With visuals polished, filler scrubbed, and vocals retouched, Dragon Ball Z Kai was a triumphant commemoration of a series two decades seasoned. It’s now enjoying a steady distribution here in the UK, with series two hot off the press.
For someone who remembers watching the odd episode of the Frieza saga as a kid, there’s a giddy nostalgia about coming back to the show as a seasoned otaku. But where a greater appreciation of anime combat’s intricacies prove some ten-episode length battles outstanding in scale and impact, it also shows up where they fall flat far more than you realised as a tween.
The two arcs collected in this release take up opposite ends of the scale, the Captain Ginyu saga hinging on slapstick humour, the Ginyu Force’s debacle of how they’ll balance their poses without all their members, and, of all things, staring at Recoome’s arse-crack for inordinate amounts of time. It’s a relief to break from the boredom to see Goku return from his 100 times gravity training, his infectious optimism almost as tough to break as his body, and do away with Ginyu and his Force once and for all.
Then Frieza comes to save the season, and the memories start to come back to you. On the right side of sinister while packing all the best quips, he’s nothing short of iconic. His numerous transformations up to his sensuous second-to-last are striking against the familiar repetition of Namek’s backdrop.
As though to make room for such charisma, other characters get left behind, and this is taken literally in the sassy scientist Bulma’s case. With someone needed to stand guard over the Dragon Balls for the team, she’s left to mother hen duties while the others go off and fight. As the eponymous orbs are tossed from hand to hand, she seems to be forgotten about and is more than once left in danger till one of the guys happens to pass. It makes you long for the Android saga, just to see a woman join the fight. Even Vegeta, as Frieza’s encroachment shuffles him onto Goku’s side, seems meeker than his old self.
But when the plight of Frieza’s eradication comes into focus, all else falls away, much like Namek crumbling under the weight of the fight for the title of Universe’s Most Powerful Warrior. Frieza’s eerie destructive hunger confined by his first four androgynous forms, opposite Goku as he gets his Super Saiyan on, give us a rapturous view of a planet being pushed to calamity amidst lava and lightning, long after Goku’s comrades have wisely got out of the way. It’s deflating when the series cuts off before we can be completely sure of Frieza’s defeat, but our exclusive view of the battle, as Goku’s friends and son Gohan await the outcome on Earth, is vicarious violence at its most engrossing.
For our review of Series 3, click here.