It’s that time again! ‘Dragon Ball Z’ otakus get to complain that we don’t have any like-minded enthusiasts on staff to cover their favorite anime, while those who avoid the series like the Black Death get to whine that there isn’t a more alluring review to load. Either way, here goes. After finding a generous welcome from Blu-ray fans who bought the high-def versions of the ‘Broly Double Feature’ and the ‘World’s Strongest/ Dead Zone’ twofer, FUNimation has decided to release yet another pair of DBZ films on a single BD -- ‘The History of Trunks’ and ‘Bardock: The Father of Goku.’
Originally released in Japan in 1993, ‘The History of Trunks’ follows Gohan and a teenage Trunks more than a decade after Goku has died from Yardratian heart disease. The Z-Fighters are gone, Piccolo’s passing has rendered the Dragon Balls useless, and Androids 17 and 18 have become powerful, near-indestructible fighters. Since Gohan’s repeated attempts to defeat the Androids fail whenever 17 and 18 join forces, he decides to train Trunks to help him combat the duo. Can they defeat the Androids? Can Gohan help Trunks achieve his Super Saiyan form? Is there a way to alter history and save Goku?
It may be my inexperience with the DBZ universe, but I found ‘The History of Trunks’ to be rather anticlimactic. Granted, the Androids are respectable villains, the deaths in the opening minutes instantly caught my attention, and the training sequences benefit from some meaty character beats. However, the ending (which I won’t spoil in case newer fans haven’t seen this one) is so seemingly arbitrary to a first-timer like myself, that it spoiled everything of merit that had come before it. Basically, after struggling to acclimate myself to the story, characters, and extensive DBZ universe for forty minutes, the story led me to believe it was all for nothing. Fans of the series may be more tolerant of a convenient deus ex machina in this entry, but the DBZ films either strike an infrequent visitor like myself as one-hit wonders or embarrassing blunders.
Thankfully, ’The Father of Goku’ switches gears to focus on a mean-spirited planet-crusher named Bardock who sends his son, originally named Kakarrot, to destroy life on Earth so it can be sold at a fair price on the intergalactic market. With his son in transit, Bardock goes about business as usual cleansing yet another world of its pesky lifeforms. However, when a warrior forces Bardock to see the future, he gets more than he bargained for. In his vision, he sees the destruction of the Saiyan race at the hands of his master, Frieza, and the role his son will play in saving Earth from his kind. So it is that when Bardock finds his comrades dead on Planet Vegeta, he sets off to kill Frieza, alter the future, and save the Saiyan race from obliteration.
I actually found myself enjoying ‘The Father of Goku’ a bit – since it was an origin tale rather than a series milestone, I was able to follow the plot, understand what was happening, and pick up on all of the film’s contextual clues and character developments from beginning to end. Sure, the entire special still boils down to the same structure -- super-energy blast vs. super-super blast vs. newest-super-super-crazy-extreme blast -- but there was a genuine weight to all the drama that I haven’t found in the other ‘Dragon Ball Z’ films I’ve reviewed. Considering its short runtime, Bardock goes through a fairly compelling character arc, faces a series of transitional epiphanies, and sacrifices everything he has for what he believes. Not bad for a thin and flashy cartoon.
At the end of the day, I’m convinced my brain isn’t built to absorb ‘Dragon Ball Z.’ Hand me a pile of dark, neo-Tokyo anime and I’m good for hours, but an energy-blasting soap opera just doesn’t do it for me. Regardless, fans should take note -- ‘Bardock: The Father of Goku’ is the first of six DBZ films I’ve watched and enjoyed. If it entertained a rookie like me, it probably has a good chance of delivering the goods to someone who fully understands what they’re watching.
For better or worse, this ‘Dragon Ball Z’ twofer features a pair of decent 1080p/AVC-encoded widescreen transfers that sink and swim for the same reasons as FUNimation’s previous high-def releases (‘Broly Double Feature’ and ‘Dead Zone/World’s Strongest’). Vibrant palettes are both films’ strongest asset, continually flooding the screen with stable primaries, crisp whites, and deep, inky blacks. Detail looks far more refined than it ever has before -- sharp backgrounds reveal every last nook of the original cells, tiny flecks of debris fling across the screen anytime an energy blasts rips through the frame, and the series’ line art is decidedly spot on (sometimes to a fault considering the age and era of the hand-drawn animation).
However, the actual results are FUNimation’s remastering process is less impressive than the studio would have fans believe. Damage and source noise consistently plague the image, the picture suffers from frequent (albeit minimal) print wobbling, and a half-dozen shots really are beginning to show their physical age. Worse still, the "widescreen" presentation has been achieved by cropping the original 4:3 image. Not only is this an absolute disservice to diehard fans of the material, it's grossly negligent of the animators' original intent. Ultimately, FUNimation may have polished the Japanese masters to create each BD transfer, but they simply shoved each film through the same, remedial procedure. While it’s possible that their sources are in bad shape or difficult to work with, I’d wager a bit of extra love and care would clean them up even more.
Likewise, the surround mix featured on ‘The History of Trunks’ and ‘Bardock: The Father of Goku’ offer fans a solid sonic experience, but fails to create a memorable or immersive soundfield. Similar to their most recent DBZ Blu-ray release, FUNimation includes three audio options for each film -- a dubbed English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround track with Japanese music, a dubbed Dolby Digital stereo track with U.S. music, and an original Japanese-language mono mix. Unfortunately, Dubbies have to endure prioritization pains since the TrueHD track muffles everything in the soundscape that isn’t dialogue, and Subbies miss out on the spiffy soundfield and LFE-support of the TrueHD mix.
Personally, I would rather listen to the original Japanese mono mix since its underwhelming quality can easily be attributed to untouched sources that are more than fifteen years old. The films’ remixed, lossless English track simply shouldn’t be as uninvolving as it is. Dialogue is clean and crisp, but the rear speakers add little life to the soundfield, dynamics are flat and uninspiring, and the entire mix sounds as if it’s been anchored to the center channel. In the end, variety can’t save even a TrueHD track from audible mediocrity -- the audio package’s only saving grace is that it helps the films sound better than they ever have before.
As is typical of most DBZ releases, ‘Dragon Ball Z: The History of Trunks/ Bardock: The Father of Goku’ doesn’t include any special features. The disc does include a few trailers for upcoming anime DVDs, but nothing of particular note for Blu-ray fans.
’Dragon Ball Z: The History of Trunks/ Bardock: The Father of Goku’ is FUNimation’s third Blu-ray double-feature and the first to actually offer a solid, standalone entry. Alas, this release doesn’t pack enough punch to justify a higher rating -- its digital restoration is spotty, its video transfer problematic, and its audio package is underwhelming and annoying. To top it all off, the disc doesn’t include a single special feature. I imagine hardcore DBZ fans will pick this up regardless of its technical issues, but those just dabbling in the series should spend their money elsewhere.