Now Available on Home Video

While some kids argued over console wars between Nintendo, Sega and the like, I was more of a TV network kid myself, taking sides in terms of which shows I preferred on which cable station. That said, I was more of a Nicktoons kid growing up, over a Cartoon Network one. And while as of late, both networks are experiencing some definite lows, I will say that at the moment, I’m sure wishing I took CN’s side when growing up if only for one reason: Season Sets.

Nickelodeon, like most things awesome, had some pretty humble beginnings, though most will most likely begin its history starting off with its various reruns of older cartoons previously aired by channels like ABC, NBC and WB. For quite some time, that was how afternoons on Nickelodeon would be, mixing in shows like Garfield & Friends with Inspector Gadget and The Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show. Though, that’s not to say that they aired these shows exclusively, with the network kicking off in August 8, 1991 with three completely new shows of their own to accompany the vet ‘toons: Ren & Stimpy, Doug, and Rugrats. With this, soon came about Nicktoon hits that would carry the company for years to come.

As the concept was with television shows in general at the time, the more popular shows were given VHS releases, collecting only a small number of episodes from a television series, perhaps under a common theme (friendship, the beach, holiday specials, etc.) with only the most upper-crust of shows really getting a full-on season set release—reasonable enough, considering how many tapes were needed for merely one season of a show. Fast-forward to the late ‘90s and early 2000’s, when DVDs made things simpler for everyone, especially TV show collectors.

With the dawn of DVDs, it felt as if a heavy burden was lifted off of most TV shows’ shoulders, most of them practically guaranteed a DVD season set, even in the case of their cancellation. Though even then, it still felt as if live-action shows were given this treatment, with a majority of animated shows having yet to get the sort of release treatment even the worst of live-action shows have received.

In Nickelodeon’s case, the number of complete season releases can be counted on one hand. Most notably, would be Nick’s two main cash cows as of late: Spongebob Squarepants and Avatar: The Last Airbender, both receiving not only complete season DVD releases, but complete season releases with quite the plethora of bonus content just to make the purchase that much more worth it. But what about Nick’s older titles out there? Surely they’re fully aware of their ever increasing library of shows to make some serious bank out of, right?

Enter Nickelodeon’s “Rewind Collection”—a short-lived run releasing season sets for Nick’s older live-action shows (in particular Clarissa Explains it All and The Adventures of Pete and Pete). Being cancelled after Clarissa’s first and P&P’s second season release, failure to sell as well as Nick’s newer titles has been chalked up by fans to bad marketing, with most fans still unaware that such releases exist.

Sadly, the same fate is can be said for Nick’s attempt at entering the digital marketing world, making their older releases available via online retailers. While select Nicktoons and live-action Nick shows out there have been granted “limited run” season set releases such as Rugrats, Hey Arnold, and Danny Phantom via amazon’s website, being “manufactured on demand using DVD-R recordable media” this basically shows the lack of confidence Nick has in their older titles selling well, only making as many DVDs as ordered by consumers. And even then, checking amazon’s listings, it looks like it’s been a good year since one of these releases has come about, leading to the assumption that such releases have been stopped completely.

As for Nick’s iTunes releases, it seems like one gigantic step back has been taken, sticking with not season set releases, but common theme releases, similar to the VHS releases. And while a good majority of the better episodes have been released via “Best of” compilations, it still irks “completionist” collectors out there that figure that the reason for such a release style was more than likely due to some of the more “out there” series (Angry Beavers, Rocko’s Modern Life, etc.) having some episodes featuring some suggestive dialogue/material; “Best of” releases has become a way for Nick to handpick just exactly which episodes may be released and which one’s won’t.

Also taking into consideration the lack of special features as well as strict retail price (you can’t exactly get a “used” digital copy for a lower price) it is clear that Nick isn’t exactly doing their best in selling their older titles to mass markets. Though, I will admit that the limited amount of downloadable titles is worth the purchase, considering it’ll be more than likely that it’ll be more than likely that a release with special features won’t be happening any time soon.

Compare that 838 words worth of Nickelodeon nonsense to Cartoon Network’s line of releases.

CN’s line of home releases started off similarly to Nick’s with VHS releases of select episodes. However, once DVD’s started becoming the norm, CN took a somewhat different route than Nick, actually having the gall to take the same route as live-action series nearly from the get-go and releasing season sets. However, like Nick, it seems as if a lack of hype surrounding the releases led to a short-lived run, with only a ragtag select series like Ben 10, Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends, and Ed, Edd ‘n’ Eddy getting such treatment.

As of late, newer shows on Cartoon Network have been released in volumes, releasing episodes from the series in order in single disc releases—a step up from “common theme” releases, but still nowhere near as efficient as season releases.

June 19, 2007 marked the release of the first season of The Powerpuff Girls, one of CN’s most popular original shows. With such a release, it only made sense to anticipate other shows from that era to receive the same treatment of release. However, with the second and third seasons of PPG cancelled, it seemed as if marketers were hesitant to delve into the older realm of cartoons. Though considering that in January 20, 2009, PPG was released in a complete series set, one can only guess what’s going down in corporate-land.

In terms of online releases, however, it seems as if CN has been more lenient in terms of releases, with full season releases of CN shows both old and new. Lately, the trend has also come back to Cartoon Network’s DVD releases, with Johnny Bravo, the first CN season set to be released under the “CN Hall of Fame” label last month, with Courage the Cowardly Dog and Dexter’s Laboratory having set release dates later this year. And while these series are available in their entirety on iTunes, the promise of at least some special features makes these releases worth the buy.

As the release label suggests, the “Hall of Fame” releases finally presents Cartoon Networks’ original shows—the shows that put them on the map and defined the channel for years—in a manner showing not only respect for the series themselves, but confidence that the series will sell well. Hopefully, Nickelodeon will wise up soon enough, ‘cuz YouTube clips and torrents just aren’t cutting it for me.

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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