Episode 99, "7 Years Since That Event! Starting Today, Gohan’s a High Schooler"
Synopsis: Seven years have passed since the defeat of Cell, a feat that was credited to Mr. Satan, whose city of residence is now named after him. Son Gohan, now sixteen years old, begins attending Orange Star High School in Satan City. There he meets Videl, Mr. Satan's inquisitive daughter. While he tries to stay inconspicious, his habit of stopping criminals leaves him looking for a way to disguise himself to avoid attracting attention. Bulma constructs a uniform he can transform into at the push of the button and he begins a crimefighting career as Great Saiyaman.
I can't believe it's 2014 and I'm still reviewing Dragon Ball things. I mean, okay, it's a storied, oft-milked franchise and I'm a fan of it, and it's honestly a surprise I'm doing anything at all, since I've gotten so incredibly lazy, Falldog thought he'd just shut this entire site down. Dragon Ball (Z) Kai ended without covering the Buu arc, and for a while DB fans were teetering on the edge between, "So, when's the rest?" and "Eh, that's probably enough."
Toei obviously didn't feel like Kai was garnering the support they expected, and since episode 98, I've hate to satiate my needs with arguing over the English dubbed version by Funimation, playing Opinion Police by scouring the internet looking for dissenting opinions and stomping them out. Er, I mean, discussing and debating counterpoints in a rational, sophisticated manner, befitting a mature thirty year old man with nothing to do all day but watch children's television shows and work on various writing projects that have gotten nowhere in years (novel, Penguindrum dub review, etc). So, over time, I had to put DB(Z) Kai on the backburner, along with the gas-powered toaster, the manchild cage, my sprite comics, and my NationStates nation. But hey, I've gotten plenty of mileage lately out of that Dragon Ball Minus bullshit, maybe I'll make something of that for this site (nope).
We join our temporary hero and amateur superhero Son Gohan as, a teenager now, he attends his first day of high school, in what seems like something entirely different from the story up until this point. It's almost like your typical teenaged high school anime where some extraordinary person comes into a normal class setting and blows them away with their other worldly abilities and the humor comes from the reactions of the people around that character. It's made a bit more interesting by the fact that Gohan is trying to hide his skills and the weird life he's lived up until this point, but those abilities are so natural to him that even when he thinks he's not using them, he is, and it freaks everybody else out.
The baseball game is the perfect example of this, where he shows his naivete in such a way that prevents him from truly blending in. He gets beaned hard with a wild ball and thinks he's being clever because he let it hit him, rather than slamming it as his strength and accuracy would allow. But we can see to all the other people on the field that this is not fooling them at all, even if he can't tell. It puts the DBZ story in a totally different context, that is, by contrasting the extraordinary powers of its main cast with the rest of the world it takes place in. Somebody like Bulma is used to seeing these incredible feats, but folks like Videl, Erasa, and Sharpner don't know what to make of it.
Another aspect we get that's new to the DB universe is Gohan becoming a superhero, much in the way his father isn't. Sure, Goku will save the world now and then, but it's not something he's proactive about. Usually the threats to the world are directly threatening him and his, thereby eliciting a reaction from him. Also, the guy likes a good fight. Gohan is disguising himself and fighting street crime like a super visible Batman. Though it seems like he's taking a cue more from tokusatsu heroes (he cries "HENSHIN!" even when he's already transformed, a great bit), perhaps harkening back to his experience with the Ginyu Special Forces (Toei missed opportunity by not giving Great Saiyaman his own heroic-sounding theme song in the vein of "Sanjou!! Ginyu Tokusentai!!") with his flamboyant poses. I like the striking design of his costume, especially the colors and the helmet. It's so excessive and dorky, but Gohan thinks it's tops.
You know, the concept could almost carry a series of its own, a spinoff just about the adventures of Great Saiyaman. But unfortunately, since this is Dragon Ball, and we know there's larger scale threats to be had, this material feels like kind of a waste of time, and in the original DBZ TV series it took up too much time. As a concept? It's pretty amusing. Gohan is such a loveable nerd, geeking out about his superhero costume, fighting wrongs like he stepped out of a children's telev--- well, a different kind of children's television show. I almost expect him to have some kind of crazy motorcycle with a bug motif. Fortunately for the sake of Kai's story, it seems like they're getting through this material at a very brisk pace.
