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DRAGONBALL:  THE SAGA OF GOKU

Review by Alex Haberstroh

Audio:  Dolby 2.0 Surround
Video:  4:3 Pan & Scan
Studio:  Trimark Home Video
Features:  See Review
Length:  Disc 1- 156 Minutes (Episodes 1-7) Disc 2- 181 Minutes (Episodes 8-13)
Release Date:  November 28, 2000

Film:  ** (Adults)  *** (Children)

The story of Dragonball has a somewhat lengthy and complicated history.  Apparently, Dragonball originally surfaced in Japanese comics back in 1984.  Due to its incredible popularity though, a cartoon series (running over 500 episodes), fourteen animated movies, and numerous books and comics soon followed, as well as everything from pens, pencils, board games, Nintendo games, clothes, calendars and more, bringing the series successfully through the eighties and nineties.

In 1995, eager to take advantage of Dragonball’s popularity in the untouched American Market, Gen Fukunaga, through his company called “FUNimation,” decided to release one of the many variants of the cartoon television series to the United States.  Yet many obstacles, such as the show’s airtime of 5:30 a.m., kept the show from gaining mainstream popularity.  After translating thirteen episodes, the producers nervously awaited the go-ahead for the second season.  Working with Saban Entertainment (those evil Power Rangers people), FUNimation produced twenty-three more episodes for the second season before losing syndication.  Preserved in the set Dragonball: Saga of Goku, are the aforementioned first thirteen episodes of the series.

The episodes center on the character of Goku, who in all the other films, books, and TV shows in Japan, was a grown up character.  Yet for some reason, perhaps thinking that Americans were only interested in action (who, us?), and children would be the only ones interested in anime (Japanese animation), producers decided this series would have Goku’s adventures begin as a small boy.

Young Goku, orphaned after the death of his adoptive grandfather, is a mystical boy sporting both a tail and incredible strength.  Content with his life, he practices daily the martial arts his grandfather taught him.  But one day while Goku is hunting for food, a strange teenage girl named Bulma crashes her car into Goku by accident.  After apologizing profusely, she explains that she is desperately searching for a Dragonball (This is the premise for the next twelve episodes).

There are seven “dragonballs” scattered throughout the earth.  When all seven are gathered, they can be used to summon the Eternal Dragon, a “magical beast of limitless power,” that will grant one wish.  Now, it just so happens that Bulma has acquired two of these dragonballs and Goku’s grandfather has left him one to remember him by, yet they must together collect all seven, and this is where their journey begins.  Throughout the episodes, which were like the old serials of the past (Will our heroes live to see the sunlight? Tune in next week!), the viewer is introduced to many characters such as the sarcastic shape-shifting pig Oolong, and Yamcha the Desert Bandit, who can’t be around girls or he gets so nervous he falls on his face, tongue-tied, as well as many other zany characters.  In the end, they must challenge the evil Emperor Pila to stop him from collecting all the dragonballs and seeking world domination.     

Complaints?  Yes.  In general, I thought the overall approach taken was very childish and because of that, the characters got annoying before the end of the first disc, much less the second.  First, the character of Bulma, as the Japanese do sometimes in other popular “Americanized anime” such as Sailor Moon, is a biased portrayal of American girls by the Japanese.  Bulma never stops whining about how miserable she is, how she needs Goku to save her, how she wants to look beautiful for any man that might come by.  Even her whole reason for finding the dragonballs is to obtain the perfect boyfriend.

Second, as I mentioned before, the childish approach taken by the creators is really ridiculous.  Yamcha, the supposed cutthroat thief, is afraid of touching a girl because it makes him nervous.  Emperor Pila, the supposed evil villain, tries to torture Bulma by blowing her a kiss.  Gimme a break!  I don’t understand this new wave of patronizing kids with these simple little “villains” who are more likely just pouty little brats that didn’t get their way.  Growing up in the eighties, kids had a wide variety of “evil-villains” in shows that weren’t so trite like “He-Man,” “Transformers,” “G.I. Joe,” “Thunder Cats,” and yes, even “The Ninja Turtles.”  At least those characters, along with the plots of the episodes, seemed somewhat more realistic.    

Video **

Throughout the thirteen episodes, I noticed a few times where the print would get grainy (hence the two star rating), but generally the integrity of the colors is kept.  Unfortunately, the video is in the “Pan & Scan” format, ‘Nuff said. 

Audio **

Since Dragonball is a translated Japanese cartoon show, I didn’t expect much.  The dialogue and effects are generally crisp and easily heard, yet the sound was just what you’d expect from a cartoon show, lackluster.  While there are moments where the music and sound effects travel aggressively through the front soundstage, most of the sounds originate from the center speaker.    

Features *

Perhaps I’ve been spoiled lately after plentiful discs like Gladiator or Titan A.E., but the supplements included here were sparse.  The front of the box advertises an “Interactive Game,” yet the only two “games” I noticed on discs 1 and 2, consisted of multiple choice “quiz-games” on the episodes.  What a joke!  The only other extras were two trailers on the first disc and three on the second for unheard of “direct to video children’s releases.”  Trailers for the upcoming episodes like the ones included in the recent X-Files: Seasons 1&2 DVD’s would have been an interesting idea, as well as some feature on the history of Dragonball’s popularity.

Summary:

Certainly not the best anime I’ve seen, Dragonball: Saga of Goku provides a watered-down version of the more maturely themed Dragonball story.  While the story began to slowly grow on me over the five plus hours (as my body began to feel numb, feeling as if DMC had decided to give me Chinese water torture), this story is really more geared towards children ages five to ten.  Unless you’re already a fan of this version of Dragonball, or are just looking to play a cruel Xmas joke on a friend who actually likes real anime, I’d advise staying away from this disc and saving your money for some more serious fare.