Tag Archives: anime

Dragon Quest: Your Story

dq your storyIn the 1980s, game designer Yuji Horii set out to create a role-playing experience similar to a pen and paper RPG for a video game console. The goal was to blend elements of those experiences with statistical and complex Western PC games like Wizardry and Ultima as the back bone. In order to make it appeal to a Japanese audience, he wanted to infuse it with what he had learned working with manga and add character and story to the equation. The end result of that was Dragon Quest, known for a time as Dragon Warrior in the West. In creating Dragon Quest, Horii gave birth to the genre we know and love as the Japanese Role-Playing Game, or JRPG for short.

Dragon Quest was a cultural phenomenon in Japan when it arrived for the Famicom game system in 1986. Three sequels would follow and all would be brought to the Nintendo Entertainment System in the West. The series never caught on outside of Japan, and the series skipped the Super Nintendo all-together and didn’t return to a global release until Dragon Quest VII on the PlayStation. The series was the flagship title for game developer Enix, who would eventually be acquired by Squaresoft who had found great success with its Dragon Quest clone:  Final Fantasy. Those two franchises have come to define the JRPG genre and are still to this day looked to as being the trend-setter for the genre, which has admittedly sailed past its hey-day.

No matter, for Dragon Quest still has a dedicated and loyal following. And while the somewhat recently released Dragon Quest XI has taken it in a more modern direction, it still seems that the favorite game of the series amongst the fanbase is Dragon Quest V, also known as Dragon Quest V:  Hand of the Heavenly Bride.

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Dragon Quest: Your Story is based on Dragon Quest V which is easily the most beloved entry in the long-running series.

Dragon Quest V, released in 1992 and eventually in North America in 2009, was the first game in the series released on the Super Famicom and also the first to skip North America initially. Like basically every game in the series, the player controls a silent protagonist that they’re allowed to bestow a name upon. They journey with that player on a lengthy quest partaking in turn-based battles that result from random encounters on both a world map or a dungeon sequence. Where Dragon Quest V seems to really distinguish itself though is in the scope of the journey and subversion of expectations. During the course of the game, the player will be faced with a choice of whom to take as a bride and that marriage will result in the birth of twins who eventually join your party as playable characters. There’s also a monster collecting element at play that undoubtedly influenced the Pokémon series in which after defeating a monster some will randomly request to join your party becoming playable as well. The game ends up following the hero from child to adult and players seemed to really enjoy that aspect of the experience as it breads attachment. It’s actually surprising more games haven’t attempted the same.

To celebrate the franchise, Dragon Quest:  Your Story was conceived and released in Japan in 2019. It has just now become available on Netflix outside of Japan. The film adapts Dragon Quest V for the big screen with a CG adventure that takes the viewer through the events of the game basically from start to finish. The film is written and directed by Takashi Yamazaki with additional directing credits going to Ryuichi Yagi and Makoto Hanafusa. Shirogumi Inc was chosen to handle the animation with additional effects done by Robot Communications.

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The film opted to go with CG in place of two-dimensional, hand-drawn, animation.

Fans of Dragon Quest V seemed elated at the thought of the game becoming a feature-length film. Animation is definitely the way to go, though I wonder if many were disappointed to find out it would be a CG animated feature and not a more traditional two-dimensional anime. By including the tagline “Your Story,” it seems the film is also aiming to replicate the RPG experience each player goes through, even if it means this time around the hero needs a name.

Like the video game it is based on, Dragon Quest:  Your Story tells the tale of a hero named Luca (Yuri Lowenthal) who at a young age loses his mother to monsters. Together with his father Pankraz (Parker Simmons), Luca embarks on a mission to retrieve the fabled Zenithian Blade in the hopes that it will help them free their beloved. The blade can only be wielded by the Heavenly Hero, whom Pankraz believes to be his son. Along the way, Pankraz will meet his end forcing Luca to go it alone. Only, he’s not alone and will soon be joined by a sabre cat cub and a curious slime. He has allies in the young prince Harry (Zeno Robinson), scrappy Bianca (Stephanie Sheh) and magical Nera (Xanthe Huynh).

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Yes, we have a slime in this one.

Adapting a roughly 25 hour game to a 103 minute film is certainly a daunting task. Much of those hours in the game are spent grinding away through dungeons and such, but even stripping those away still leaves a lot of ground to cover. As a result, the film can’t really attempt at introducing everything the game throws at the player and basically boils it all down to a few key bullet points. There’s also a liberal dose of montage at work making this film really only accessible for those who played the game. To those who did not it will feel more like an animated summary with no room to breath or to form actual attachments to the characters presented here. This format might actually make it more accessible for younger kids with short attention spans, but older viewers with no familiarity with the brand will probably tune out.

The visuals for the film hold up quite well throughout. Series artist Akira Toriyama was not on-hand for the development of this film, but it’s clear his original art was referenced for the film’s visuals. The sabre cat in particular has a very Toriyama-like appearance as do others. Where the visuals suffer is in the dubbing. Either a direct translation was insisted upon for the English dub or there just wasn’t much attention paid to it because the mouth flaps of the characters rarely sync up naturally. It’s distracting, but this is a film that isn’t exactly dialogue heavy so it’s not as killer as it could have been. There are subtitled options available, and if you’re not averse to reading them it might be the better way to go. Much of the film’s music and sounds were lifted directly from the game, but updated with an actual orchestra where appropriate. It makes the film feel incredibly authentic in its presentation.

Where the film has garnered controversy though lies in its aim. Much of the film up until the climactic battle with the monstrous Bishop Ladja feels like a love letter to Dragon Quest V, but that’s ultimately not the film’s intention. Dragon Quest:  Your Story is aiming a bit higher. It wants to be a celebration of Dragon Quest itself and not just a particular game. Dragon Quest V is merely the chosen vehicle for that delivery. The end contains a twist that is rather high concept. I don’t wish to spoil it, but even if the idea sounded great on paper the execution is a bit awkward. It definitely torpedoes the excitement of the climax adding a layer of complexity onto a story that, up until that point, was anything but.

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Bianca was probably my favorite aspect of the film, though given the rapid-pace of the film she ends up not being featured all that much.

As someone who does not have any particular attachment to Dragon Quest or Dragon Quest V, I can say that the ending did not anger me, though I certainly wasn’t satisfied either. I have played Dragon Quest V, so I was familiar with the story going into this and could follow the film. The ending to the game is possibly the least interesting aspect of it, so changing things up doesn’t bother me on the surface. The execution here is just clumsy, and some of the elements of the ending might have served the film better had they been introduced from the start. This isn’t the type of story that needs or wants a big twist. It doesn’t have enough depth to pull the viewer in and then reap the reward of dumping them on their head. For those unfamiliar with the game, it just feels like a noisy, dumb, fantasy picture that commands little attention. For those who love the source material, they just want to see it to its conclusion likely enjoying the ride well enough while knowing it’s incomplete and only scratches the surface. The film basically spends 90 minutes making fans of the game happy, then the last ten angry.

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Dragon Quest fan groups reacting to the ending.

As a result, Dragon Quest:  Your Story is a film that doesn’t really please anybody. Newcomers will likely find it dry, while longtime fans will be angry with the ending. I suppose Dragon Quest fans that aren’t that enamored with Dragon Quest V might be able to better appreciate what the film was striving for, but I have yet to meet a fan that fits that definition. For me, a casual player of Dragon Quest, I got very little out of this one. The visuals and music are mostly nice, even if I would have preferred a more traditional anime look. The action pieces are dull and the pace of the film is far too quick for any of the emotional beats to land with much impact. I found Luca charming and Bianca especially was charismatic, though she is in maybe 10 minutes of the film as a functioning character, when all is said and done. Dragon Quest:  Your Story is a flawed and ultimately disposable piece of entertainment. It’s ending will give fans something to talk about, which unfortunately is likely to become the film’s legacy rather than as a celebration of a beloved franchise.


Dec. 25 – Samurai Pizza Cats – “The Cheese Who Stole Christmas”

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Original air date December 25, 1990 (Japan)

Welcome, Christmas Day! Hopefully you’re not hungover from too much Christmas partying last night, and if you are, hopefully it was worth it. By now, Santa should have deposited presents under the tree, if you were good this year, and hopefully he remembered the batteries. It’s been fun, but this post means we are done for the year. Christmas often lingers though into the new year, but once the holiday comes and goes it loses some its luster. Lets not dwell on the holiday coming to an end though, as we still have one more holiday special to enjoy! Maybe. Hopefully…

Samurai Pizza Cats sure sounds similar to another show, doesn’t it? That’s obviously by design as starting in the late 80s the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles took the world by storm and made lots of people lots of money. The ridiculously named property originated in comics, but once it made the move to television it had to be altered to make it more kid-friendly and toy-friendly. As part of that adaptation, the Turtles were given a favorite food, and since they live in New York, pizza was the chosen entrée. And boy did they like pizza, it was basically all they ate on the show. Given how silly the show was, it’s not at all surprising to find it was ripe for parody, and that’s partly how we got the Samurai Pizza Cats.

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The heroes of the show (left to right): Guido, Polly, and Speedy.

I say partly, because that’s not the show’s original name. Samurai Pizza Cats is a Japanese production originally titled as Kyatto Ninden Teyandee (which directly translates to Cat Ninja Legend Teyandee). When Saban got ahold of it is when it became known by its new English name. Allegedly, when Saban licensed it for global distribution they received either poor or no translations for the scripts so they basically just made up their own lore for the show. The show takes place in a version of Tokyo in which anthropomorphized animals dwell and some (all?) are partly cybernetic, including our heroes. They work in a pizza restaurant by day, but when duty calls they become heroes. The villain of the show is the local prime minister who is corrupt. The palace guard for the emperor is aware of the corruption, but he can’t prove it, so he relies on the heroic cats to stop the evil deeds.

The English script and dub, being wholly original, might cause anime fans to turn up their noses, but for my money it’s actually pretty well done. The show is just full of parody, pop culture gags, and lots of fourth-wall breaking. I didn’t watch this show as a kid (I don’t think it came to the US until 1996), so I’m not super familiar with it, but I was entertained by the script of this episode. Even if I didn’t tell you it was redone when brought over from Japan you would likely figure that out rather easily just by watching it. It’s very American, but it doesn’t try to hide the more anime moments and pretty much runs with it.

Our main characters are a trio of Samurai warriors who look like cute versions of the Ronin Warriors with a dash of Mega Man. They have a real cybernetic look to them and I assumed this was how they went into battle, but they actually add more armor and such when they prepare to fight (accompanied by traditional transformation animation that looks way better than the other animation in the episode). The three cats are Polly Esther, Guido Anchovy, and Speedy Cerviche. They’re joined by Francine who assists them from their headquarters and probably provides some tech support as well. Big Al Dente is the Chief of the Palace Guard and the one conspiring against the villain. He summons the cats when they’re needed. Big Cheese is our villain and is the Prime Minister of Little Tokyo looking to overthrow the emperor of Japan, who is named Frank. He’s supposed to be a fox, but Saban decided he looked enough like a rat to go with that instead. He’s assisted by the Ninja Crows and their leader Jerry Atric (hardy har-har) who he makes use of for his various schemes. And in this particular episode, ruining Christmas is the theme of the day.

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No messing around with this one, it’s Christmas morning right at the start!

The episode begins with a wild intro featuring narration that gives a general overview of the show. The narration is done by Michael Airington who is obviously doing a Paul Lynde impression during the opening song.. It’s a very jovial and announcer-like voice that works for the show. Legend has it that Airington was drunk on the job when he recorded the intro which may have even enhanced his performance. When the episode begins, the actual narrator is far more understated (and voiced by Terrence Scammell). The Pizza Cats are all receiving their Christmas presents as it’s Christmas morning. Guido (Terrence Scammell) seems unimpressed with a comb he receives and Polly (Sonja Ball) quickly jumps in to remind him it’s the thought that counts when it comes to Christmas presents. Speedy (Rick Jones) finds this hilarious and begins mocking her for her pure-hearted point of view. Polly tries appealing to the other female of the group, Francine (Pauline Little), who surprises her by going along with the other two as they shout at her Christmas is about the presents!

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They deserved this.

Lucille (Susan Glover) then enters to remark on what a lovely day it is. Lucille appears to be a sheep, though she has ram horns despite being female. She apparently owns a nearby tea house and Guido and Speedy are quite interested in her. They’re borderline lewd towards her, actually. Polly thinks she has an ally when Lucille enters, but she soon asks for her presents and adds she assumes she has lots and lots of them. This causes the narrator to chime in that yes, Christmas is all about presents, as the other cats look shocked by her response. Speedy and Guido go into their routine as they make each other laugh with each passing comment ending with Speedy pondering if Lucille wants them to take her out to lunch. She is not amused, and actually starts to cry. This causes the other cats to run in terror. I have no idea why, until Lucille basically explodes. Apparently, she has a lot of hardware under that kimono.

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Well, this guy hardly seems threatening.

The setting then pivots to the pagoda of The Big Cheese. It’s all decked out for the holidays as we see the villain awaking rather late on Christmas morning. Big Cheese (Dean Hagopian) arises from his bed excited to see what Santa has brought him. He’s wearing a nightgown and cap and the voice performance, combined with the clothing, gives him an obvious effeminate slant. I feel like a lot of villains were given such a characteristic during this era. He races to his giant stocking and hopes it contains a dance partner as pretty as he is handsome to take to the New Year’s Ball. We see an image of what he’s wishing for and it makes me wonder if in the original translation he was wishing to be the dancer. Instead, he finds a seemingly hungover Jerry Atric (Mark Camacho) who is quite receptive to the idea of being Big Cheese’s date to the ball. He then remarks that’s the last time he indulges in Timothy Leery bird seed, a noted proponent of psychedelic drugs so apparently Jerry here was up doing acid. Big Cheese then starts shaking the old bird demanding to know where his Christmas presents are. He tosses Jerry and he smashes into the screen prompting him to ask that someone please move the camera.

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Is there still time to change what I want for Christmas because I want this clock!

