|DBZ on DVD|
You've all no doubt read about 50 reviews of the "Ginyu Assault" DVD by now, and even though I got my copy on Friday, July 13 (before most of the reviews even came in) I am, naturally, one of the last to submit my own. And, of course, mine is the longest. Normally I wouldn't be inclined to do a review since so many others have, but in my opinion, all of the reviews so far have been missing a few points that I personally think are very important and worthy of more consideration.
The first thing I need to clarify is that I don't know very much about DVD's on the technical side, so my review will be purely based on content. Some reviews have mentioned a low bitrate on this disc, artifacing and other such jargon that I don't entirely understand, so this review will just have to remain silent on that kind of thing. I should also mention (a la AnimeonDVD.com) that my equipment is a Compaq 6x DVD-ROM, a pair of (good) stereo headphones, and a 17-inch monitor. This is important to note because watching DVD's on a ROM will (obviously) be a very different experience than doing so on a stand-alone player connected to a home theater system.
Now onto the disc...
Guess I should start with the packaging, which is only slightly better than the VHS release. At least the font they're using now for the title doesn't look like it was rendered on a Commodore 64, so that's good. Otherwise it's pretty much the same. Extremely weak box art, of course (come on, a SCREENCAP?) but that's the kind of quality I've come to expect from FUNimation. You'd think that with six weeks between video releases, they could come up with some really kickass art, but that's what you get for thinking. I know that just about any fan with a scanner and Photoshop can do better, and you all should check out the "This is how we do it" feature on VegettoEX's site if you want to see what I'm talking about. Then of course, there's Pioneer's box art, which was fantastic. But Pioneer is out of the picture now, so oh well. I suppose FUNimation could use some of that cash that "they don't know what to do with" and hire a decent graphic designer, but hey, hire somebody new and that's just less cash to go around, right? They'll probably be sticking with their current system of having the same person be the graphic designer, executive producer, voice of Cell, DVD masterer and toilet cleaner.
No inserts or extras of any type inside the case, but no surprises there either. Some production notes, a chapter menu, a cast list, ANYTHING would have been nice, but I can certainly deal without.
The only upside of the packaging is the keepcase. I'm REALLY glad they're not using those godawful snapper cases.
So how's the actual content?
Well, the first thing we see is the copyright warning, followed by...oh what's this?... the last two frames of the DBZ closing animation, THEN the FUNimation Productions animated logo. Wow, that's some spectacular editing, there. Really hit the sprocket hole on that one. Don't they have a master copy of their logo animation that they could use, rather than embarrassing themselves once again by just crappily cutting it in from the closing credits?
Next we see the main menu pop up, which is actually just fine. Very simple, but that's OK. The seven options are Opening, the English titles of the three episodes, Closing, and Language. In the background can be heard the sound of someone hitting a trash can repeatedly... oh no wait, that's the new Season 3 dub opening theme. You get a few seconds of that, then it fades out and starts up again. Naturally, I made a beeline for the "Language" option and after a submenu popping up, changed it to "Japanese." To my chagrin, the SAME opening menu returned, with the same options, and the same garbage can hitting. Oh well. I'd have hoped that the music would change, perhaps to an instrumental version of "Cha La Head Cha La" (psst... FUNi... Disc 5, track 6, 5 CD set), and that the episode titles would change to the Japanese titles, but there was no difference whatsoever. I guess it isn't a necessity, but creating two separate menus would be better from a design standpoint, you could tell which language you were currently set on, and it would show respect to the Japanese version as something separate entirely from the dub. By NOT doing this, it almost seems like FUNimation is suggesting that their titles are the "absolute" titles. Let's hope they change this in the future.
