Anime Review – Dragon Ball (Season One)

Ladies and Gentlemen, please forgive me as I’m about to lose a shed of my “professional journalist” facade in order to go totally fanboy over my review today.

Like any geeky adolescent in the late 90′s, I was a fan of the Dragon Ball Z series being aired on the Cartoon Network. I have a lot of strong memories of going over with all my buddies to a friend’s house after school to catch the latest episode of the Freeza saga.

Around the time I started going to high school, a cousin of mine gave me the first two volumes of the Dragon Ball manga for Christmas. At first I was bummed because 1) I had never read manga before and I had no interest in starting now and 2) this was the lame Dragon Ball series and not the awesome Dragon Ball Z I had come to known on Cartoon Network.

But I was curious, so I started reading it there while the rest of the family was having Christmas dinner. After figuring out this weird thing about reading the book backwards, I was introduced to a hilarious story with all the familiar DBZ characters telling dirty jokes, acting perverted, and occasionally getting naked, including a topless shot of female heroine Bulma.

And to the mind of a teenager, this was amazing. I maybe, just maybe, found myself loving this Dragon Ball much more than I loved Dragon Ball Z.

While FUNimation did eventually air the Dragon Ball anime on Cartoon Network in 2001, they were unable to release the first 13 episodes on home video due to those rights belonging to the show’s first North American distributor. But that license is now expired, so for the first time ever, FUNi is releasing the complete Dragon Ball series in seasonal box sets.

And oh lawd, it’s freaking sweet!

Little Goku is a boy with a monkey tail and super-human fighting ability. Living an isolated life in the wilderness, his world changes when he meets Bulma, a spunky teenage girl on a mission. She is in search of the dragon balls, and when she gathers all seven together, a magical dragon will appear and grant her one wish. Bulma is the only other human Goku has ever encountered besides his late grandfather, and it just so happens the old man left the boy the fourth dragon ball.

So Bulma decides to team up with the boy after he refuses to give up his grandpa’s gift to him, and so they embark on the journey together to collect all seven dragon balls. So begins the epic life story of Goku that lasted 11 years in Weekly Shonen Jump magazine and spawned two successful anime series and (arguably) the most popular franchise ever in the history of the medium.

But the world that Akira Toriyama set out to create when he first started off Dragon Ball is far different from the monster we have come to known it as years later. Looking back at these first 31 episodes, you see Toriyama applying the quirky humor that made his previous series, Dr. Slump, a hit to the old Chinese legend Journey to the West.

In this respect, FUNimation does the series justice by providing an equally funny and quirky dub adaptation. You can tell that the dub actors, many of whom reprise their roles from DBZ, are having fun playing the same old characters with a brand new shtick. Adding their own funny voices and English specific puns adds new humor to the series that you won’t get in the Japanese version.

However, there is a big catch to this. The English dub in this “uncut” box set is the made-for-TV-broadcast dub from 2001, which means that a lot of the dirty humor has been toned down and awkwardly replaced by something a little more sanitized and boring. For example, in once scene, Master Roshi asks the young and naive Goku to bring him a beautiful girl to date. Much to the surprise of everyone, Goku actually brings back a total babe.

In the English dub version, Roshi asks Goku to find out if the girl would be interested in “taking a walk” with the old man, an euphemism that FUNi has created for “going on a date” in this Cartoon Network safe dub. Goku reports back that the girl would be more interested in “going for a swim” with the old man instead, which the old man takes as another, more dirty, euphemism. Excited, Roshi rushes over to the girl to discover that she is, in fact, a mermaid. She was being literal about “taking a swim” because she is half fish. Har har.

In the original Japanese version, however, Roshi asked the naive boy to find out what color the girl’s panties were. When Goku reports back that the girl was not wearing any panties, the horny old man goes nuts. He rushes over to the girl only to discover that she is a mermaid. The reason why she’s not wearing any panties is because her bottom half is all fish.

I don’t know about you, but I found the latter version to be far more funnier than the dub version. Fortunately, this “uncut” does include an unedited Japanese sub track and unedited visuals. All the original nudity is there in full force, although the characters never directly address it in the dub.

However, the 20-year-old audio on the Japanese track is god awful. So if you wanted to hear all the dirty sex jokes of the original series, you have to put up with the ear-bleeding quality of the Japanese audio. It’s understandable that the source material for this series was probably not that good to begin with, but man, it feels like they didn’t even try to fix up this track at all.

But even with the horrible Japanese track, this is still one solid collection. It’s the first time these first 13 episodes have ever been released on DVD, and FUNi has taken their time to give the dub fans a great viewing experience. The digitally remastered picture and remixed English audio are fantastic. And FUNi has even included their “Marathon Mode” feature which skips all theme songs and episode recaps to go straight to the main content of each episode.

* * * *

The Good: Fun English adaptation that adds a little extra quirk to this comical beginning of the well known franchise. Great remastered video quality and “Marathon Mode” feature included.

Thee Bad: “Uncut” English dub is the toned down made-for-TV-broadcast version. The quality in the Japanese audio is very poor.

Final Verdict: Dude, it’s freaking Dragon Ball! Watch it.

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