Break through the shining clouds, Judge Adam Arseneau's gonna fly away (fly away).
Our reviews of Dragon Ball Z: Dragon Box Three (published June 2nd, 2010), Dragon Ball Z: Dragon Box Two (published March 11th, 2010), and Dragon Ball Z: Vegeta Saga 1: Into The Wild (published July 14th, 2005) are also available.
The Ultimate for any Dragon Ball Z Collector!
As franchises go, few have been wrung as dry as Dragon Ball Z. Endless syndication, DVD releases, video game adaptations, and marketing have left the property lifeless and spent. Most fans of the show have long since moved on, abandoning the franchise as childish and repetitive, with only the most devoted followers clinging on like barnacles on the prow of a ship. Its heyday now long past, devoted fans have struggled with North American releases, buying and then re-buying the same episodes on DVD time and again, trying in vain to get the "definitive" version, each time coming up short.
Having exhausted every other possible configuration of DVD release, Funimation stands at a crossroads. With its sacred cash cow running dangerous dry in North America, the only thing left to release is the singular holdout, the Holy Grail, the impossible request that every diehard fan has been pleading for, but never in a million years ever believed was possible: the original Japanese version, digitally re-mastered frame-by-frame.
Dragon Ball Z: Dragon Box One is an impossible product, a chimera; a mythical creature long rumored but never confirmed or proven to actually exist. Here it is, in my hand. Let the fan boys rejoice.
Facts of the Case
Five years after Goku's triumphant victory over the Namek alien Piccolo, things are peaceful in the world of Dragon Ball. Life is good. No major alien invasions or catastrophic events. Goku even finds time to settle down and have a son, Gohan. No more chasing after Dragon Balls—just the joys of simple living and training.
Alas, it is not to last. An alien spaceship crash-lands on Earth, and from it emerges a huge muscular warrior named Raditz. He tears through the countryside, destroying all in his path looking for a warrior named Kakarot—but no one seems to know who this is. Once he encounters Goku, he reveals a terrible secret: Goku is an alien from another planet (hence the tail) sent to Earth as a child to kill everyone on the planet. Unfortunately for Kakarot, he bumped his head and forgot his mission, and grew up happy and carefree as Goku. Now Raditz is here to finish the job…and only Goku can stand in defense of the Earth. Even if Goku and his friends manage to defeat the powerful warrior, what other horrors might be en route to Earth?
Dragon Ball Z: Dragon Box One contains the first forty-two episodes of the series, encompassing the Vegeta Saga and the Namek Saga, spread across six discs.
It might be out of fashion today, but for many (this reviewer included), Dragon Ball Z was something important; a seminal work in opening the tender eyes of North American children's appreciation of Japanese animation. Heck, I can still remember the excitement I felt sixteen years ago when my friend, back from a family visit in Hong Kong, brought bootleg VHS tapes and mangas of Dragon Ball Z back with him. Both the manga and the episodes were dubbed into Cantonese with no English subtitles, but it didn't matter. It was like a gateway drug. The sheer sense of overwhelming childlike glee was unbelievable. I had no idea what "cha-la head-cha-la" meant, or what was going on, but I was singing along. I'd never seen anything like this before. When North America finally caught on a few years later and released the show to the masses, I was ready.
Trying to keep track of the various incarnations, releases, and versions of Dragon Ball Z releases in North America is like trying to herd cats into a straight line. Even if you manage to make sense of it all, madness soon ensues, as ownership of the franchise has been lost and re-acquired so many times that no release has ever been quite perfect. Some have been edited for content, some have been dubbed poorly, and some have been cropped incorrectly, and fans have been maddened each time. The last round of releases by Funimation were almost perfect—digitally re-mastered, preserved original Japanese music and dialogue tracks—but cropped the picture into widescreen, sending nerds on a rampage. You know how people get when you fiddle with aspect ratios.
Seemingly in direct response to a never-ending caterwauling from hardcore Dragon Ball Z fans begging for something authentic and untouched, Funimation has answered with the Dragon Box, a near-identical recreation of a limited edition definitive Japanese box set long held by fans to be the definitive release. This set represents the Japanese experience as faithfully as has ever been seen in North America, outside of imports. Simply put, you won't get a more authentic experience than this unless you buy a plane ticket to Tokyo.
