast is the Funimation voice cast. Here in the UK we had (if memory serves correct) a total of three versions of an English speaking voice cast that aired on television. The version we are getting is effectively what was the second voice cast that originally began towards the end of Frieza saga when airing in the UK. (That’ll be the season three box set Manga Entertainment are releasing.) The voice cast do a great job with each of their characters, it could be argued that there are some parts that aren’t as tight or slick as what you would expect nowadays but you have to remember these sets were first released in the USA in 2007. So the dubbing process has come a long way since then, but this is by no means a knock on the set as I personally very much enjoyed the dub and (based on my memory of the Pioneer version) I feel is actually superior to other English voice casts. One odd choice made for the audio is the opening music. The Japanese audio retains the seminal “Cha La Head Cha La” but the US broadcast audio has an intro music that comes across almost as stock music. While it can be argued it suits the theme of the series well, the lack of quality of this music does make you wonder why they didn’t use the very familiar instrumental that Funimation made for Dragonball Z many years ago – an instrumental that is far better than the one included on this set. Also interestingly it is that same intro music that greets you for both English audio tracks, yes even the track containing the English voice and original Japanese background music has this opening loop. The only way to hear Cha La Head Cha La on this DVD set is to switch the audio to the Japanese track or go to disc 6 which has textless versions of the Japanese opening and closing themes. Yet, just confuse you a little more, for every episode on this same English with Japanese background audio option you hear the original Japanese closing song ‘Zenkai Power” at the end of every episode. (Very strange.)
It’s also interesting to note that the fourth episode in there is a slight technical fault in that when activating the US Broadcast audio you can hear the Japanese background audio in the background too. It didn’t affect my enjoyment of the episode and if anything given the US broadcast audio is more musically based than the Japanese audio it may not even be picked up by many, but I thought it worth noting.
Moving on to special features, as mentioned disc 6 features textless versions of both the opening and closing Dragonball Z Japanese theme songs, an interview with one of the team in the USA behind the digital remastering process that provides some good insight on how much care and attention to detail they gave to this & future DVD sets. Finally there is a trailer/video montage highlighting the differences between past and present versions of Dragonball Z, which shows you a little more of the processes mentioned in the interview.
In conclusion whether you a brand new fan or a returning champion you will get your monies worth with this set. The special features do add a unique insight into what your watching and give a greater appreciation for the work that has gone into them and to the actual series itself. The inclusion of the two English audio options is a fantastic concept. While very much the norm for many anime releases nowadays, it wasn’t for previous versions of Dragonball Z in English a decade. (Making myself feel old now when saying that.) The price tag alone (based on pre-order price) gives you so much value for money, 39 episodes equaling over 900 minutes of content for around £25 could be called a steal! If you’re a novice to Dragonball Z you have nothing to lose with adding this set to your collection.
Dragonball Z – Season One is available on DVD from July 2nd by Manga Entertainment.
Pre-order through Amazon UK HERE.
– Jeremy Graves