We then get a look at two other characters opening presents, Emperor Fred (Scammell) and Lady Vi (Liza MacRae). Fred appears to be a panda while Vi, his daughter, is a rabbit. She opens her gift and is ecstatic to find it’s exactly what she wanted:  a “Me” clock. It’s basically a cuckoo clock with her face on it. At the top of the hour, a little caricature of her pops out to shout, “Don’t tick me off!” Fred, who is apparently of limited intelligence, seems happy with his gift; a teddy bear that resembles him. Big Cheese is irritated to see the two enjoying their gifts when he received nothing. He heads to the balcony and looks down and sees all of the “extras” enjoying their presents too. He also notes that the producer’s family has a huge stack of presents as well. I love this fourth wall stuff!

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Poor Jerry has to give up his present to try and keep this brat in check.

He then directs his ire back at Jerry Atric. He’s happy to see he’s not enjoying a present, which leads to Jerry trying to downplay the whole present thing as he conceals a gift behind his back. Big Cheese sees it and immediately starts to get angry, but Jerry says it’s for Big Cheese from him and hands it over. This sates his boss, but only momentarily, as he opens the box to find ninja blades or something indicating it was obviously a gift for Jerry and immediately gets upset. He swipes at Jerry, but then goes into a tale about how his Christmases as a kid were just as bad as this one. We see a brief flashback where an excited young Seymour (that’s his real name) is opening a gift from Santa. His dad excitedly says it’s a real boy’s toy, which is a bizarre thing to say. He opens the box and sees a toy wagon hooked up to a toy bull. He proclaims “What’s this bull?!” and tosses it aside. Back in the present, Seymour starts shouting to the heavens about getting even with Santa. Jerry just watches and we hear some of his thoughts as he takes this all in. It seems he knows this is just going to lead to some crazy scheme he’ll have to partake in.

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For someone who has to work on Christmas, Speedy sure looks happy.

We then head back to see what the Pizza Cats are up to. Francine is taking orders and this show is quite adept at coming up with some gross toppings just like the Turtles did (sausage with mint jelly, in this case). Polly is ticked off that Speedy is apparently missing in action (I’m guessing he’s the delivery boy) and is taking it out on Guido. Meanwhile, some attendees at a Christmas market are enjoying some shopping. When a kid asks his mom why dad isn’t with them she says he’s at home waiting for the trickle down theory to take effect. As an econ major, this amuses me. Speedy is also passing through rather casually on his delivery route. He’s making up a song as he does so and seems to run out of words. Soon they spot a figure flying over the market – it’s Santa! He’s oddly in a one-reindeer open sleigh and looks a bit off. That’s because it’s obviously Seymour in disguise with Jerry acting as his lone elf helper. He passes out gifts to everyone which they happily receive.

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That dude is clearly not a rat, and also clearly not Santa.

Speedy sees the patrons greedily grabbing gifts and even gets knocked to the ground in the commotion. Maybe this is the start of him coming around on the whole giving is better than receiving thing? The people find the gifts are all masks, and soon they appear to be in a panic. Speedy takes note and wonders why Santa would do this. At the busy restaurant, a kid comes running in telling people Santa gave them creepy masks that won’t come off. Apparently they’re all stuck on, which is why the others seemed to be in such a panic. Guido and Polly take note as they run outside to try and help the crying mass of children. They can’t get the things off, while “Santa” flies overhead laughing all the way. He reveals that he put superglue in the masks and it’s at this point I realize his helper is not Jerry, but another character named Bad Bird (Michael O’Reilly). While Seymour enjoys his mayhem, Big Al (A.J. Henderson) is watching from the palace through a telescope and is sizing-up the imposter Claus. He recognizes Bad Bird and decides to put in a call to the Pizza Cats!

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So the headquarters for the good guys is just a giant gun. Something tells me that would have been a challenge to bring to toy stores in America.

We then get to see the transformation animation of the Pizza Cats. The three heroes jump into what the narrator refers to as laundry chutes, but they look kind of like pizza ovens to me. This takes them down a tunnel where their armor is put on. Meanwhile, the restaurant itself transforms as well with what is basically a giant revolver rising from the roof. The cats are loaded into it like bullets and then fired out into the sky as a trio of fireballs. The Paul Lynde voice and theme song return for this segment too and it’s quite a hoot. He cackles after delivering his lines as if he’s really amused by them which certainly makes the rumor about him being drunk at recording seem plausible. Francine chimes in with a little rhyme of her own essentially assuring her customers that everything is okay. She’s the one that engages the firing mechanism via a normal-sized revolver of her own.

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Bonus points for the festive heroic attire.

The fireballs fade away to reveal the heroic felines beneath them. They’re dressed in Santa suits and Speedy isn’t too pleased by this. Polly explains they’re dressed this way to restore Santa’s reputation. If the people see Santa-like beings saving Christmas, they’ll feel good about Santa once again. Meanwhile, Big Cheese is spreading more of his sinister gifts around Little Tokyo. This time though, the Pizza Cats drop in to prevent anyone from actually opening them. They first knock Big Cheese from the sky, who takes a terrible tumble along with Bad Bird. They then point out to the crowd of onlookers that this Santa is a fake, and they buy it. They start shouting fake as the Pizza Cats tell them of the nefarious gifts that await them.

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Even the villains in this show are kind of cute, in their own way.

Bad Bird ditches his disguise and goes after the Pizza Cats. He hits them with a bomb that knocks away their Santa costumes. The onlookers are then disappointed to see the Pizza Cats as this confirms they’re not denizens of the North Pole. Speedy shouts out what’s going on, while Big Cheese attempts to escape. When Polly points this out Speedy declares he won’t get away, “Not when I can pull out great props from no where!” And he does, as he produces a sort-of grappling hook that he tosses at Big Cheese to hook on his sleigh. As he pulls the villain towards him, the crowd runs at the sleigh and basically pummels the Hell out of Big Cheese.

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Robot #1. You can see why Speedy didn’t take it very seriously.

Bad Bird winces at the sight of Seymour getting mangled by jilted Christmas shoppers. He then summons another helper, this time it’s Hardy Boy, a robotic humanoid with a party hat. Speedy laughs when he sees the thing and mocks Bad Bird’s order to “Say your prayers.” He then pulls out his blade and jumps at the enemy only for it to blast him with a Christmas cracker that wraps him all up. Polly and Guido rush in to help as the robot fires some rockets their way. He then bends over as his party hat turns into a drill and is apparently ready to skewer the pair. Speedy then gets up and uses his sword to slash open the back of the robot. A big beam of light emerges and the robot falls away to reveal…

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Robot #2 is sort of creepy. I’m not sure why she has a bird beak, but whatever.

Another robot! This one looks like a female super model of sorts, only instead of a nose and mouth she has a small beak. The announcer seems to like her. Speedy is a bit intimidated and remarks that he hopes she’s not teed off. Apparently she is though, as she’s armed with a golf bag. She tees up a ball, and with a mighty swing she sends an explosive flying at the heroes. It rips through Guido’s umbrella and explodes on a nearby pagoda. Polly and Guido are a bit shaken, and then the robot starts launching more golf balls their way eventually sending them into the bushes. She then turns her attention to Speedy, and after some puns about making a point, she tosses a bunch of needles at him. Apparently golf isn’t her only gimmick as she’ll soon take note of Polly and Guido planning an attack. She then produces a giant pea pod, yes you read that right, which also contains giant explosive peas. I have no idea what her gimmick is at this point, but whatever.

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All right, we’ve had our fun and now it’s time to put an end to all of this.

Speedy has apparently had enough. He’s pretty ticked off that Santa’s reputation has been besmirched by these clowns and declares it’s time for the ultimate weapon. Yes, we’ve reached that point in the anime where the hero finally just uses the thing that always works. Speedy takes his sword and gets enveloped in an aura. The announcer even points fun at the whole ultimate weapon thing remarking the special FX guy was wondering when he’d be called upon. The sword basically splits into two better looking swords. With a cry of “Pizza power!” Speedy slices the air which sends energy slashes at the robot woman. She quotes Tweety Bird with a cry about seeing a “puddy tat” before she explodes. Bad Bird gets tossed as a result and he bemoans why they always lose to that sword. Seymour goes soaring by to answer it’s so stunt men have jobs. Speedy then reminds the kids who are watching to always eat their pizza as the trio pose triumphantly.

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Could that be the real Santa Claus? I’m still alarmed by the whole one reindeer thing.

We’re then taken back to town where all of the people are still suffering with their masks. A sight appears in the sky, could this be the real Santa Claus? He has what looks like a rocket sleigh and still just one reindeer, but the people are ready to believe anything. He drops some sparkly stuff on the crowd and soon the masks come off. Everyone is happy and also excited to find out that Santa is real! We then see that he is not, though, as it’s actually Big Al in disguise with Francine along to help. They’re just dropping some kind of glue solvent to get those masks off and Francine even makes a remark about Santa not being real, which is really odd to hear in a children’s show. Disturbing, even! The announcer even runs with it as he wraps things up by saying even if there isn’t really a Santa Claus, at least there are those willing to play the part. Thankfully, this isn’t the note we end on as we then pan to the sky and find the REAL Santa! He’s smiling and laughing and basically mocks the announcer before flying off passing by the moon in the process as he’s contractually obligated to do. And he too has just one reindeer. Clearly, this Santa is fraudulent as well.

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Ho ho! Now there’s the real Santa! And I thought this episode was going to blow the whole thing.

And that’s how this festive episode concludes. The machinations of this show are pretty straight-forward. The bad guy devises a scheme, the heroes arrive to face-off with he and his minions, they get beaten back, but then emerge victorious when the leader unleashes his ultimate power. It’s very similar to Power Rangers or Ronin Warriors in that regard. However, what elevates this program really is the script and performance of the voice actors. Now I’m guessing there is an offbeat quality to the original show, but I also get the sense that when the non-Japanese writers got ahold of this thing they felt it was pretty ridiculous, and it shows in their approach. Maybe that is offensive to fans of the original incarnation of the program, but it’s hard to deny a team of samurai cyborg felines that work at a pizza restaurant isn’t ridiculous on its own. The script was genuinely funny, and while there are certainly numerous bad puns, the show has this self-aware approach that actually makes those puns land in an ironic fashion. It’s silly and it’s fun. The only change I might have made was to not go with the title Samurai Pizza Cats. Because the 90s was full of sincere TMNT knock-offs, the parodic nature of this program doesn’t come through in that title. It probably should, given the silly-sounding title, but as I said the 90s was full of crap cartoons that make this one plausibly sincere. I know I and some of my friends dismissed it for that reason as a result.

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Gah! One reindeer! Are we sure he’s the real deal?!

For a 90s anime, this show is pretty consistent in terms of visual quality. I love the character designs as they strike a nice balance between cute and sleek. There is a nice melding of traditional Japanese settings with this cybernetic twist. The choice to dub Big Cheese as a rat is rather odd though as he clearly looks like a fox to me, but I guess that doesn’t really matter much in the grand scheme. The animation itself is somewhat limited as the characters are so complex it would be hard to have them in motion all of the time. As a result, there is a lot of standing around with just mouth flaps moving and extremely fast and exaggerated motions when the characters actually need to do something. This is par for the course with anime so it’s nothing to be surprised by. I enjoyed looking at this one, and I might even watch some more.

As for a Christmas episode, I was expecting there to be some lesson imparted on our heroes. They held a very cynical view of the holiday, all except Polly, and their selfishness was never really punished. I guess they didn’t get any superior presents and they did get blown up, but Polly suffered too. Speedy did witness the greed of the townsfolk and obviously didn’t enjoy it. They also had to defend the good name of Santa and weren’t looking for a reward beyond that so I guess that’s good. Not everything needs a moral, and I suppose the offbeat nature of the program means this one in particular doesn’t need to say a whole lot.

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There may not be a ton of traditional Christmas cheer in this one, but they did sneak in this nice, festive, image just before the end.

If you wish to take in a viewing of Samurai Pizza Cats the easiest way to do so is via Amazon Prime Video. It’s free for anyone who has a Prime membership so no additional purchase is necessary. It’s also not exactly a well-protected IP so if you don’t have Prime you can probably find it without issue for free elsewhere. The show was also released on DVD, if physical media is still your thing.

And that’s a wrap for this year’s edition of The Christmas Spot! I hope you enjoyed soaking in the holiday via Christmas specials, good and bad. I enjoy doing it and I plan to return to it again in 2020! For now though, enjoy the day and get all of the Christmas cheer you can tolerate for tomorrow it ends. Thanks for reading, and Merry Christmas!


Dec. 6 – Pokémon – “Holiday Hi-Jynx”

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Original English air date December 11, 1999.

Yesterday, we took a look at the so-called Pokémon killer, The Weekenders, so today we’re going to look at Pokémon itself. The Weekenders earned that nickname because it was the first to knock Pokémon off the top of the ratings charts for Saturday morning television after it had reigned for a year. The victory was short-lived, and it would seem Pokémon has fared far better in the long run than that forgotten Disney cartoon.

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Yeah, we’re going to have a problem here.

“Holiday Hi-Jynx,” also known as “Rougela’s Christmas” in Japan, is one of the more controversial episodes of the long-running series (which has surpassed the 1,000 episode milestone) due to its focus on the character Jynx. Jynx, as you can see from the image above, seems to resemble a character in blackface. Now, in Japan this isn’t a thing, but in the US where an entire race of people were once enslaved, we have a few hang-ups about this sort of thing. And post slavery, people of color rather famously weren’t afforded the same opportunities as whites, some would say they still aren’t, which included depictions on stage or eventually on film. White actors would be cast to portray black individuals and utilize blackface. And then there were also minstrel shows which were also pretty damn racist, but also pretty common during the era.

In television, characters like Jynx were once waved off. Similar characters have been showing up in animation since it started and some made it to television, and some did not. A contemporary to Pokémon in the late 90s (as far as American audiences are concerned) is Dragon Ball which also featured its own blackface character in Mr. Popo. Mr. Popo largely went unchallenged and was featured in Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z with no alterations or cuts for years. Only when the series returned to television as Dragon Ball Z Kai in 2010 was a change made. And in that case, it was only done for the episodes airing on broadcast television and not cable. For them, Mr. Popo was re-colored with an electric blue skin tone that did little to hide the racism, but I guess it allowed the network to say, “We tried.”

