There is almost unarguably no denial that Dragon Ball Z popularized anime worldwide. It was a person’s gateway to the world of wacky hair tyles, dramatic power ups, and action that redefined the imagination in more ways than over 9,000! Though the series is over 20 years old, it still continues to resonate with present fans, and gain new ones thus demonstrating that it still holds up. In 2009, with the era of HD in its infancy, Toei decided to re-air Dragon Ball Z as Dragon Ball Kai. While Sailor Moon Crystal is a full remake to Sailor Moon, Kai is simply the old Dragon Ball Z, but with some changes here and there.
In the Japanese opening, Dragon Ball Kai emphasizes that it’s the Akira Toriyama cut. So, what does that even mean? For starters, this series cuts out all the filler arcs (meaning episodes that were never in the original manga) such as the Garlic, Jr saga, the afterlife tournament saga, and the (in)famous episode when Gokuu and Piccolo attempt to get their driver’s licenses. So by cutting out the fillers, you’re cutting down its excessive episode count.
If there is one thing that the original Dragon Ball Z has been notorious for, it’s the pacing. Fights tend to drag and even the power-ups can last an episode! If you’re familiar with the original Dragon Ball manga, things move rather quickly and Kai thankfully compliments that. As a result, you’re getting a shorter series without the excess.
In some select scenes, fans are treated to some updated animated scenes and in some scenes, they’re still the same quality as the original Z broadcast. Due to these inconsistencies, it can be hard on the eyes. In the end, if you just want to enjoy the action, then it still gets the job done. While we could want something along the lines as the latter half of Dragon Ball Super, but everybody knows anime, even big name anime such as Dragon Ball, don’t get the budget to re-animate it from scratch.
The music is entirely changed for this series. Unfortunately, Hironobu Kageyama doesn’t do a single song. If you’re someone who highly prioritizes music, his removal could turn you off. Try to imagine a Cowboy Bebop remake or remaster without the jazz and that’s what it equates to. Though the soundtrack features mainstream artists such as AKB48, the soundtrack fails to capture the intensity and excitement of the original. When you watch Gohan first turn Super Saiyan 2, the absence of Spirit Vs. Spirit makes the scene feel rather empty. In the end, it loses a lot of its original identity.
While the music is entirely changed, a large majority of the original seiyuu and English dub cast return to their roles. Due to the unfortunate passings of Daisuke Gouri (the voice of Mr. Satan) and Hirotaka Suzuoki (the voice of Tenshinhan), they are appropriately replaced by Unshou Ishizuka (who also unfortunately passed away after Dragon Ball Super) and Hikaru Midorikawa (who previously voiced Paikuhan, a filler character from DBZ). We admit that Gokuu’s Japanese voice has been a source of controversy to English speaking fans (we can’t speak for the fans who are native to other languages where the series is popular), Masako Nozawa still has it. When you hear her play Gokuu after almost more than 20 years, it’s as if she never left the role. Same with Ryo Horikawa as Vegeta, Toshio Furukawa as Piccolo, Norio Wakamoto as Cell, and Ryusei Nakao as Frieza.
If you’re someone who has not seen Dragon Ball Z but are interested in seeing it, Kai is a convenient gateway for that. It takes out all of the things it has been criticized for, but also takes out what made it awesome. If you want to re-watch DBZ, it’s a good way to re-explore the series from a new perspective. If you haven’t read the manga, as we shared earlier, this edition perfectly captures how it went. While we can’t deny the majority of the fans probably don’t care, it would have been nice if the original Dragon Ball series could have been given the same treatment so we could get a full experience of the original manga as a whole. Other than that, we get that people enjoy the action that DBZ is famous for so it’s only natural that part of the series gets a remaster.