Last month, FUNimation officially announced what we had long since known: the company would be re-releasing the Dragon Ball Z TV series on Blu-ray.
The new release, officially out today, is the company’s second attempt at releasing the original version of Dragon Ball Z on Blu-ray. During these on-and-off releases, the “refreshed” Dragon Ball Kai saw a release on Blu-ray as well, all in addition to complete and incomplete versions alike of the series on VHS and DVD.
For the Kanzenshuu community, it was a puzzling release in every way (timing, format, remastering process, etc.). FUNimation came to us and asked if we would be interested in soliciting questions for them to answer regarding the new Blu-ray “season” sets. We in turn asked you all, and you in turn delivered in spades.
Below are the questions that we sent, followed by FUNimation’s answers and any accompanying materials. When questions are listed as “via”, this means that they have been edited, combined, and re-written (generally from a group of people that asked similar questions). When listed with just a name, this means they have been presented basically verbatim from their original posting. We tried to select a range of questions about the packaging, the audio, the video, and the overall remastering process.
via GWOtaku, etc.:
Which artist or artists are responsible for the cover art for this new home release, and what have they done before with FUNimation?
When we started working on the Dragon Ball Z Blu-ray release, we knew we wanted to do something special with the packaging. We took a look back at all the past releases and knew that taking an entirely different approach would be an exciting treat for the fans. Dragon Ball Z is filled with so many memorable moments and characters that we wanted to find a way to celebrate them.
We worked very closely with the art team at Toei Animation in Japan to construct how we imagined each cover looking. From there, they handed it off to their team of artists, who provided us with these amazing pencil sketches. After reviewing the pencil sketches, and making minor tweaks to make sure everything would work when we translated it to packaging, they prepared the final, colored art files.
We wanted artwork that was diverse enough to use for more than just Blu-ray covers; something that we could use to provide awesome looking posters, merchandise, convention experiences, and much more.
The best part is, we get to do this two more times! We’re already in the early stages of working on covers 4 – 6 and can’t wait to share the finished product with the fans.
How did the Blu-ray survey factor into the decisions about re-launching a Blu-ray release and the processes used in the new remastering?
We took multiple factors into consideration when deciding how to approach the topics of restoration and remastering the Dragon Ball Z Blu-ray releases. The survey data was only one of those factors. Others included past performance of the Level Sets and Orange Bricks, as well as what experience we’re trying to deliver with this release, just to name a few.
The original press release mentioned that the audio (including the Japanese audio) was being adjusted/cleaned up for this Blu-ray release. How will the Japanese track compare to previous releases, including the Dragon Box?
The audio master tapes contain noise and tape-hiss that our audio department has been able to reduce, bringing additional clarity to the original Japanese audio while preserving the presentation of the original.
via Flamzeron, DragonBalllKaiHD, coola, etc.
Will anything about the existing English dub be altered/adjusted/edited/redone for this release?
The Blu-ray Season Sets will contain the same edits of the English 5.1 hybrid and English stereo broadcast. The audio mix is being re-evaluated to ensure the presentation meets the highest quality standards.
Will next-episode-previews be included?
Not in this release, no.
via majinboogc, Daimakku, etc.
The Latin American dub was included on the canceled “Ultimate Uncut Edition”. Does FUNimation still have the rights to this audio track? Could it be included on this and/or future releases?
We currently have no plans to release Dragon Ball Z with a Latin American audio track.
via Kanzenshuu staff, theawesomepossum777, etc.
Other than the second Dragon Box release from February 2010 – which now reaches $400 on the second-hand market – there is currently no legal option for North American fans to obtain DBZ TV episodes 35 up through approximately episode 68 in its original 4:3 aspect ratio. Is there the possibility of a limited-run Dragon Box reprint, or single-disc volumes thereof?
The Dragon Box releases of 2010 were a limited run focused on giving the hardest of core fans the opportunity to own something unique. While we won’t completely rule out the potential for these video files being released in the future, there is nothing planned for them at this time.
Do you believe that the sales – and continued success – of the orange bricks (and what you expect to see with sales of these new Blu-ray sets) are based more on the price point / episode count, or based on the “remastering” done with the footage? Could one be possible without the other?
It’s really difficult to pinpoint one, single factor that contributed to the success of the Orange Brick releases. Dragon Ball Z was at the height of its popularity in the U.S. at that time. It was on television five days a week right after school. Of course price point plays a big factor in everything. People want to know that they’re getting their money’s worth when they buy a product.
As for the remastering, that’s always going to be a touchy subject. Everyone who consumes entertainment, whether it be movies, video games, or a television series, will have their own opinion of what the optimal experience is when enjoying that medium. The best we can do is listen to everyone’s feedback, as well as use the large amount of consumer data that’s at our fingertips, and make decisions that we feel most comfortable with.
