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"Dragonball Z Kai" Volume 1: Is It Still Over 9000?

The mighty Saiyans have landed on Earth, and it’s up to the Z Warriors to face off against the otherworldly aggressors. With Goku dying in the initial skirmish, his son and allies must prepare for the upcoming battle, while he trains in the afterlife for his fated battle.

Twenty years ago this battle was fought for the first time, and now we’ve returned to it but at a much more expedited pace. Dragonball Z Kai takes the original series, remasters it, and trims its 291 episodes down to a third of that. What took nearly 35 episodes in the past is now down to 13; in this 13-episode set, you have most of the Saiyan Saga. Does something get lost in the transition, or does the high-def revolution include taking the “drag on” out of Dragonball?

Dragonball Z Kai (sans the “Z” in Japan and on the first episode in the set, oddly enough) is Toei’s reworking of the original Dragonball Z story. Their major goal (besides making money) is to bring the animation in line with the comic book by removing unnecessary battles, filler stories, and even whole arcs that were not present in the original work. They’ve easily chopped a ton of the footage out without losing any of the story; if you’re watching Dragonball Z for the first time in Kai, you’ll not notice anything missing.

The other big feature of Kai is the “remastering”, which took the original animation and digitally cleared it up via tracing and painting, alongside adding new intro and ending animation. Sadly, the new footage looks incredibly nice, which only makes the original footage look that much worse in comparison. On top of the visual reworkings, most of the original cast (both in the Japanese and English language versions) have returned to redo the dialog. FUNimation, much to the fans’ chagrin, don’t take this chance to make King Kai less annoying or Freeza more manly, and they have even awkwardly updated a joke about a phone ringing to include the Nokia ringtone instead of the old style BRRRNNG sound. Still, a few “errors” in the past are fixed, with Tien being named Tenshinhan at times, and even the iconic yell of “IT’S OVER 9,000!” has been changed to a more subtle “It’s over 8,000!”, to be true to the actual comic.

It will be missed.

There’s no doubt that trimming the episodes results in a speedier and entertaining show, but we have lost some of the more fun bits that had been unique to the animated series. Still, while FUNimation is catering to the original fans with the Dragon Box, Kai is an attempt to get the new fans; heck, it’s airing on Nickelodeon and Toonzai, nearly a decade after these episodes originally premiered in syndication and Toonami.

There are no extras on the set (except for the creditless opening and ending), and presumably the Blu-ray is the same. It’s a real shame, as some sort of comparison to the original version, or featurette about the original voice actors getting back together, would have been greatly appreciated. Something explaining what Kai is to people wondering where this fits into the Dragonball timeline would be nice.

If you’ve somehow gone twenty years and still have no idea how Dragonball Z starts, I’ve more than covered the story before. In fact, this ties up pretty nicely with where the first Dragon Box goes. If you’re just now wanting to check out the franchise, this is a great introduction to the story.

But if you’ve seen each episode, this is nothing more than an interesting oddity. Check out the intro and ending, and you’ve seen all that’s new; and unless you want to brush up on your tales of the Z Warriors, you can skip this set.

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