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"Dragonball Z: Dragon Box 1" Your Wish Has Been Granted

Goku has defended the Earth from countless threats. Years after reuniting with a young love at a World Martial Arts Tournament, he’s now training his son in the scholarly arts, rather than in his own super-powered kung-fu skills. Gathering his old friends, he’s soon confronted by … his brother from another planet? Goku is revealed to be a Saiyan, and with his dying breath he gives his allies one year to prepare themselves for an onslaught from the greatest threats they’ve ever faced.

You, on the other hand, must prepare to face a different kind of onslaught: the first 42 episodes of Dragonball Z. Pioneer released them on DVD when the format was brand new. FUNimation released a version on DVD as part of their failed Ultimate Uncut Special Edition line. They also released them in “Season 1 and 2″ box sets with widescreen cropping, which had even a FUNimation rep at Anime Weekend Atlanta joking “It’s the best version until the next version.” Beyond that, these twenty-year-old episodes enjoyed success in American syndication and a landmark run on Cartoon Network’s Toonami block. So they’ve definitely seen their way around the block. What’s so special about the Dragon Box, especially since it collects episodes that were put out in a box set only a year or so ago?

It marks a rare time that an American release has kept the packaging and extras from a Japanese release, while adding more, if only in the vein of an English language track. The box is adorned with Toriyama’s artwork rather than with screenshots, its six discs are spread out over two cardboard DVD cases rather than your standard multi-disc Amaray cases, and it comes with a 47-page “Dragon Book.” The latter is the real treat of the box. It compiles detailed synopses of each episode, includes a Dragonball recap, a character relationship chart and biographies, looks at the fashions some of the characters have gone through, and even features original character sketches made when preparing the transition from Dragonball to Dragonball Z and from comic to animation. Better than any pamphlet included with most animation releases (it even surpasses the Hommenaise Blu-Ray releases in sheer content included), the “Dragon Book” is what separates the Dragon Box from previous releases.

Dragonball Z, as you very well should know, is the sequel series to Akira Toriyama’s Dragonball, but the first iteration to really see prominence in the States. The story that put FUNimation on the map starts with the death of the Goku, the hero of the previous series, and with the Earth’s remaining defenders (nicknamed the “Z Warriors” or “Earth’s Special Forces” in the dub) training to fight greater threats: the future anti-hero and Wolverine-like Vegeta, and his bald lackey Nappa. This box set covers the first 42 of over 200 episodes (which is three more than the equivalent Season One set) covering the arrival of Goku’s alien brother Raditz and the kamikaze death of both; Gohan’s turning from scholarly child to capable warrior; the death of most of the warriors from the original series; the legendary fight between Goku and Vegeta; and the chase into space to defend a planet that can save them all. These are some of Dragonball Z‘s best—before it garnered the nickname “Drag On Ball Z” by devoting dozens of episodes to one fight—and each episode noticeably develops the characters, the plot, or the series as a whole. Additionally, these episodes are for the most part more emotional than those that would follow; death, for instance, at this point still has meaning, as we’re not quite to the point where planets would explode and entire populations killed with a single genocidal blast.

Visually, the series was still finding itself, slowly shedding the rounded Dragonball style but not reaching the drastically angular style of later episodes. There are also inconsistencies: Gohan, in a matter of episodes, goes from chubby kid to lithe warrior, and Vegeta’s colors wildly vary from one disc to the next. The box states that these episode have been remastered, and while they definitely look nice for a show that is over twenty years old, they’re not outstandingly good. My memories of ten-year-old broadcasts may be foggy, but I don’t remember the show ever looking horrid, and it definitely cleans up near the end of the run. Additionally, these discs lack the widescreen cropping of the previous season sets, which some like (due to showing new footage on the sides) and some despise (due to not being authentic).

This release also favors the original language, using the Japanese version of the intro—which is awkward, because the Japanese track is mono while the English track is stereo—as well as Japanese title cards, credits, and “next episode” previews. While the English language track has been improved from its original airings with newer voice actors and no editing, it’s not the reason to get this set.

The question is not whether the show is worth checking out. If you’ve somehow never seen an episode of Dragonball Z, this is easily the best way to introduce yourself to it. The question is whether it is worth the price. The Dragon Box Volume 1 can easily go for double the price of the Season One Box Set, and while it is three episodes longer, you have to ask yourself whether you want to spend that extra money for the “Dragon Book,” which is the only real extra. With so much tied up in that one non-visual extra, one wonders if the Dragon Box really is the best version until the next one.

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