I decided to begin by clicking on "Opening." "Cha La" popped up as expected... but ho... what's this? Wow, I already have a hunch by the badly mixed and overexposed sound that this MUST have been the version used in Movie #1. (Whoever did the sound mixing on that was certainly on crack, because the soundtrack sounds like crap through the whole movie.) OK, pretty disgusting that I could actually recognize that, but I'm a flaming DB otaku. And then... my suspicion was confirmed! Those of us who can read Japanese have a bit of an advantage here, and, sure enough, the credits betrayed the truth. Uh... no Chiaki Imada was NOT the production supervisor on any of these episodes, Takao Koyama did NOT write the screenplay, and while Yuji Ikeda's art direction on the first movie was fantastic, he had nothing to do with anything on this DVD. Oh... and what do you know! "Tenkaichi Gohan" MUST be somewhere in these episodes, because it's listed as the inserted song!
Great. So FUNimation chose what was, soundwise, the WORST POSSIBLE version of the opening, complete with credits that don't match the actual staff of the episode(s) on the disc. That's just incredibly lazy, and completely disrespectful to the staff of both Movie #1, and the three episodes presented. Congratulations, FUNimation! You've managed to insult the Japanese staff once again! The least they could have done was use a creditless version of the opening, which I KNOW exists, and a stereo mix of "Cha La Head Cha La." I know FUNimation has a creditless version of the opening, as evidenced by the animation that they've been using under their closing credits since the beginning, and if I can find a stereo mix of the TV-length "Cha La" (Disc 4, track 1, 5 CD set) they certainly should be able to as well. There's just no excuse for this kind of shabby work. Yes, FUNi. Some of us DO notice these things, and some of us DO care.
I figured I'd go for "closing" next to see if perhaps they used the credits from episode 196, or the Spanish version or something. Well, that's nice. According to the staff/cast list, this was indeed episode 69's credits. But ONLY episode 69's credits.
Which leads nicely into my second rant of this review, and my biggest problem by far.
Many of you may not know this, but both the opening and closing credits are different for EACH AND EVERY EPISODE of the Japanese series. Sure, the songs and animation are the same, and to most people, including them on each episode may seem a bit redundant. But NOT doing so is EXTREMELY uncool in my book. Some of us actually CARE about the people who worked so hard on this historic show, and believe that they deserve the proper credit and respect. I want to know who directed episode 35, and who did the voice of Lime in episode 170, for example. Without openings and closings, these people are left uncredited and forgotten. And to add insult to injury, FUNimation didn't even bother subtitling the credits, or even the lyrics to the themes.
But all of that is just small potatoes compared to the biggest flaw of the DVD, one that I find absolutely inexcusable: The last time/next time segments (both versions) have been cut entirely. What the HFIL??? These things are an essential part of the DBZ experience! Sure it's all just reused footage, but...well... so are the (frequent) flashbacks in the series. Will FUNimation be cutting those from the DVD's too? As for the segments, the music, the narration... it's all there for a reason, and not just to fill in the gaps for those who missed the last episode, or to entice you to watch the next one. I really think that you miss something when these pieces are removed, particularly in the case of the Japanese version, in which Goku (and often other members of the cast) "perform" the next episode preview. It's all part of establishing the pacing, mood and rhythm of the show, and in my opinion these DVD's are woefully incomplete without them. Besides, (heh) some of the dub's worst lines occur in the last/next segs, and they ought to be preserved for all time. (Anybody remember "Krillin's in the house!" I KNOW I want that bit on DVD, just so I can show people how little regard FUNimation has for maintaining any sort of integrity in DBZ.) I have it on good authority, however, that the recap/preview problem may be solved at least somewhat in the near future, but I'll get to that a bit later.
To top it all off, even the eyecatches (commercial break bumpers) have been excised as well. WHY? In doing this, FUNimation is kind of biting its own ass, since the very last note of the eyecatch jingle always tends to echo into the soundtrack of the actual episode footage. (Listen for a high "F" from the horn section) Same goes for the bleeding of the "last time" music onto the title screen (this will be a middle "G," also horns). Very sloppy and messy sounding, and again, this could be corrected by simply presenting the episodes as-is. The sound editor obviously did not mean for them to be cut this way.
