What’s the Difference Between Dragon Ball Z and Dragon Ball Z Kai?



  • Dragon Ball Z Kai is not a remake, but a revision of the original series, with updated visuals and sound design.
  • Significant changes were made to Dragon Ball Z Kai to attract a new, younger fanbase, including cutting filler episodes and revamping the dialogue.
  • Dragon Ball Z Kai is a more visually appealing and consistent version, but the original DBZ may be preferred by die-hard fans and those seeking a closer experience to the manga.

Dragon Ball Z Kai is an updated version of the classic Dragon Ball Z, but there are important characteristics that set the two anime series apart. Created by Akira Toriyama in 1984, the Dragon Ball manga was a cultural phenomenon that expanded to the anime format, following the adventures of the young warrior Goku as he sets out to find the legendary dragon balls and train to become the strongest person on Earth.

Dragon Ball Z marks the transition from Goku’s childhood into adulthood, preserving some of the main characters of the original saga while introducing new faces, a more serious tone, and much deadlier threats. Another major difference between the classic series is how Dragon Ball left world exploration aside to focus on explosive action, elevating the level of danger and power of Goku’s opponents. Dragon Ball Z Kai was developed for the 20th anniversary of the original DBZ, but it brought about significant changes.

Dragon Ball Z Kai Offers Major Technical Improvements

The first thing that many fans get wrong about Dragon Ball Z Kai is that it’s a remake of the original series, when it’s actually nothing more than a remarkable revision of the classic material. In that sense, all the footage remains the same, except for the updated openings and endings — everything else was merely cut or polished in order to meet contemporary standards. The first major technical improvement fans will notice when comparing Dragon Ball Z Kai with DBZ is the visuals. There’s much more texture and depth added to the updated character models, as well as more vibrant and striking color palettes.

The same effort to refine Dragon Ball Z‘s visuals was applied to the audio. Overall, the sound design is much better mixed, offering no distractions to the scenes unfolding onscreen and effectively amping up the tension of action sequences. However, when it comes to the actual music used to conduct the rhythm of the anime, serious plagiarism charges against DBZ‘s original composer Kenji Yamamoto led him to be replaced by Shunsuke Kikuchi before Dragon Ball Z Kai finished airing its episodes. The result was a considerable change in terms of song placements, which will, of course, sound great to new fans, but sound slightly odd to those who hoped to revisit the anime just as it was in the past.​​​

Related: Every Dragon Ball Z OVA, Ranked Worst to Best

Dragon Ball Z Kai Made Divisive Decisions to Attract New Fans

Dragon Ball Z Kai was developed to celebrate the legacy of DBZ 20 years later, yes. However, its true purpose was to bring a new, younger fanbase on board. To accomplish that, significant changes were made to the anime’s pacing and storytelling, even though its true essence remained untouched. Since DBZ is one of the most popular anime out there, any changes made to its structure were expected to stir controversy, regardless of whether the intentions were good or not.

Fans will notice a significant disparity in the number of episodes, with the original Dragon Ball Z finishing at 291 episodes and Dragon Ball Kai having only 167. Dragon Ball is known for its fair number of filler episodes, justified by the fact that DBZ was airing while the manga was in development. To fill the gaps in production while waiting for new source material to come, the anime would meander across the main storyline until it was time to keep up with the manga.

Since Dragon Ball Z Kai was released years after Toriyama wrapped the series, most of the filler episodes were cut. A much better pacing to the story came at the cost of amusing moments of the original anime falling into oblivion: yet again, that’s something no DBZ newcomer will care much about.

Reducing the amount of filler episodes was one of the steps taken by Dragon Ball Z Kai in its goals to be more faithful to the manga; revamping the dialogues was also part of the process. Dragon Ball Z Kai made major changes to the script in order to perfectly capture Toriyama’s distinctive dialogue verbatim, determined to remain loyal to the story’s original approach. However, for an anime so interested in effectively translating the manga onto the screen, the censorship that prevails in the imagery stands out as the most divisive element of the Kai version. While the original DBZ faithfully adapted the graphic depictions of violence, blood, and gore of the manga, Dragon Ball Z Kai made sure to severely reduce all the violent aspects of the anime.

In many instances, blood is replaced by saliva or simply removed entirely. In addition, mutilations, middle fingers, and heavy injuries from life-threatening battles were all manipulated in order to suit younger audiences. It’s a fact that anime and cartoons were much more violent decades ago and the debate around how violent content influences children still applies to this day, but for an anime that’s all about action and fights, such heavy censorship of content is a massive misfire.

Related: Dragon Ball: 10 Dead Characters Who Were Never Wished Back to Life

Which Version of Dragon Ball Z Is Better?

Majin Boo, a pink alien with a black vest and purple cape, stands proudly in Dragon Ball Z Kai
Toei Animation

Knowing all the differences between DBZ and Dragon Ball Z Kai, one may ask themselves which version is better — yet it really comes down to a matter of preference. For a newcomer to the Dragon Ball series, the remastered version can be the perfect choice. From the HD picture, the updated sound mix, and the vibrant special effects, the experience of watching Dragon Ball Z Kai is much easier on the eyes, let alone the more consistent pacing of the story, which benefited from the drastic filler reduction.

However, there will always be those who want the full experience, and in this case, the original DBZ is the best option. Die-hard fans are inclined to return to the original as well, especially those familiar with the original English dub version. Most of the previous voice actors are in Dragon Ball Z Kai, but a few voice changes here and there can be distracting. For those looking for the closest experience to the manga, Dragon Ball Z Kai is determined to perfectly translate Toriyama’s pages onto the screen, but with the cost of removing all the violent sequences that are a recurring trademark of the manga.

Stream Dragon Ball Z on Crunchyroll and Dragon Ball Z Kai on Hulu



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