Dragon Ball & Dragon Ball Z (partially lost original broadcast audio of anime series; 1986-1996)

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Dragon Ball Title Card.png

Title card for Dragon Ball.

Status: Dragon Ball: Partially Lost

Dragon Ball Z: Found

Dragon Ball (ドラゴンボール, "Doragon Boru") is a manga that ran from 1984 to 1995. Composed of 519 chapters in 41 volumes, the manga chronicled the adventures of the monkey-tailed boy Son Goku as he searched the world for seven mystical objects known as "Dragon Balls", which would summon a dragon when brought together to grant a single wish. The manga's popularity helped codify many tropes of the newly-emerged fighting genre, and would quickly gain two anime adaptations by Toei Animation: Dragon Ball (which covered the first 194 chapters of the manga and ran from 1986 to 1989) and Dragon Ball Z (which covered the remaining 325 chapters and ran from 1989 to 1996). While the shows proved to be immensely popular with audiences, Toei ran into considerable difficulties when it came to releasing them on home video: they had already junked the audio master tapes for the entire series.

Wipings

Photograph of a Dragon Ball Z film reel; the optical audio is the area surrounded by the red rectangle.

After the initial broadcast of each episode, Toei would wipe its audio master. This procedure was considered standard for the first two decades of the TV anime industry's life, as it was easier to broadcast and store optical audio, which is stored directly on the film reel rather than occupying a separate unit. However, production studios eventually started to retain their master tapes in the late 1970's, when TV stations began broadcasting shows with the master audio. The rise of home media in the 1980's further compounded this, motivating more and more studios to hold on to their masters to ensure the highest quality releases for consumers. Toei, however, was very skeptical about home media, viewing the sale of TV shows to children in a negative light. Adding onto the fact that 16mm film reels and magnetic audiotape reels occupied the same amount of storage space, Toei decided to continue wiping master tapes under the impression that they would be useless and voluminous if they were simply left in storage untouched.

However, this attitude changed around the 2000's, when Dragon Ball Z experienced a boom in popularity in the United States, and Toei finally decided to unearth their reels for Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z for DVD releases in Japan. Because Toei no longer possessed the audio they needed, however, all home media releases featuring the shows' Japanese audio utilized the optical audio taken from their film reels. Because optical audio degrades at a significantly faster rate than magnetic audiotape, the audio present on Toei's 16mm reels experienced a drastic loss of quality by the time they were brought out of storage 7 to 17 years later, featuring higher amounts of white noise & tin and sounding more muted than the master tapes.

Recovery

Because anime studios usually didn't provide distribution copies of their audio masters for foreign regions at the time (as dubbing was the most popular choice back then), Toei has never made any efforts to recover the lost audiotapes. However, numerous individuals from the Kanto region were able to record each episode of Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z on their VCRs and upload the audio of each recording online decades later. Because television broadcasts in Kanto were received directly from Tokyo Tower rather than NTT (which cut out high tones to block white noise), their audio was virtually untouched from the original masters, allowing them to be significantly clearer than the audio used for all other broadcasts & releases. Since this audio was taken directly from the original broadcast of the anime, it has appropriately been dubbed the "original broadcast audio."

Initially, it was not known how much of the master audio survived from this method, as all available recordings of it up until mid-2017 only utilized segments of each episode. Furthermore, the fact that Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z ran for a combined total of 444 episodes (approximately 222 hours of runtime) made the prospect of a full recovery appear impossible.

In addition to the original broadcast audio, Toei Animation released at least two "Big Box" Compact Cassettes in the mid-1990's containing near-master-quality audio taken from specific episodes of Dragon Ball Z; prior to the discovery of the original broadcast audio's survival, the two Big Box releases served as Dragon Ball fans' go-to reference for what the master tapes might've sounded like.

Dragon Ball Z

Despite the seeming impossibility of a full recovery of the original broadcast audio, Dragon Ball fans started to work to alleviate these concerns to the best of their ability throughout the 2010's, leading to a handful of single releases of episodes of Z. Such releases have included episodes 1-3 and episode 95, featuring original broadcast audio recordings on the torrent website nyaa.si. The upload dates for these uploads range from episode 95's audio being released in 2015 to episodes 1-3 having their releases in April of 2017.

Finally, on June 21, 2017, a nyaa.si user named sarachikorita uploaded a torrent of the entire original broadcast audio for all 291 episodes of Dragon Ball Z after spending 6 years searching for it, making it once again available in full to the general public.

Dragon Ball

While the full original broadcast audio for Dragon Ball Z has been recovered in its entirety, the same cannot be said of the original Dragon Ball, partially due to the lower popularity of the show compared to Z. However, the series does seem to be on the path to a full recovery: on September 4, 2017, an anonymous user on nyaa.si uploaded a torrent containing the original broadcast audio for episodes 1-7 and episode 153 of the original Dragon Ball anime, making it the first verifiable upload of any full Dragon Ball episodes containing the broadcast audio. Other broadcast audio recordings from Dragon Ball have yet to be released to the public.

Video

The iconic scene of Son Goku's first ascension to a Super Saiyan, utilizing the original broadcast audio; this is just one of many OBA clips that exist online.
A video by YouTube user AnimeAjay that discusses the lost master audio.

External Links