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During their industry panel at Comic-Con this afternoon, FUNimation announced that the standard (non-Kai) Dragon Ball Z TV series will receive a Blu-ray release beginning 08 November 2011 with the first set entitled Dragon Ball Z Level 1.1 containing episodes 1-17.

FLOWER MOUND, Texas, July 21, 2011 – FUNimation® Entertainment is announcing that it is bringing the first installment of the anime phenomenon Dragon Ball Z to Blu-ray disc for the first time this fall.

Among the most prized in the FUNimation catalog, the studio has used the newest technology available to remaster in high-definition and digitally restore the 291 episode series.

FUNimation worked with Dallas-based ANDTRANSFER for the digital film transfer. FUNimation previously worked with the post-production house to remaster the series for the season set releases on DVD. The transfer was performed by nationally-recognized colorist Steve Franko and supervised by FUNimation, which then finished the rest of the restoration process.

Today’s state-of-the-art systems offer tools that allow restoration teams to make a wide range of repairs and focus on more difficult tasks which, in the end, deliver a clean product that faithfully presents the original version and measures up to the high-quality standards of HDTV and Blu-ray.

Once again, the Dragon Ball Z series was digitally transferred from the original Japanese 16mm film frame by frame at 1080p. Developments in restoration software gives mastering artists more to work with when they apply tools to even out film grain and remove fading, film cuts and other visual anomalies. As a result, the viewer will see brighter, clearer colors, less variance in quality between scenes, and a sharper image.

“Working with a very old and fragile source film presented a number of challenges for the restoration process,” said Gen Fukunaga, CEO and president at FUNimation Entertainment. “Our purpose was to restore the series as accurately as possible, to what it must have been like to see it when it was originally mastered, and preserve the charm of the animation. After all, it is of a particular time and place.”

After debuting in 1989, Dragon Ball Z has become an iconic anime series. The franchise has sold more than 25 million DVD and Blu-ray discs in its lifetime, becoming the best-selling anime series of all time.

Dragon Ball Z is the explosive sequel to Dragon Ball. The series follows the adventures of Goku and his son Gohan as they team up with their friends to battle evil forces throughout the universe to protect their beloved planet Earth. The first season covers the Vegeta Saga and chronicles the introduction of one of Dragon Ball Z’s main characters, Vegeta.

This restored edition also features the original U.S. voice actors as well as the original FUNimation soundtrack – all in lossless Dolby® TrueHD.

Dragon Ball Z Level 1.1 includes the first 17 episodes on two discs with over 400 minutes of action and among the extras included on this release is a feature that looks at the restoration and remastering processes.

Dragon Ball Z Level 1.1 will be available at major retailers nationwide on November 8, 2011.

A bit of history (and even contemporary information) is necessary to place this announcement in the proper context, however.

In 2007, FUNimation replaced their silently-canceled “Ultimate Uncut Edition” of the early episodes of the series with cheap “season” sets, “remastered” and color-adjusted from their multi-generational film stock by Studio Post & Transfer. The original 4:3 framing of the series was cropped to 16:9, whereby the top and bottom portion of the screen (approximately 20% of the image) was removed to fit the negligible extra footage obtained on the left and right sides and into the widescreen format. The entirety of the 291 episodes series was released this way over the course of two years in nine sets, the first time the series ever received any kind of consistent and fully uncut release in North America, despite having been licensed over a decade prior.

Two months after finishing this release, FUNimation announced the impending “Dragon Box” release of the series during their industry panel at Otakon 2009. This release would span seven boxes, and was a licensed release of the special remastering the series received in Japan, originally released in two giant boxes in 2003, and later on individual discs from 2005 to 2007 — notably, this was actually the first time the TV series had ever been released on any home format in Japan. The sixth set was just released in North America this week, with the seventh and final set due in October.

Then there is Dragon Ball (Z) Kai, the “refreshed” version of the TV series created to celebrate its 20th anniversary in Japan. FUNimation began releasing this version of the series on both DVD and Blu-ray in 2010 (not to mention well-viewed airings on both Nicktoons and TheCW4Kids), and is expected to continue for a few more releases.

Most confusing of all is the fact that FUNimation has also recently revealed that a “season” set combining the first two volumes of their Kai release will see the light of day on 18 October 2011 on both DVD and Blu-ray, just a couple weeks before this new “1.1″ Blu-ray release of the first version of the TV series hits store shelves, too.

This puts two new releases of the same footage on store shelves at the exact same time, alongside prior releases either still seemingly in-print (2007′s orange bricks) or still in-stock (2010′s Dragon Boxes), with one of them a re-package of the same material from a year prior (2010′s Kai first volume), itself possibly with a replaced soundtrack due to its Japanese background music debacle.

As of this posting, there is still a ton of information that is left unclear, or was phrased in a way vague enough to leave some doubt in our minds. Is this a new film transfer, or the same one done in 2007 that was also touted as a high-definition, 1080p transfer? Is new color adjustment work being done? If it is a new transfer, will it be cropped like the orange bricks, and was a new stock of film obtained? What exactly does “original FUNimation soundtrack” mean? Speaking of which, what type of audio masters are being used on each language track? To what extent is Toei in Japan involved with this process?

As always, more information will be posted as we get it!