"Dragonball Z": This Is the Show That Never Ends. It Goes On and On Without End
Do you realize that it’s been over ten years since Dragonball Z first aired on American TV? That it’s been almost twenty since it premiered in Japan? And yet, it lives on. Dozens of single DVDs, lots of movies, a successful video game franchise, a live-action movie that is kind-of/sort-of being made. And now we finally have slim-line season boxsets, the latest being devoted to Season Three.
Previously, Goku, after receiving his training from King Kai, had finally defeated Vegeta and saved the Earth. But several of their friends died in the attack, so Gohan, Krillin, and Bulma traveled to Namek, Piccolo’s homeworld, to use their Dragonballs to wish their friends back to life. However, the three Earthlings ran into trouble immediately. Vegeta, stronger than ever, reappeared along with a new villain with monstrous power: Freeza. Goku eventually healed and headed out to Namek, training in 100 times Earth’s gravity, but Gohan and Krillin couldn’t celebrate for too long as Freeza called in the Ginyu Force, his special elite squadron. They were simply too much for Vegeta, Gohan, and Krillin, but luckily, Goku arrived in the nick of time. Things got a bit hairy when Ginyu and Goku switched bodies, but eventually Ginyu was defeated. However, the price was heavy, as it left Goku’s body battered and broken. As he recuperated in one of Freeza’s healing chambers, Krillin attempted to find Dende to get the password for the Dragonballs while Nail, the most powerful Namek warrior, stalled Freeza so the Earthlings can summon the dragon.
See, now, there was a healthy chunk of story going on in between all those fights in the first half of the Freeza Saga, and it made things better. Situations, fight conditions, and opponents all changed up. Of the 33 episodes on this volume, though, all but four have one of the Z-Fighters battling Freeza, and about twenty of them are taken up solely with the Goku vs. Freeza fight. Seriously, it gets to be a pain marathoning this fight because it just never ends. Even before Goku arrives at the battlefield, the story takes its sweet time moving from plot point to plot point and not even doing that effectively either. Many episodes consist solely of the characters gawking at what’s going on, then making about ten minutes of inane comments before continuing to gawk as Freeza and the Z-Fighter trade blows.
And when Goku enters things come to a screeching halt. The fight starts out well with a well-paced death by Vegeta and then some initial blows by Goku (in one of the few well-animated scenes this season), but that doesn’t last very long. In fact, it doesn’t even last until the next episode, as the next three episodes are all about Goku and Freeza testing each other. Seriously, it takes them three freaking episodes before the fight even gets serious. And don’t forget the annoying anime-only filler like “Bulma gets taken over by Ginyu” and “Dead Z-Fighters fight dead Ginyu Force” that occur around this time, stalling the story even more. Then there’s two straight episodes where Goku needs to get inspired by visions, one episode literally stalling for time, and one that has Goku turning into a Super Saiyan.
Once that happens, the most idiotic decision in the series is made: Use ten episodes to cover five minutes. Namek is set to explode in roughly that time, but since the fight takes five minutes, it just becomes ridiculous. Even if you say that it took longer than five minutes because Freeza was just estimating, it couldn’t have taken much longer, which doesn’t help any. To make things worse, several episodes then occur where nothing actually happens, prior a four-episode stretch where Freeza is defeated and Namek explodes. Yes, there’s a four-episode gap that occurs during the final “minute” of Namek exploding between Freeza’s defeat and Namek’s explosion. Oy.
But is the content itself any good? Well, parts of it are. Probably the most memorable parts of the early fighting are when Krillin tries to stall Form 2 Freeza and when Piccolo arrives soon afterward, but even those moments don’t last for very long before Freeza once again gains the upper hand. This is frustrating, because not only does it slow the series down, it makes it seem that everything the good guys do is futile. It’s enough to make you just want to throw your hands up in the air and shout “Oh, come on!” Things get a bit better when Goku finally turns into a Super Saiyan, and there are even several moments where the fight actually becomes something similar to exciting, but the horrible pacing kills much of the tension between the two fighters. There is actually a short scene right after Freeza attains his 100% power where the fight is really good. The choreography is excellent, the pacing is fast, the animation is actually somewhat respectable, all making for a fun, exciting fight scene. So, of course, it ends in less than five minutes (that’s our time, not Namek time) so Freeza and Goku can banter some more.
