Region: 2 - UK
Length: 625 minutes
English 2.0 Stereo
Goku, Earth's greatest champion, bravely defends humanity against an invading race of warriors known as the Saiyans. When the mighty hero falls, his young son Gohan rises up to face the very villains who murdered his father. The battle rages through space to Planet Namek, where Gohan and his overmatched allies risk their lives to defeat the Saiyan warlord Vegeta – and the monster known as Frieza!
*3 episodes later*
*Another 4 episodes later*
So, it was probably never quite that bad, but in all seriousness, I've put off getting into the Dragon Ball franchise for some time as a result of the horror stories. Tales of how long single battles would drag out, without either party making a move. It's something which is often parodied in fan videos, as two characters continually "power up", whilst making awkward grunting noises and screaming at one another! Gar.
It's actually not just something which Dragon Ball suffers from. Any large ongoing series can seem a little daunting to a new audience. One Piece is a prime example of this, with over 700 episodes at the time of writing this, it's just really not accessible to an average anime fan, looking to get into it for the first time.
Enter Dragon Ball Z: Kai.
Kai is an abridged version of the 1989-96 TV show, which spanned 289 episodes. It condenses the series to 159 episodes by removing a lot of unnecessary extended scenes, which helped to pad out the show for television, and keep audiences in suspense whilst they waited an entire week between episodes. Long before the days of Netflix, and being able to marathon a whole season in a single day.
The first collection from Manga Entertainment collects the Saiyan Saga, the first 26 episodes of the series, on 4 disks. Featuring 625 minutes of action in both Japanese and English.
For full disclosure, I've never watched the original Dragon Ball series, so I didn't have the emotional attachment that those with prior introduction would have. Whilst I wasn't always 100% certain on certain character dynamics, the show does a good enough job of setting the story up for new viewers, mostly through dialogue but with one or two short flashbacks.
The series begins with a flashback to the destruction of Planet Vegeta at the hands of Frieza - establishing his power at his disposal and setting up one of the big bad guys. Back on Earth, we learn that 5 years have passed since the events in the original Dragon Ball series, and that Goku and Chi-Chi have since had a son named Gohan!
At some undisclosed location, a strange alien vessel crash lands on earth. A hyper masculine humanoid wearing gladiator armour emerges and flies off seeking a powerful life form, eventually leading to Goku. We learn that the stranger's name is Raditz and claiming to be his brother, he tells Goku of his extraterrestrial origin, from a race known as Saiyans, and of his sinister destiny. When Goku defies his brother, Raditz grabs Gohan and takes him hostage in exchange for Goku's cooperation.
Though his plan ultimately fails, the narrowly defeated Saiyan warns the Earthlings that others like him will arrive on Earth in one year. If they're going to survive and protect their planet, they'll have to train harder than ever!
The music in this series is mostly upbeat and memorable. The melodies are easily remembered, and I found myself humming along to them after just a few episodes. There's every chance you'll know the main themes if you've ever been to an anime convention. Dragon Soul and Head Cha-La are always popular on Karaoke, even if they are being screamed out by veterans of the scene.
The animation in this show is noticeably dated. It opts for a simple stage approach for the majority of the battle scenes, where characters face-off somewhat similar to an old cowboy film. It feels like a lot of the battle animation is recycled also - as is often the case with long running shows. Despite this, I wasn't pulled out of the action. If anything, this style added to the comical factor of the series, but didn't detract from the overall quality of the show.
After some digging online, I discovered that the original Dragon Ball Z series has been completely digitally remastered for Kai. This includes improvement to the picture format, image quality and remastered audio. It also includes much of the original animation that never made it to TV in the west. In many ways it's probably not the same show you watched as a kid, though lacking the nostalgic element myself, I can't back this up.
Whilst I feel that this introduction to the show is a little lacking in depth and variation, I have to admit I was fairly engrossed in the battle scenes which make up the majority of the series. When I reached the end of this collection, I had to force myself from looking up what happened next online. It's something I'd really rather not spoil for myself, but I'm definitely compelled to keep watching. Despite the lack of a complicated overarching story, the world of Dragon Ball is fun, and the characters are likeable. You really feel for them and I found myself cheering on Goku and Gohan more than a couple of times.
Sometimes, you don't want brainfood, you just want to binge on something that doesn't require a lot of thought and concentration. Something fun, and a little bit silly. Dragon Ball Z: Kai is the Ben and Jerry's Cookie Dough Ice Cream of anime. You'll probably enjoy it, even if you know you shouldn't.