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Before making their way into the “Z”-portion of the series, FUNimation tried things out with the first Dragon Ball TV series back in 1995. As a part of this endeavor, the very first movie for the franchise was also dubbed and released as “Curse of the Blood Rubies“. Much like their dub of the first thirteen TV episodes, it featured moderate censoring and a complete musical score replacement. Similar to their later “Z” distribution agreement with Pioneer, the home release for these episodes and movie were handled by Kidmark, who eventually (through a series of endless mergers and acquisitions) became absorbed into Lionsgate Entertainment. The details of this sub-license were never publicly disclosed, even long after the Pioneer sub-license expired and reverted to FUNimation. At one point we attempted to check in with Lionsgate as to what any future plans may be for the early part of the series and its first movie, but were quickly shooed away with a note that the relevant information was not for public consumption.
For years upon years, fans resigned themselves to the “fact” that the first thirteen episodes and first movie would probably never be released uncut and bilingual in North America due to this licensing fiasco. In 2001, FUNimation revisited the first TV series and began dubbing it for home distribution and television airing on Cartoon Network. Despite the first thirteen episodes receiving a completely new dub (and presumably with an uncut master back in the studio) which indeed aired on television, the home release continued onward, first on VHS and later on DVD, starting only with episode 14, where it had “left off” so many years earlier.
Off in its own little silo, Australia also received this continued home release of the first TV series from FUNimation, though distributed locally by Madman Entertainment. With the Lionsgate sub-license seemingly only affecting North America, Australia actually received a volume that American fans would have to wait on: a re-done “Saga of Goku” that not only included uncut and bilingual versions of the first thirteen episodes, but also the first movie! Sadly, the movie was the same dub-only and edited version with the original voice cast from so many years prior, indicating that a new, uncut dub of the movie had not yet been produced by FUNimation.
Leading up to July 2009, news tidbits and art began to leak online suggesting that FUNimation would be revisiting the first TV series for another home release, this time in a “remastered” format. Shocking everyone was the reveal that, yes, FUNimation had regained the rights to the first thirteen episodes, and they would be included uncut and bilingual on the first of the “blue brick” sets later that year.
The TV series continued its release in five sets at a steady pace over the next year, but FUNimation had yet to confirm any details about the first movie, which would have been included in the license return. In April 2010, the magazine Otaku USA published a pre-release review of the movie, which would apparently be receiving a re-release that July according to new RightStuf catalog listings. At the time, all indications pointed to a disc with the original, edited dub as well as an uncut version in its original Japanese. The following month, a trailer for the movie appeared on a new Amazon listing page that promised a “Coming Soon” release date. Nowhere in the trailer were any words such as “uncut” or “unedited” or even “Japanese” used (the trailer even used scenes from the TV episodes, which is one way the prior edited version changed elements of the movie), so it continued to be confoundingly-vague. To make matters worse, online listings began changing the release date to December later that year, which FUNimation soon confirmed to us was the new and accurate date for the release.
It took until November to get solid information about the release: it would be uncut, remastered, bilingual, and would receive a new dub with recast roles. By that point, the movie was only about a month off from release!
We reviewed the movie based on its Japanese Dragon Box release back on Episode #0112 of our podcast, but a three-year gap since then gave us an excuse to revisit the movie based on its celebratory and proper North American release so many years after its original debut.
|Release Date:||28 December 2010|
|Contents:||Dragon Ball Movie 1|
Released as a quasi-budget product (with a four-movie box set coming just a couple months later also including this feature), this single-disc release is an extremely basic one.