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The CW’s solution for Mr. Popo.

For Jynx, the solution was far simpler. Unlike Mr. Popo, Jynx is not often featured in the series. When Pokémon first aired, the character went unnoticed and the episode was allowed to air. Eventually, the character garnered some negative press and the episode was pulled sometime in 2000. And ever since, it’s essentially been banned. When Netflix and Amazon Prime eventually acquired Pokémon for streaming, this episode was not included. The only way to see it is to purchase a physical copy of the show on DVD, and not just any DVD, as you need to get the specific version that includes it. Future releases would omit the episode.

Is all of this necessary? It’s hard for me to say. I’m a white guy, so I’m naturally not as sensitive to the subject as others would be. Someone apparently didn’t see the value in giving Jynx the Mr. Popo treatment to get it back on air or into a streaming catalog, which is unfortunate since this is a Christmas episode! Poor little Pokémon fans are being deprived a Christmas special because of the stupid, racist, Pokémon it features. I suppose now with the show totaling over a thousand episodes no one sees a need to make sure this one, specific, episode makes it onto Netflix or wherever. Plus, the show has other Christmas episodes. What’s worse, is the episode did get recolored, but for Japan only. A “fixed” episode exists, it just needs to be dubbed. Did they lose the dub track or something? It seems like something that would be easy, and cheap, to correct.  It’s also annoying because Jynx is terrible, she is one of the worst of the original 151 Pokémon. As a human shape, she lacks the cuteness or the charm of someone like Squirtle or Cubone. She’s rather curvy too, which is just weird for a Pokémon.

purple jynx

Japanese audiences received a new version of this episode, but English audiences have not.

Anyways, that’s Jynx for you. She’s the reason this episode has been placed into purgatory which gives me a desire to take a look at it. Also, for me 2019 may very well be remembered as the year my son was properly introduced to Pokémon. Since getting him Let’s Go! Pikachu for his birthday, he’s been a walking, talking, Pokédex. Time will tell if this obsession will stick, but it’s been rather amusing for me to see him get into something so completely like he has Pokémon which has only further made me want to include the show in this year’s version of The Christmas Spot.

Jessie Xmas

A rather idyllic piece of Christmas imagery.

Let’s get to it then. This episode is from the first iteration of the show taking place in Kanto. It’s episode 65 of the English dub, though it was supposed to air sometime around episode 39 or so and there’s a continuity error as a result which I’ll note when we get there. And naturally, this is a Christmas episode and it’s going to go all in on that sentiment.

santa james

That’s no Santa!

The episode opens and narrator Rodger Parsons brings us into a darkened bedroom with a girl asleep in bed. It’s Jessie (Rachael Lillis) of Team Rocket, so something must be up. A shadowy figure enters the room from the chimney, could it be Santa? As the figure approaches the bed, a trap is sprung and the old elf is caught in a large net. Jessie rejoices at the capture of Santa, as does their sometimes loyal sidekick Meowth (Madeleine Blaustein). After the title card is displayed, we discover that this is not Santa, but James (Eric Stuart) dressed-up as the Christmas icon in a dry run for a true Santa trap. Jessie has apparently been obsessed with capturing Santa dating back to her childhood when she made an important discovery. While asleep one Christmas Eve, she woke to find Santa in her room, only it wasn’t Santa it was a Jynx! The Santa Jynx picked up Jessie’s favorite doll and departed up the chimney with it infuriating the young girl. Ever since then, Santa has failed to pay her a visit and now it’s time for her revenge!

pokemon army crawl

We call this one the Pokémon army crawl

Elsewhere, Ash (Veronica Taylor), Brock (Stuart), and Misty (Lillis) have just made a discovery. They’ve spotted a lone Jynx on a beach and she’s holding what appears to be a boot. Jynx, being a rare Pokémon, immediately captures Ash’s attention and he decides he needs to catch this Pokémon. He deploys Pikachu who’s thundershock attack does little to bother the Jynx. She gets Pikachu in her arms and uses her signature maneuver, a kiss, to paralyze the electric rodent. Ash then deploys Charmander and commands him to flamethrower the Jynx. This is the continuity error I mentioned earlier as Ash’s Charmander had already evolved in a previously aired episode.

jynx brock

Because Jynx wasn’t content to just be racist…

Charmander’s flames subdue the rather docile Jynx, and Ash attempts to capture it with a Pokéball but it fails. Ash is confused, which is about when the group decides to diagnose this situation further such as why is Jynx holding a black boot? Misty takes a look at the boot Jynx is holding and finds it belongs to Santa Claus. How can she tell? He has a picture of himself in his boot, which is a pretty weird way to declare ownership over something (that’s because in the Japanese version, Santa’s name can fit on a postage stamp-sized image where as his English name would not, so he gets a portrait). Jynx then tries to tell them what happened, but like most Pokémon, she’s only capable of saying “Jynx.” Brock guesses she belongs to Santa, and Jynx gets all horny and tries to kiss him which he does not respond well to.

jynx power

Jynx’s power on display.

Jynx then does something she should have done from the start. She glows and shimmers with rainbow colors as her hair stretches out and touches everyone around her, including Charmander and Pikachu whom Charmander is adorably carrying on his back. It seems Jynx has the ability to psychically communicate with others. They see the Jynx in an arctic setting polishing Santa’s boot when suddenly a piece of the ice she’s standing on breaks apart from the mainland and drifts away. This Jynx is lost and needs to get back to Santa, and Ash vows to help her out which nearly earns him one of those undesirable kisses.

From atop a peek nearby, Team Rocket is watching and scheming. Since Jessie knows the “secret” about Santa, she’s naturally inclined to follow this Jynx. They intend to follow Ash and the others to Santa’s workshop to steal all of the toys – the horror!

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They live to serve

Ash’s grand plan is to board a raft and sail to Santa’s workshop using Misty’s water Pokémon to pull the raft. As they do so, Team Rocket boards a Gyarados submarine to give chase. Eventually, the water Pokémon get tired and Ash decides he can take over pulling the raft. He strips down to his boxers and dives in. He doesn’t appear to get very far before fatigue sets in as well. He starts to think about turning back, but hears a feminine voice in his head urging him on. When he asks Misty and Brock if they heard it they say they did not. Ash keeps going and the voice informs him he has a ways to go. Suddenly, a wave rises up and crashes into Ash. It severs the rope around his waist and pulls him underwater. He opens his eyes and sees a black void approaching him.

ash lapras

I bet Ash wishes he was wearing something other than just his underwear when meeting Lapras for the first time.

We’re interrupted with a “Whose that Pokémon?” (it’s Pidgeotto) bumper before returning to the show. The black void before Ash turns out to be a Lapras, a dinosaur-like Pokémon of the sea. It takes him to the surface with Ash upon its shell and Misty is able to get a Pokédex reading on the gentle beast. Turns out, Lapras is capable of telepathy and that’s the voice Ash had been hearing. Lapras (Jayne Grand) explains to everyone that Santa had asked it to find a missing Jynx. Lapras has been watching this trio for some time, and can take them to Santa’s work shop.

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So called they’re willing to get next to a racist, sexual harasser like Jynx.

Lapras pulls the raft ever faster, forcing Team Rocket to speed up. Their submarine is pedal-operated, so they have their work cut out for them. As Lapras pulls the raft along it starts to rain. Ash enjoys it, but Lapras cautions him that it will soon get really cold. Ash says he can handle it and we cut to later to find all three huddled for warmth amongst Jynx’s hair. Lapras informs them they’re almost there and we soon see what looks like a giant iceberg up ahead. Lapras informs the others this is the location of Santa’s workshop, but before they can get too excited the visage of Gyarados rises from the water’s surface.

team rocket cold

Team Rocket bringing new meaning to the term chilly reception.

Team Rocket exits the submarine and breathlessly goes into their usual introductory routine. Eventually, Jesse and James are forced to embrace each other for warmth as Meowth makes his entrance. He quickly decides it’s way too cold and returns to the warm confines of the submarine. Jesse then demands that Ash hand over Santa Claus. When they express confusion, she clarifies she means Jynx. The others have a good laugh at her expense, while Jessie insists that Jynx is actually Santa Claus. Fed up with their laughter, Jessie orders Meowth to fire a missile from the submarine. It arcs into the sky, and as Ash and the others panic, Jessie and James make off with the Jynx. The missile explodes and a huge cargo net is draped over the good guys while Team Rocket heads to the workshop.

jynx elves

I suppose it makes sense that in this world Santa would have a team of Pokémon instead of elves.

Once there, we see a frozen Christmas tree and Team Rocket peering through the windows of the fabled shop. Inside they see numerous Jynx (which Jessie insists on referring to as Santas) doing the work we would normally associate with elves. They soon spy the real Santa, causing Jessie to question everything she’s thought up until now. Santa is seen fretting about his missing left boot to one of the Jynx, and Jessie pops in with the boot and presents it to him. He’s delighted and asks if she also found a Jynx with it, but before she can answer Ash and the others storm in. Ash informs Santa that these people are on his naughty list, and before he can inquire further James and Meowth tie him up. Jessie then tells them if they want to have a happy new year they better do as they command.

jessie and santa

What makes less sense is for Santa to possess no eyes.

With Ash and the others all tied and bound there’s nothing preventing Team Rocket from loading all of the Christmas presents onto their submarine. Santa tries reasoning with Jessie and he seems to be onto something. Jynx comes over and uses her psychic powers to show Jessie what really happened that night. When she woke from her slumber she knocked her favorite toy on the floor causing it to break. Jynx, who was assisting Santa that night, saw the broken toy and took it to have Santa fix it back at his workshop. She now returns it to Jessie good as new. When Jessie asks what took so long, Santa explains that after that Christmas Jessie sealed off her heart to Santa, and once a child stops believing he can no longer enter their home. Jessie’s eyes well up with tears, and James appears affected by this display of emotion. Jessie is thankful, but then informs Santa she’s still taking all of the toys anyways because she’s still Jessie.

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That’s a lot of presents.

As Team Rocket flees in its sub, Lapras emerges. Lapras tells them Christmas is for everyone, and can’t be stolen, before unleashing its ice breath attack on the submarine. It becomes frozen solid, and Ash uses the opportunity to summon Charmander once again. He instructs the Pokémon to free them first before turning its fire breath on Team Rocket. Charmander ends up thawing the ice, inadvertently freeing Team Rocket allowing it to call upon Weezing to take out Charmander and resume its escape.

jessies xmas moment

Is Jessie about to have a magical Christmas moment?

Ash apologizes to Santa for letting Team Rocket get away, but he’s not too concerned. He instructs the Jynx, dressed in little Santa suits of their own, to use their psywave technique. They do as instructed and telekinetically lift the submarine from the water and dump out the presents on the shore. The submarine is then destroyed, and Team Rocket “blasts off” as it always does.

jynx santa army

That would make me run too.

Santa is then shown in a one-Rapidash open sleigh piled high with presents. He thanks them for their help and instructs Lapras to take them home. As he flies away, Ash realizes he never told Santa what he wanted for Christmas. Lapras informs him that Santa knows as Jynx brings out presents for all of them, even Pikachu. Lapras wishes them a merry Christmas to finish things off here.

santa rapidash

This show found a clever way to avoid my reindeer criticism.

We’re then taken back to the castle-like structure on a cliffside that opened the episode. Team Rocket is shown all sharing a bed. They look a bit worse for ware. They’ve hung stockings, but Meowth doesn’t think they’ll be getting filled with presents. Just then, Jynx shows up outside the window. She winks and blows them a kiss, which puts all three to sleep. Santa is then shown flying past the moon, because all Christmas specials featuring Santa are required to include such a shot, and he too wishes us all a merry Christmas.

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Gifts for all!

That was a rather interesting approach to a Christmas episode. It turned an unpopular Pokémon into Santa’s elves and gave Team Rocket a Grinch-like plot. I suppose I should have foreseen a Grinch turn for Team Rocket, but it wasn’t something I ever considered. It’s always interesting to see how Santa is incorporated into a fictional world’s lore, and in this case his existence is unquestioned. It’s perhaps a touch light on Christmas sentiment, but it’s also nice when a special doesn’t beat the audience over the head with the same. I like the fake-out with Jessie who appeared to be having a happy Christmas moment, only to continue on with her plans of thievery. It genuinely fooled me and I thought the episode was going to take the sappy way out, but I’m happy it did not.

The decision to make Jynx essentially Santa’s elves was perplexing to me, then I remembered Black Pete. Yes, one final bit on the inherent racism of Jynx seems to come from Sweden. There, Santa has a servant named Black Pete who functions similarly to Krampus. He’s often depicted by a white actor in blackface, not unlike Jynx. Black Pete punishes bad kids, which is something Jynx apparently does not do (unless you view her putting Team Rocket to sleep at the episode’s conclusion a form of punishment or trickery), but the Jynx certainly are servants of Santa. The main Jynx was scrubbing his boots when she got lost, for goodness sake!

pikachu xmas gift

Even Pikachu!

As for the future of Jynx, she’d return without the Santa plot. Nintendo and Gamefreak also apparently took the issue of her appearance with western audiences to heart and her skin tone has been altered from black to purple. This change has carried over to the games and it’s definitely an improvement. She’s still an awful Pokémon, but at least her racism is less blatant.

santa pokemon

The natural closing shot for 99% of all Christmas specials.

Because of its controversial nature, “Holiday Hi-Jynx” isn’t the easiest Christmas special to view legally. It’s not streaming, and it obviously won’t be shown on television this year. You can either go out and buy the old DVD, or turn to the internet. It’s not particularly hard to find if that’s the route you take. As for me, I’d like to show this one to my Pokémon obsessed son. I don’t think the imagery will have a negative impact on him, and he’d probably like to see Ash and company interact with Santa this Christmas. Hopefully he’s not expecting a Jynx to visit him on Christmas Eve because there’s no way I’m letting one of them into my house. I have my limits.