By now, everyone has probably already formed an opinions on whether they like the widescreen feature or not. For those living under a rock: FUNimation took the original fullscreen masters, restored the missing footage on the sides, then chopped off parts of the top and bottom in order to make the footage widescreen. Overall, the show doesn’t really suffer from being in widescreen and sometimes even looks better with the black bars on the screen. However, I really wish FUNimation had gone through and chopped off footage scene-by-scene instead of just doing a clean cut through the series, as many shots, mostly extreme close-ups, end up cutting off the bottom of a character’s lips, so you can see them talking, but their mouth stops at the bottom of the screen. This would’ve been fixed if FUNi had just shifted the video up a bit then chopped off the upper portions, but I guess that would have been too time consuming and expensive. As for the transfer, it can get annoyingly bright in certain spots but for the most part it’s fine. Unfortunately, I still have a normal analog TV, so I can’t say whether it’ll work on an HD TV or not.
But what about the animation itself? Well, not even an HD transfer could make this season look good. At this point, the budget seemed to be running out, so we get some of the worst animation ever in the series. Stilted movements, re-used footage, and a lack of any fluid motion makes watching the season even more of a chore. Plus, none of the animation teams could get together to make things consistent. Gohan and Krillin switch positions constantly from episode to episode, the various battle armors the characters wear go from broken to clean depending on the scene, and events that cross over episodes aren’t consistent. At the end of one episode, the characters will be reacting to an event that’s going on, but when we pick up in the next episode, everything’s all different. The characters aren’t doing the same things, the way said event is introduced is different, and the staging is completely off. Why they just didn’t use the previous episode’s footage, then go from there, is a mystery. Finally, the color palette of this season is just so bland it hampers the animation even more. There’s so much light blue and green running about in the backgrounds that everything just looks bland. Namek is a really horrible planet to use as a background and while it does become better during the final few episodes, as there’s more red and black than blue and green, the color scheme overall really makes the show bland as hell. Even Goku’s Kaioken and Super Saiyan modes look utterly bland on this set and considering how awesome they look in the other sagas, that’s saying something.
Now, when this season first aired on Toonami long ago, the dub was horrible. The music sucked, the voices were painful to listen to, and the script was as bad as you could get. Thanks to the Japanese music, that part’s been fixed, and most of the voice actors have re-recorded their dialog so the voice acting matches up with the rest of the series, but then there’s the script. For some illogical reason, FUNimation only made minimal changes to the original script. As a result, all of those horrible, horrible jokes, inaccuracies, and just plain bad lines are still intact. And Freeza is still gay. Yes, “OK, big guy. Whatever turns you on” is still in the dub. Yet they also got rid of one of the few cool lines in Dende’s classic “Don’t piss off the God of Love!” Now, it’s “Don’t disrespect the dragon!” It can’t be because of language, as “pissed” and “hell” are said elsewhere in the season, although there’s about ten times more darns and My goshs than I would’ve liked. At least the voice cast is consistent, though I still don’t like Sabat’s Piccolo and Laura Bailey’s Dende sounds too much like Sana. However, it does sound a lot better with the Japanese music in the background than the random Bruce Falconer/Mark Menza/whatever music in the TV version.
Extras? For a Shonen Jump show? Heaven forbid! We get a booklet with bios on Goku, Gohan, Krillin, Piccolo, Vegeta, Freeza, King Kai, Bubbles, and Gregory, along with summaries of all the episodes and a brief description of King Kai’s planet. The only on-disc extras are the textless opening, textless ending, and trailers found on disc 6. All that would be at least annoying if the packaging was any good, but instead of using one of the many, many stock Japanese coverarts to give the packaging a classy feeling, we instead get this orange blob that looks even worse than a bootleg. Come on, FUNimation, you’ve had some kickass packaging with Solty Rei, Trinity Blood, and Beck, so why make Dragonball Z‘s packaging so horrible?
This set is only for diehard DBZ fans who want to own all the episodes. Casual fans should stick with Season One or wait until the Cell Saga begins next season.
Dragonball Z: Season Three covers episodes 75 through 107.