And that's basically what I'm getting at. These episodes are just that, EPISODES. They were not intended to be watched as a "feature with 3 chapters," and they shouldn't be presented that way. They should be shown EXACTLY as they were on television (minus commercials, of course). If the viewer wants to skip the "extraneous" stuff, let them do so at their OWN option, which can be facilitated by dividing each episode into five chapters: Opening, Last time, Act I (pre-commercial), Act II (post-commercial), Next time, and Closing.
The episodes are presented now in the same way that a lazy person records stuff off of TV in order to make the most out of a six-hour tape. It's sloppy, ugly, and totally unprofessional. Come on, this is a freaking DVD for God's sake. This is supposed to be archival quality, enough for everyone from the casual viewer to the hardcore fan. And isn't it FUNimation's position that these discs are being made especially FOR the hardcore fans anyway? You know that there's a problem when the broadcast version feels far more complete than the DVD.
My goodness, I haven't even gotten to the episodes themselves yet!
I started with the Japanese version, and immediately upon seeing the first title ("At Last, a Direct Confrontation! Captain Ginyu Takes the Field!"), I knew exactly who was doing the translation. After all, I've been comparing my own title translations to his for years now, and getting a little "help" now and then, heh heh. Anyway, congratulations Simmons! I KNEW it was going to be you ever since that whole toriyama.org/FUNimation partnership a while back. Good to know that the series is in your capable hands. Although I have to wonder why it needed to be kept this big, dark, mysterious "secret" until the DVD's were released.
In any case, the translation is just about everything I could have hoped for, and it is truly a divine pleasure to finally be able to know 100% of what is being said, rather than my usual 60% or so. I'm much more of a Japanese reader than a listener, and even less of a speaker...
I must take exception, though, to the translation of "kuso" as "crud." "Kuso," literally, means "excrement", or in other words, shit. While the word is not an obscenity to Japanese speakers like "shit" is to us, it certainly isn't as Wally Beaver-ish as "crud" either. That just sounds... lame. I think "damn" or perhaps "crap" would be perfect for all future incidents of "kuso," but that's just me. (And, I'm sorry, but "kusotare" ("asshole"), well, that's just gotta stay "asshole!" I bring this all up because the "swearing issue" has always been a delicate one, both in the dub and in fansubs. Everyone seems to be a bit confused as to how much swearing their really is in the show, (it's very light, in actuality) and in my opinion, the subtitling of "kuso" and "kusotare" (pretty much the only swear words used in DBZ) as "crud" is just a bit too gentle. Of course, some news has recently come to light from Steven Simmons himself that I find totally unsurprising: Gen Fukunaga has apparently insisted that there be no swearing of any kind in the subtitles. So I guess he's found a way to censor the Japanese version as well.
Simmons has also let it be known that the scripts he is submitting to FUNimation are being altered in at least one (very significant) respect: the subtitles use FUNimation's character names and spellings. So Kuririn is Krillin, Buruma is Bulma, Freeza is Frieza, Kaiou is King Kai, Saichourou is Guru, etc. I REALLY dislike this. At least in Pioneer's subtitled versions of the movies they had the courtesy to use romanizations that were much closer to the original Japanese, and completely disregarded FUNimation's spellings (Gyuumaou was subtitled as Gyuumaou, not "Ox King" for example). Oh, but wait... I forgot that Pioneer actually understands and cares about anime.
