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"Dragonball Z": The Past and the Future Collide in the Present

Back when FUNimation started dubbing Dragonball Z in-house, they soon realized that the franchise was popular enough to support additional releases. Soon after, they put out two specials, The History of Trunks and Bardock: The Father of Goku. Now, these ancient releases have come back in remastered form.

Not even two paragraphs in this review and I've already spoiled a plot point! Yay!In The History of Trunks, we get a possible future in which Goku has died of a heart disease, and since it’s a death from natural causes the Dragonballs won’t work on him. A few years later, two artificial humans known as Androids 17 and 18 appear and demolish a nearby city. In the ensuing battle, all of the Z-Fighters are killed except Gohan, who escapes and continues to fight the Androids for thirteen more years, eventually training Vegeta’s son, Trunks, how to fight. Meanwhile, Bulma’s been working on a time machine that may prevent this future from happening at all. In contrast, Bardock: The Father of Goku occurs before Dragonball ever starts. Bardock and his men have just massacred the inhabitants of a planet for Freeza when one of the natives gives Bardock the ability to see visions of his future. Soon, Bardock is horrified to see Freeza eventually destroying Planet Vegeta, killing all the Saiyans along with it. Bardock must attempt to stop Freeza from committing yet more genocide, but his latest visions end up centering around a pure-hearted warrior who looks suspiciously like his son, Kakarot.

Even though it actually came out second in Japan, I’ll start with The History of Trunks, since virtually the entire fandom loves the time-traveling pretty boy, while nobody likes Bardock. Now, the Cell Saga is arguably the greatest saga in the entire franchise, as it mixes the high-energy action we’ve gotten used to with an actual good story. And unlike the Freeza Saga, the plot changes are actually rather logical and don’t have the feel of simply stalling for time. This special just reinforces how good that saga is. Trunks’ struggle against the Androids is extremely well done, showcasing just how powerful the Androids are without making it look too ridiculous (even if it destroys the “badass” Trunks image from his TV series debut). There is also the Androids’ playful nature: instead of simply blowing up the town (or the planet) in one fell swoop, the siblings just try to have some fun, either by going shopping or riding around an amusement park. It makes the two a bit different from other villains who simply kill and be done with it. Special mention too must be made of adult Gohan, who is so much more kickass than the pansy version seen in the Buu Saga and Dragonball GT that I wish this really did take place during the series. I certainly can’t see this Gohan dressing up in a stupid green tunic and belting out stupid Sailor Moon ripoff phrases, which is a good thing.

I miss 17's cowboy jacket and shotgun from the Buu saga...Luckily, the dub recognizes just how great the special is and doesn’t mess with things too much. There are a few minor rewrites here and there, but nothing major is changed (unlike in other DBZ dubs of that time) and the script doesn’t bog itself down with annoying jokes. The only real problem I have with the dub is that it adheres to the “silence = evil” rule many kid anime dubs are subjected to. As a result, we get a lot more talking in this dub, and it borders on annoying. Heck, I think Bulma alone has twice as many lines in the English version as in the Japanese version. This might have been solved if FUNi had gone back and re-dubbed the special from the ground up, but nope, they don’t do that. Instead, we simply get the original dub from way back when, except this time with the Japanese music. At the very least they could have gotten rid of all the exclamations of “Darn” that litter the special, but since they still had Freeza gay in Season 3, I guess the producers were too pre-occupied with the widescreen transfer to do any re-dubs.

Bardock gets much less attention, because Bardock isn’t as goofy as Goku, and he’s not as much of a pretty boy as Trunks. And in truth, this special isn’t quite as good as the Trunks special anyways. The majority of the fights aren’t all that interesting, and because most of the characters are new, we don’t really get a chance to identify with them before they’re killed off. Bardock himself isn’t all that likable, as he’s not only a bad guy, he doesn’t even care about Goku until he realizes that he’s the one who will kill Freeza in the future. Heck, he doesn’t even mention Raditz, his first-born! However, despite the characters’ unlikeability, I’d still would’ve loved to have seen Bardock and his gang in a short mini-series, as Bardock is actually rather cool and has a fun fighting style. The special is the worse for having as its main bad guys Freeza and his henchmen, most of whom are boring as hell, and by a lack of “life on Vegeta” scenes. The Trunks special could carry out its plot since all the characters appear in the series as well, but the vast majority of the characters here never appear in the series, so it would be necessary to showcase life on Planet Vegeta and how the Saiyans lived so that their deaths could have greater impact. As it stands, it doesn’t really have that sense of tragedy and hope that the Trunks special has.

