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Dragon Ball Z - Level 1.1 [Blu-Ray]
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For the first time in any corner of the galaxy, Dragon Ball Z is available in HD on Bluray! This one-of-a-kind collection presents the first seventeen episodes of DBZ in unparalleled picture quality. A team of experts worked around the clock to put the greatest anime in history on the cutting edge of modern technology. This spectacular BluRay version of DBZ is remastered from the original film footage - frame by frame - with steps taken to ensure pristine picture quality free from any imperfections.
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This Blu-ray presentation, which features the show in its native 4:3 aspect ratio, is based on a new telecine (the film-to-video process) of 16mm film materials FUNimation has had for a good number of years. What they received from Toei were film prints that are two or three generations removed from the original negatives. Scanning from a film print is not ideal, but sometimes--as in this case--doing so creates pleasing results (and other times, also in this case, it's all anyone CAN do, since Toei never hand anyone their negatives).
Provided for the telecine process was the TAF (telecine analysis film), which specifies what the colors, blacks, and whites should be. This new HD scan reflects what the original animators had made. Unlike the Dragon Box DVDs, colors and saturation look more level with no contrast boosting and the like. Black levels are solid black, reds are more red, etc. This is what the makers of the anime series intended.
Because the series was shot on 16mm film, grain is intense. Grain is what composes the image on film; to remove grain is to remove critical detail along with it (and you obviously can never fully eliminate grain; attempts to remove all traces of "visible grain" result in highly smoothed-over picture quality void of detail). However, since this new HD master was struck from 2nd- or 3rd-generation film prints, additional grain is laid on top. FUNimation handled this with a light grain filtering which largely preserves the grain and does not ruin any of the line art and background painting detail, but does cause the grain to look slightly patchy at times. I would have preferred them to leave the grain alone, but the filtering they did does nothing to ruin the image. What's left is an image that's still intensely grainy, and detail is preserved.
In addition to grain filtering, frame-by-frame dirt, scratch, tape, and other debris cleanup was applied. I applaud FUNimation for handling the ugly bits in this way, rather than applying an automatic noise reduction process which would have undoubtedly destroyed the line art and overall picture integrity. (See the "orange brick" season DVDs to see how NOT to handle dirt and other defects.)
The picture quality is simply beautiful, and it boggles my mind to think that we're viewing "Dragon Ball Z" in this high of quality considering the show was originally broadcast in lo-fi analog video. What's interesting to note is that the opening to each episode was sourced from the first movie, "Dead Zone" (evident by the EIRIN certificate number in the lower right of the title), but that's no problem since it's the same intro as the first number of episodes from the TV series. However, this does make the "standard definition vs. HD restored" comparison in the extra featurette on disc two a bit misleading, since this opening would have been sourced from 35mm, so it's of higher quality than the episodes themselves. The opening and closing do not contain Japanese credits (and the closing features English credits even if you're watching it in Japanese). Reason being is FUNimation were never given film elements for the opening and closing that contain the opticals for the credits. I'll take a "clean" opening in HD sourced from 35mm over a standard definition opening with credits, though it would have been nice for FUNimation to provide the SD opening/closing with Japanese credits as extras. Next episode previews are also missing for the same reason, though again, providing the SD video as an option would have been nice if enough disc space is available.
The only major gripe I have with the HD video are that the episode title cards are only in English. Seems that FUNimation threw alternate angles out the window long ago. I always appreciated seeing the Japanese title cards on my "Dragon Ball" Saga DVDs, so this feels like a major step back to me. The English translations of the original titles are a whole lot more interesting to me than the English dub titles, and on top of that, I find the Japanese title cards to be much more aesthetically pleasing (despite not being able to read the kanji). Hopefully it's a problem that will be rectified on future sets. However, it's not such a major gripe that it will prevent me from purchasing future sets even if the original cards aren't provided. The video quality is otherwise astounding, so I'll happily but begrudgingly suck it up if things continue this way.
There are three Dolby TrueHD audio options: original Japanese mono, English with Japanese music 5.1, and English with redone American music stereo. The Japanese mono is one channel; I think I would have preferred 2.0 dual mono, though purists may have issue with that. I believe there's no reason to be truly disappointed with any of the tracks; those who prefer the English dub with American broadcast music may gripe that the track is only 2.0, but at least it's lossless, when it wasn't even included on the Dragon Boxes at all.
"DBZ" Level 1.1 on Blu-ray is the finest this show has ever looked on video BY FAR, and will continue to be the standard of quality until Toei Animation scan and restore the original camera negatives (which, given their track record, they may never do). If you're on the fence and you're a videophile, buy it, buy it, BUY IT!
