DVD Review: Dragon Ball Z – Complete Season One
One of the biggest anime franchises of all time!
The Vegata Saga or, as it has commonly become known, the Saiyan Saga; is the first season of the infamous Dragon Ball Z (Doragon Bōru Zetto) series, a sequel to the popular 1986 series, Dragon Ball. Based on volumes 17-21 of Akira Toriyama’s manga of the same name, the series picks up on the life of Goku five years after the events of the previous series. He is now happily married and has a four year old son, Gohan, who he is raising to be a scientist rather than a fighter. The season focuses on Goku as he learns about his alien heritage from his evil Saiyan brother, Raditz; and continues his training as a Saiyan in order to defeat powerful Saiyans who would see the Earth destroyed.
During the first few episodes of the series, the plot arcs and Goku is killed in battle. His death leads him to be taken into the other-world by Kami for training by and King Kai. Meanwhile, Piccolo, who had created a temporary truce with Goku to defend the Earth from Raditz, decides to train Gokan to his full potential as a Saiyan so that he too can defend the Earth when the other Saiyan’s arrive. Bulma, Krillin and Master Yoshi also begin a journey, searching for the missing four Dragon Balls that they would need to wish Goku back to life. These three storylines form the basis of the main narrative of Season One.
As with many classic films and television series, it is difficult to return to a show when you already have so many memories of it in your mind’s eye. Dragon Ball Z is one of these shows. It has become so infamous over the years for its iconic animation, the rich universe it created and characters which inhabited it, and of course the fight scenes. For many anime fans today this and Pokémon were their first forays into Japanimation on channels like Cartoon Network on a Saturday morning and as such, have become even better in our imaginations than they might have first been on screen. It is DVD releases such as this, with restored and edited content as well as re-worked dubbing, which allow us to take off the rose tinted glasses of youth and evaluate them fairly.
The first thing that you notice upon beginning the series is how badly the animation has aged. While the character art and scenery is still wonderfully established, the artwork seems cheap and poorly constructed with height and colour discrepancies constantly occurring. The male figures vary in size and shape, sometimes from frame to frame, and while this can be pawned off as the artistic style (with the growing muscles being a common motif), this cannot be said for character heights, hair colours and even the spacing between the eyes. The cheapness of this animation is also evident in the fight scenes, which utilize a lot of still shots being moved across the frame rather than energetic animation. In the case of the fight scenes, however, the animators seem to own the stye well and use it along with the trademarked action lines to make an adrenalin filled scene despite the obvious financial drawbacks.
The sound effects and soundtrack are still quite endearing, with the opening credits notably being instrumental electric guitar as opposed to the lyrical and narrative theme tunes of many series of the time and is suitably frenetic and exciting. The sound quality has been wonderfully remastered, as have the dubbed voices which improve the quality greatly.
The story itself is simple enough and the dialogue smoother than it was in the original dubbing, with a few great quips and comedic moments with wonderful timing. The voice acting is actually bearable for a series that has a lot of words but not much to say, but Gohan can get irritating very quickly, especially considering his voice seems older than that of his father! The script is over indulgent, with writers using ten words where there could easily have been one. Often characters make a point in one sentence only to repeat it in the next and then have it repeated for them in the next episode where everything is enthusiastically yet dully summed up by the narrator. Dragon Ball Z has famously been criticized for its over use of monologues and speeches in preference of actual fighting and never is that more evident than when you watch the episodes one after another. Considering how much is being said in each episode, nothing much actually ever happens.
The most admirable thing about this series is the rich universe it creates. The after-life in which we follow Goku through as well as the existence of alien life and sci-fi style technology living harmoniously alongside magic and religion is wonderfully established and unquestioning. While the characters themselves are not particularly three dimensional, the world which they inhabit is and as such we can find a way to relate to them.
In hindsight, it is remarkable to notice how short each episode actually is. When one takes away the massive, dragging title sequence, advert breaks and final credits, you are left with a very small episode in which we do not get very far. A single conversation may take place about a fight that is about to happen (and probably won’t for another two episodes) or Goku might run somewhere. It is amazing to think that such a series would have held such popularity and fond memories as a cartoon about fighting, when so little actually takes place.
This is testament, however, to just how awesome and original the fight scenes actually were at the time and when we consider them through the eyes of a child who had never once encountered this style of art or this giant scale of violence and literally earth shattering martial arts moves it was pretty astounding at the time. Certain iconic scenes, such as Piccolo’s laser beam, or when Gohan first levels a mountain, still stay with you even now in the harsh light of adulthood when you realize just how boring the series could be.
Overall this series is a wonderful piece of nostalgia, but sadly does not hold up well after the test of time. When we consider what other great anime we were encountering in 1989 (Kiki’s Delivery Service for example, it may be a feature length film but this gives you an example of the potential for animation at the time) during Dragon Ball Z Season One’s original run, let alone when it first aired in the UK in 1996; Dragon Ball Z’s animation and storytelling are poor in comparison. However, they created a world and mythology which captured the imagination of many due to their strong sense of place and dedication to the world and characters they were creating.
Label: Manga Entertainment
Release date: 2nd July 2012
Director: Daisuke Nishio
Revised English dialogue – English voice track with original Japanese music in Dolby 5.1.
Dragon Ball Z Rebirth featurette.
A New Look featurette.
Textless opening and closing.
Anastasia Catris is a freelance illustrator, writer and actress based in South Wales. After graduating in English Literature from Royal Holloway, University of London she studied for a year in comic book art and design in The Kubert School where she nurtured her love of Japanese animation and cartooning as well as its cinema, video games and culture. You can keep up to date with Anastasia’s activity via her website www.anastasiacatris.wordpress.com or her Facebook page www.facebook.com/acatris. You may also follow her on Twitter at @acatris. View Anastasia’s showreel here.