Last time on Dragon Ball Z: Goku and his friends prepared to face off against two aggressive Saiyans, brutal warriors from outer space. After some fierce training and an even fiercer battle, the heroes were able to send the remaining Saiyan, Vegeta, running back to the stars. But it was a hollow victory, as many of Earth’s champions had lost their lives in a crusade. Using a special spaceship, Krillin, Gohan and Bulma headed off to find the Namek Dragon Balls and wish back their deceased friends. Are their misadventures worth a watch? Find out, today!
As I said last time, the previous volume wasted little time before using the aftermath of the fight with the Saiyans to start a brand new quest to revive those who were slain with the magic of the Dragon Balls. Continuing from the awkward cliff hanger, the first disc of the set can almost completely be ignored as it is almost entirely filler. The first episode concludes the two-part story of a group of space orphans who mistake the current main trio for agents of a tyrant known as Frieza. Although the episode is clearly trying to foreshadow the soon-to-appear next main villain, it reminded me a bit too much of the clunky ‘Plight of the Children’ from the previous set with its plucky orphans. Wasting a few episodes directly afterwards is the infamous Fake Namek arc, in which our heroes appear to reach their goal but are actually given the run around by a pair of alien shape shifters. The show attempts to play a mystery angle with these episodes as Krillin starts to slowly notice things don’t add up but given the sheer size of the adventure of Namek (by the end of the set we’re only about halfway through it), wasting time on a fake Dragon Ball quest over multiple episodes is an annoyance. There’s also the fact that it introduces one of the most annoying elements of the whole Namek Saga: Bulma. I’m not sure why Akira Toriyama had such a comedic misfire, but both Bulma and (the thankfully rarely seen on this volume) Chi Chi seem to have no other emotional setting then to whine, complain and, honestly, bitch at the men in their lives over the smallest of things. The near constant complaining and self-aggrandising delivered by the character in such a shrill tone ranges from annoying to headache-inducing. A bad joke is tedious enough. Constantly screeching it just makes you want to experiment with the fast forward option.
Having reached the real Namek by the end of the first disc, the actual story expands quite nicely on what began with the arrival of the Saiyans. We start to see that Vegeta has ties to an entire planet-snatching empire, and that the handful of surviving Saiyans are treated as barely remarkable by it. Whilst this serves to quickly establish the new enemies as even more powerful then the already intimidating might of the Saiyans, it allows Vegeta to develop as a character and become an anti-hero as he purses his own agenda. With the heroes seeking the Dragon Balls to wish their friends back, and Frieza wanting them to become an immortal despot, Vegeta finally decides to actively betray his ‘master’ and sets out to gain the wish he lost out on Earth by clashing with both parties and playing them off against each other. This quickly makes him a very entertaining character and you’ll likely find yourself rooting for him even though he’s up to evil deeds himself.
Frieza makes a definite impact as a villain from his first appearance. Whilst many villains seek to one day establish an empire, Frieza has already conquered several planets and forced the survivors of his crusades to adopt his viewpoint by way of wielding such incredible fighting power. It goes back somewhat to my feelings on the previous volume: whilst it’s impressive to see villains with grand intellectual plans and skills at double dealing, the sheer application of power that Dragon Ball Z instead chooses to go with carries more of an impact. It’s juxtaposed with the fact that Frieza’s personality is one of faux-regalism, smiling and talking politely as he tortures villagers on his hunt and dispatches minions with a Darth Vader-style gesture when they fail him.
On the hero side, the friendship between Krillin and Gohan continues, and they prove to make a strong pair. Being the best friend of his father, Krillin falls somewhere between being an uncle and being a buddy to the boy. Speaking of Goku, he suffers from the same problem as the last volume. Hospitalised after the Saiyan battle, he later heads off in a ship on his own on a trek just as drawn out as the one down Snake Way was. This again leaves the characters placing all their hopes on his eventual arrival whilst he undergoes some tedious filler escapades such as having to repair his damaged ship mid-flight or getting trapped when the artificial gravity plays up. His eventual arrival leads the story to bring up the concept of a legendary ‘Super Saiyan’. Only vague explanations are offered at this point, but it’s not spoiling much to say we haven’t heard the last on this concept. In a subplot, the deceased heroes cross Snake Way themselves in order to receive the same training Goku did. This is one of the awkward times the need for filler eclipses consistent story, as they make the journey in such a short time that it’s inconsistent with Goku’s proven superiority over them and the actual training simply repeats that which we saw him receive. King Kai’s strange methods aren’t as amusing to watch when you already know the punchline.
With more flat-out brawls then the previous volume, it’s a shame the actual fight choreography is often lacking. There’s a noticeable spike upwards towards the end of the set where the fights with the Ginyu Force, Frieza’s elite soldiers, show a focus on choreography and animation that makes the action much more impressive. Whoever was calling the shots on those episode really deserves a round of applause as they stand firmly above the animation cheats (which seem to include spinning the camera) seen elsewhere in the set.
The video issues continue, with the so called remastered footage looking slightly grainy. However, there seemed to be a definite improvement with the final disc where the video quality is actually on par with my modern HD setup. I noticed that said disc had a Madman logo, the Australian distributor Manga acquires most of their DVD masters from. Given the trailer for these remastered releases on MVM’s US sourced .hack//QUANTUM release likewise looked perfectly rich on my TV, I have to wonder if this is some transferring error between regions that is diluting the quality of the video. It’d be a real shame if this were the case, as the video quality of the final disc really stands out.
Audio wise I’m disappointed to see the dub start to swing back into bad writing. The previous set allowed FUNimation to smooth over a set of episodes their own in-house actors had never touched before, and remove a lot of the bad or inaccurate dialogue. This time, the bad jokes and unnecessary talking return in the form of legendary bad dialogue. So not mondo cool, boys. At least there’s the Japanese track if you must be an absolute purist. Extras are disappointingly limited, consisting of the same textless opening and ending seen last time. With a property like Dragon Ball Z there must surely be all kinds of things you could offer as extras, even one of FUNimation’s famous commentary tracks.
The second volume of Dragon Ball Z takes full advantage of the speed built up by the first. It does a good job of raising the stakes, but long time fans will know this is really all build-up for the thrill ride coming next time.
Dragon Ball Z Series 2 (UK Edition) can be purchased through Amazon.co.uk.