Update 6/9/12: Unfortunately, Funimation suspended all
future releases of DBZ Blu-rays in January 2012 due to Restoration financing. It's a shame because these Blu-rays are the best way to watch DBZ. Now that those aren't being continued, and the Dragon Boxes are becoming out-of-print, the only option is the cropped Orange-box versions... please continue the restorations, Funimation.)
At first, it was skeptical. Funimation making the Blu-rays of the series before Japan does? New HD masters done by Funimation? This was the company that gave us the Orange Box sets that had cropped images and controversial picture quality. It was all justified when they released the Dragon Box, a replica of the Japanese DVD-Boxes which was considered the ultimate way to watch Dragon Ball Z... it no longer isn't.
Yes, believe it or not, the new Blu-rays made by Funimation are actually the BEST way to watch DBZ, period. The Dragon Box, what would've been considered the Ultimate Edition, actually had its colors changed abnormally and grain reduced (now, these masters were done for the purposes of DVD).
Instead of Funimation using the HD masters that would be used for the Orange Box sets, they went back from scratch and did an all-new frame-by-frame restoration. The difference from the new and the old masters is that grain is finally shown, the colors are untouched, the telecine wobble and jutters have been greatly reduced, and most of the dirt shown on the Orange Box DVDs have been reduced significantly to near-Dragon Box restoration... though, not entirely, but never distracting.
Those that expect modern Anime picture quality will probably not bother seeing this... or reduce the grain themselves with their TVs, as DBZ now looks like what film should look like... and I couldn't be happier. DBZ clearly has never looked better.
As for the sound department, behold, big upgrades have occurred. The 5.1 English-with-Japanese-music and the 2.0 American Broadcast audio (the 2.0 track dropped out in the Dragon Box for optimal video presentation.) are presented for the first time in lossless Dolby TrueHD, but the bigger surprise here is that the Japanese audio is now lossless. This is the first time that the Japanese audio has been given this treatment, as all previous releases would provide compressed audio for the original language of this show. That's not to say that I hate the dub (though I'm not a fan of the American Music), but giving the original what it deserves is a plus.
NOTE: The original Japanese theme can only be heard in the Japanese Audio, despite the English 5.1 having the Japanese music, as was the case in the orange box sets. In the Dragon Box, it was corrected. The reason for bringing back the error is unknown.
Now, that is not to say that the Dragon Boxes were a waste of money. In terms of DVD representation, it clearly is the best to watch the show possible, provide the best detail and colors (though inaccurate). In terms of faithfulness, well, I have to declare the Blu-ray the winner... but I do have further opinions on the comparisons.
The plus side for the Dragon Boxes is the inclusion of original Japanese text, "next-time" previews and booklets that contain Episode guides and a few bonus bits in the book. This is not the case for the Blu-rays, as it's just English Text (the opening credits were not translated, but instead, textless), and previews and Episode guides are gone, just an Episode list of the Funimation English titles... thankfully, other than the Booklets, these are minor changes.
The one negative side for the Dragon Box is what the Orange box had that the Funimation Dragon Box didn't have (yet the Japanese Dragon Box had): Marathon Mode. Don't want to deal with the opening/closing theme and last time previews every time? The Marathon Mode (or Story Mode in Japan) gets rid of all that, as it presents the story continuously (except for switching discs).
Strangely, Funimation dropped the Marathon mode for the Dragon Box (Why? Reason: When you select the Japanese track on the menu, you get the next-time previews. When you select the English track, it goes to another title and removes the next-time previews... why couldn't they have Sean Schemmel provide the narrations for those previews? Would've kept the marathon mode if they did that... but I digress)
What's even worse is that no chapter break is given between "last-time" and the beginnig of the episode. That means that I have to fast forward and possibly miss a few seconds of the episodes after fast-forwarding... no excuse on leaving out a chapter at that position.
Now, with all of the complaining on this one negative aspect, should this apply to the Blu-ray? The good news is: the Marathon mode's been brought back.
As far as which version to get, it depends. If you only have a DVD player, go for the Dragon Box. For those who have the Blu-ray player, there should be no reason to not upgrade. The positives definitely outweigh the negatives, so you can't go wrong. Highly Recommended.
If you are a die hard fan of the Japanese version with original opening title cards, original title cards, end credit title cards and original next episode previews, then this set isn't for you.
However, if you are a die hard fan of the US/Toonami version with the Nathan Johnson/Bruce Faulconer BGM but were disappointed with the orange season DVD boxsets that cropped the original native full screen 4:3 aspect ratio into wide screen 16:9 aspect ratio then this set is for you.
