ANIME & MANGA - Review
11:00 - 1st October 2015, by David West

Dragon Ball Z Kai

Originally broadcast in Japan beginning in 2009 to mark the 25th anniversary of the series, DBZ Kai is a leaner, cleaner telling of the events of Dragon Ball Z. It features some new animation, a fresh voice dub and tighter plotting, which all make for a very appealing experience.

For anyone new to the series, it’s the story of Goku, who learns for the first time that he is actually from an alien warrior race called the Saiyans. Along with his son Gohan and a squad of martial arts obsessed friends, Goku protects Earth from other powerful aliens of less noble outlooks.

This first season tackles the arrival of the Saiyans on Earth, followed by the beginning of the Freeza story arc on Planet Namek. This revised version still retains the drastic switches in tone of Akira Toriyama’s manga. One moment the characters are fighting to the death, then the next Goku is training to become stronger by chasing a monkey called Bubbles, slipping on banana peels, or trying to swat a grasshopper with a hammer. The goofiness has always been part of Dragon Ball’s identity, but it can make for a jarring experience for western viewers not used to kids’ series where characters beat each other up and not infrequently die as a result.

A great deal of the running time is devoted to action scenes. The confrontation between the two invading Saiyans, Vegeta and Nappa, against the defenders of Earth fills fully eight episodes. The action sequences can be quite violent – in the Freeza plotline, the confrontation between rivals Zarbon and Vegeta sees Zarbon grab hold of his opponent and repeatedly head-butt him in the face. Likewise, a later fight ends when Vegeta drives his fist clean into his enemy’s chest. At moments like that, DBZ Kai ventures into territory that goes far beyond any western cartoon – Hong Kong Phooey never punched through anyone’s sternum. Dialogue in the fight scenes tends to be both predictable and repetitive – “Is that the best you’ve got? I thought you’d be a real challenge!” is a popular sentiment, along with, “Now you’ve made me mad!” But in the end, these characters are warriors not poets.

Despite the two decades between the original Dragon Ball anime and the release of Kai, the newer series retains the former’s traditional, hand drawn animation style and is presented in the old 4:3 aspect ratio that was once the standard for broadcast television before the advent of widescreen TVs. The animation might have been polished up, but there’s no fancy CGI here. On the plus side though, the series makes scant use of still frames, so the screen is always alive with motion.

The English voice dub is good, although some of the characters are given a different interpretation from the Japanese versions. Krillin sounds younger in the Japanese dub, which may reflect the fact he’s played by a woman, Mayumi Tanaka, in Japanese but by Sonny Strait in English. Either way, Krillin is a pint-sized ass-kicker.

Compared to recent productions like the ultra-slick Battle Of Gods movie, DBZ Kai looks dated in terms of animation and production values. The script shamelessly repeats the plot device of Goku rushing across a vast distance to help his friends twice in a row, but it delivers a relentless barrage of goofball comedy, crazy fight scenes and galaxy-spanning adventure.
SCORE: 4/5
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