Dragon Ball Kai and the “Sacred Original”

Dragon Ball Kai, if you haven’t heard, is the newly redone, newly voiced, high-definition re-airing of the Dragon Ball Z anime starting April 5, 2009. And this time, according to Toei, they’re going to cut out the filler to make it more like the original manga.

There’s a certain level of importance placed on the “original” in anime, manga, and of course art and entertainment in general. Walter Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” discussed the changes mass production could influence upon art and the concept and authenticity of an “original.”Star Wars is already a massed-produced work, but fans cry foul whenever George Lucas decides to revise the original trilogy, whether it’s deciding who shot who first, who appears in the sky as a ghost, or whether the Death Star should meet its end with many tiny explosions or one giant shock wave. Fans will argue that the plastic, rubbery look and the decisions made then, seen perhaps as weaknesses by some, are actually strengths of the movie. Originals, for better or worse, are often considered to be “sacred.” But what does one consider the “original?”

I bet a lot of people are fine with editing down Dragon Ball Z to remove a lot of the filler which bogged down the pacing of the series, and I am among them. In one sense, it is not the “original” because there’s a manga to base it on, a vision of what should have been. But what if Dragon Ball Kai was not a revision of Dragon Ball Z but the entire original manga retraced and made to look better than ever with “unnecessary filler” cut out? We know that Toriyama originally wanted to end the series at multiple junctures: the defeat of Piccolo, Jr. at the Tenkaichi Budokai; the death of Freeza; the death of Cell. Is the original his intended plan which never was carried out due to Shounen Jump editors wanting to keep making money hand over fist? If so, then surely the manga would have a huge chunk of its content cut out.

Now I’m not arguing against the concept of Dragon Ball Kai and its desire to tighten up the anime and remove the excess. I’ve established myself as being in support of the idea. However, when you sit down and try to consider what the “original” could be, it opens up a whole can of worms.

Today’s homework assignment is that I want you to think over the following two things. First, is the idea that the original creator(s) may not necessarily know what’s best for his own story, and that external factors which seem like limitations may sometimes produce better results (see First Gundam). Second, is taking the concept of “cutting out the boring and unncessary” parts and comparing it to dubbing practices of the 80s and 90s.

Have fun, though. That’s what’s most important.