If you've missed it, I'm new to the Dragon Ball saga, and this first installment has certainly tweaked my interest. There's a history here that I'm clearly unaware of, but the storytelling is rich enough that I don't feel as if I've missed all that much. The narrative is structured to fill-in the necessary backstory. Despite my unfamiliarity with Goku, Gohan, Raditz, and the others, there's no mistaking a story of classic good versus evil with the fate of all mankind (or the universe!) in the balance. There's a pleasant mythology at work, as well, when fallen heroes disappear into a spirit realm where they can only be reborn by completing a quest and must continue their training in preparation for the challenges yet to unfold.
Plus, with a franchise this involved, you're always going to be rewarded with some great writing ... such as "I don't want to be a fighter. I want to be an orthopedist when I grow up!" Crazy li'l Gohan!
DRAGON BALL Z - LEVEL 1.1 (Blu-ray) contains the first 17 episodes of the program. The episodes retain their original 4:3 ratio, but it all looks and sounds very solid in this HD presentation. This may be the finest presentation this property ever receives, so I'd say it's a must for fans of the franchise.
Also, I understand from my online reading that FUNimation has placed Dragon Ball Z thru a massive restoration process in preparation for the series 25th anniversary. As this is my first exposure to the franchise, I can't speak honestly to the upgrade efforts, but I can say that I found the animation mostly crisp with colors vibrant and only minimal graining common to some conversion processes. Were you to tell me that this property had only recently been animated, I wouldn't have been all that surprised as what I watched looked particularly solid in comparison to other animated efforts I've watched. Clearly, its drawing style isn't necessarily contemporary, but colors and crispness look fairly modern.
While I would've appreciated a special feature detailing some of the challenges the animators encountered with the restoration process, there isn't anything here, though there's a brief snippet available online at [...] There's clearly a lotta love at FUNimation for the property; otherwise, why make such a creative investment? I'd love to see more about this undertaking, and I'm sure others here will chime in on that front. I'm a big believer in supplemental features; hopefully, there will be something available in either future releases or a complete Blu-ray set that's always inevitable down the road. For as old a property as Dragon Ball Z is, I'd also think that there could be some great interviews by others in the anime field who specifically credit the franchise as an inspiration for pursuing their various careers.
In the interests of fairness, I'm pleased to share that the folks at FUNimation provided me with a copy of DRAGON BALL Z - LEVEL 1.1 for the purposes of completing this review.
Video- The video looks great, it hasn't been altered and is presented in a 4x3 format, it takes up the entire screen on a widescreen television but there are black bars, this set actually doubles in a way because if I use my TV remote and hit zoom fit to screen then boom I have an image similar to the cropped blu ray set they released. The picture still has grain to show detail and the colors are wonderful and they aren't washed out.
Audio- I've never had any problems with the DBZ audio in terms of quality, the only problem was whether it was present or not on any particular release. This one included the 2 English tracks, 1 with Japanese music and one with the "Bruce" soundtrack, as always it sound great, if anyone has any questions Ill go more in depth but im fairly certain people are concerned about the video not the audio
Personally I think this set is great and im comparing this to other DBZ releases I own which include the Rock The Dragon set, Orange brick collection, movies on dvd, and finally the dragon box set. The level set isn't perfect though because its been put on hold and these poor cropped versions have been made instead, ive compared these to the level sets and these are clearly superior in terms of video quality due to picture quality and the fact that it is not cropped. If your a fan and your looking for the best viewing experience then I cant in good conscious recommend the other blu ray set, Id say go for the Dragon Box set, its quality is wonderful but you'll have problem acquiring the second set because its quite expensive, around $400 eBay.
In closing I feel everyone should buy these level sets and support them, the other release as shown here http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00GS4B7GS/ref=s9_newr_gw_d43_g74_i2?pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_s=center-5&pf_rd_r=0A3DKE4CYRF14Y5GDSQ3&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_p=1688200302&pf_rd_i=507846
Should not be supported, the picture quality is inferior and the cropping is an insult, all it takes is the hit of a button on a TV remote to force a 4x3 image into widescreen with cropping. what's going to end up happening is people will buy the blu ray set and later on they'll release an uncut 4x3 set that complete and people will run out and buy that too, similar to the people buying the dragon box sets who owned the orange brick sets. In closing I cant give this 5 stars because its not complete nor will it be but its the best way to watch the Saiyan saga on Blu Ray so for this I give the overall product 4/5 stars. I know I might've babbled and some people might complain but I wanted to get my message out and I refuse to write a bogus 1 star review on the inferior cropped versions, I hope this helped and if anyone has any questions about the set Id be more than happy to answer them.