Originally debuted at the Toei Manga Festival in 1986 as “Dragon Ball: The Legend of Shenlong“, like the rest of the movies based on the first portion of the (sans-“Z”) story, the first movie is an alternate retelling of events (spoilers follow):
This time around, Goku’s origins are tied in with the evil King Gurumes, who wants the Dragon Balls in order to wish for an end to his endless hunger — even the most luxurious and delicious meals on Earth from the most esteemed chefs no longer satisfy him. The King’s minions, Pasta and Bongo, are using the quest for the Dragon Balls to cover for the fact that they are greedily raping the countryside to gather up valuable “Rich Stones”. Bulma still wants to wish for a nice boyfriend, and Yamcha still wants the Dragon Balls to wish for his fear of women to be gone. Bulma ends up summoning Shenlong before Gurumes can, but Pansy, the daughter of the local mayor, shouts out her wish first: for the countryside to be restored to its original state, prior to the discovery of Rich Stones. Shenlong does this, and causes the stones to disappear. Gurumes becomes a normal human that can once again take pleasure in a simple, delicious apple, and Goku zips off to find his Sûshinchû (Si Xing Qiu, the 4-star ball) again.
The plot is a simple one, but allows for a very streamlined series of events to bring together the core cast within the span of a single movie… which actually makes it feel closer to the manga in a way! Bulma and Goku taking off together has a sense of urgency here far more so than the leisurely adventure in the original version, which helps prod them along to each new cast member.
All of the standard, expected, and necessary tropes for each character are showcased and given ample room to shine: Goku is naive and strong, Bulma is smart and devious, Yamcha is a clutz around women, Oolong and Kame-Sen’nin are self-serving perverts, and so on and so forth. Just enough time is dedicated to each character (or sets of characters) for any viewer to get a complete understanding of who these people are and why they act the way they do. Of the new characters, perhaps there is some irony in the fact that the one shown the least receives the most development: King Gurumes. Though we only see hints of his monster self throughout the movie, the conclusion with a little bit of forgiveness and redemption sets a positive tone for the series that we never truly see again.
Perhaps the only “essential” story element missing from the manga and TV series equivalent is Goku’s Ôzaru transformation. It would not make much sense to include in the grand scheme of this particular story, which is not focused so exclusively around Goku.
Interestingly, the general plot and chronology of this movie was adapted and borrowed at least two other times:
The 1989 live-action movie cheesed things up a bit with a different type of monster and army but with a similar young girl, and events like meeting with Oolong transitioning into the fight with Yamcha were dead-on accurate.
The 1996 animated movie to celebrate the series’ 10th anniversary was yet another retelling of these early chapters. In the place of an original villain, however, the Red Ribbon Army from slightly later in the series was used. Somehow the two movies feel similar, though, right down to the attack at Kame House with the Kamehameha being fired into the ocean.
The animation and set pieces from this movie are quite impressive for 1986. Particularly toward the beginning of the movie and introduction of Son Goku, the camera pans and zooms across amazing locales, occasionally with multiple layers of parallax bringing it to life even further. The attention to detail on the first shot of Goku’s home up on Mount Paozu is set in front of a spectacular sunrise with birds flying by, rays of light brimming across the roof, and even a workbench in the foreground knocked over.
(pan shot constructed from Dragon Box master for clarity purposes)
The analysis of and comparisons with this first movie can go deeper than one might think. Our good friends over at Kanzentai have noted several similarities with Nausicaä, particularly in the mechanical design area, costumes, as well as the standard Miyazaki / Ghibli trope of nature preservation and reverence.
The voice cast, still fresh into the franchise at this point, are already at top form. The vast majority were already industry veterans at the time, which helps add to the incredible production values of the time. Masako Nozawa’s Goku is unfathomably adorable and played alongside Hiromi Tsuru’s pitch-perfect Bulma. The unsung hero of the movie is easily Tohru Furuya’s Yamcha, who somehow makes the most amazing and hilarious noises during his female encounters. Another notable inclusion is Tomiko Suzuki as Pansy, who later went on to play Dende in the second TV series. She unfortunately passed away in 2003, but left a memorable performance behind.