In any case, this "FUNimation's names" issue is a problem for a few reasons. First, this is supposed to be an exact translation, and their names occasionally suggest things that were not intended by the original Japanese version. For example, translating Saichourou (roughly "Great Elder" or "the Oldest One") as "Guru" is completely wrong. Not only is "guru" a title that doesn't quite match Saichourou's function, but it has a decidedly spiritual connotation. It just isn't a very good translation of his name, and a closer one could easily be used. And then there's the fact that a few names are completely different between the dub and the original. For example, when Mr. Satan shows up (a name that will most certainly be changed for the dub) will he be called "Mr. Savage" (or whatever) in the subs? What about Kame Sennin, who is sometimes referred to by that name, and sometimes as Mutenroshi? Will the subs simply read "Master Roshi" every time? Or Tenshinhan... that'll look pretty funny to hear someone say "Tenshinhan-san" with "Tien" appearing at the bottom of the screen. And then there's Goku's surname, which already looks like it's being removed from the subs as well (what the HFIL does FUNimation have against "Son?") Buruma often refers to Goku as "Son-kun," (subtitled simply as "Goku" in the DVD) and Piccolo often calls him "Son." Such uses illuminate some very interesting subtleties about the characters and their relationship to Goku, and while the dub may completely toss the finer points of characterization out the window (and the rougher points as well, now that I think about it), it's the kind of thing that ought to be maintained in a "pure" subtitled version. Basically, there's no reason why FUNi should be polluting the subs with their names. Thankfully, according to Simmons, all the DVD's from here on out will use the names as he scripted them, but I will believe it when I see it. I don't have any idea why FUNimation changed them in the first place. Perhaps they were afraid that if they didn't, they'd have to copyright and trademark the subbed name transliterations as well. Ah, the legal and monetary stuff. Dialogue, music, and everything else aside, THAT'S something we can always count on FUNimation to treat with great care.
The only other issue with regard to the subtitles are a few grammar/spelling/punctuation errors, which were FUNimation's fault, not Steven's.
For those of you who are getting the opportunity to compare the episodes side by side for the first time, NOW do you see what I'm talking about? Watch them critically. Compare the dialogue word-for-word, listen to the vocal perfomances, and notice how the music (and silence) works in comparison. Isn't the dub an absolute fucking disgrace? Now you can see all of the things that I don't even bother bringing up in the episode comparisons because of the sheer amount of time it would take me to discuss them. The saddest part is, of course, that FUNimation defiles the series willingly. If it was obvious that they were simply doing their best to make an exact port of the original show, and it wasn't all that great, I wouldn't be nearly so hard on them. But it's the fact that they go out of their way to make the dub suck that just burns me up inside. And that is what I find truly hilarious about these DVD's, and what I like most about them... the FUNimation collective are basically making fools of themselves by showcasing their horrible mutilation of the series right alongside the original work. If they actually recognized how inferior their product was in comparison, who knows if they'd have even done bilingual DVD's in the first place.
Moving on with the disc, I was a bit disappointed with the sound quality of the Japanese version, but I cannot blame FUNimation for that. The source material itself is a weakly-mixed mono, and doesn't perform very well even at its best. The sound quality is something I've never understood and always disliked about the Japanese version, and the single solitary thing that FUNimation actually improved upon in the dub. It would really be nice for them to do a stereo mix of at least the music track, and since they already did so for the sound effects (for the dubbed version), all that's left are the voices, which are probably by far the easiest to "stereoize." I'm not sure how much work it is to do a stereo mix, but I know that Pioneer somehow did one for the (original) BGM and sound effects tracks on the dubbed versions of the movies (also from mono source material), so I know it's at least possible. While I don't demand or expect this from the DVD's, since it would certainly take some extra work and effort, it sure would be nice. And who knows, maybe FUNimation could sell their all-new stereo mix back to Toei!
I thought the rest of the disc would be fairly straightforward and free of surprises, but boy was I wrong. I haven't even heard this mentioned anywhere else yet, so let me be the first to expose the truth that even this "uncut" and "uncensored" DVD STILL has at least one alteration on it. (IT NEVER ENDS!!!) During Buruma's flashback of Goku as a child, there is one shot of Goku fully frontally nude (first episode, 12:15, Japanese version). Believe it or not, this is actually censored when you switch to the dubbed version! That's right, there's a pool of water covering Goku's privates. Absolutely incredible! A scene that didn't even appear at all in the broadcast cut of the episode was actually censored JUST FOR THE VIDEO! I don't know whether or not this happened on the "uncut" VHS release (could somebody let me know?) but I find it pretty hilarious nonetheless. "We censor DBZ to meet broadcast standards" Yeah, right. I guess even home video is subject to some outside standards in FUNimation's little world. I'd LOVE to hear them talk their way out of this one.