Sunshine Blogger Post

 

sunshineYou may have heard of or seen this Sunshine Blogger thing going around. It’s essentially a chain post, not unlike a chain letter or those chain posts that used to (still do?) circulate through social media. I was tagged by Jay Friz over at RJ Writing Ink for such a post in which most of the participants appear to be anime-centered blogs. While The Nostalgia Spot is not an anime blog, it has certainly touched upon the subject from time to time mostly via several posts on the Dragon Ball franchise. I am a lover of animation though, so naturally I do enjoy anime and this presents an opportunity to touch upon it, so thank you for such, Jay.

All chains have rules, and these are the rules for this particular chain:

1. Thank the blogger who nominated you in your post and link it back to them.

2. Answer the 11 questions the blogger asked you.

3. Nominate 11 new blogs to receive the award and write 11 new questions for them.

4. List the rules and display the Sunshine Blogger Award logo on your first post.

Once again, thanks go out to Jay for the acknowledgement. If you have not visited his blog, he does a lot of animation-related posts of old and new properties and is currently doing a daily Halloween post (and if you read this regularly you know about my affinity for that format) and it is certainly worth checking out.

What got you into blogging?

My journey into blogging began nearly 9 years ago. I had always wanted to write and pursued a writing degree while in college. It eventually struck me as something impractical, and rather than reach for a dream I went with a different major. It has financially worked out, but I missed writing. After being out of school for many years and finding myself with a lot of spare time, I decided to start a blog for my own benefit. The theme of nostalgia came naturally, and it’s something I’ve had fun writing about. I do it for the enjoyment of writing, not for publicity. If people read and enjoy it then that’s great, but if no one read it I’d still consider it a worthwhile endeavor.

scrooge triumphant

I love me some Christmas, and here’s a little teaser for a future Christmas Spot post. Recognize it?

What’s been your favorite thing to blog about?

Nostalgia seems like too broad a topic for the purpose of answering this question. I have greatly enjoyed revisiting Batman: The Animated Series. Not only does it provide me with something to write about, but I also re-watched every episode along the way. It spanned more than two years of my blogging life, and I’m actually a little sad it’s over (final post scheduled for the end of November). I have also enjoyed doing the same for the much smaller Bucky O’Hare and the Toad Wars. Bucky O’Hare being a smaller, often forgotten, subject makes it rewarding for different reasons, even though the quality of that series is not on par with the likes of Batman. Without question though, my favorite posts are the Christmas ones. After dabbling with Christmas for years, I finaly went all-in on doing an advent calendar of posts a few years ago. When you blog for sheer enjoyment it can be hard to find time to make posts. Plus my own tend to total 3000 words no matter what I do, so doing 25 days of posts is hard. That’s why I spread them out and make use of the scheduler function to make sure they post when I need them to. It gives me a reason to stay tapped into Christmas all year round.

If you could date one fictional character, who’d it be?

Let’s go with Sara Valestein from the Trails of Cold Steel video games. She can kick ass and loves a good brew – what’s not to like?

The-Legend-of-Heroes-Trails-of-Cold-Steel-II_2016_03-11-16_006-555x328

Sara (left) was likely created with the whole “Hot for Teacher” vibe in mind.

What’s your all time favorite show? Or video game?

My favorite show is probably either Futurama or The Venture Bros. Those are the two I’ve revisited the most. From a more nostalgic perspective, my favorite as a kid was X-Men. As for video game, it’s a lot harder since I play a lot of RPGs, but rarely revisit them. I’ll just stick with the same answer I usually give and go with Xenogears. It has its problems, but I love the aesthetic of it and the battle system is unique enough to separate it form other JRPGs.

What’s your favorite show from the 2010s?

It’s hardly much fun to say this is my favorite show from the past decade, but it’s Game of Thrones. The showrunners may not have stuck the landing, but it was a fun ride while it lasted.

What are you looking forward to the most in 2020?

Whatever NECA releases in its line of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figures, and the same for Boss Fight Studio and its Bucky O’Hare line. Looking forward to new toys is supremely exciting for me, likely because it allows me to feel like a kid again. That and I rarely have time for video games so looking forward to them feels like a waste of energy.

bfs bruiser and bucky

Bruiser will hopefully arrive in 2019, but could slip to 2020. Either way, I look forward to whatever is next in this toyline.

If you could have any fictional power, what would you want?

Let’s keep it simple and just go with flight. I live in Boston and traffic is brutal, flying would solve so many problems.

What’s been your favorite anime recently? For non-anime fans, you can say cartoon

Recently it’s been Dragon Ball Super, which just wrapped up a week ago for the English dub. I never really wanted a proper sequel to Dragon Ball Z, so I’ve been surprised at how much I enjoyed the new series. I’ve also really enjoyed My Hero Academia and Devil Man Crybaby, as the Devil Man OVA was one of the first DVDs I ever purchased.

If you could travel to a fictional universe, which one would you want to go to?

Duckberg. I’d stand out, but it would be fun trying to break into Scrooge’s Money Bin.

What was your favorite cartoon/anime growing up?

My favorite cartoon was X-Men, my favorite anime was Dragon Ball Z.

X-Men (FOX) [1992-1997]Shown from left: Wolverine, Morph, Beast

I lived for Saturday morning as a kid.

Beef or chicken?

Chicken, always chicken.

 

Thanks again to Jay for the chance to do something different. He made his questions fairly broad and not applicable to anime, which probably worked better for me since most of my anime related responses would just refer to Dragon Ball or Cowboy Bebop, fine shows certainly, but also shows that have been talked about a lot. My insulated nature means I have no blogs to tag for future responses as the few I follow have already done this post. I don’t normally spread chains too, but I wanted to play along with this one especially since I’ve been buried in Batman and Christmas-related writings lately. If this is something you want to do, feel free to consider yourself “tagged” and answer the same set of questions I already have, and as always, thanks for reading.


Dragon Ball Super: Broly

db super broly poster

Dragon Ball Super: Broly

The first movie under the Dragon Ball Super umbrella is one that sets out to take what was previously non-canon and adapt it into the main series. The most recent two Dragon Ball Z films; Battle of Gods and Resurrection ‘F’, ended up being the start of Dragon Ball Super which is now well over 100 episodes into its own series and several volumes of manga as well. It was last year that the series took a pause, seemingly coming to an end, only for this feature to be announced soon afterwards. Over the summer it was revealed that the subject of the film would be the infamous Broly, a character created for the prior Dragon Ball Z films that is either a fan-favorite or fan-hated character, depending on who you ask. In that universe, Broly was the featured villain of three separate films, and according to this humble blogger only one of those three films was any good. Broly is simply an all style and no substance villain. He’s big, mean, and powerful, but he has no real motivations beyond wanting to annihilate the hero of the series, Goku, whom he despises because he made him cry when the two were infants. Yup, you read that correctly.

Finding out that Broly would soon be adapted for his fourth film and presumably brought into canon left me with mixed feelings. Those feelings quickly shifted to positive ones though as what reason did I have to really doubt series creator Akira Toriyama? Broly already had the look, and aside from the reason for hating Goku being quite lame, the rest of his origin was fine. There was enough of a skeleton there that could be fleshed out into something worthwhile. And after doubting that there was anything left in this franchise, I’ve been proven wrong time and again by the last two features and basically the entirety of Dragon Ball Super. Toriyama, and those working with him, seem to have a handle on what sets this world apart from others. It’s the humor, as well as the action, that makes it go. The series can’t stop to take itself too seriously, or else it will betray what it is. Anchoring the series on the Goku and Vegeta characters is also fan-service at its best. It’s their differences as characters that works so well. It meant taking away most of what once made Vegeta a villain, but Dragon Ball Super has managed to make him likable and understandable without also softening him too much.

dbs broly normal

Broly is re-introduced in this one as canon with a tweak to his base design.

Before I go any further, it is worth pointing out just where this film follows in the grand scheme of things. If you’re like me and have been following Dragon Ball Super via the dub that airs weekly on Toonami then you’re going to have some things spoiled for you. This film takes place after the events of Dragon Ball Super so far, so it’s after the Tournament of Power which has yet to officially begin. If you watch the Japanese dub of the show, then no problem as you saw the finale almost a year ago. For us just watching on a standard cable package, it means having the events of that tournament some-what spoiled. And I mean that very loosely as the setup for that tournament is that all of the universes who lose are destroyed. I don’t think any viewer expects the universe inhabited by Goku and his friends to be wiped out and have the story end there, so the fact that this film even exists is only the most mild of spoilers. The film doesn’t go into any detail about how that crisis was resolved, so I didn’t feel particularly spoiled by anything. Only the fate of one character would really count there, so if you want absolutely nothing else spoiled you may want to stop here as I can’t really discuss this film without mentioning that character at least in passing. There’s your final warning.

king vegetas court

King Vegeta’s court where Paragus is informed on the fate of his son.

Okay, with that out of the way we can freely talk about Dragon Ball Super: Broly! This is a review, not a synopsis like I did with my DBZ movie feature from last summer, so I don’t aim to spoil anything pertinent to the film beyond just going over the general plot and setup. If you’re a longtime fan, you’re probably most curious about how this new Broly (Vic Mignogna) equates with the old. He’s a different character, but it is also largely the same. The film begins several years before the present day when planet Vegeta was still a thing. In addition to seeing the early days of Broly, we’re also treated to something previously untouched upon and that’s the transfer of power over the universe from King Cold (Jason Douglas) to his son, Frieza (Christopher Ayers). It’s fun seeing that acknowledged, though it’s not particularly thrilling. Broly himself though is soon introduced as a baby, and like the prior Broly, he seems to have incredible untapped power. King Vegeta (Christopher Sabat) appears jealous that this child rivals his own infant son, also Vegeta (Sabat), and it may explain what he does next.

dbs kid goku

The flashback also contains a brief look at young Goku in a somewhat touching scene.

Like the prior Broly, this one will find himself banished from planet Vegeta. His father, Paragus (Dameon Clarke), suspects the king did it out of jealousy, but the king claims he did it out of fear over what Broly is capable of. A power so terrible cannot be controlled and he could destroy them all. It’s hard to say what the truth is, but Paragus refuses to see his son exiled to a barren world alone. He steals a spaceship and chases after him all while swearing revenge on the king who did this to him and his son. We also get another peek at Goku’s father, Bardok (Sonny Strait), and even meet his mother, Gine (Emily Neves). It retcons the events of Bardock’s solo film a bit, and also shows us a softer side to the character which provides some context for how Goku (Sean Schemmel) came to be so different from other Saiyans. We also get to check in on a toddler Vegeta and Radditz, which is amusing, and see the destruction of planet Vegeta from another angle. There’s even a mention of a brother to Prince Vegeta that I was not aware of. I don’t know if that’s mentioned at all in the episodes I have not seen, or it could be a hint at something to come in a future movie or series.

dbs paragus

The design for Broly’s father, Paragus, is also still in-line with his old portrayal only now he’s aged up. He’s also still a dick.

After the lengthy setup, the film jumps to the present day and finds Goku and Vegeta sparring. They’ll soon find out that Frieza is up to not good, and his stealing of the Dragon Balls from Bulma’s (Monica Rial) lab is what sets the plot in motion. That will get all of our main players to Earth, including a now fully grown Broly and his father, where the action takes place.

snow clothes goku and vegeta

Goku and Vegeta showing off their trendy new winter duds.

To no one’s surprise, the majority of this film is action as the two heroic saiyans take on Broly. Broly is depicted as actually kind-natured this time around, but his power drives him mad. It’s a subtle change from the previous version we’ve seen, but it’s handled far better and this character actually has meaning. He’s a sympathetic character, much more so than before, and one the audience isn’t necessarily instructed to root against. His design is only a little different from his old one, but he has a slightly more refined look. There’s some grit there as well and he actually looks like someone who has lived his whole life in exile. He’ll find some sympathetic characters which help add to his story, and overall I think he’s a fine addition to the cast this time.

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Vegeta demonstrating his mastery of the Super Saiyan God form.

The action is the main attraction, and after the slow-paced opening I am happy to report that no action was spared as a result. This is a meaty film, and by its end you may even start to feel exhausted. It keeps upping the visual ante along the way though, so it never gets boring. New tricks are unleashed, some more abstract than others. My favorite was a first-person camera in the middle of the fight that really pulled me in. It sounds like a gimmick, but it worked really well to see the lightning-quick action unfold from such a perspective. It was also tastefully utilized, so it didn’t overstay its welcome. There’s plenty of big spots, and also some rather brutal ones. Nothing is gratuitous though, and overall if you’re a fan of action this is one satisfying and spectacular film. There is also less emphasis on fan-service this time around when compared with the last two films. There’s no effort to get all of the old gang back together and the cast is actually fairly trim. This one simply has a story to tell and a battle to feature.

dbs goku blue

The film is visually stunning, but there are moments where I felt like I was watching a cut scene from Dragon Ball FighterZ.

The film is still mostly done in 2D with digital hand-drawn animation, the design of which was handled by Naohiro Shintani instead of Tadayoshi Yamamuro who has done virtually all of Dragon Ball previously so all of the characters have a slightly altered look to them, though I wouldn’t go so far as to say they appear off-model. Those hand-drawn parts are delicious for the eyes and Dragon Ball has never looked better. The movements of the characters are so fluid and sharp, and the slightly muted color palette is reminiscent of the manga more so than the actual anime. Vegeta’s battle suit, in particular, uses a more navy color than a bright blue and Goku’s orange gi is just slightly pale. This being Dragon Ball, there’s also lots of bright greens and blacks and some cute character designs amongst the villains. There are instances of obvious CG, most noticeably when space ships are shown. It’s also still used in battles, but it’s less of a distraction than in past films. There are still times though when I felt like I was viewing a cut scene from a video game as opposed to an anime. I wouldn’t go so far as to say those moments were jarring, but the hand-drawn stuff is just so flawless that I wish they just tried to stick with that as much as possible.

broly vegeta snow

Arctic settings are among my favorites in Dragon Ball. The brightly colored characters just look great against a cool backdrop.

