Outside the Longbox: ‘Dragon Ball Z Kai’

We’re all about comics here at Panels on Pages, but a geek cannot live on comics alone. Outside the Longbox is our chance to spotlight something outside our typical four-color realm – be it movies, music, TV or whatever.

DBZ Kai First Image

Dragon Ball Z tells the story of Goku and his friends as they battle aliens, androids, and other monsters to save Earth and the universe as a whole. Dragon Ball Z has a special place in many people’s hearts. It was a huge part of numerous 20-30 something’s childhoods, and it’s often seen as the pinnacle of fighting anime. However, over the years it has also become a bit of a punchline. Jokes about the show’s filler episodes and over-extended power-ups are commonplace. The battles are also ridiculously long. The fight between Goku and Frieza (one of the main antagonists) lasts about 4-and-a-half hours. Oh, and the yelling. Dragon Ball Z is synonymous with characters screaming their hearts out. I think it’s clear at this point that while people loved it (and a lot still do), the show’s weaknesses are plenty and are the butt of many jokes. Then along came Dragon Ball Z Kai to fix a lot of those problems.

In 2009, a revised version of Dragon Ball Z was created in Japan to celebrate the series’ 20th anniversary. The original animation was remastered in HD, and new openings and endings were created. In addition, new recordings were done with the voice cast. The remastered footage was also re-edited to follow the original manga more closely. Thus, all of the filler and excessive fights, power-ups, and staring matches were removed. This significantly reduced the number of episodes from 194 episodes to just 98 episodes.  At this point they have only “Kai-ified” the first 194 episodes of Dragon Ball Z‘s 291 episodes. There are plans to finish up the series though.

DRAGON BALL Z KAIFUNimation, the company that holds the North American license to Dragon Ball Z, is also responsible for dubbing and releasing Dragon Ball Z Kai. Like in Japan, FUNimation recorded new vocal tracks for Kai. Most of the original voice cast returned with a few notable exceptions, as some of the original voice actors have left FUNimation and were thus replaced. The biggest characters to have new voices include: Goku’s childhood friend and genius extraordinaire, Bulma; Goku’s son Gohan; and big bad Freiza. There is also a new narrator for the show. It took me a bit of getting used to, but I actually like the new cast quite a bit. Bulma’s new voice actress, Monica Rial, is the only one that I haven’t fully embraced. She does a fine job, but overall I just prefer the old actress, Tiffany Vollmer. Gohan’s new voice actress on the other hand has done a phenomenal job. I was so used to hearing Stephanie Nadolny as Gohan that it took a while to get used to Colleen Clinkenbeard taking over the role, but in the end I like Ms. Clinkenbeard a billion times more. That’s right, a billion. I also miss Brice Armstrong as one of the the bad guys, Captain Ginyu. R. Bruce Elliot, the new voice, does a good job, but I’ve always been a big fan of Armstrong’s voice.

Back in the 90s, when FUNimation’s in house voice actors started to dub Dragon Ball Z, they did not have nearly the amount of voice talent that they do now. Because of this it was necessary for one actor to voice numerous roles. This led to Christopher R. Sabat voicing damn near half the cast of Dragon Ball Z. Now that their talent pool is larger, some of his roles were given to other people. Don’t worry though, he still voices all of his biggest roles (including Piccolo and Vegeta).

I find the new English dub to be far superior to the old dub. First of all, the scripts are now much more closely translated from the Japanese originals. In addition, the voice actors have just become better actors. They are now more experienced in their respective roles because most of them have been playing these roles for about 15 years. The actors are also just more experienced in general since a lot of them were fresh faced kids when they originally started on Dragon Ball Z. The only part of the new dub that has been hard for me to accept has been the use of the Japanese names for character’s attacks. Because the scripts are now more accurate translations, they decided not to use some of the American names for attacks. I respect them for doing this, but I truly miss hearing Piccolo yelling “Special Beam Cannon” instead of “Makankōsappō.”

I have seen some complaints about Dragon Ball Z Kai. Some people liked the filler and are sad that it is gone. These people are, from what I can tell, in the minority. I personally feel that removing the filler drastically improved the quality of the anime. The filler was bogging it down. Another complaint I have seen is that new animation frames had to be inserted in some episodes to replace damaged cells or to cover some of the gaps in story because of all the edits. People claim that these new frames stick out a great deal. I see where this could be a problem for some, but because the entire show has been remastered, it just looks phenomenal in general, and I do not think the new frames stick out that much. I cannot even recall a specific instance where one stood out to me. There have also been complaints about the music. Kai uses the original Japanese score instead of the music of American composer Bruce Faulconer, who scored the original FUNimation dub of Dragon Ball Z. I will admit that for nastolgic reasons I miss Faulconer’s music, but I’ve grown to love the Japanese score.

Dragon-Ball-Z-KaiFinally, in terms of complaints, it has been said that because of all the edits, some of the episodes feel choppy and things do not line up all that well. For instance, during Gohan’s training in the wilderness early on in the series, he is attacked by a dinosaur. In the original you see him battling the dinosaur and continually cutting off part of his tail. In Kai, after initially being chased by the dinosaur, the next time you see them a good portion of the dinosaur’s tail is gone and Gohan is cutting off more. They cut out the first time Gohan does this. I have seen complaints about this a few times. When watching it I was not bothered at all. Maybe it was because I had seen the original and knew what had happened, but I felt that it was kind of self explanatory, and through a tiny line of dialogue it was even more evident that Gohan had cut off the tail. We did not have to see it. The only time where a cut felt a little weird was when you see Gohan’s mother, Chi-Chi, lying with a cloth over her head after having fainted. In Kai you never actually see her faint. However, this was a background shot of her lying there and it was pretty unimportant in the long run.

From top to bottom, Dragon Ball Z Kai is better than the original. It is faster paced, better acted, and because of remastering, it looks phenomenal. While the general story of Dragon Ball Z Kai is not the deepest thing you will ever find, that has always been the case with Dragon Ball Z. DBZ is mainly about the fighting, and man does it look gorgeous in Kai. All 4 seasons are currently available on DVD and Blu-ray. I highly recommend that longtime DBZ fans, lapsed fans, and even those who have never seen DBZ give Kai a shot. It truly reminded me why I loved Dragon Ball Z so much. In fact, I think it made me love it even more!

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Who ARE these people!?

John-Michael (aka the Fudgemaster General) is a lifelong nerd whose passion for comics and TV continues to grow each day. He is PoP!'s resident Tim Drake and Power Rangers fanboy and he's proud of it! He currently resides in his hometown of Kalamazoo, Michigan where he is attending grad school for Counseling Psychology.

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  1. cobyscomics says:

    awesome review, I can’t wait to get it! I’m working my way through the original Dragon Ball on DVD right now, while reading the original DBZ manga. Gohan chopping the dinosaur’s tail was brushed over in the manga, too, so the way you said it makes it sound like it’s truer to the source material

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