Shunsuke Kikuchi composed a few memorable pieces for the franchise’s first movie. Music from this movie began getting used in the TV series toward the end of the Red Ribbon Army arc, with a couple pieces in particular being revisited through to the end of the series and even onward into the Saiyan arc in Dragon Ball Z. The score has a quirky, fun feeling to it, and sets the tone perfectly in every scene.
It took a long while before details about the release surfaced, which led to lots of speculation: Would it be from the Dragon Box masters? 4:3 or 16:9? Overly-DVNRed or crisp and detailed?
Logically, we should have expected an old 4:3 master all along, and that is exactly what we received in this release. The framing itself, as noted, is the original 4:3 aspect ratio from the movie’s original production — while the movies were all presented as widescreen in their original Japanese theatrical debuts and home releases, they were all animated at a traditional 4:3 size and framed appropriately for the eventual matte (see our “Rumor Guide” page for more information). The screen is only slightly zoomed in from original film masters, as seen by a comparison with the Dragon Box version:
At a quick glance from a distance, the transfer and clean-up of the movie appears to be relatively OK. The expected plethora of scratches are present, but the character outlines are clear and bold, devoid of any excessive and intrusive smoothing. Even the colors appear to be fine at first, but the instant that any bright colors appear on screen, it moderately falls apart.
I originally thought the above image, which is also used on the back of the box, was just overdone for the purposes of “BRIGHT! SHINY! LOOK AT ME!” packaging. Sadly, the movie’s “remastering” pumps the colors up to this degree for the entire duration. This pushes greens into the blue, and reds into the bleeding (as seen above). It may feel “brighter”, but it is a false brightness that borders on ruining the nuance and detail of the film. A popular example has been a dark shot of Yamcha’s entrance, where the tiny details of his face and clothing (as well as the full range of color) are still visible in a proper clean-up via the Dragon Box masters:
(hover over image for comparison between R1 and Dragon Box R2 DVDs)
It is likely that FUNimation did the best they could with whatever master is in their possession. Toei has notoriously provided poor masters to their licensees over the years, and this feature from 1986 could have looked much worse. Considering what the alternatives could have been, a progressive transfer that manages to hold up even this well is a moderate accomplishment.
The only “change” made to the video, separate from the remastering process, was slapping the changed movie title in English overtop its original Japanese framing. This is the direction FUNimation has gone in recent years, separating themselves from alternate angles that preserve both language versions. Were it an accurate translation of the movie’s actual title, it would have been one thing, but it ends up being a slight annoyance in the end.
On scenes with high motion, the bitrate hovers fantastically in the high 8-to-9 Mbps range. With such little material on the disc, it is great to see the video compression given room to breath and avoid needless compression artifacts. As noted, the movie does feature a progressive transfer from film, helping to steer clear of ghosting issues.
The subtitle translation for the movie is provided by Clyde Mandelin, falling in line with the rest of his work for the first TV series. Mandelin is a fantastic translator (also notable for his work in the Mother gaming community), but we would have adapted some lines of dialogue a little differently, particularly those from Goku. Some lines feel incomplete, such as Goku’s “But I can’t fly…” which we would have done as something like, “You’re sayin’ go after them, but I can’t fly.” All in all it is a great translation, and one should have no reservations about following along with it.
The Japanese language track is encoded as its original mono source at 96 Kbps. It is this audio track that fares the worst, unfortunately. The opening narration shows its age with muffled sound and slight peaks. Considering the movie’s age and fans’ familiarity with older source material, it is easily overcome and enjoyed. However, as with the video, a shockingly-superior alternative exists in the Dragon Box masters:
(R1 audio sample followed by Dragon Box R2 DVD audio sample)
Far more so than with FUNimation’s latest treatments of the Dragon Ball Z movies, dedicated fans will likely seek out the R2 version of this movie based on its superior video and audio transfer.