The music composed by Norihito Sumitomo is also quite bombastic and in-time with the visuals. Some of the main themes, in particular Broly’s and a character I won’t mention by name as it would constitute a spoiler, include a chant in the song where the name of the character is spoken. It further adds to the fighting video game feel of some of the visuals and I’d consider it ludicrous if this were any other property save for maybe Mortal Kombat. It manages to add to the spectacle of everything. Also, some old favorites return though it’s worth mentioning this movie doesn’t feature an opening credits scene like the old ones. I kept waiting for it to pop-in, until I realized it wasn’t coming. It’s probably for the best, though I did kind of miss it.

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If you’re looking for some of the old Broly you know (and love?) you’ll get that here as well.

Ultimately, I was left feeling like seeing Dragon Ball Super: Broly on the big screen was very much a worthwhile experience. This film was designed for that setting, and I really enjoyed my time with it. I was surprised to find it actually showing at quite a few theaters in my area, and further surprised to find many shows sold out. Thankfully, I was planning on seeing this alone as I couldn’t find two seats side-by-side anywhere. The machinations of the plot are pretty contained so if you haven’t bothered to watch Dragon Ball Super you shouldn’t have too much trouble getting into this and and figuring out what’s going on, so don’t let that be an obstacle. If you ever cared about Dragon Ball, then you owe it to yourself to catch it on the big screen.


Dec. 19 – Stich and Santa!

StitchAndSanta

Originally aired in Japan on December 24, 2008

Stitch, of Lilo & Stitch fame, is apparently quite popular in Japan. Disney is popular in general over there, but it seems like Stitch struck a chord. He has a lot of Japan exclusive merchandise and his popularity has extended well past the movie from which he originated. In the US, Stitch and his pal Lilo did get an animated series as well as multiple direct-to-video films so it’s not as if he isn’t popular domestically as well. He’s just so popular in Japan that he’s received multiple anime series that ran from 2008-2011. Following that, a series of specials aired with the newest released as recently as 2015. Since then, Stitch has actually switched markets in Asia and gone to China, where a new series launched in 2017.

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Stitch! premiered just over 10 years ago in Japan.

The first of these anime was the Madhouse produced Stitch!. It premiered on October 8, 2008 so happy ten year anniversary to Stitch!. Unlike the American cartoon series, Stitch! is not a continuation of the story started in the film but a reinterpretation. Stitch (Ben Diskin) fell to Earth and is accompanied by Dr. Jumba (Jess Winfield) and Pleakley (Ted Biaselli). He ended up on the island of Izayoi which is near Okinawa where he encounters The Spiritual Stone. He befriends a young girl named Yuna (Eden Riegel), the Lilo of our story, and is promised by The Spiritual Stone to be made the strongest in the universe if he can complete 43 good deeds. Stitch is quite mischievous though, so completing these deeds will not be easy because a bad deed takes away from his total. Pleakley crafts him a counter to keep track of his deeds, and together with Yuna, they set out to complete the task.

Standing in Stitch’s way are other experiments of Dr. Jumba gone rogue. The main villain is Dr. Jacques von Hamsterviel (Kirk Thornton), who looks like a cross between a hamster and a rabbit. He attended college with Jumba and seems to just want more power and he sees a way to attain that via Stitch’s good deed counter, or something. He’s also not a new villain as he premiered in the direct-to-video sequel to the original movie, Stitch. Gantu (Keith Silverstein) from the film works for him after he was dishonorably discharged from the Galactic Federation for bad karaoke and he’s rather incompetent. He has an obsession with an Earth soap opera called The Young and the Stupid, in particular with its lead actress. Also joining them is Reuben (Dave Wittenberg), Experiment 625, who basically just makes comments and sandwiches. He loves sandwiches and he also previously debuted in Stitch.

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Stitch is quite excited about this whole Christmas thing.

Stitch! was first run in Japan, but was also dubbed in English for other regions, though surprisingly the US was not really one of them. Only five episodes aired in the US on Toon Disney before the show was abruptly pulled. It’s possible Disney just felt it was too different from the franchise that is featured here and didn’t want to confuse audiences. Or someone just didn’t like it. The main English cast also was not utilized for the show, but that’s not surprising. As you can imagine, the show has not been released in the US as a result.

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That’s quite a Christmas tree.

The episode opens with Yuna getting ready for Christmas. Stitch has no idea what Christmas is, but Pleakley is happy to inform him since he is an Earth expert and all. He confuses basically all of Earth’s holidays as one and even thinks part of Christmas is the consumption of red-nosed reindeer, which gets Stich quite excited. Venison and presents! His excitement messes up Yuna’s tree decorating, but he refashions it into a facsimile of himself. It’s an improvement. Pleakley did at least get the Santa stuff mostly right, giving Stitch something to look forward to that night. Yuna also gifts her alien friends stockings of their own so that Santa can leave them a present tonight.

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The villains of the show with really only Hamsterviel being an actual villain. Gantu only cares about a soap opera while Reuben is just really into sandwiches.

In space, Hamsterviel is plotting to utilize Christmas to get rid of Stitch. He is planning on masquerading as Santa Claus to gain the trust of the Earth children and Stitch, and launch a plan from there. Reuben and Gantu are expected to help, with Gantu to just seeing this scheme as a means to stop his favorite actress on The Young and the Stupid from getting married. On Earth, Yuna receives a letter from Santa instructing her to meet him in the forest for her Christmas present. She and Stitch are so excited they don’t notice the obvious Hamsterviel stamp on the envelope.

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These kids want their present!

Turns out, more than just Yuna received a letter from Santa as the island’s children are shown heading for the designated spot. Along the way they talk amongst themselves trying to figure out why Santa would change things up. A particularly bratty girl named Penny (Meghan Strange) is the most vocal. When they arrive at the area, Hamsterviel is there floating in an egg-like device dressed as Santa. Gantu is dressed as a reindeer and is playing music while Reuben is just there making sandwiches. Santa Hamsterviel offers the children a cookie, and when they eat it they grow whiskers and buck teeth. It becomes clear they’re under Hamsterviel’s control, but he does still give them presents – sandwiches and plush versions of he and Gantu.

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These kids aren’t very smart if they think that’s Santa.

Not present at the gift ceremony is Yuna, who with Stitch is running late. They’re hopeful that all of the presents aren’t gone. They’re intercepted by Kijimunaa, a little yokai who’s basically a mouth and a pair of nostrils with a mop of hair on top. He witnessed what happened with the kids and warns Yuna and Stitch that it isn’t Santa who’s giving out gifts. They confront Hamsterviel and see the transformed children who threaten to bite them and tickle them with their whiskers. Seeing there isn’t much they can do, Yuna and Stitch retreat to seek the help of Jumba. He’s irate to find out Hamsterviel stole his idea for mind-control cookies so he’s happy to help foil his scheme. He quickly builds a little, golden, cat idol that spits out cookies. These cookies should reverse the mind control Hamsterviel inflicted upon the children.

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Yuna and Stitch are not putting up with this crap, especially not on Christmas Eve!

Armed with the statue, Stitch and Yuna return to the forest where apparently Hamsterviel was content to just hang out and have the kids massage his feet. Stitch jumps around and fires cookies out of the idol at the children who consume them and return to normal. With the spell on them broken, Hamsterviel and company are forced to retreat. As the kids walk back to town, they’re all a bit dismayed they fell for such a scheme. It leads them back to the topic of Santa Claus, and Penny is that kid who wants to spoil everyone’s fun and insists that Santa is their fathers. Stitch is shocked to hear such a thing, but Yuna insists Santa is not their dads. Penny’s response is to point out that of course Santa isn’t Yuna’s dad because her dad is never home (unlike Lilo, Yuna’s dad is alive, he’s just always working so while this is a vicious burn it isn’t as vicious as it would be if she and Lilo shared the same origin) which upsets Yuna and causes her to stop dead in her tracks. She then sadly remarks, mostly to herself, that’s how she knows Santa isn’t her dad because he is never around.

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Santa apparently doesn’t dress lighter when delivering gifts in Hawaii.

At home, Yuna is a bit more upbeat than she was following her encounter with Penny. She writes a letter to Santa, but won’t tell Stitch what’s in it, that she places beside her pillow as she goes to bed. Stitch seems a bit thoughtful, but he too lays down to sleep but is soon awoken by a sound on the roof. He heads outside to find the big man himself, Santa Claus (Dave Wittenberg), on the roof. He thanks Stitch for what he did in stopping Hamsterviel earlier and also asks for his help. Stitch is very eager to help Santa, and the jolly old elf outfits him with his own Santa suit (Stitchy Claus!) and a tiny, one-deer, sleigh. Stitch surprisingly doesn’t seem tempted to eat his lone reindeer and Santa hands him a sack of toys to deliver throughout the island.

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All right, that’s pretty damn cute.

Stitch sets forth and the action unfolds as a montage. He visits most of the kids we saw earlier and places a gift in their stocking, which most seem to hang from their bed (a Hawaiian tradition?). He even gives that jerk Penny a gift, and saves Yuna for last. In the morning, the kids are gathered at Yuna’s house to show off their presents. Yuna got exactly what she wanted, while Penny got a book on how to be nice. Even Hamsterviel is shown as having received a gift – a giant hamster wheel because he’s out of shape. Gantu received a costume from his favorite soap opera, which brings him to tears, while Reuben has decorated their tree with nothing but sandwiches. On Earth, Kijimunaa asks Stitch what Santa got him, which causes Stitch to realise he didn’t receive a gift! He heads back to his room and finds a letter from Santa thanking him for all he’s done. Stitch then checks his good deed counter and watches it increase by five deeds. This excites him quite a bit as he looks to the heavens and the episode ends.

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But this is actually cuter.

“Stitch and Santa” was a pretty charming way for me to get acquainted with this series. Prior to this, I knew it existed but had never sought it out. It looks like a fairly typical anime, while the character designs of the characters we know from the films largely look the same. The voice cast is fine and Hawaii is still a lavish setting. I enjoyed the design of Hamsterviel who is so cute he isn’t threatening and it was interesting to see the new interpretation of Gantu. A lot happens in the 20 minutes the episode lasts to build up to the climax of Stitch helping Santa. There’s something really charming and cute about that whole sequence making it a really nice pay-off following the rather breezy scheme plot.

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Stitch saying “Thank you, Santa” is also pretty adorable. I can’t handle the cuteness!

Since the lore of the show is so different from the film it makes it a bit difficult to just drop-in. Stitch being friendly with Jumba and Pleakley isn’t too odd since that’s basically how the movie ended, though the presence of Yuna is confusing. I at first thought she was just an anime version of Lilo, but obviously I was mistaken. I had no idea about the deed counter though, so Stitch’s ultimate present was a bit of a head-scratcher until I read-up on the series. I’m a little disappointed this didn’t get a US broadcast and release as it seems like it has potential. Because it wasn’t released, it would seem Disney doesn’t care about protecting its asset so this was exceptionally easy to find streaming online. If you like Stitch and want to see a different take on him, go ahead and check it out. There’s enough Christmas feels here to make it a worthwhile holiday viewing experience.


Dragon Ball Z – Budokai HD Collection

budokai hdOh, you thought we were done with DBZ?! Oh no, I have some more Dragon Ball related material to share with you and even though we’re done with the movies, I thought now was as good a time as any to talk about some video games. If you’re a usual reader, you may recall I did a post earlier this year on Super Dragon Ball Z, the Street Fighter inspired fighter for the PS2. It was the upcoming release of Arc System Works’ Dragon Ball FighterZ that inspired me to revisit that old game, and the same can be said of the Budokai series.

In case you need a refresher, Dragon Ball Z – Budokai was the Infogrames fighting game franchise of the early 2000’s and it was also the first real entry point for DBZ into global gaming. Prior to Budokai, the only Dragon Ball video games to make it out of Japan were the NES platformer, renamed Dragon Power in the US, based on Dragon Ball and the PSX fighting game Dragon Ball GT – Final Bout. Yes, somehow a game based on Dragon Ball GT made it to American soil before a Dragon Ball Z game. That early Dragon Ball game for the NES was simply a case of anything being available in Japan was brought over to other markets. It was altered so that it barely resembled Dragon Ball and there’s a chance that gamers who owned the abysmal title and went on to become fans of the franchise likely needed to read about it later in life to make the connection. Final Bout was likely released outside of Japan because it coincided with the 3D fighting game craze and the first real attempt at bringing the anime to America as well. It was a truly abysmal game that sold poorly. The anime was a flop initially so it kind of went away, but once the show became popular via Cartoon Network the after market price on Final Bout went crazy as it was the only video game released in the territory and fans wanted something, even if it was terrible.

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Technically, this was the first Dragon Ball game released outside of Japan, though you wouldn’t know it by the cover.

Of course, if you were living in Japan you had plenty of options when it came to DBZ fighters. The Super Famicom especially had a bunch of them and the PSX had an additional 2 and all were based on Dragon Ball Z as opposed to the far less popular Dragon Ball GT. Fans desperate for some DBZ content for their video game machines, like myself, turned to imports and emulation to get their fix, but in truth few of these games were worth playing. The only ones I can recommend half-heartedly were Dragon Ball Z – Hyper Dimension, a 16-bit fighter that didn’t control particularly well, but the visuals were impressive. On the PSX, Dragon Ball Z – Legends was a pretty ugly looking early PSX game, but it’s 3 on 3 simultaneous combat was really interesting and the simple, timing based, combat was actually pretty satisfying. It was just a shallow experience and once you saw everything the game offered there was little reason to return.

Once the show finally became popular around the turn of the millennium, there was a substantial rush to get content to the newly created global audience. Irwin Toys started cranking out new action figures and accessories while clothing and posters started popping up everywhere. The games took some time, and Bandai was awarded distribution for Japan while Infogrames, and later Atari, received the North American license. Dimps was selected as the developer and they got set to creating Budokai. Simultaneously, a Game Boy Advance game was also developed and released as The Legacy of Goku, an action-RPG that was at least interesting though not particularly fun. Because there was such an appetite for DBZ anything, Budokai really didn’t need to be a good game to sell well. It also didn’t need to be particularly good to immediately become the best DBZ fighting game ever released. Review-wise, it received a somewhat ho-hum reaction from critics, but fans seemed relatively pleased. It sold well enough to spawn two sequels, and 10 years after its initial 2002 release it received a high-definition makeover alongside Dragon Ball Z – Budokai 3.