Another point of interest on this disc is the fact that the dubbed and subtitled version are on separate video tracks. This was done for only one reason: because the dubbed version of episode 68 actually starts out with the remaining 9 minutes and 44 seconds of episode 67 (remember, in seasons 1 and 2 the dub episodes were cut completely differently than the Japanese ones, and dub episode 53 only contained the first part of Japanese episode 67). So the first dubbed episode on the disc is actually quite long, since it is about one and a half episodes worth of material. But everything is synced up as of the second one, although (just as an aside) It took until 72/58 (and several cuts) for the broadcast version of the dub to sync with the Japanese.
The only real problem that putting the dub/Japanese episodes on separate video tracks presents is that it makes it impossible to switch languages on the fly, which would be really convenient at some points, especially for someone like me who likes to compare and scrutinize every line of dialogue and every note of music. But that's kind of a moot point, since, as I write this, the next DVD is beginning to arrive in stores with both versions on the same video track.
And while I haven't seen the Double Cross DVD yet, I am already slightly more impressed with it. One of my greatest fears with presenting both episodes on the same video track was the title card issue, and the fact that both versions use different cards in their respective languages. My idea from the beginning was simply to use the "angle" feature (which is SO cool, but so rarely used on DVD's for some reason) to switch between the cards. It seems that FUNi read my mind, because that is exactly what they've done. Thank Kami this is the case, because if they'd dared pollute the Japanese version with their title cards, I would have been more upset about that than anything else.
Another interesting idea I had for the DVD's, but certainly not essential, would be to include the shots that were censored for the broadcast version, also accessible through "angle." That would be quite interesting, I think, and a way for FUNimation to preserve and showcase their (sometimes impressive) work on these shots.
Overall, I was disappointed with this disc. Sure, it's great to have both dubbed and well-translated subbed DBZ on the greatest video format currently available, but FUNimation screwed up in some pretty fundamental ways. The only thing I can applaud them (and I must applaud heartily) for is not dubtitling the thing, and their choice of translators couldn't possibly be any better. Also, from what I hear, the next disc is definitely a step up.
But just the same, I refuse to buy any more of these DVD's until FUNimation corrects, at the very least, the opening/closing, subbed credits, last/next and eyecatch issues. Like I said, I want to see each episode presented as a self-contained unit, three openings and three closings. According to Simmons' report, the recaps may indeed begin to appear on future releases, but there is a technical issue with regard to the previews. It has to do with the rather odd fact that, in the master tapes Toei provided, the preview is "unfinished," only the video is there, and not the audio. Very strange that Toei provided the episodes with this glitch, but this can be easily fixed by simply using the audio from the broadcast versions. I'm sure FUNimation wouldn't have any difficulty obtaining these tapes (hint hint, Steven...), and even if the sound from whatever tapes they end up using isn't the best quality, it's better than nothing, right?
After reading through all of my complaints, I know what some of you may be thinking right now, and you can just take that "nitpicking" word and shove it straight up your ass. As far as I'm concerned, this stuff IS a big deal, and I should NOT feel like my EP-mode recordings off of International Channel and Cartoon Network are actually BETTER than the DVD's in any way. The contents of the discs should make me feel perfectly content to chuck the videos out the window, but I never can because I know that there will always be that nagging feeling that there's something MISSING from the DVD's. And FUNi doesn't need to go to ANY EXTRA EFFORT WHATSOEVER to leave in these things. In fact, it seems like it would actually be MORE work to cut the episodes up the way that they have. The bottom line is that I'd be perfectly content without extras such as a stereo mix, censored footage, TV promos, or any other goodies. But incompleteness is just not going to work for me, and as far as I'm concerned, this DVD is incomplete.
(And Simmons... do you think you could do me a favor and use one of my title translations one of these days? That would just thrill the HFIL out of me...)
To read Steven Simmons' own comments on the DVD's, visit http://www.toriyama.org/news/dvds.htm
NEXT TIME: Uh... well, this editorial started out as a post to alt.fan.dragonball, but it became editorial-length, so it ended up here. I was going to write about... something else.... after the Viz editorial, but it was so long ago I don't even remember now. Oh yeah, the "dubbie" thing. That oughta be fun.