As an anecdotal segue, think of Star Wars for a moment. Can you think of a more influential and iconic movie series? I certainly can’t. Yet how many variants of the original trilogy did we get? Well, there are four of them if anyone’s counting. The theatrical, 1997, 2004, and 2011 versions. Lucas also refuses to release the theatrical cuts in remastered, high definition… so there is no ideal version of Star Wars for fans who grew up with the originals.
4. Japanese original
Personally, I can’t stand watching DBZ in Japanese. It’s probably because I’ve been used to Goku speaking in English since I was seven. In any case, this was the original, and all 291 episodes are here, albeit in a lackluster mono sound format. Of course, many Otaku will probably have me burned at the stake for disliking the original, but it just seems that DBZ wasn’t meant to be shown this way. The music (barring the excellent Chala Head Chala opening) sounds like a soundtrack from a Godzilla movie. Lots of trumpets and cymbals; it sounds like a parody of music. Really, I hate it. The composer evidently did Kamen Rider, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that it sounds like it came from a 1970’s nightmare. Also, I’m sorry, but Goku’s voice sounds like a little girl in this… and that’s not okay.
3. Ocean dub
Ah, the very first English DBZ dub. Ocean Group dubbed the first 53 episodes, before Funimation started doing the voiceover work in-house. While this is the version that got me hooked (How awesome is the Rock the Dragon intro?), it’s quite clear that television censorship took away a lot of the show’s original meaning. Ocean didn’t even allow characters to make mention of death in any way, instead making a vague reference to being “sent to the next dimension.” Also, in one scene, when Vegeta is about to transform into a great ape, he says that Goku’s father, Bardock, was “an average fighter, but a brilliant scientist.” Uh, what? If Ocean had watched the OVA, Bardock: The Father of Goku, they would know that Bardock was not only not a scientist at all, but he was actually incredibly powerful and cunning in combat. Still Ocean paved the way for Funimation’s dub, and I should make note that Vegeta’s actor in this version is chillingly amazing, “You won’t escape my wrath!”
2. Toonami Funimation dub
This is the adaptation I remember the most. With Bruce Faulconer’s electronic rock score making a crater-sized impression on my young mind. Seriously, the music in this is perfection. Every major character has their own theme, and I thought that heaven and earth coalesced together to form the scene of Goku turning into a Super Saiyan. That scene is made impeccably badass due to Faulconer’s sense of ambience. Seriously, look that scene up now… The censorship is also gone, with the high octane fisticuffs of DBZ coming through loud and clear. Tien’s arm is shown getting broken off, as well as Raditz getting a bloody hole blown through him, and Frieza getting chopped into tiny little bits and then blown up. There’s only one problem with this version… the filler. Oh, God, the filler. Out of the 291 episodes in DBZ, I’d say well over 50 of them are complete bullshit, waste of time, filler. You get to see such important scenes like Gohan befriending a robot, or Chi-Chi whining and complaining, or, my favorite, Bulma getting into an episode long misadventure with a giant crab. I love DBZ, and I think it’s one of the best good vs. evil stories ever told, but you really have to put your finger on the fast-forward button.
1. Funimation Kai dub
Here it is, the perfect version of Dragon Ball Z. In Kai, the filler has been taken out and the show brought to a very manageable 98 episodes. The dubbing is also more accurate to the manga, and the footage has been meticulously cleaned and remastered. There’s just one problem: The music sucks Sasquatch feet. Yes, my friends, Funimation stupidly decided to use Kikuchi's original Japanese scoring. Godzilla’s back in Tokyo, folks. Why, oh why couldn’t they just use Faulconer’s music? As if this wasn’t bad enough, the only thing that I liked about the Japanese soundtrack, Chala Head Chala, has been taken out and in its place is an unspeakably awful English cover of something called “Dragon Soul.” It sounds like a boy band in a Sonic Adventure game.
So, there we are… Dragon Ball Z suffers from the profound problem of me being unable to recommend a definitive version. It boils down to this: If you have a lot of time on your hands, and just absolutely cannot stand to hear cheesy music, then stick with Toonami’s Funimation dub. If, however, you don’t want to see 291 episodes worth of power-up sequences, and just want to get to the meat of the story, then watch Funimation’s Kai dub. Maybe one day, DBZ will be done right. One day…