DBKai: Back with a Vengeance?

In a day and age where anime have left a majority of American cable networks, I guess it’s only suiting to talk about one of the return of a series that helped pave the way for other series like it—Dragon Ball Z.

Beginning its run in the states in the mid-nineties, DBZ soon became a hit, becoming one of Cartoon Network’s most prized possessions originating from Japan, leading to action cartoon block Toonami airing other anime, such as the Gundam series and even more light-hearted works like Hamtaro. But as popular is it became, DBZ has always suffered for being one of the pioneering anime to hit the states. As expected, excessive violence as well as some language and suggestiveness at times has led to major visual and audio edits, also pertaining to the dubbed script itself. Also being the sequel to its predecessor series Dragon Ball, multiple instances in the plot have called for prior knowledge which wasn’t accessible to American audiences for the longest time, leading to people having to fill in the blanks themselves. Add to this hokey voice-acting and you’d think the series wouldn’t last a month on cable TV.

Well, it’s been a good seven years since the final episode of DBZ aired on American TV, and the series is back for more in the form of Dragon Ball Z Kai on Nicktoons Network. You’d think after so long, there would be less nonsense to deal with, but with this being another DB series and it being American cable, new forms of nonsense have wormed their way through.

First off would be the title itself. Dragon Ball Z Kai is better known outside the US as Dragon Ball Kai, and started airing in Japan (on the 20th Anniversary of DBZ’s original airing, no less) in April of last year. Although being tagged under a new name, the series itself is simply a re-editing of the older series Dragon Ball Z, taking footage from that series and cleaning it up a bit, re-tracing some scenes where deemed necessary (read: “at random”) and removing a majority of filler scenes. Having taken footage from a series that originally started broadcast in 1989, the footage was animated in fullscreen 4:3 format. However, since the norm for all Japanese Networks has become widescreen 16:9, Dragon Ball Kai has been aired in Japan in widescreen format. Furthermore, since this “new take” on the series begins in the “Z” portion of the series, viewers are again at a disadvantage, not knowing of a good chunk of plot information from the original Dragon Ball with exception to the handful of scenes spliced in as flashbacks. Never have I used the term “hot mess” in my daily vernacular, but I think it fits oddly well in this case.

As you may be led (and correct) to believe, my own personal thoughts on Kai aren’t exactly the best. While it does a good job of keeping the series in the public eye, the fact that all footage is ultimately originating from a series I’ve already seen hundreds of times before is a complete turn-off. In defense of the series, though, I will say that it makes the franchise as a whole that much more accessible to non-fans, condensing the series significantly without losing any material vital to the plot. Personally, though, I’d have been much more appreciative of a complete re-working, animation and all. I mean, if Fullmetal Alchemist can do it, I don’t see why the DB series (er, “series-es”) can’t do the same.

… ask me about its airing in the US, though, and you’ve got a completely different opinion.

Although the series is again being heavily edited for violence at times, I must say that as a whole, I thoroughly enjoy watching Dragon Ball Z Kai on Nicktoons Network. Edits done for DBZ back in the day were horribly obvious, with newfangled things like digital paint and the like being incredibly easy to spot out in the old footage that DBZ is. So while things like the re-coloring of beer to resemble water, or putting dirt and scratch marks where blood used to be tarnishes the series, at the least it’s not so noticeable this time around. Furthermore, the release schedule for the series on DVD and Blu-Ray is at a much better pace than back in the days of Toonami, when 3-episode-count DVDs would be released years before US airing in the worst of cases. And even then you would have to be a heavily informed consumer, knowing that both an edited and uncut version was available. This time around, home distributor Funimation has made things much easier, releasing the series in 13 episode chunks, all uncut (and in their proper 4:3 aspect ratio, which is a step up from Japan for once) and available in either dubbed English or original Japanese, leading me to my next pro of watching the series.

While edits could be avoided simply by purchasing an uncut copy of the series, back in the day the English script was so horribly inaccurate when comparing it to the original Japanese script that watching the series in either language made for two incredibly different viewing experiences. While the gist of some things were kept, details and direct lines spoken by characters led to the most nightmarish of online arguments between people claiming to know the series. Thankfully and appreciatively, such is no longer a problem, as the script itself has remained intact for this new series, with a majority of the cast kept from the previous series. Now, in the 13-ish years Funimation’s own voice cast has been working on the series, some serious improvement has gone down, the cast finally having broken-in to their characters to the point that what comes out of each voice-actor’s mouth is more natural sounding and less “Saturday Morning Cartoon.” The Goku in voice-actor Sean Schemmel has developed, finding a respectable norm between poster boy superhero and home-grown hick; Chris Sabat as Vegeta has well separated himself from the gruff wrestler voice of episodes past, developing a more natural deep tone.

On top of improved old voices, re-casting for several characters has led to much fan-appreciation (well… for the most part). Colleen Clinkenbeard, known in more recent works as Luffy in Funimation’s dub of One Piece, takes over as the new voice of Gohan, finally providing a suitable voice for who is supposed to be a toddler. But what is probably the kicker for most fans is the re-casting of Freeza, from Linda Young to Chris Ayres. Gone is the elderly woman with a voice-scrambler and much welcome is the calm, calculating effeminate male voice people have long given up on. And while heated debate goes on in the fanbase, further splitting people from “subbies vs. dubbies” to “subbies vs. old dubbies vs. new dubbies,” I could honestly care less—seriously these voices are crazy awesome with a matching script, t’boot—what more can you ask for given what’s given to work off of?

Dragon Ball Z Kai is currently airing on Nicktoons Network, Monday through Thursday at 5 and 8 PM, making at a crazy good pace, more than likely ending the Freeza Saga around the end of July. So take a load off of that summertime idleness, sit back and relax with your TV dinner to the soothing tune of well-casted accurately translated burly men beating the ever-loving crap outta each other.

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