And yeah, Kai is doing it's job pretty well in this episode, which is condensing the Buu arc, cutting excessive filler. It succeeds in getting through three chapters of the manga, and pretty seamlessly. You can bitch all you want about the relative cheapness of the production, the weird green tint of the footage, and the awkward animation in parts of the opening credits (especially when it's a step down from the previous opening credits in terms of quality), but Kai is doing exactly what it was intended to do. Sure, it would have been great if they reanimated this material entirely, and it often feels like a cop-out apology to defend how slapdash the whole thing is packaged, but let it not be said it doesn't do what Toei set out to do in its mission statement for the show. From what I understand, it even got a pretty good TV rating (though that's likely to drop a tad over the next few weeks, as is natural after a premiere). The Buu arc being one of my less favorite arcs, getting through it to some of the better parts without wading through the filler makes for a more pleasurable viewing experience for me.
There are very few members of the regular cast in this episode, so it's hard to talk about the voice acting. As usual, Masako Nozawa plays teenaged Gohan with a more mature, yet distinct sound, and her delivery hasn't missed a beat since BoG. He's a more subdued, leveled presence, capable of childlike excitement, but not to the extremes of his father. He only gets shades of his father doing the Great Saiyaman spiel. Nozawa does an excellent job as usual, proving that there's little competition for her talents. But, to be fair, I think Kyle Hebert will do a great job as well, when Funimation gets around to dubbing this. Then there's Shino Kakinuma as Videl, stepping in for Yuko Minaguchi. It's difficult to get a bead on her. She sounds a bit too much like a traditional, modern female anime character. Which is to say, a tad too "cutesy", and a lot like Megumi Urawa's Erasa (hey, at least she came back). Minaguchi gave Videl a bit more fierceness, a definite tomboy quality. I liked Kakinuma's "JIIIIIIIIIIIIII" when she gave Gohan the once over, though. I just hope she can handle some of the weightier moments later on. I noticed that Takeshi Kusao still plays little Trunks, which is fine, because even though he's much younger than Kusao's Future Trunks and sounds a bit older than he should, it helps to seperate him from Goten's more youthful, spritely sounding voice, and establishes him as the dominate one in their friendship.
The music is an odd situation. Obviously because Kenji Yamamoto was shit canned for ripping off mostly himself (go figure), and Kikuchi's music in Kai was just a bandage for the situation, they needed somebody new to score the Buu arc of Kai. Well, I'd have preferred they just got Kikuchi to either compose some new material or re-record some of the old material with a different approach to modernize it, they instead went with Norihito Sumitomo, the guy who composed the music for BoG, wherein the slightest fart made elicited either campy community calender channel background music or a chorus chanting ominously, with no middle ground. Now, fine, I get it. DBZ TV recycled Kikuchi's movie music constantly, and Sumitomo is obviously composing some newer stuff for this to go with the BoG music used, but my overall reaction is, "eh". Don't get me wrong, it's not awful (for the most part), and actually some scenes, like the baseball game, are scored rather well, but, well, I expected something a little less plain. I guess I can't expect the A material to be used in the current casual settings, but as soon as those Babidi minions start showing up, I'd better hear something better, damn it.
So, now's the tricky part for Toei. Looking at the preview for the next episode, it covers the material that includes Gohan's identity as Great Saiyaman being uncovered by Videl. But the problem is, in the original manga she realizes it almost immediately, as she isn't a complete imbecile. But in the original animated version, it takes a few episodes and it's under different circumstances, involving some kidnapped baby dinosaur and a circus. If they want to be truer to the manga, they'd have to reanimate that part entirely, but this is Kai, so they won't. Do they include the filler plot with the baby dinosaur? It should be interesting to see how they handle it.
3.5 out of 5