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If you absolutely need to import a DBZ game, I’d suggest Hyper Dimension.

If you have never played a Budokai game, then let me tell you how it works. At its cores, it’s a simple 3D fighter. Characters can move in the foreground and background and are capable of attacking, blocking, firing ki blasts, and charging up their power meter. Each character typically has multiple health bars so stronger fighters will have additional health over weaker ones that’s clearly illustrated. Characters can also fly, but not at will. Instead, if a combo attack sends a fighter into the air they’ll kind of just hover in place once they recover from the attack. Simply pushing the directional pad towards an airborne fighter will cause the player-character to take to the air in pursuit.

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Before Budokai, this was the best American fans had.

The main criticism of the original Budokai was the lack of beam attacks. Rather than simply ordering Goku to unleash a Kamehameha wave, the move was affixed to the end of a combo. A series of punches would end in Goku performing his signature attack, but at very close range so it was hardly spectacular looking. Instead, the eye-catching attacks were left to the super moves which are the moves that are designed to be difficult to pull off, but when successfully deployed, unleash devastating amounts of damage via a cinematic. These moves include Vegeta’s Final Flash and the like.

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The original Budokai does a decent job of laying the groundwork, though the visuals were never considered great even for the time.

Dimps seemed to target two important factors when creating the game:  make it look authentic and make it easy to play. As a result, all of the fighters essentially feel the same and have the same move-set, just with different results. In order to make the game feel authentic though, Dimps made sure to include various transformations in its games. Once advancing passed the Freiza arc, Goku could unlock his Super Saiyan transformation and use that in battle. Prior to getting it, he also had his Kaio-ken technique. Dimps even gave Piccolo his fusions from the series with Nail and Kame as transformations. The game featured a story mode that went up through the Cell Games and featured a roster of 23 characters. Later games would focus on expanding upon the roster to include practically anyone who ever partook in a fight during the series.

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The first game does at least boast better presentation in terms of its story mode, though these visuals are kind of “yuck.”

Budokai was a success, and it soon became an annual franchise. Budokai 2, released the following year and not included in this collection, corrected a lot of what people disliked about the original. Ki blasts and flying were now more manual than before and the story mode received more cinematics and was overall more rewarding (though it featured a weird board game interface). The roster was also greatly expanded upon due in large part to the game featuring the Buu Saga. More transformations were available and the game was largely just more fun. Budokai 3 arrived the following year with even more characters and moves and yet another revamped story mode. Instead of playing through the events of the show, players could select specific characters and experience the story from their perspective. And doing so also allowed the player to simply fly around the world looking for the next event as well as hidden ones. It felt less restrictive, and was thus pretty exciting.

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Budokai 3’s story mode was more engaging, if lacking in the presentation department. It makes up for it though with much improved graphics and styling.

So how do these games hold up in 2018? Well, not surprisingly the original Budokai is showing its age. The visuals have been upgraded to HD, but the textures were so bland and basic to start-off that there’s virtually no improvement. It makes everyone look like vinyl dolls and the empty battle maps are even more boring than before. The simple combat is easy to grasp, but also not particularly engaging. This game is basically here as a nostalgia trip and to illustrate how the series began. Fire it up if you either never played it or just want to relive it, but after that you probably won’t play it again.

Budokai 3 is the main attraction of this set. There’s still a section of the fandom that considers it the best DBZ fighter ever released. It was the last main Budokai title as the many sequels saw the series move in a different direction, sometimes for the better and sometimes not. There was a PSP edition of the franchise called Shin Budokai and some place the 2006 title Infinite World in the Budokai series, but this was the last numbered entry. It’s quite easy to see how refined the game is in comparison with its predecessor. The visuals took on a more cell-shaded approach with additional detail and the move to HD doesn’t highlight the imperfections like it does with the first game. DBZ has a pretty simple, yet distinct, look and it doesn’t require incredible processing power to do it justice.

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Dragon Rush adds some chaos to battles, but at the cost of skill.

From a gameplay perspective, the game is not quite as fast as I remembered. You will still spend most fights dashing at your opponent to unleash combos attacks and build towards bigger moves. I had forgotten how odd the gameplay structure was. Much of the fights hinge on your ability to pull off super moves and Dragon Rush attacks. The Dragon Rush is a bit convoluted, but it’s essentially a follow-up attack from a teleporting move. There’s a lengthy tutorial section in the game that’s not particularly helpful. It’s one of those things you just have to perform for yourself to get a feel for how it works. When connecting with one of these maneuvers, a quick-time event is enabled that’s basically a version of Rock-Paper-Scissors. The attacker selects a face button and the defender does as well. If the defender guesses right, the attack is thwarted. If not, it continues with both players now having only 3 face buttons to choose from. If the attacker is able to string together three successful attacks via this encounter, then a big move is unleashed and the opponent’s stamina (as well as some health) is knocked away leaving them more susceptible to damage. Actual super moves are done fairly easily by holding a shoulder button, but it starts a slow animation that can be tricky to connect with. And if you miss, you lose all of the energy stored for the attack. Connect and you get treated to another cinematic while also doling out some big damage. There’s always another QTE spot, this time with a meter rapidly filling and decreasing that you have to time properly, that determines how much damage the attack does.

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There are lots of power-ups that take the form of transformations including fusion.

Fights have a tendency to be very reliant on those two moves. Whoever is better at pulling them off usually wins. The QTE spot injects some chaos as it’s entirely random, unless you’re playing against a human opponent and look at their controller. It’s not the most rewarding system, or perhaps it’s more appropriate to call it frustrating if you’re on the losing side. If you’re on the winning end then at least the cinematics are typically fun to see. The interesting change for the third game though was mostly in the stored energy each character has. Energy will gradually accumulate up to a certain point so you really need only charge your ki if you want to go for the biggest moves possible. This was a smart addition as the constant need to charge in other games was always the least enjoyable aspect. Transformations also aren’t the energy hogs they were in prior games so there’s more incentive to use the best ones.

The story mode felt revolutionary in 2004, though now it does feel more limited. Basically, you pick a character and fly around the world. Your character has a map and can also find a Dragon Radar to look for Dragon Balls. Activating your “senses” can sometimes turn-up hidden spots on the world that usually contain an item but sometimes contain a small story event – an easter egg, if you will. Various cities and popular landmarks appear on as well but you can’t really interact with them. If the name of the place displayed when flying over it then you can enter, but it just leads to a brief exchange with another character who may or may not provide an item. These are all done with still images and text – there are no cinematics in story mode which is rather bizarre. The most interesting aspect of the mode is that it can change depending on how many playthroughs you have done and if you have finished another character’s. Goku’s is the most robust, and if you play it a second time after getting through some of the other character’s stories you’ll take on some GT villains and even unlock Super Saiyan 4.

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Budokai 3 expands upon the roster by drawing from the movies and Dragon Ball GT.

The goal of story mode is obviously to see it through, but it also features some RPG elements in the form of experience and stats. Leveling up a character gives you an ability point to place in various offensive and defensive categories. Each character also can equip a set number of items, with stronger items taking up multiple slots. This has been a feature in most DBZ games and allows for some level of customization. Frustratingly though, transformations always have a prerequisite that includes the prior transformation so if you want to use SS4 Goku you’ll need to devote 5 slots to transformations. If you want to fuse into Vegito then you’ll have to give up something. Characters can unlock a special Breakthrough capsule which contains all of their unique moves and abilities at the cost of taking up all of the ability slots. For a character like Goku who has the most unique capsules, it won’t include everything though which is kind of a bummer. The other short-coming of story mode is that it doesn’t include everyone. A lot of characters are playable including surprises like Tien and Yamcha, but only one villain has a story mode (and it kind of sucks) and characters you would expect to have one (namely Trunks) do not. There’s enough here to keep you busy for awhile, at least.

After getting caught up with these games, my main take-away was that anyone who thinks Budokai 3 is the best DBZ fighting game released has not spent enough time with newer entries. It’s not a bad game, but I’d rather play the Tenkaichi Budokai games over it. This game wants to capture the unique combat of the anime and sacrifices skill and control to do so. The Tenkaichi games were not difficult games to play, but their arena fighter approach made the games even more authentic and the super moves weren’t huge factors. With that out of the way, I will say I still had fun with Budokai 3. It took me a little while to get back into the flow of combat, but once I did I had a good enough time. There is a shallowness to the gameplay present so it doesn’t have the staying power of a more robust fighting game, and I wish they had dropped the Dragon Rush, but it does right by its license. I do wish the story mode featured actual moving images to tell its story, and the rewards for summoning the dragon are kind of lame. Considering I didn’t have to pay much to get this collection, I’d say it was money well spent. As for the original Budokai, it didn’t need to be included on this collection and I’m surprised it is. I would have much preferred Budokai 2, even if that game is pretty similar to 3. At least it featured a different story mode while including most of the gameplay enhancements featured in the third entry.


Dragon Ball Z Movie Wrap-up – The Rankings

teaser gokuWell I hope you’ve enjoyed the summer feature this year at The Nostalgia Spot – Dragon Ball Z Movie Monday. We’ve taken a look at all 13 original Dragon Ball Z films in chronological order, run-through their plots, dissected what they did well and not so well, and now we’re going to rank them. It should be noted that this ranking is going to be rendered obsolete in just a few short months as on the way is the first Dragon Ball Super movie:  Broly! Yes, Broly. He’s coming back for a fourth movie appearance, but this time it’s different. Those Dragon Ball Z films he was in are technically not canon. Yes, series creator Akira Toriyama designed the character of Broly and the general back story, but he was never intended to be a “real” character, so to speak. With the 14th and 15th DBZ films, things started to change. Both Battle of Gods and Resurrection ‘F’ are now canon and were adapted for Dragon Ball Super. Since Toriyama is involved with Broly, it stands to reason that this will be an all new version of the Legendary Super Saiyan and for the first time ever he’ll be an actual part of the overall Dragon Ball plot.

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Broly’s coming back, whether you like it or not.

That’s all well and good, but before we can even think about that movie we need to sort out these other 15, of which 3 feature Broly. The core 13 are what we covered this summer, but I had taken a look at the two most recent films previously and made entries about them. Even though their plots are now part of Dragon Ball Super, they were released as Dragon Ball Z films so it feels right to include them in the rankings. Hopefully the first Dragon Ball Super movie will challenge the best of these, but for now, this is what I think of the fine fifteen:

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Lets kick this one off properly!

15. Broly – Second Coming – It’s kind of funny the first film on my list just so happens to feature the character of Broly. If this version of Broly were returning for a fourth feature, then I would be disappointed. Broly was fine in his film debut, but his return engagements saw the warrior reduced to an even more mindless fighting machine. Broly – Second Coming also stars Trunks and Goten, and it feels like maybe they weren’t ready to anchor a feature. Gohan makes his presence felt in the film’s third act, but he can’t rescue this one. Broly – Second Coming is perhaps the most dull, with the biggest rule-breaking ending, and is thus my least favorite. It’s not without some charm, so I hesitate to call it flat-out bad, but it will be a long while before I revisit this one again.

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Maybe this was a bad idea.

14. Cooler’s Revenge – You will probably notice a trend amongst these bottom entries. The movies that just feel like one long fight do little to entertain me, and Cooler’s Revenge commits the sin of having Goku get taken out immediately only to sit on the sidelines for a large chunk of the film’s duration. No one wants to sit and wait for Goku to show up – not Cooler, and certainly not the fans. And the fights that do occur in this picture aren’t very engaging, but we do get some fireworks from Super Saiyan Goku and the transformed Cooler. It’s also his connection to Frieza that helps move this one past Broly – Second Coming.

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Not the best?! I don’t want to hear it!

13. Lord Slug – Similar to Cooler’s Revenge, this one also has Goku get taken out for a large portion of the film. Unlike with that film though, there’s not a great reason for that to happen. Yeah, he gets hurt a bit, but it doesn’t seem like the type of injury that should knock Goku out of commission for such a long time. Anyways, Lord Slug gets to move past Cooler because at least there’s some interesting visuals here. A lot of fun backgrounds and the enemy designs for Slug’s henchmen are interesting as well. I also think the fight between Slug and Goku is a bit better than the one with Cooler, even if it features that goofy half Super Saiyan thing from Goku. This is also a film I look at and can envision it being better than it is with just a few tweaks here and there.

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Swamp Thing got nothing on Broly.

12. Bio-Broly – It seems like this film is most often cited as the worst DBZ film and I can see why, on the surface, that would be the case. It returns Broly, but in an even weirder form than before that’s somehow even more mindless. There’s no Goku, Vegeta, Piccolo, or Gohan, and overall the stakes are possibly the smallest they’ve ever been. On the other hand, Goten and Trunks get another crack at being the stars and they’re more entertaining here than previously. There’s a good balance of nuanced humor with the childish brand that sometimes rears its head and we also get a good dose of both Mr. Satan and Android 18. Perhaps best of all, there’s no silly rule-breaking ending involving the dead Goku this time and in the end we get a film that’s perhaps not super engaging, but it makes up for it to some degree with humor and charm.

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Trucker hats rule.

11. Super Android 13! – Another extended battle movie, but this one ups the excitement by adding yet another Super Saiyan to the mix – Future Trunks. We also get more androids, which at this point in time felt a little like overkill since we already had five in the main series, plus Cell. Still, the android villains kind of work and given how secretive Dr. Gero was it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility that he’d have even more waiting to awaken. It’s just too bad they all have the same general programming of needing to kill Goku. For the English dub, Funimation actually took some liberties and gave Android 13 a little personality. It wasn’t much, but it was something. The fights are generally satisfying, though the resolution kind of “meh.” More than most, this one is all about spectacle.

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Dragon Ball Z Movie 6 – The Mega Powers Explode!

10. The Return of Cooler – Cooler gets to improve upon his debut by pairing up with a super computer and gaining a shiny, new metallic body. Vegeta also gets to debut in a DBZ film as a Super Saiyan, and for the first time ever, he and Goku team-up to take on Cooler. There’s actually some semblance of a plot here and it’s not bad. There’s a little mystery, and if Funimation didn’t decide to go with such an obvious title the actual re-debut of Cooler would have come as a surprise. The film just kind of loses me in the final act. It’s no Spirit Bomb attack at least, but it is kind of odd.