Nobody considering the purchase of this set needs to hear any more about the show itself—only the hardcore fans need apply for this set—so we shall move on to the technical presentation details, which will be of particular interest for those considering the purchase. Funimation has licensed the release of a much-coveted and lauded collector's item in Japan now virtually impossible to find on the open market (also called the Dragon Box), which differs quite noticeably from Funimation's own treatment. Toei and Japanese DVD manufacturer Pony Canyon have restored the entire series frame-by-frame from the 16mm film reels, fixing frame alignment to remove jitter and cleaning all dirt and scratches from the image. The transfer is full frame, preserving the original aspect ratio of the series, in contrast to Funimation's own treatment which chopped the show into 1.78:1. The end result is quite impressive, preserving as accurately as possible the color saturation and artwork without sanitizing its aged qualities. A fair amount of grain is evident, but this is a two decade old animation, and frankly, one would expect as much. Colors are pleasing and natural, without being oversaturated, and as advertised, there isn't a scratch to be found. Simply put, this is as natural and correct of a presentation as the series has ever seen—nothing messed up, nothing cropped or edited, just pure authentic Dragon Ball Z. Fans should be well pleased.
Audio choices include the original Japanese mono presentation and a 5.1 English dub treatment, with the original Japanese music. This is an interesting choice by Funimation to make. The Japanese mono is an absolute requirement to market this set to the purists who want the most authentic experience, blemishes and all. Tinny and distorted, it is a product of its era, with harsh trebles and weak bass, but has been cleaned up enough to still remain quite viable and enjoyable. You get used to it quite easily, truth told. As for the English dub, this is a fascinating inclusion. Purists may scoff, but leaving an English dub out of the picture entirely would limit the appeal of this set to those who grew up watching the show on American television. It makes the set much more "definitive" in this sense. However, this version preserves the original Japanese score, abandoning entirely the English music many fans grew up on. A calculated choice by Funimation, but I think a satisfactory one. The English dub makes respectable use of its five channels, spreading out sound effects and smoothing out the harsh treble qualities of the mono track, but you can only tweak the original source material so much.
There are no extra supplements included on the discs themselves. Instead, we get a handsome forty-eight-page hardcover booklet, a translated copy of the original material included in the Japanese release. Crammed full of trivia, sketches, and tidbits, it should delight hardcore fans with its informative breakdown of character origins and designs.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Botched release after botched release, inconsistent technical presentations, endless editing, bad dubs…mercy me, it's amazing that there are any fans still willing to throw down a steep MSRP of eighty dollars for this box set. Ask yourself: are you prepared to spend well over five hundred dollars over the course of seven volumes to add the Dragon Box sets to your collection? Do you take the dive knowing that as a fan, you've already bought the entire thing once or twice already? How many more times are you going to put your hand into the fire?
And what about Dragon Ball Kai creeping up on the horizon? A twentieth anniversary Toei revision of the Dragon Ball Z franchise, Kai features a high-definition image, sound, picture, and special effects, a re-recorded voice track by the original cast and a re-editing to make the anime conform to the manga, axing entire story arcs and reducing the episodic run to a tight hundred. That's right—no more filler. Kai is shaping up to be the de facto fan experience, the first of these installments having already been released on DVD and Blu-Ray in Japan. So you know they're going to make their way here sooner rather than later.
The cynic in me wonders whether fans are only getting this Holy Grail of authenticity on DVD now, after ten years of screaming and crying, because in six months we'll have something better to replace it with. When you look at the track record of the franchise in North America, it's hard not to wonder.
The most authentic, preserved, and genuine Dragon Ball Z release thus far in North America, Dragon Box One is a serious love letter to diehard fans who won't stop writing Funimation angry letters. If you've been holding out for the original, untouched Japanese edition of this seminal anime series, it has arrived. If you've managed to hold off on adding Dragon Ball Z to your collection until now, well then, Merry Christmas to you, sir.
Funimation has unquestionably brought the fanboy love, but they've left it to the bitter screaming end. One wonders how many fans are still willing to spend this much money to buy their beloved show on DVD for the second (or third) time.
Not guilty. If hardcore fans aren't satisfied by the Dragon Box, odds are they won't be satisfied by anything.
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