The approach we’re taking with the Blu-rays is very similar to that of the Orange Bricks. We’re providing a viewing experience that’s current with today’s tech, while keeping the same episode count and low price point approach that has worked so well in the past.
via BlazingFiddlesticks, kuwabara, etc.
Had you considered the timing of each subsequent re-release? The first “Level” Blu-ray set was released roughly one month after the final Dragon Box set had released, themselves announced just two months after the completion of the orange bricks. All the meanwhile, “Kai” was also being released and broadcast on TV. Could the “Level” sets have sold more effectively if there was a little breathing room?
Timing is always a critical factor when determining our release schedule. One of the biggest things we look at is to make sure we’re not overloading the same group, or demographic, for a particular genre with back-to-back releases. We get that fans only have so much money to spend on entertainment, and competing with ourselves is something we try not to do, when possible. That said, though, while the Level Sets, DBoxes, and Dragon Ball Z Kai series all fall under the Dragon Ball Z franchise, they were meant for very different audiences. DBZ and Kai, in particular, are treated as different IPs entirely – each with their own creative team.
As for the Level Sets’ going away, there were many factors that just weren’t working for us. It wasn’t just performance related either, we really had to take another look at how our restoration and remastering processes worked. All of these factors were taken into consideration when we made the decision to give Blu-rays another go, and we made necessary tweaks along the way.
For the “Level” sets, the Phoenix line of products from Image Systems were purchased by FUNimation to aid in the remastering. At the time, a heavy emphasis was made on preserving the integrity of the film and respecting the grain. Are these the same tools being used? What is being done differently that results in such a different kind of image, and why a seemingly complete reversal in policy?
We continue to use the Digital Vision Phoenix software as our primary toolset for restoration. Recent advancements have allowed us to go into more depth in the restoration process, including tools that better address warp and stabilization. For the Blu-ray Season Sets, we are going beyond the restoration process, further reducing noise and grain and reframing the presentation to the 16×9 aspect ratio. I wouldn’t really call this a “reversal in policy” as much as it is simply taking a different direction. It’s something that I know we’ve said a ton already, and we’re going to continue to do so, but the purpose of this release is to take an amazing, fan favorite show from 25 years ago and deliver that in a modern format that lives up to the experience many cartoon and anime watchers expect today.
(NOTE: The following two questions were answered together with one larger response.)
Other Blu-ray releases from FUNimation include Yu Yu Hakusho and FLCL; one was a traditional, cel-animated show, while the other was a digital production. Both aired on Cartoon Network, both were originally 4:3, and both were kept at their original aspect ratio on Blu-ray. What makes DBZ different?
In the modern film restoration world, the emphasis on restoring or remastering footage in need of ‘clean up’ is almost always on respecting the source, and being as accurate to the original presentation as possible. Think, for example, of the Criterion Collection and the restoration and release of classic, foreign, and significant films on home video. They are a successful and celebrated company, and yet they have never ‘modernized’ an older title; the emphasis is instead on making the image look (and audio sound) as good as possible within the specific aesthetic context of the work as it was originally created. On the flip side, we may consider the ‘colorization’ debate of the 1980s and 90s, in which films shot in black-and-white were ‘modernized’ by artificially adding color to the image. This is not a commonly used practice anymore, precisely because consumers – in addition to scholars and critics – rejected the practice on the grounds of aesthetic integrity.
Now, by your own admission in the press release – by using terms like “bolder, more vibrant color palette” and “converted from the native, full screen format” – the notion of ‘truth to the source’ is obviously not the philosophy being used on the Dragon Ball Z Blu-Ray releases. My question, then, is why? What specific benefits does FUNimation see from going against the modern film restoration consensus, and what about Dragon Ball Z demands a full-scale aesthetic overhaul even more extreme than what was done back in 2007 for the season sets? I am genuinely curious, especially because, in making such drastic changes (as seen in the trailer) to the image, color balance, grain structure, line-work, and more, can it be said you are actually presenting the show fans – of both the original Japanese version and the American dub – are used to seeing, or want to see going forward? If the show needs such drastic reworking, why did people love it (and buy it) in the first place? And what benefits will fans of the show as it has almost always (outside of the Season Sets) existed – in 4×3, with a rich and textured color palette and fine grain structure – see from this dramatic overhaul?
Dragon Ball Z is unlike any other anime brand FUNimation, or anyone for that matter, has rights to in America. It has been acclaimed as one of the greatest action cartoons of all time. Its influence has been seen in countless animated and live action productions. It has transcended the anime to main stream cartoon barrier, and there is no denying its place in American pop culture.
