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Following the defeat of Majin Buu ( Kozo Shioya/Josh Martin), a new power awakens and threatens humanity. Beerus (Koichi Yamadera/Jason Douglas), an ancient and powerful God of Destruction, searches for Goku (Masako Nozawa/Sean Schemmel) after hearing rumors of the Saiyan warrior who defeated Frieza. Realizing the threat Beerus poses to their home planet, the Z-fighters must find a way to stop him before it's too late. Only Goku, humanity’s last hope, can ascend to the level of a legendary Super Saiyan God and stop Beerus from destroying Earth, and possibly the entire universe! (From Funimation’s original synopsis)

 Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods
I like to say that I don’t believe in the concept of the ‘guilty pleasure,’ because I don’t think people should feel guilty about the art and entertainment from which they derive pleasure (within reason, of course – it’s unhealthy to derive pleasure from something that causes real-life people pain or which may be genuinely psychologically damaging). I believe people that enjoy sloppy, sappy, cheesy, silly, and objectively bad art and entertainment should probably be aware of critical ridicule and prepared to defend themselves against it, but I don’t think they should be made to feel guilty. In fact, some of the best, most productive conversations I’ve ever had were in reference to something I enjoyed, despite its obvious flaws. That said, I am completely shamed by the fact that I’ve seen every episode of all three incarnations of Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Ball. I am shamed, because it is an objectively embarrassing series that runs on repetitive storylines, many of which are cribbed from better sources and drone on for hours without resolution or development.  I am more shamed by the fact that I didn’t watch it as a child and thus cannot claim my affection is nostalgic. Instead, I started watching both Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z on Cartoon Network while on my lunch break. I was an adult and working for a respected law firm at the time.

My shame and pathetic completist’s knowledge base probably makes me the ideal candidate to review Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods, the first Dragon Ball animated feature in 17 years and (I believe) the first to be personally written by creator Toriyama. Historically, the Dragon Ball movies clock in at under an hour, which gives them a big advantage over the series that infamously wastes time with stock footage and characters ‘powering up.’ Unfortunately, the movies also tend to take place outside of the show’s continuity (they are informed by continuity, but do not effect it as far as I know) and overlook story in favour of bigger and better action sequences. I don’t know about you guys, but I don’t really watch Dragon Ball for the action sequences – I watch it for the ridiculous universe where prehistoric animals live alongside futuristic cities, dogs can be president, the afterlife is run by tired bureaucrats, and the public adores a white man with an afro named ‘Mr. Satan.’ I enjoy the absurdity of our hero Goku taking driving lessons with his former mortal enemy, a green and purple alien named Piccolo, who grew from an egg vomited by an elderly version of himself.

 Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods
Battle of Gods is more nostalgic about itself than the other Dragon Ball movies and, as such, it’s much longer (85 minutes in theaters and 105 minutes in its extended television cut) and is a direct continuation of the Dragon Ball Z part of the series that closed out Toriyama’s involvement (the follow-up series, Dragon Ball GT, was written without his input). It begins with reanimated versions of the major climaxes throughout the series. This establishes that the new movie will be a glossy upgrade, but not a complete departure. The nostalgia often gets the best of the filmmakers (they spend a lot of time introducing supporting characters, just for the sake of including them) and the basic plot (mythical, super-powerful, god-like creature comes to Earth looking for a fight) is too similar to every other Dragon Ball Z story arc to get excited about, but the overall effect is amusing enough. Enjoyable absurdities revolve mostly around Goku’s oldest friend Bulma’s (Hiromi Tsuru/Monica Rial) birthday party, which is crashed by Lord Beerus, his manservant Whis (Masakazu Morita/Ian Sinclair), and original series villains Pilaf (Shigeru Chiba/Chuck Huber), Mai (Eiko Yamada/Colleen Clinkenbeard), and Shu (Tessho Genda/Chris Cason). The usually volatile Vegeta (one of several villains that becomes a hero throughout the series’ run, voiced by Ryo Horikawa/Christopher R. Sabat) is tasked with keeping Beerus happy, while Bulma offers up the Dragon Balls as a bingo prize, leading to plenty of ridiculous hijinks. Vegeta almost deflects the danger with a hilarious bingo dance, but all hell breaks loose when Majin Buu (the fat pink blob that destroyed the earth in the last season of the show, but who is now also a good guy) eats all the pudding before Beerus can try it.