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In this one, Goku fights a tree.

9. The Tree of Might – If this were a ranking of best looking Dragon Ball Z films then The Tree of Might would be a contender for the top spot. It hits the sweet spot between the very soft, round look of Dragon Ball and early Dragon Ball Z while also bringing in more definition. The characters are all muscled-up and impressive looking, the special effects mesmerizing, and the battles don’t move at a super-sonic pace. More interesting enemy designs, the debut of Icarus, and even a Giant Ape fight! The actual plot is just what holds everything back as a planet devouring tree hardly seems like an interesting adversary. And then there’s the confusing Turles and the lack of a really great fight involving him. If Goku and Turles were able to wage an all-out epic battle then that probably would have vaulted this one up the list, but instead it settles close to the mid-point of our list.

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Oh yes, that’s the good stuff!

8. Dead Zone – It’s rather appropriate that the debut film, Dead Zone, is right in the middle. I consider it a good measuring stick for all of the DBZ films. It has a simple, but effective plot revolving around the kidnapping of Gohan and a villain out for revenge and immortality via the Dragon Balls. That villain is Garlic Jr., who gets to follow a typical villain mold for this series in that he’s not imposing to look at, but he’s hiding a monstrous transformation. The fight choreography is top-notch and probably the best the series had. Watching Goku dodge the blade attacks of Garlic Jr’s minions is easily the film’s most fun visual. There’s also the odd drunk Gohan sequence that’s pretty amusing by itself, and we even get a pee joke. The film kind of falls apart in the final act, a common occurrence sadly for these films. We’re teased a Goku vs Piccolo fight that never gets going, and Garlic Jr. is defeated in a very anticlimactic fashion by Gohan. Basically, Gohan powering up alone pushed Garlic into the Dead Zone? I don’t know, it’s still a lot of fun though.

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Legendary Super Saiyan? More like Legendary Cry Baby.

7. Broly:  The Legendary Super Saiyan – Broly peeks on our list at number 7, which isn’t half-bad (literally). His debut film was the longest at the time totaling over 70 minutes and it utilizes its time well. It moves at a methodic pace teasing the emergence of Broly and then devotes a sizable portion of its run time to the actual fight. Where it stumbles is with its odd handling of Vegeta and, stop me if you’ve heard this one before, the resolution to the actual fight with Broly. His defeat just feels cheap. I don’t know what would have worked better since they kind of wrote themselves into a hole considering how powerful Broly is, but surely something better could have been utilized. Nonetheless, it’s still fine and this is how a Broly film should function where the plot revolves around him, but doesn’t necessarily require him to do much aside from just being there. The other characters move the narrative and provide the context. Oh, and his origin is great aside from why he hates Goku. I think that aspect of his origin was supposed to be funny, but it just doesn’t fit here.

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You wanna get nuts?! Let’s get nuts!

6. The World’s Strongest – The second DBZ film still feels a bit like an odd duck. It is somewhat rooted in the spirit of the original Dragon Ball, and bringing Master Roshi back into the fold is certainly welcomed by me. The sci-fi nature of the plot is slightly out of place for Dragon Ball Z, but less so when you consider some of what was featured in Dragon Ball. If the villainous duo of Dr. Wheelo and Dr. Kochin were given ties to the Red Ribbon Army then they would have felt right at home. Like Dead Zone, it gets a lot out of its visuals. The fight choreography is again top-notch, and the big finish with the Spirit Bomb works since it hadn’t been done before. I love the arctic location and the humor infused into it. Even the whole premise of the film, a couple of long dormant scientists mistaking Master Roshi for the strongest fighter in the world, is pretty amusing and the Metal Gear-like Dr. Wheelo is certainly an interesting opponent from a visual perspective. This is just another fun DBZ movie that moves at a brisk pace and is able to squeeze everything that’s charming about early DBZ  into it in a satisfying manner.

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When a god asks for pudding you give him pudding!

5. Battle of Gods – The return I had no idea I cared about. Battle of Gods both resurrected Dragon Ball Z as an anime brand and launched Dragon Ball Super. It introduced the God of Destruction, Beerus, and his godly attendant Whis who have become some of my favorite characters across all of Dragon Ball. Beerus is not only an all-powerful god, but a cat. We’ve seen cat creatures before, but Beerus is able to subtly weave in cat-like behavior into his mannerisms that’s so entertaining. The film also brings together basically everyone from DBZ as far as the earthlings go, and it’s heavily reliant on comedy. So much so that it comes at the expense of action, which is where some fans seemed to be let down. That and Goku’s Super Saiyan God form was fairly underwhelming. Still, what action is present is solid and the film looks fantastic when it’s not trying to use CG effects.

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Some cool guys and Yamcha.

4. Bojack Unbound – The first movie that did not try to rely on Goku, Bojack Unbound put Gohan in the spotlight in a bit of rehash of his fight with Cell and the awakening of his Super Saiyan 2 powers. It could have been a bit lame, but it’s anchored by some character development that works and the introduction of one Mr. Satan who never fails to be amusing. The entire film takes place on an island as the Z fighters have entered a tournament for riches. There’s plenty of humor to be found at the expense of both Mr. Satan and Krillin, and also plenty of action. The part of the film I liked most was the little peak at a post-death Goku Vegeta, who is essentially depressed about the loss of his rival. The film maybe could have been better if that had been its primary focus, but instead it chose to just make that a small piece. The actual villain, Bojack, is kind of boring to be honest, but we get a good series of fights out of him and his minions. It’s also fun seeing the Super Saiyan 2 moment rehashed, and the film just looks fantastic.

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Tears in Hell.

3. Fusion Reborn – Probably not surprising, but a film that spends quite a bit of time devoted to exploring the relationship of Goku and Vegeta is going to rank high on my list. These films often don’t go for character development, instead choosing to just capture the essence of the main characters and sticking that on-screen. For Vegeta, that typically means you just get a cocky jerk who is only fighting because he wants to be the one to defeat Goku instead of the villain of the moment. In this one, both fighters are dead, and they need to not only team-up to stop the Buu-like Janemba, but literally become one fighter via fusion. Vegeta can’t stand the thought, but Goku proves persuasive. The two seem to develop an understanding of one another and have a bit of a quiet reckoning leading up to the big moment, and it’s very rewarding and very sweet. In addition to that, the movie combines impressive visual flair with a ton of funny bits including Goten and Trunks taking on a resurrected Hitler. This one distills the qualities of the Buu Saga that I actually like into a tidy 52 minutes and it’s arguably the most “fun” of all the Dragon Ball Z movies.

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Play nice you two.

2. Resurrection ‘F’ – The most recent film may actually be the only one more fun than Fusion Reborn and that’s because it’s very much a fan-servicey kind of movie. It brings back Frieza, the most hate-able of all of the villains, for another round. Now he’s powered-up to a new form, but so are his chief rivals Goku and Vegeta. Debuting their new Super Saiyan God Super Saiyan (Super Saiyan Blue, for short) forms, the two Saiyans are basically on equal footing for the first time since their inaugural fight way back on Earth during the Saiyan Saga. In addition to watching them pummel Frieza, we get to see the other, lesser, fighters square off against Frieza’s minions including Master Roshi! Krillin shaves his head, Gohan gets angry, it’s basically all here. Beerus and Whis also return and they’re just as amusing as before and the film’s visual style is truly stunning. This may be the best looking DBZ film so far as it dials back on the crude CG from Battle of Gods. I think I still prefer The Tree of Might’s look to this one, but it’s close. Ultimately, this one works because we get to see that jerk Frieza get bested once again, and Vegeta even gets a little revenge. It also further adds to the Goku/Vegeta dynamic in a worthwhile way, something that Dragon Ball Super will continue to explore.

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This is a sweet one, right up until a child is asked to execute his buddy.

1. Wrath of the Dragon – I guess when it comes to these movies, I’m more of a “plot guy” than an “action guy.” Wrath of the Dragon doesn’t feature a ton of fighting, but it does spend a long time on the quieter things. I enjoyed the introduction of Tapion and his story, and seeing a different side of Trunks felt very rewarding. We’ve seen Goku take on all kinds of crazy beings, so it was nice for a change to just spend a lot of time looking at a character that’s mostly been underserved by both the films and the series. It gives the film a different mood. It’s a bit sad, but also endearing, and it still packs in some moments of triumph. Some of the early plot machinations are a bit silly, and the almost total absence of Vegeta felt puzzling, but Wrath of the Dragon still manages to tell the best story of all 15 films and that’s primarily why I placed it here.

In truth, the top 5 films felt pretty interchangeable for me. Bojack Unbound is really watchable because of the action pieces, while Battle of Gods feels the most dense because of all of the new lore introduced. Fusion Reborn and Resurrection ‘F’ bring a lot of humor and silliness to the table, making both very re-watchable, while Wrath of the Dragon just seemed to strike a nice balance for me. Hopefully, the upcoming Broly can match the best Dragon Ball Z put out. It’s basically guaranteed to look amazing, and I’m sure we’ll get some flashy action sequences no matter what. I’ve had fun revisiting these films. I never held a high opinion of them, but I think I had more fun with them now than I did when I was younger and a bit more cynical. They are what they are and they exist simply to entertain for 45 minutes or so (and make money) and as long as they don’t betray what the series stands for then that’s good enough for me.


Dragon Ball Z: Bojack Unbound

DBZ_THE_MOVIE_NO._9_(wiki)Japanese Title:  The Galaxy’s at the Brink!! The Super Incredible Guy

Original Release Date:  July 10, 1993

English Release Date:  August 17, 2004

Directed by:  Yoshihiro Ueda

Screenplay by:  Takao Koyama

Running time:  51 minutes

Dragon Ball Z:  Bojack Unbound is the rare DBZ movie that actually could be considered canon, should someone want to. Like most, the stakes and impact of the film are basically nil in the grand scheme of things, but it takes place during the period following the Cell Saga but before the Buu Saga that the manga and anime both skip over. This movie is also the last to use the classic opening theme song of “CHA-LA HEAD-CHA-LA” and also the last to feature an appearance from Future Trunks (Eric Vale). It is the first to feature the bumbling World Martial Arts Champion Mr. Satan (Chris Rager), who plays a role in the film’s plot. And it’s also the first to feature a dead Goku (Sean Schemmel), which doesn’t seem that weird for DBZ, but it’s a pretty odd concept nonetheless. With Goku only playing a minor role, this is essentially Gohan’s (Stephanie Nadolny, making her last appearance as the voice of Gohan) chance to assume the starring role for a change.

Bojack Unbound essentially takes place in one location. A martial arts tournament is being thrown by a mega wealthy individual who is basically just trying to please his young son. To make things more interesting, his son requests that the tournament feature alien warriors from another planet, and his dad promises to make it happen. And waiting at the end of the tournament for whoever can topple the aliens will be the champion himself – Mr. Satan.

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Bojack – the villain of the day.

This tournament has attracted a lot of media attention, and with a large purse as reward, a great many warriors have turned up for it including most of our favorite characters and Yamcha (Christopher Sabat). The tournament differs from the ones we saw in Dragon Ball. It’s a multi-tiered, open-air arena where the goal is to either incapacitate your opponent or knock them into the water. Water you say? That’s because the whole thing is on a man-made, movable island. It’s a pretty neat design and basically every background in this movie is quite unique in relation to what we’re accustomed to seeing. The tournament opens with a massive melee. Gohan (dressed in his father’s gi), Trunks (sporting his long hair and blue jacket but the sleeves have been cut off), Piccolo (Sabat), Krillin (Sonny Strait), and Tien (John Burgmeier) all advance out of the melee along with some no-names to the second round. Bulma (with baby Trunks) and Chi-Chi (Cynthia Cranz) watch from the stands while Oolong (Brad Jackson) and Master Roshi (Mike McFarland) scope out the babes around the area. Goku and King Kai (Schemmel), along with Bubbles and Gregory, are watching via broadcast TV from beneath Snake Way since King Kai’s planet was blown up by Goku during the events of the anime.

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Tien gives Trunks a match, but in the end he falls as expected.

Notably missing from the action is Vegeta (Sabat). We learn via conversation between Bulma (Tiffany Vollmer) and Chi-Chi that Vegeta has lost his fighting spirit since the death of Goku. He’s shown briefly watching the broadcast of the fight on television before turning it off in disgust. Trunks’ sword is in the foreground of the shot and Vegeta is strangely laying on a bed wearing his full armor. It’s a pretty interesting way to approach Vegeta. He has never had warm feelings for Goku, but Goku did represent a rival for him and his constant superiority over Vegeta was a prime motivating factor for Vegeta in his training. Seeing Goku’s son Gohan surpass him during the fight with Cell probably damaged his ego, and add that in with Goku’s death and you’re left with a Vegeta suffering from depression.

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Making his film debut, the incomparable Mr. Satan!

The tournament moves onto one on one battles and by now Mr. Satan has taken note of who’s participating. He immediately starts feigning a stomach ache to hopefully get out of any obligation to fight since he knows he can’t compete with the likes of Gohan and co. Meanwhile, Trunks and Tien get to have a match and it’s pretty entertaining. Tien gets to save some face by forcing Trunks to go super, but the outcome of the match is obviously never in doubt. Krillin has to face Piccolo, and while he stands there shivering bemoaning his poor luck, Piccolo shows disgust and decides to bail on the whole tournament deeming it not worth his time allowing Krillin to win by forfeit. I get that Piccolo wouldn’t have any interest in a monetary prize, but surely he would have relished the thought of having a real battle with either Trunks or Gohan so I don’t really get why he would bail like that. I guess I should just laugh like the movie wants me to and move on.

Gohan is matched-up with just some guy who he’s able to take out with ease, and the four semi-finalists move onto the next round. That’s where things get weird as the third round is apparently a race. Each contestant is put in some Tron-like rocket car that will jet them off to a new island where one of the four alien contestants that have been hyped are waiting. Whoever beats their opponent and gets to a certain spot the fastest wins and gets to move onto the final round with Mr. Satan.

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Krillin’s got a thing for redheads, it would seem.