Next year marks the 25th anniversary of the Dragon Ball Z anime. A lot has changed in twenty five years. Technology has flourished, and new generations of animated action lovers have grown up with entertainment created for the times we live in. The millions of people who have watched and enjoyed Dragon Ball Z over the past 25 years are as diverse as they come. Ranging from hardcore otaku to casual cartoon fans, Dragon Ball Z has a certain magic to it that has captivated so many. We’ve had many releases of Dragon Ball Z in the past, each of them finding a specific audience they speak to.
For this Blu-ray release of Dragon Ball Z, we are creating a version that is fit for the modern era. A release that takes advantage of the 1080p, widescreen televisions and powerful Blu-ray players most people own today. A bolder, more vibrant Dragon Ball that both old and new fans can appreciate. In order to accomplish this, we had to change the remastering and restoration approach that we took with the Level Sets in 2011.
First off, going with widescreen over standard definition was a must. We understand the concerns with what is lost during the 4:3 to 16:9 conversion. To offset this loss, as much as possible, our remaster team conducted a precise, shot-by-shot reframing of every scene, in every episode. Where a normal, 4:3 to 16:9 conversion would automatically crop everything to a predetermined template, these individuals manually place the camera to ensure the optimal picture when converting from its native, full screen format. It solves the problem of losing vital content while still being able to deliver an experience that utilizes your modern television. We knew that this would be one of most controversial decisions with the release, which is why we went the extra mile to make the end result something diehard fans can appreciate. We’re really pushing for fans to not pass judgment on the widescreen conversion until they’ve had a chance to actually sit down and watch an episode.
Secondly, we stepped up the level of detail in our remastering process. Along with the intensive process of fixing blemishes, tape marks, scratches, and foreign object, we’ve tweaked our color presentation to something vibrant and more exciting. The image is now sharper, by making it high definition and adjusting the noise (or grain) level. The textures of the Blu-ray version have been updated in a big way, putting them on par with animated shows being produced today. We look at each shot, and made sure everything is balanced, correct, cleaned up, and updated to mirror current visual aesthetics.
Lastly, another improvement on this Blu-ray release will be the audio. Minor noise reduction (less hiss) and some remixing to the English elements have occurred to bring things up to modern standards.
We had a pretty good idea as to what kinds of answers we could expect. FUNimation is a company – one with a very active and effective marketing department – and their job is to sell their product. That being said, acknowledging that there are aspects about the release that might not please every single last fan is definitely a step up from ye’ olden forgotten Barry Watson days.
If you have been with Kanzenshuu (and its previous incarnations) for any amount of time, you know that we love this series to an obscene degree. We want what is best for the series, we want what is best for the fans, and we do actually believe that FUNimation wants the same thing. That being said, we continue to believe that the various Dragon Ball TV series are best presented in their original 4:3 production aspect ratio. We continue to believe that grain is an inherent part of the production method, and while its negative effects – primarily due to multigenerational copies provided to licensees – can be mitigated, it is also something that must be respected with care. We continue to believe that Dragon Ball is a product of its time, and was / is / forever will be loved exactly as that.
Unfortunately, we do not have a reasonable recommendation for our fellow North American fans looking for a 4:3 product. The “Level” sets were discontinued in favor of these Blu-ray sets, and the Dragon Box releases were limited in their production and many now reach several hundreds of dollars on the second-hand market. Assuming that these new Blu-ray sets see their way to completion, the defacto versions of the Dragon Ball Z TV series on the market – these and the original orange bricks from 2007-2009 – will continue to be cropped, heavily DVNR-ed versions.
Kanzenshuu extends a huge thanks to FUNimation for the opportunity to conduct a Q&A regarding these new Blu-rays. It would have been easy for FUNimation to completely dismiss a resource like us, a site who already wrote off the entire concept of a cropped release back in 2007. Opportunities like this give us much better insight into the decisions that go into the new products.
Stay tuned here to the site and the podcast: those of you still interested in the sets can look forward to a proper review from us here on the site, as well as a chance to grab your own copy.
Funimation worked so closely with the art team at Toei that they apparently didn’t catch their names as to actually answer GWOtaku’s question 😆 The sketches are a nice throw in.
There’s some inconsistencies in their statements, namely the idea that each of their releases were targeting specific market segments. If the Dragon Boxes were aimed at the hardcore fan, and these new sets were aimed at the casual fans, who did the Level Sets target?
Additionally, I’m not sure why they’re so keen on trying to pretend Dragon Ball Z wasn’t animated on cells 25 years ago when Kai exists. Though I guess that’s not in widescreen.
