If you have been keeping up with the anime scene, chances are good you are familiar with a little series called Dragon Ball Z. In truth, even those unfamiliar with anime are at least slightly knowledgeable of Dragon Ball Z thanks to a film of which no more will be spoken. Dragon Ball Z is a world-wide phenomenon and like so many other classic shows, has managed to stay in the public eye long after its original airdate. The series recently returned to television under the banner of Dragon Ball Z Kai. Sporting digital cleanup, a brand new dub, and more than half the content of the original series cut, allowing it to move at a brisker pace. Funimation has been diligent in their release of the series, collecting thirteen episodes at a time.
Having just wrapped up the previous arc, part 5 veers from monotonous fighting and introduces several new elements into the fold. A feeling of unpredictability runs rampant in this new arc, with situations and scenarios constantly shuffling and characters once though unbeatable being laid to waste in the blink of an eye. Mainstays such as Goku and Frieza are taken off the table after featuring prominently early on, while the supporting cast gets another addition in the time-traveling Trunks. Vegeta’s role continues to expand (as does his ego), and enemies from Goku’s past return to wreak havoc. With so much going on, it might come as a surprise to some that that many of these shakeups are merely building blocks to something larger.
Part 6 is where these seeds finally bear fruit, introducing the threat of the android Cell. Composed of the DNA of the strongest warriors in the universe, Cell presents a unique challenge to Goku and his friends. It boasts the regenerative abilities of piccolo, along with the fighting prowess of the Saiyans. Similar to previous villains, Cell can transform, but only after absorbing the other androids.
The arc continues the trend of dousing the audience with surprises, with enemies becoming allies and established characters making their final appearances, Fans of Piccolo will appreciate the increased focus on his character as he reaches a level on par with the Super Saiyans. His fight with Android 17 is also one of the hallmarks of the series and moves at a decent clip as compared to earlier brawls. Even Tien is given his moment in the spotlight in what will ultimately prove to be his last significant contribution to the plot when he steps in to challenge Cell, knowing he can’t win.
Speaking of fighting, the action is once again subdued compared to previous arcs, but no less explosive. The fights are paced better and easier to watch than those of the original series, that relied on repetitive frames of animation. Funimation’s blu-rays are the norm for the company. The episodes are spread across two discs with little else but clean opening and closing animations and trailers for the company’s upcoming releases. Considering Dragon Ball Z is Funimation’s golden goose, one would imagine the company would pour considerable extras into these sets.
For fans of the original series, Dragon Ball Z Kai is the definitive release to own. The pacing is tighter and the action looser. The introduction of the androids represents a departure from the series structure, introducing one threat after another in a bait and switch technique while also sidelining mainstays like Goku, who had begun to feel stale, in order to focus on others.