In this fourth volume of the 'Dragon Ball Z: Kai' saga, the battle of planet Namek comes to a devastating head. Heroes and villains will die, a planet will be critically destroyed, and a warrior will reach his true potential. The series, which is a condensed version of the 'Dragon Ball Z' anime to match the original manga, reaches its halfway point, and, for the first time since the original volume, adds real tension and drama to the mix.
It's also the first time we don't have a volume dedicated to Goku giving us status updates and being completely unavailable to his friends. From the second episode on, we finally get to see why this character is the hero and main character of the story, as he and he alone has the power to stop the powerful adversary that is responsible for the destruction of his home planet.
Action fans, 'Dragon Ball Z: Kai: Part Four' is nothing but wall to wall fight scenes. There isn't a single "wasted" moment, and characters still "develop," as it were, as we see a mano-a-mano battle for the entire run time. Plot conveniences are thrown aside when the Namekian Dende is slaughtered, and those annoying, anticlimactic senzu beans are nowhere in sight. Instead, we have actual heroes fighting to their fullest capacities, which, sometimes, just isn't enough. We have sacrifice, honor, dignity, redemption, and pure, unadulterated evil. It's hard not to like what's on display here.
Frieza was hardly all that menacing in prior volumes of 'Kai.' In fact, it takes us seeing his final "form" in these episodes to get to the truly demonic, twisted character who is both ultimately capable and willing to do anything to win, if only for the sake of not losing. His entire purpose lost, with the supposed loss of the Namekian Dragon Balls, Frieza is only out to prove he's the ultimate power in the universe, an unstoppable menace who will destroy each and every thing on a planet just for show. He constantly taunts the heroes, verbally and emotionally, though his baiting of Goku by killing the useless hero Krillin becomes a big part of his undoing. We have a villain here who is as close to the twisted, unadulterated levels of evil found in Darth Vader in 'The Empire Strikes Back,' before he gets so overly sentimental and mushy. Instead, it's a scheming villain, a true bastard of a creature, who acts out of pure rage and hate. It's just awesome to watch this character who is so pure in what he is, and no scene in this volume is as crucial to the character as the throwaway moment where we see, out of frustration, Frieza clenching his fists so hard that they begin to bleed, which is far more damage than almost every being on the planet can inflict on him.
This volume also is the realization of prophecies, with the birth of the Super Saiyan characters, the ultimate forms of the Saiyan characters who are our main characters (Goku, Gohan, and Vegeta), the final beings of their species. It is a bizarre way of storytelling, this chapter in the 'Kai' saga, where two combatants go toe to toe at a time, where the remaining "Z Fighters" just stare from a mountain side, and then only interfere once or twice throughout the entire arc. They're not only distractions, but also vulnerabilities for Goku's side, so why they didn't just pack up and get the heck out of Dodge when they realized they couldn't even scratch the villain is beyond me. The comic angle of the show is only briefly touched upon, with the brief return of the Captain Ginyu character, and a run in with Bulma that will leave fans shaking their heads, especially when lifelong friends can't recognize that a shrill woman suddenly sounds like a drag queen.
What's special about 'Dragon Ball Z: Kai: Part Four' is that, despite being one huge battle, it doesn't get overly redundant. I say overly, as in this series, redundancy is the norm, with characters fighting, reaching new levels they never knew they could, and overcoming adversity by the skin of their teeth. Frieza and Goku's massive battle takes on so many different shapes and forms, it's tough to not enjoy it. The writers of the manga and those who crafted out the storyboards for the show did an amazing job making this four plus hour battle feel like it passes by in a second, and this entire volume does breeze by, faster than any other in the series so far. 'Kai' even goes so far as to answer one of the world's greatest riddles, as we realize blondes not only have more fun, but they also kick more ass.
The Disc: Vital Stats
FUNimation's Blu-ray release of 'Dragon Ball Z: Kai: Part Four' comes to Blu-ray in a standard thickness two disc case, with a slipcover matching the cover art. Disc one is a BD50 that holds episodes 040 through 048, while disc two is a BD25 with 049 through 052, as well as the supplements. This release is coded Region A/B.
The awesomeness that was the third volume of 'Dragon Ball Z: Kai' carries over to the fourth, as FUNimation has given us quite a nice 1080p AVC MPEG-4 encoded series, framed at 1.33:1.
This volume again has tons of added and/or changed animation, and these new cels look absolutely splendid, with awesome clarity and color. The noise levels are reduced significantly, though the picture still has some shaking problems (beyond the whole "Namek is imploding and the entire world is shaking" effect this volume has). Edges are cleaner this time around, as there are no weird halos or ringing to be found. The picture in this volume is more consistent than any since the first, but is a huge step up from that initial release due to how many new graphics are found.
'Dragon Ball' fans, if you're skipping this series, you're missing out on the best it will ever look without reanimating the entire show!
Like the previous volumes, 'Dragon Ball Z Kai: Part Four' has two distinctly different tracks: the native Japanese in a Dolby TrueHD 2.0 mix, and the default English dub, with a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track. Due to the discrepancy, both tracks will be sampled for this review, with the final score reflecting an average.
English (4/5) - I was underwhelmed slightly with the previous volume and its rear activity levels. That is not the case here. With this release mostly consisting of one humongous, drawn out battle, the rear channels are constantly engaged, the story pulling you in and putting you in Goku's shredded fighting suit. Bass levels are amped up slightly, for more reasons than the destruction of a planet (which does help!), and localized and panning effects are found virtually nonstop as Goku and Vegeta take their battle to new heights. There is even some electrical high pitched noise from the planet core that sounds fantastic (though sometimes redundant and repetitive) against the banter of the two warriors. Dialogue remains front and center, but the whole room opens up this time around, and your sound system gets a constant workout!
Japanese (2.5) - Stereo, stereo, volumes three and four will seem like stereo, as they're both pretty much the same damn thing, and that isn't a good thing, considering the sonic whoop ass found at points in this show in the English track. Take away the different translations on names, and it's still hard to not notice how non-immersive the Japanese tracks sound. Bass is borderline non-existant, while dialogue is rarely all that powerful, even in powerful screams. Battles lack oomph or any sense of urgency, they're just soft, just like the soundtrack. Prioritization isn't an issue, though the battle to be heard is fought between elements that could care less, with each trying hard to be softer than the other. If it weren't for the fact that these tracks are all technically passable and without actual flaw, rather than sheer meagerness in comparison to the English track, the Japanese audio would readily deserve a lower score.
The only discernible difference between the Volume Three and Volume Four releases is the fact that volume levels suddenly have balls again, a bit more hump behind the thump. That isn't much compensation for everything else sacrificed by listening to the show in its native language. I hate to say it, but on these releases, not listening in 'English' is a bit of a loss.
The supplement package on this all-too important series is lacking, even by 'Kai' standards, and that's pretty low.
Now this is more like it. 'Dragon Ball Z: Kai' hits its stride with the battle between Goku and Frieza, which is, by far, the most gruesome, mean spirited, apocalyptic sight in the series so far. Up to this point, the exclusions from the original 'Dragon Ball Z' anime have been minor, but from here out, there are some pretty big changes coming, so stay tuned! FUNimation continues to do a solid job with their 'Kai' releases, and this one is a step up from the previous releases, due to the sheer activity overload present. The show is all uphill from here, folks, and that's a great thing. The unveiling of the Super Saiyans is just the first step, as soon we'll be seeing time travelers, androids, resurrected foes, and a new menace...with a green tint.