Earth is in danger. A brutal alien warrior – with a tail! – arrives, searching for his brother, Kakarot. He has a scouter device which enables him to seek out Earth’s strongest warriors – and this leads him to Son Goku and his little son Gohan. Good-hearted Goku has no memories of his past – so when the alien, a Saiyan called Raditz, tells him that he is his long-lost brother who was sent to Earth as a small child to rid it of all human life, he is dumbfounded. The news that two more Saiyans are also on their way, to finish Kakarot’s failed mission, makes Goku determined to stop Raditz at all costs. He and his rival, green-skinned Piccolo, join forces to try to defeat the ruthless, super-strong alien – but it seems they may have met their match…
This is the first UK release on Blu-ray and DVD of the well-loved anime series of Akira Toriyama’s classic manga (directed by Yasuhiro Nowatari) in the streamlined version from 2009 – but if you have children’s channel Kix, you’ll probably have seen this already as it’s been airing, off and on (in an edited Nicktoons variant) for the past two years. So you probably also know that renowned VA Vic Mignogna sings the new Opening Theme ‘Dragon Soul’ – although in this version, you also get to hear Justin Cook (Raditz) and Sean Schemmel (Son Goku) – and, of course, original Japanese singer Tanimoto Takayoshi. And if you miss the original iconic Opening Theme ‘Cha-la head Cha-la’, don’t worry; ‘Dragon Soul’ makes a really good, stirring, catchy replacement with all the right ingredients for a heroic shounen action series. There’s new animation for the opening and closing sequences too and even stylish new eyecatches!
So what to say about this ‘new’ version of this classic anime from Toei Animation that hasn’t already been said? Well, if you’ve never watched Dragon Ball Z this is an excellent place to start, as the filler (dinosaurs, Snake Princesses and all, inserted at the time of making back in the 1980s while waiting for new manga episodes to be dashed off) has been removed. The result? A streamlined show that is very close to the original manga. (There’s even a helpful resume of Dragon Ball in the first episode to get new viewers up to speed).
And what comes across, re-watching this series after a few years, is how the chemistry between the main characters works so well. This may be a streamlined version but the strengths of this series, especially the pacing of character reactions and interactions, have not been sacrificed in favour of fast and furious action – although there’s plenty of that too! Goku’s friends and family all care about each other; they may not get on too well all the time, but it’s the feelings of love and mutual respect underlying their interactions that make this show stand up to repeated viewings. One of the pleasures of Toriyama’s manga is watching how the characters age, settle down, have children, bicker, but still look out for one another. These episodes introduce Goku’s most ruthless and heartless opponent: Frieza. The contrast between the good-hearted Z Fighters and the malevolent but all-powerful Frieza makes for one of the most planet-shattering encounters in all animation: a must-see showdown far out in space. (And one mustn’t forget the major role played by blue-haired Bulma, the scientific inventor/genius and positive role model for female viewers.)
The visuals (which may look dated to today’s younger viewers but in a ‘classic manga’ kind of a way) have been re-mastered, successfully on the whole, with only a few awkward blips here and there, but not so as to detract from the viewing experience. (I’m told that new animation has been spliced into Episodes 16, 21, 22 and 24 of this set.)
This edition features a new recording by the Japanese and US casts as well as new sound design and updated sound effects. Dragon Ball Kai also uses a new background musical score by Kenji Yamamoto, the composer for the Dragon Ball video games. His music was used regularly for all releases of episodes 1-95. And as well as a new Opening Theme, there’s also a (only slightly less catchy) new Ending Theme as well, ‘Yeah! Break! Care! Beak!’ sung by Tanimoto Takayoshi and by Jerry Jewell in the US version.
The Extras comprise textless Opening and Ending Themes and plenty of trailers.
Dragon Ball Z Kai is a refreshingly streamlined way for existing fans to revisit an old favourite and makes a brilliant introduction for new fans to discover this classic series. Recommended.