The fans that care more about the action over the silly stuff have plenty to look forward to. Director Masahiro Hosoda (who, as far as I can tell, has never worked on a Dragon Ball property) and his animators take their time (it’s almost an hour before any fights to break out), but they do a good job maintaining Toriyama-esque comedy and character-based storytelling throughout the energy bolts and fisticuffs. This depletes the direness of the threat, I suppose – Beerus cracks jokes and indulges in Earth food instead of making menacing speeches or hurting people – but decades of villains threatening the planet is exhausting enough that I think it’s okay for this battle to be more light-hearted, overall. The biggest relief is that Toriyama’s static manga action styles have been mostly maintained. Newer anime has a tendency to detach the point-of-view of its virtual cameras to achieve impossibly busy motion images. This kind of stuff is usually more visually confusing than exciting. Battle of Gods’ action plays out most often in wide shots that establish scale and geography. The animation itself is a bit flat and even the cell work is sort of digital-looking, but its simplicity remains true to its source comics (which became increasingly angular as they went on).

 Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods

Video


Dragon Ball has supplied Funimation with a steady stream of money for a very long time now and the company has put a lot of time and effort into remastering the original series for a number of home video re-releases. Fortunately for them, Battle of Gods is a brand new production and was made for large-format digital distribution, including IMAX. The animation is still hand drawn, but the colouring, inking, and other finishing processes were all computer assisted. The foreground cell animation (which usually features two to three shade hues surrounded by thin black lines) is tight and crisp, without any notable edge enhancement. The completely digital models/objects (mostly vehicles and dust/fog effects) are also quite clean, but in a weird way that keeps them from totally blending into their hand-crafted counterparts. The more textured details, including painted backdrops and food (which appears to have been painted and digitally applied to the cell animation) fare better. Colours are hyper-vibrant and sharply separated with only basic banding effects in the softest blends.

Audio


Battle of Gods is presented in 5.1 Dolby TrueHD, both in original Japanese and Funimation-dubbed English tracks. Funimation’s voice staff has been working on Dragon Ball properties for almost 20 years now, long enough to be the only way an entire generation of kids experienced the shows. I don’t think there’s any shame in viewers preferring the English voice cast at this point and had spent most of my viewing with the dub track. The more incidental effects work is a little over-mixed on both tracks. Basic stuff, like footsteps and objects moving through the center of the frame, slips into the stereo channels for no good reason. The English track is generally wider in this regard, while the Japanese track has minor issues with elemental separation, overall (the dialogue track is a hair muddy compared to the English one). On the other hand, the more cartoony and sci-fi enhanced effects are loud and directionally aggressive. The discrete LFE punch (excuse the pun) is also very impressive. Norihito Sumitomo’s score is more modern than the series’ previous Japanese soundtracks. Sometimes, it sits somewhere between the traditional scores of the Japanese versions and the pop rock English equivalents, but tends to do its own thing, especially when the tone gets gloomy.

 Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods

Extras


Besides including both the theatrical and extended versions of the film, this disc includes:
  • Behind the Scenes: Battle of the Voice Actors (10:00, HD) – The climax of the film with PiP footage of the English language voice actors as they record.
  • The Voices of Dragon Ball Z: Unveiled (19:20, HD) – More footage of the voice actors doing their job. It’s cute.
  • A textless version of the closing title song (3:30, HD)
  • The US trailer and trailers for other Funimation releases


 Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods

Overall


Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods is fluffy and overly nostalgic, but its good humour and light-hearted tone helped to remind me what I like about this goofy series. Unfortunately, I don’t watch the show for the battle scenes and I’m not sure there will be enough over-the-top action for the more fervent fans out there. Funimation’s Blu-ray looks great, sounds pretty good (in both English and Japanese), and includes a couple of entertaining English language cast featurettes.

 Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods

 Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods

 Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods

 Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods

 Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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