DBZ was at the height of its popularity, and on TV five days a week, in 2007? Am I reading that wrong, forgetting how long ago the original Toonami was, or was FUNimation confused.
My jaw dropped when they used “must” in regards to the cropping. I didn’t expect such… bluntness and directness.
I’m glad you used dinochow’s version of that question. His was definitely the best. But FUNimation’s answer… ooh, had me boiling. What wool were they trying to pull over our eyes? “Going with widescreen over standard definition was a must”? That’s like saying, “Going with Pepsi over bike tires was a must.” They’re not comparable. They’re not the same thing. The fact that the very sentence before referenced the Level sets (a 4:3 HD release) proves that. But wording it like that sure makes uninformed consumers buy up this garbage, doesn’t it?
Same thing for “adjusting the noise (or grain) level.” Noise and grain aren’t the same thing. Stop trying to make grain sound like a picture flaw, FUNimation. Yeesh.
Agreed with Gaffertape’s points. I’m glad FUNimation answered the question, and I do think it’s good of them to talk directly to the community…but their answer to my question was an evasion, not completely, but enough to feel irksome. I wish they would just come out and say, directly “We believe a modern, digital look is what our audience now expects.” They spend a few paragraphs essentially saying that, but they dance around the core idea, which is, as far as I can tell, that they think the best way to keep DBZ relevant is to try making it look like ‘modern’ anime. Now, that’s not a theory I agree with, nor obviously a practice I condone, but I can understand the logic, and I would respect the answer more if it just came right out and said that. Because however they want to spin this, they are fundamentally altering the series, and the cropping is only a tiny part of that. The entire art style looks different on the Blu-Ray sets when there isn’t any tangible texture to the colors, backgrounds, faces, lines, etc. It’s as simple as that. It looks like a different show. And the core part of the question as I phrased it, I think, is why the show that turned FUNimation into the company they are today – one of the single most popular anime series worldwide – needs to be fundamentally altered to be popular in the modern era. I think there are probably reasonable answers to that question, starting with “it’s been over saturated, and we feel we need to rejuvenate it in some way for marketability.” Again, not my cup of tea, but if more direct answers were given, I’d be more satisfied here.
And there’s just so much misinformation in that and other answers. So much. I’m sorry, but there is absolutely no way to prevent “losing vital content” when you are cropping an image. No way. The image is the image. All of it is vital. There is no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ cropping. It’s either the original image or it’s a portion of the original image, and getting a portion is a lesser experience. Simple as that. There’s a reason cinephiles like myself hated the cropping practices of VHS movies and early DVDs, and there’s a reason DVD was championed by that very same community for its ability to easily present films in their original aspect ratio – cropping is bad, and there is no way to spin that. It will always be an inferior experience (accepting special cases where a director shot a film in a certain aspect ratio intending for it to be cropped later, a la the later films of Stanley Kubrick). And it applies to DBZ today as well. The show *exists* in 4×3. All of the image is therefore important. You cut any of it away, you are experiencing *less* of the show. That is ALL there is to it. And while there are certain channels that now show 2.40:1 movies in 1.78:1 on widescreen displays, for the most part, the industry is done with cropping, and the populace is adjusted to seeing black bars on their televisions when needed. FUNimation has no ground to stand on in this case. It isn’t the 1990s. An image not filling every inch of the display isn’t the same problem it once was for the general public. It just isn’t. If it were, you can be damn sure Disney, Warner Bros, and every other major studio on the planet would be offering cropped home video releases of all their anamorphic widescreen movies.
And yes, as Gaffertape says, noise is completely different than grain, grain is not in any way an image flaw, dirt and grain should never be equated, widescreen and standard definition are completely unrelated issues, etc. etc. I understand, from a marketing standpoint, the instinct to spin. But trying to spin this stuff, so obviously, in the context of a site like Kanzenshuu where readers are apt to be knowledgable about these things, seems odd to me. I don’t wish FUNimation any ill will, and again, I appreciate the gesture here in the Q&A, but some of this is maddening (and I don’t even particularly care about DBZ on Blu-Ray – I have my Dragon Boxes and I don’t need anything more, but I love the show and worry about its long-term reputation and image in cases like these).
I really appreciate FUNimation taking the time to do this.
“…modern format that lives up to the experience many cartoon and anime watchers expect today.”
That’s a total dream. I cannot see this release capturing any new audiences for countless reasons, and even those nostalgic for the Toonami version of the show would probably miss the static and shakiness they remembered. Kai is the closest thing possible to a modern DBZ format and even that felt somewhat lost in time. As we expected, this is not our release.