Picking up where we left off, the second volume of 'Dragon Ball Z: Kai' brings the climax to the battle between the Saiyan warriors Goku and Vegeta, and with eventual resolution begins the upcoming all-encompassing story arc. Will the second arc bring the same level of success as the first? Is the streamlining any better this time around, or are there still some problematic gaps? Is it yet explained what the holy hell Chiaotzu is, other than dead?
For those unaware, 'Kai' is not a remake of the 'Dragon Ball Z' tale as much as it is a remix, chopping out the unnecessary moments and fluff, staying truer to the manga sources in order to maximize action and character development. While the first volume covered approximately twenty two original episodes in a thirteen episode span, the second volume ends right around where the forty third original episode concluded, over half way through the Namek Saga. This second release also features many more scenes with newer animation, even if it's made in a neo-classic manner to fit in with the series.
The threat Vegeta brought upon the Earth has concluded, as the combined efforts of Goku, Gohan, Krillin, and unlikely hero Yajirobe forced the noble Saiyan prince to retreat from battle to recover and reinforce his efforts. The battle, which claimed many of the lives of the greatest fighters on Earth, has left Goku hospitalized, unable to help in what is to come. The planet Namek, home of the Namekians (like Piccolo), is the new battleground, as Vegeta's overlord, the cruel and powerful Frieza, has brought his minions to destroy all life on the planet, and assemble the wish-granting Dragon Balls. With Bulma, Krillin, and Gohan working to save Namek and its natives, Vegeta battles his former cohorts, wanting the power the Dragon Balls bring only for himself, all while Goku, recovered from his injures, sets a course to Namek, training along the way.
Pardon my lack of enthusiasm, but there's no way that this second batch of episodes can even come close to the effectiveness of the first. It's just about impossible to avoid. While the Saiyan Saga found primarily in the first volume of 'Kai' works great as an entry point into the 'Dragon Ball' saga, with equal parts character development and our first taste of action, the second series suffers from a sophomore slump.
There aren't too many new characters spreading the plot too thin, or even a lack of action. In fact, the action is a bit more human and accessible this second time around. The problem lies in the manner with which the story is told, as these episodes seem to try to follow exactly in the footsteps laid before them, not daring to step a little outside the lines. Repetition gets boring, and there's pleeeenty of it this time around.
We learn how powerful a villain Vegeta really is, withstanding even the most strenuous of attacks from all comers, and see how manipulative and conniving the royal warrior is, all while learning more about his twisted, foul back story (which, by the way, is quite possibly the best part of the story so far). And then, he's no longer the primary threat, though he's still quite dangerous. Frieza and his goons take over. And they proceed to make for some boring television.
Seeing an army of super powered aliens of varying origin all wearing the same costume is a tad ridiculous, but seeing them in action is even worse. We meet up with these new fiends as they already have four of Namek's Dragon Balls in hand, having obliterated their former owners. Yet, every time one of the henchmen stray, on a fool's errand, they get obliterated. The two primary warriors beneath Frieza, Dodoria and Zarbon, are all talk, no walk, and it's somewhat anticlimactic. All the while, Gohan and Krillin constantly lurk in the shadows, due to being no match for any of the above mentioned fiends.
Meanwhile, Goku, finally recovered, grabs a spaceship and heads off to train while in transit to Namek. Hey, great. Guess what? This is almost the same thing we saw on Snake Way, when Goku was returning to battle. We constantly get clips of him training, so anxious to join up with his friends to prevent their slaughter. It doesn't make for good television, and while it is necessary to show Goku become stronger and recover, to constantly cut away from the planet where everything is happening to remind us of the condition of the main character just seems too forced.
With no real tragedies, constant complaining, and a predicament that gets worse by the second for the midget Z fighters, this second set of episodes of 'Dragon Ball Z: Kai' can't come close to those that came before them. They're still better than many anime titles out there, don't get me wrong, but with nonstop exposition, far too many deus ex machinas, and a villain we don't even see in action, just barking orders while we're told he's oh-so powerful, this grouping can't help but fall short. On the bright side, the Namek Saga will be near its conclusion in the third volume of 'Kai,' and move forward, with appearances from the Ginyu Force, some actual fighting from Frieza, and more of those stupid Senzu beans. Ah well. Can't have everything we want.
The Disc: Vital Stats
'Dragon Ball Z: Kai: Part Two' arrives on Blu-ray a few months after the first set, with a similar arrangement: two discs (one BD50 with nine episodes, one BD25 with four episodes), that are Region A/B. Each disc has a single pre-menu trailer (skippable through top menu, not next chapter), and full animated menu screens. The set is again packaged in a standard case, with an attractive Vegeta themed slipcover. Episodes contained in this volume are 014 through 026.
The second volume of 'Dragon Ball Z: Kai' has an AVC MPEG-4 (1080p, 1.33:1) encode representing each of the thirteen episodes included, and it's nearly identical to the product we saw with the first 'Kai' release. In other words: wooo hooo!
Colors remain bold, solid, and very strong, with no wavering, discrepancy, and no banding at all (score!). Aliasing is not an issue, either, though lines still do give way and disappear from time to time, due to the aged animation process. Blacks are natural, though they are the home for some real artifacting, particularly in Vegeta's hair. Noise is still an issue, as it can be quite dramatic in the blue-ish green skies, like a layer of ozone. Shakiness still exists (and probably always will), but the picture is very easy to follow.
Cleanliness is still high on the list of to-do's for 'Dragon Ball,' as there are very few signs of age whatsoever here. Edges can sometimes have a rim around them, an artifact of the animation process itself, not due to the encode, but they're not too distracting. The new bits of animation (which are much more frequent in this second release) don't stand out whatsoever in the actual show; in the title cards and credits, though, look out, as they're way too modern. Fans will love the corrected coloring, cleanliness, and consistency of this new iteration of the 'Dragon Ball' tale's video presentation.
Much like the first set of 'Kai' episodes, 'Part Two' defaults to the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English dub track, while the Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0 option is available through the menu for the purist fans. Due to the differences in tracks, each language will get individually scored, with the average being the overall audio score.
English (4/5) - I really didn't hear any real difference between this volume of the show and the previous. The activity levels, and general dialogue volume levels, really match up quite well. Directionality is solid, while plenty of random bits of ambience and activity spike in the rear speakers, along with the score that really brings it from behind. We get minor little bass thumps here and there, never all that powerful, especially not compared to what we see on screen (plenty more mountains a'fallin'). The new sequences, short as they may be, felt the tiniest bit more robust and powerful. Still, I'm in love with the Doc Morgan narration.
Japanese (3/5) - In Japanese, the track provided is actually quite entertaining, even if I cannot stand the way Krillin and Gohan mix, as they sound far too close in age, while Krillin and Bulma both sound female when talking back and forth. Dialogue is still clear, while we get some good separation, average, none-too-special range on display, and bass levels are quite soft through the speakers for the most part, far, far wimpier than the dub. At least it's extremely clean, free from any static or feedback. No matter how good this mix sounds, it's somewhat pathetic that the background music is more prominent, in range and volume, than anything in the episodes themselves.
All of the extras on this release are found on the second disc.
The 'Dragon Ball Z: Kai' series is a dream come true for latecomers to the game, as it condenses the show considerably. That said, there are remnants and scenarios that could have benefited from full development; for example, how in the heck was there a buried Capsule Corp. house on Namek out of the blue?!? This second release is a tiny bit weaker than the first, since the Namek Saga isn't all that great, but it's still a must for true DBZ fans. Recommended.