This is when Bardock gets all awesome. Plus he has a great character design.Things aren’t really helped with the dubbing, either. This special falls into many of the same traps as the Trunks special, only with much, much worse results. New plot devices are introduced, such as Bardock being able to read minds and Goku sensing the destruction of the planet as well, that give off a very disjointed feeling and make Bardock look even more like a wreck and, oddly enough, a softie. In the dub he starts thinking about Goku and even compliments him mid-way through the special, making him a lot nicer than he is in the original. Freeza’s presence is also diminished because he just talks way too much. In the original, Freeza rarely actually speaks and spends much of the movie looking on in silence. This shows just how fearsome he is, because while the characters are complaining or talking to him, Freeza just sits there looking out into space, giving off that feeling that you’d better shut up or you’ll die pretty quickly. Instead, the dub has Freeza blabber on and on without end, reducing his presence to that of a generic bad guy, not the ruler of the universe.

By now, you’ve likely already formed your opinion on the whole “widescreen Dragonball Z” situation, and nothing I say here will sway you one way or the other. I will say, however, that the widescreen still isn’t quite as distracting as it could’ve been, as the only shots that truly look worse are some of the money shots of Gohan going Super Saiyan. Also, the colors don’t look quite as washed out or as bright as they do in the series, though that may be because both specials use a darker color palette than the series. Being OAVs, the animation obviously gets quite a boost , as the fights tend to be more complicated, with many resembling the martial arts matches found in the first three movies. The standout fight is by far the final Gohan vs. the Androids fight. The fighters resist the urge to just have power struggle after power struggle, and they even use the surrounding debris to their advantage, creating some really cool fight scenes that add a little spice after the downright boring fighting scenes we had to suffer in the Freeza Saga. Basically, the visuals are slightly improved from the series, but it’s still Dragonball Z.

If I were Raditz, I'd be pretty pissed that everybody keeps forgetting about me.As I said earlier, the dub tracks of both specials remain exactly the same except for the addition of the Japanese music. One would think this would be a good thing, and it is for the Bardock special. The music there is at the same level as the series without being overbearing and is worlds better than the hard rock/rap music found in the broadcast dub. However, the Trunks special is actually worse for including the Japanese music. The Japanese composers tried to use all their scariest music; I don’t know if it’s because of the poor sound quality or what, but the music is even more overbearing than many of the dub music cues, drowning out the characters’ voices and making suspenseful scenes seem ridiculous. The only exception is when Gohan gives Trunks the last Senzu bean. There, the music gives off the correct mood while the broadcast music is out-of-place. In every other scene, though, the FUNimation music is better. As far as the voice cast goes, Daemon Clarke absolutely rules as adult Gohan, though Sonny Strait is pretty decent as Bardock (certainly better than Sean Schemmel would’ve been). The rest of the characters in both languages perform the same as they do in the series, so take that what you will.

FUNimation has packaged these two specials together in a special tin casing similar to that used in Appleseed, Ghost in the Shell: Solid State Society, and the Naruto Movie Special Edition, which gives the franchise its first classy packaging in almost ten years. The simple cover art works much better than the DVDs’ screengrabs or the season sets’ orange blobs. Unfortunately, FUNimation spent so much time on the packaging that they forgot the extras. There’s a small booklet with the original DVD covers and trailers. That’s it. Well, the Bardock special has the original Japanese theme song “Head Cha La” instead of the usual dub theme, which hasn’t been done since Geneon/Pioneer released the first three movies, but I don’t consider that an extra. Given all this, why are the specials on two discs?

Overall, these two specials are a must-own for Dragonball Z fans. If you don’t like the widescreen and want to keep the old discs, I suggest at least getting this set for the packaging and selling the new discs at FYE or something.

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