The front cover features a very bold and colorful image of Goku, Yamcha, Bulma, and Pansy. Goku’s and Yamcha’s faces feel slightly off-model, but everything else feels right at home for the time period. The left side opens things up with lots of white space to feature branding, which includes the first series’ logo along with the name written underneath in katakana. FUNimation’s re-titling of the movie is exclusively featured, also clearly labeled as “MOVIE ONE” in a box at the bottom. A smaller tab across the top notes it as a “FULL LENGTH FEATURE FILM”. It is a very effective cover making use of its real estate and contrasting colors, expectedly putting the young Goku front-and-center.
The back cover places Gurumes’ monster face across the top with a sliver of Shenlong visible on the left side, itself mostly covered up by a series of vertical screen shots. These screens do a terrible job of portraying the movie with horribly over-saturated and dark colors. The standard marketing speak is present with the description of the movie. I was moderately shocked to see the phrase, “Are you a real Dragon Ball fan?” written out. I completely understand what they are getting at (“Look, we finally put this out! You don’t own it yet! You should get it!”), but that question has so many (generally negative) connotations among even their own split fanbase that it seems like a poor choice of phrasing.
The transparent plastic case reveals the opposite side of the cover, which could be used as an alternate/reversible cover if the owner so desires. The same “MOVIE ONE” and Curse of the Blood Rubies splashes from the front are present, along with a sprawling image of Shenlong (more in his later “Z”-era design than his early appearance). I personally would have like to have seen the opposite side used a la the Rurouni Kenshin OVA covers, with the dub title completely removed in favor of the Japanese art work and title. As it is, it simply acts as a colorful background when opening the case.
Included is a pamphlet for FUNimation’s upcoming releases of the time and a marketing postcard. All in all, a pretty standard style of packaging — nothing more, nothing less expected.
Other than trailers for additional FUNimation properties in the “Trailers” main menu section (as well as a Kai commercial that plays before the movie), the only “extra” included is a new “uncut” English dub. We spot-checked the new dub, which features several new cast members from the Kai cast. Monica Rial certainly shines as a younger Bulma, but the script is still far too heavily based on the edited version from the 1990s to be taken seriously at all — within moments of switching over, entire conversations were wholly different between the movie’s actual script and what was being spoken aloud in English. We can only imagine what lack of logic resulted in such a poor adaptation, since a new dub is likely one of the reasons why the release was so heavily delayed.
Interestingly, all menu music is actually from the first Dragon Ball Z movie, rather than this particular movie. Many of the jingles in that movie’s score stem from “Makafushigi Adobenchâ!” (the first movie’s and TV series’ opening theme), so in a roundabout way it makes a little sense.
At a budget price, no significant extras were truly expected. With such a long wait for an uncut release of the movie, however, a short featurette explaining its journey to North America would have been interesting.
It is tough to not recommend this disc to anyone who has not already gone out of their way to pick up Dragon Box: The Movies or even just the individual R2 DVD of this movie: it has never been available uncut in North America, and unlike the Japanese release, this one has subtitles. What more could you ask for?
Well, with a four-movie box set coming a mere two months after this single-disc release which will contain this exact same product, anyone who did not pick up the single-disc releases of movies 3 and 4 and/or the three-pack including movie 2 over the last several years may want to just wait for that. Additionally, the substandard video transfer and lack of Japanese title cards will be points off for the major enthusiast fans. The audio track, while it may be the best FUNimation currently has available, has also been far outclassed by the R2 releases.
If you own the other movies already, the novelty of a new dub and actually holding a legitimate, uncut release of this movie in North America (finally!) may be enough at its cheap buy-in price. It is a fun story that does not overstay its welcome with impressive background detail and a memorable musical score.
I guess the end question is: are you a real Dragon Ball fan…?!
Curse of the Blood Rubies is produced and released on DVD by FUNimation for the North American market. MSRP $14.98, released 28 December 2010. Contains the franchise’s first movie uncut and subtitled in its original Japanese, as well as newly-dubbed in English. Entire disc viewed.
Curse of the Blood Rubies may be available at the following online retailers: