Dragon Ball Z: The Tree of Might

DBZ_THE_MOVIE_NO._3Japanese Title:  The Decisive Battle for the Entire Earth

Original Release Date:  July 7, 1990

English Release:  November 1997 (Broadcast of Pioneer/Ocean Productions), March 17, 1998 (Ocean re-dub for VHS), November 14, 2006 (Funimation)

Directed by:  Daisuke Nishio

Screenplay by:  Takao Koyama

Running time:  65 minutes

We have arrived at the last of the original trilogy of Dragon Ball Z films as American audiences knew them – The Tree of Might. This film was actually the first brought to America by Saban Entertainment and Ocean Productions and was first adapted for television as a three-part story arc and originally aired sometime in November of 1997. It was then re-dubbed with a more accurate translation again by Ocean and released the following March on VHS in an uncut format. When Funimation re-dubbed it again with its own talent for the 2006 release, it for some reason utilized the script from the 1997 broadcast version, thus making this arguably the worst translation for any of the 13 film dubs released by Funimation. Considering there isn’t a whole lot of important dialogue in a given Dragon Ball Z film, this may not seem like a big deal, but dubs for this movie are some-what important because of the villain:  Turles.

Turles

Turles, or Tullece, is some sort of Evil Goku not to be confused with the more recently created Dragon Ball Super enemy Goku Black.

Turles (Chris Patton) is a Saiyan who leads a group of miscreants that seem to be some sort of intergalactic pirates. They travel the galaxy in search of a host planet for the Tree of Might – a massive tree that absorbs all of the nutrients in a planet to sustain it and bares fruit that, when consumed by mortals, bestows them with tremendous power. The confusion within many dubs is due to the fact that Toei decided to make Turles look identical to Goku (Sean Schemmel), save for a slightly darker complexion. Many dubs have tried different ways to explain it. In some he’s Goku’s brother, in at least one other he’s his uncle. In the first English dub, the character explains that he and Kakarot (using Goku’s Saiyan birth name) are from the same mold, but doesn’t elaborate further. In the re-dub, he explains that all lower class Saiyans tend to look the same. The truth seems to be less interesting and more of an artistic tool for Turles shares no blood with Goku and is merely a stand-in for what Goku could have become had he never grown up on Earth. Fair enough.

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Meet Icarus. If you don’t like him then good news, you only have to deal with him a few more times after this.

This film also marks the debut of perhaps Toei’s most beloved addition to the Dragon Ball universe:  the dragon Icarus. Icarus is a little, plump, purple dragon that is rescued by Gohan (Stephanie Nadolny) early in the film and becomes his sort-of pet. He’ll show up in a few other movies, mostly ones where Gohan is still a child, before sort of fading away. He also jumps into the main series from time to time during some of Toei’s filler, like The Garlic Jr. Saga. For some fans, he’s kind of viewed derisively as some just look down on anything that was not in the original manga by Akira Toriyama, though I think most see him for what he is – a harmless, cute, animal companion for Gohan to bond with.

The film begins with a camping trip. Bulma (Tiffany Volmer), Krillin (Sonny Strait), Oolong (Bradford Jackson), and Gohan are going to spend the night outside not too far from Goku’s home. Camping doesn’t seem like the type of thing Bulma would traditionally go for, but we’ll go with it. While they sleep, a massive forest fire breaks out and Krillin and Gohan are forced to spring into action to put it out. Despite their best efforts, the forest is basically destroyed, but Bulma has the wise idea to gather the Dragon Balls to wish for Shenron to restore the forest to its former beauty. The next day, they do just that while Gohan also befriends the aforementioned Icarus (which just thrills his mother, Chi-Chi).

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The Turles Gang, who really deserve a better name than that.

Unknown to our heroes, is that the cause of the fire was a probe launched from space that touched-down on Earth. The probe was sent by Turles to scout the Earth as a potential host for the Tree of Might. Satisfied with the results, Turles’ men head down to the surface and plant the tree, which attracts the attention of King Kai (Schemmel). He quickly contacts Goku to let him know about the tree’s presence, imploring him to put an end to it right away before it kills the planet. Goku immediately springs into action, and together with most of his friends, they head out to crush the tree.

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That’s a big tree.

Goku and his friends encounter the tree, which has already grown to a massive size and is visible from space, and give it all they have, but fail to so much as scratch it. Turles’ minions soon show up and a fight breaks out. A lot of the battle feels like a redux of the Saiyan conflict from the main series. Krillin breaks out the Destructo Disc while Yamcha (Christopher Sabat) uses his weird Spirit Ball attack. Most of them appear out-matched, leaving Goku to clean up most of the mess. Gohan, having snuck out of his house with Icarus, soon arrives to try and help out as well which attracts the attention of Turles himself.

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Damn kids.

Turles confronts Gohan recognizing him to be a Saiyan. Turles is well-aware of the fact that Goku lives on Earth, but he did not know about his son. Gohan, frightened by the fact that Turles resembles his father, is at first hesitant to fight. Turles tries to win him over to his side, but of course that goes no where. When Gohan does finally attack he finds himself severely outclassed. Turles, apparently giving up on winning over the young Saiyan, opts to kill him instead, but good old Piccolo (Sabat) shows up to make the save. Using Piccolo’s affection for the boy to his advantage, Turles is able to quickly outmaneuver the Namekian and quickly lays him out. It’s at this point he notices that Gohan has regrown his tail, and deciding to have a little fun, he creates an artificial moon to bring out Gohan’s more primitive side.

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I like this Goku. He’s plenty powerful without being over-powered making for more visually interesting action scenes than some of the “teleporty” stuff to come.

By now, the others have taken notice of this imposter Goku. Goku tries to come to his son’s aid, but the giant ape version of Gohan is pure rage unable to distinguish between friend and foe. The only thing that seems to quiet Gohan is Icarus, and once Turles’ fun is over, he decides to once again kill the boy. Goku, in a bit of gimmick infringement, creates his own Destructo Disc attack to sever Gohan’s tail and spare him from being blasted by Turles. Krillin weeps seeing his one, good attack usurped by Goku.

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Pausing for a snack break.

With that out of the way, the stage is finally set for the confrontation the movie has been building towards:  Goku vs Turles. First, Goku has to dispatch of Turles’ remaining men which poses no real challenge. Once confronted, Goku and Turles appear to be somewhat evenly matched, but Goku soon gains the upper hand. Unfortunately for him, the Tree of Might’s fruit has ripened and Turles is able to grab one and consume it boosting his power significantly. He trashes Goku and tosses him off the tree, forcing the other Z Fighters to step in. As they distract Turles, Goku concentrates on forming the Spirit Bomb once again. The only problem though is that the Tree of Might has taken almost everything the Earth has to give. Turles is able to swat the Spirit Bomb away and things look dire. Every Dragon Ball Z movie has a deus ex machina to play though, and Goku begins absorbing energy from the Tree of Might itself to create an even bigger Spirit Bomb – one Turles is unable to overcome. He and the tree itself are destroyed, and life returns to normal once more.

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Since Goku and company are always eating those senzu beans, I guess it’s only fair Turles got to eat that weird fruit.

The Tree of Might is an odd one in retrospect. The general plot is fine and I actually kind of like it. It’s a little different from some guy just wanting the Dragon Balls or vengeance against Goku (a plot we will soon start to see in force). In some ways, the art style is peak Dragon Ball Z. It’s not as soft and rounded as the earliest stuff, or as simple and straight-lined as later sagas. There’s a lot of cool backgrounds as the Tree of Might saps the Earth leaving patches of dark, purple clouds. We get another Great Ape scene, and the designs on Turles’ gang are pretty fun, especially the weird cyborg goo-monster guy. I also like how the Spirit Bomb, often the last resort and trump card, fails initially, though the re-try is kind of lame.

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Z Warriors – Assemble!

Where things aren’t so great is in how familiar a lot of the action feels. While the animation is great, a lot of the bits are lifted directly from the fight against Nappa from the main series. I even suspect some animation could have been reused, like Yamcha “piloting” his Spirit Ball attack. And structurally it’s similar with Gohan becoming an ape and Goku needing time to create the Spirit Bomb. The only thing that didn’t happen is Turles didn’t go ape as well. Worth noting is that this is the first movie to contain basically all of the “Z Fighters.” Making their Dragon Ball Z film debuts is Yamcha, Tien (John Burgmeier), and Chiaotzu (Monika Antonelli) though they don’t have a whole lot to do.

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That Goku, always ruining his shirts.

This one feels some-what divisive for me. It might hold nostalgic value for a lot of folks in America because of its familiarity there. As I said, this might be the best looking of all of the Dragon Ball Z films, but like so many, it kind of botches the concluding moments. I’m also not sure how I feel about Turles looking like Goku. I think I get what Toei was going for with the character, but maybe it would have made more sense to just make him Goku’s twin or a clone or something. I think if the action bits had been a little more creative, and the conclusion more rewarding, The Tree of Might would be considered one of the best of the thirteen films, but right now it feels more middle of the pack.


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