Gohan, Krillin, and Trunks, along with another random guy, head off to meet their new opponents, only what they encounter is not what was expected. It would seem the alien warriors have been replaced, and Krillin encounters his one weakness. Well, actually Krillin has many weaknesses, but his biggest are the ladies. The mysterious Zangya (Colleen Clinkenbeard) appears before him and he’s pretty much too charmed to put up a fight and she takes him out easily. Trunks is matched off with the sword-wielding Kogu (Ethan Rains), who appears to be a worthy adversary, but has to power-up into this green-skinned super state to bring out Trunks’ true power. Trunks eventually seizes the upper hand, and punches a hole right through Kogu, but is immediately assailed from behind after the fact. Gohan is left to face the diminutive Bujin (Christopher Bevins), but soon is forced into fighting all of the victors of the other bouts, which also include Bido (Robert McCollum) who took out the random fighter who joined the three.

It’s at this point that Bojack (Bob Carter) shows himself. He’s the leader of this gang of djinn-like fiends and he offers no explanation for why they’re there. King Kai is able to fill-in Goku on just who this guy is. Apparently he’s just some asshole who loves genocide that King Kai and the other Kais were able to seal away long ago. When King Kai’s home world was blown up by Goku, the seal was broken and Bojack became unbound. King Kai just sort of forgot about this guy until now. He stresses that Gohan and the Earth is in a lot of danger, but Goku isn’t too concerned.

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Here comes Vegeta!

At least he isn’t at first. Gohan more than holds his own against the lot of Bojack’s men, though they soon demonstrate this technique that’s similar to spider webs that can hold people in place and drain their energy. When Gohan gets into some trouble, Piccolo makes the save as he does in basically every movie. Trunks re-enters the fight and when it looks like he’s about to bite the dust Vegeta is there to provide the assist (with Trunks’ sword, no less). Vegeta tries to take on Bojack himself, but he’s no match for him once he powers-up into his green-skinned form. Trunks tries to help him out, but Vegeta is not too receptive which only really leads to the two of them eventually unconscious.

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Good talk, Dad.

It basically comes down to Gohan, and as a Super Saiyan he’s able to stand his own but the numbers are against him. He gets caught in that web stuff, but Mr. Satan (who was basically forced into one of those rocket cars) crashes into the scene and makes the save inadvertently. He also takes out the cameras, so suddenly the audience has no idea what’s going on. Bojack gets ahold of Gohan though, and it starts to look bad for the young warrior. Goku can’t take it, and he uses his instant transmission technique to warp in and punch Bojack in the face. He gives Gohan a quick pep talk, before he has to bail, but it’s enough to convince Gohan to unlock his true power and go Super Saiyan 2.

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Even when dead, Goku can still make the save.

Now fully powered-up, Bojack’s minions stand no chance. Gohan literally punches one guy in half and kicks another in two. When Zangya is in his crosshairs, the fine folks at Toei wisely made the call to not have their hero butcher a woman and instead Bojack uses her as a shield and fires a massive blast at Gohan from behind which kills her in the process. It does nothing to phase Gohan and it soon becomes apparent that Bojack is no match for Gohan in this form. He dispatches him with ease while Goku and King Kai look on (apparently their Other World television set is not reliant on cameras).

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Now he’s serious.

The film ends with Gohan, Trunks, and Krillin in hospital beds (must be a senzu bean shortage) yukking it up with the other characters. It’s revealed that Mr. Satan received all of the credit for killing Bojack and Oolong encourages Gohan to try and get a piece of the pie for himself. Piccolo and Vegeta, in a familiar nod to Super Android 13, quietly sit on the hospital roof away from the main throng of folks in silence as the picture comes to an end. During the credits, we’re treated to images of Gohan and his family from throughout the events of the anime which are rather sweet. It’s like a final farewell to the child version of Gohan and a surprising touch for a Dragon Ball Z film.

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When shit gets real, Bojack finds some cover in the form of his underling.

Bojack Unbound is a solid entry into the Dragon Ball Z film-verse. Actually, it’s more than solid as it might be my favorite thus far. It’s a tight, simple story, but the premise makes sense given the source material. Everyone is given a logical motivation for wanting to participate given the huge cash outlay, and the film even explains why Future Trunks is there and why Vegeta is not, and usually these films see no need to explain much of anything. The villain still shows up largely out of no where and with little reason. The film decides to just say “screw it” in giving Bojack any real goal and literally just decides he loves killing and genocide. I guess if you don’t want to have to bother with developing a villain just make him love genocide. Like a lot of the films before it, this one does mostly take a large arc from the anime (The Cell Games) and condenses it into a brisk film. We get a few shining moments from Trunks, a Vegeta cameo, Mr. Satan hijinks, and a Super Saiyan 2 transformation and subsequent domination by Gohan. The fighting prior to that transformation is fun and imaginative, so it doesn’t bother me so much that we have another movie where a hero powers-up and effortlessly disposes of the bad guy in the end. I was a bit surprised they didn’t go for another Father-Son Kamehameha, but not disappointed. Gohan does use his father’s most famous technique as part of the dismantling of Bojack, and he actually does it in a really bad ass way.

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Speaking of shit getting real…

Bojack Unbound is also possibly the best looking Dragon Ball Z movie so far. I was pretty impressed with Broly – The Legendary Super Saiyan, but this one ups the ante by having more diverse backgrounds and even unique character designs for our heroes. Gohan, for the first time since his early days in the anime, sports an orange gi just like his father. Toei didn’t have to do that, but given his dad has died, it makes sense why Gohan would want to wear that and honor his memory in a tournament. Trunks also gets a design unique to this movie and he looks pretty cool. I’m not a huge fan of his long-haired look, but he pulls it off with the sleeve-less jacket combo. Mr. Satan also gets some new duds and he’s pretty regal-looking as the World Champ. The villains also have a neat look as they’re all this blue-skinned djinn-like race of beings with orange hair. Series creator Akira Toriyama actually designed Bojack, though I’m not sure if he had a hand in designing the others. There isn’t much personality on display beyond cocky, evil people who like inflicting pain, but at least they mostly look cool. They remind me of Zelda’s Ganondorf, who was still a few years away from making his debut in Ocarina of Time.

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The ending credits feature some fairly adorable depictions of Gohan and his loved ones.

Bojack Unbound is a movie I had seen long ago as a fansub but remembered little of it beyond the unique character designs. I wasn’t that eager to revisit it, but I’m glad I did as this is my favorite DBZ movie so far. There’s still some nits to pick here and there. Bojack is just all style as a villain and Goku breaking the rules of the after-life to just pop-in is kind of dumb. I also wanted to get a little more out of Vegeta given the depressed state of mind he was in. That just seems like an interesting layer to add to the character and I’ve also been fascinated by the Vegeta/Trunks dynamic as well so more of that would have been appreciated. Coming in at 51 minutes though puts this one right in line with the other movies and it’s a solid running time for a DBZ feature. There isn’t enough plot to typically sustain these things past the one hour mark, though given the story-telling possibilities I mentioned in regards to Vegeta, maybe this one could have gone past that with some success. It’s still a tight story with plenty of action, a lot of humor from the supporting cast, and a mostly satisfying conclusion which is where so many of these films seem to stumble. If this ends up being my favorite of them all, then I’m fine with that.


Dragon Ball Z: Dead Zone

DBZmovie1_JapanJapanese Title:  Return My Gohan!!

Original Release Date:  July 15, 1989

English Release Date:  December 17, 1997 (Pioneer/Ocean Productions), May 31, 2005 (Funimation)

Directed by:  Daisuke Nishio

Screenplay by:  Takao Koyama

Running Time:  42 minutes

For the very fist Dragon Ball Z movie I feel like we need to do a little house-keeping before we get into it. When Pioneer tried to bring Dragon Ball Z to North America, they contracted Ocean Productions to dub the first 100 or so episodes as well as the first three movies. As a result of many re-runs on Cartoon Network, English speaking fans are likely pretty familiar with the first three films:  Dead Zone, The World’s Strongest, and Tree of Might. The original dubs were edited and contained some odd choices in terms of translation, though Ocean at least hired quality talent. They held the rights to the films long after Funimation started dubbing the episodes Ocean never tackled, and once the rights expired Funimation went back and re-dubbed the first three films with their own cast that fans are now likely more familiar with. In doing so, they also inserted a new soundtrack that was okay, at least it didn’t utilize a bunch of awful licensed music like their dub of the OVAs, but I’m sure it was frustrating for fans of the Japanese dub. When Funimation re-mastered and re-released all of the movies in 2011 they wisely restored the Japanese soundtrack (though oddly they went with their generic butt-rock opening theme instead of “Cha-la Head Cha-la” for the English dub with Japanese BGM. If you want the original opening music you have to watch the full Japanese audio) while still including the US soundtrack for people who wanted it. There’s also the option to listen to the Japanese audio with subtitles, something that’s pretty much a given these days, but once upon a time was not a guaranteed feature.

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The dreaded Dead Zone, from which the English version of the film takes its name.

Dead Zone, or Return My Gohan!!, is basically set before the events of Dragon Ball Z. If not for the fact that Master Roshi and co. are unaware of the existence of Gohan to start DBZ then this film could be shoe-horned into the canon. It features the villain Garlic Jr. (Chuck Huber), and if you’re wondering who Garlic Sr. is and concerned you may have forgotten about him – don’t worry, he’s never existed in Dragon Ball. The film was originally released theatrically in Japan right after the conclusion of the Raditz conflict, and grossed around 9 million USD. I don’t know if that performance was viewed as positive or not, but for comparison 1988’s My Neighbor Totoro and Grave of the Fireflies is estimated to have grossed around 5 million, so it would seem this was pretty solid. Especially considering that Dead Zone is largely animated in the same manner as the anime series. There’s little in the way of extra flourishes, instead it just looks like Toei utilized their full budget and best team so it looks like one of the ‘A’ episodes of Dragon Ball Z. Stylistically, it also fits right-in with the style of the early episodes of the series with more curved lines and rounded musculature on the characters as opposed to the later, more straight-line heavy look of the series that’s likely the defining style of the show these days.

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Garlic Jr. is our featured enemy. He kind of looks like a cross between Piccolo and Emperor Pilaf (and basically sounds just like Pilaf in the Funimation dub).


Dead Zone
has a cold open, a trend for the films, and starts on Piccolo (Christopher Sabat) quietly training on his own before he’s accosted by some shady characters. They mention Kami and it’s obvious they want to eliminate not just Piccolo but also the Earth’s guardian. Unknown to them, apparently, is that both are linked to the Dragon Balls because the characters mention them as well. Piccolo is overwhelmed and apparently left for dead. We’re then taken to Goku’s house where Gohan (Stephanie Nadolny) is quietly studying in the woods nearby. When his mother Chi-Chi (Cynthia Cranz) calls him in, his Grandpa the Ox King (Kyle Hebert) pulls up and Gohan cheerfully greets him. The same shady characters that accosted Piccolo show up. They quickly dispatch the giant Ox King and Chi-Chi and make off with Gohan before Goku (Sean Schemmel) can return from fishing.

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Garlic Jr.’s somewhat effective henchmen.

Our enemy is revealed to be Garlic Jr. and he has a gang of demonic looking underlings by the names of Ginger (Troy Baker), Nicky (Doug Burks), and Sansho (Eric Dillow). Garlic Jr. is collecting the Dragon Balls so that he may wish for eternal life. He also apparently has a score to settle with both Kami (Christopher Sabat) and Piccolo. The gang has kidnapped Gohan not because they have any interest in the boy, but because his hat bares the four-star Dragon Ball, as it does in the earliest episodes of the show. Garlic Jr. immediately notices the boy has hidden strength and decides to keep him on as a ward of sorts. When Gohan says his daddy Goku will rescue him, the gang is familiar with the name as Goku famously toppled Piccolo in the most recently completed World Martial Arts tournament.

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The sight of his defeated wife is enough to anger any man, even Goku.

Goku returns home to find his wife and father-in-law incapacitated, but Chi-Chi was able to tell him what happened. Goku then heads for Kame House where Bulma (Tiffany Volmer), Master Roshi (Mike McFarland), and Krillin (Sonny Strait) are hanging out. Goku needs Bulma’s dragon radar so he can track the Dragon Ball on Gohan’s hat to find his location. He retreves it, and Master Roshi gives him a warning to be careful as he takes off on the Flying Nimbus armed with his power pole to save his son. Along the way, he notices the tell-tale dark clouds forming in the sky indicating that all seven Dragon Balls have been united and Shenron, The Eternal Dragon, has been summoned.

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There’s a very Dumbo-like scene of Gohan eating some kind of apple that is apparently not intended for children which causes him to act like a drunk.

Garlic Jr. is able to summon the dragon, and if you think one of the good guys is going to jump in just in time to prevent him from making his wish then you are mistaken. Garlic Jr. is granted immortality, and his path to ruler of the world appears clear. Goku shows up, unimpressed by the diminutive kidnapper and unafraid of his new power, and takes on all of Garlic’s fiends. Kami also arrives to challenge Garlic Jr. himself, the two apparently having a score to settle. Goku is overwhelmed by the multiple opponents, but luckily for him, Krillin apparently had followed him and shows up to help. Even more of a surprise for Goku, Piccolo comes strolling in and he too has an obvious score to settle (at this point in time, Goku and Piccolo are fierce rivals with Piccolo seeking to end Goku’s life) with Garlic Jr. and his gang.

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This team-up would have been a lot cooler if it hadn’t just occurred in the anime.

With their combined might, a final showdown is imminent and we also get an explanation from Kami about why Garlic Jr. hates him. Apparently his father, Garlic Sr., was a rival to Kami when he sought the role of Guardian of Earth. Kami was granted the title, having bested Garlic in some sort of a trial, and enraged, Garlic tried to take the title by force. Being some sort of demon ruler, he summoned hordes of fiends to aid him but was beat back by Kami and his predecessor and sealed away for eternity, apparently in the place our film is titled after, The Dead Zone. Garlic Jr., therefore wants to avenge his father’s defeat while also usurping Kami. He transforms and goes from being a small, goblin-like creature to a massive one who towers over Piccolo and Goku. He also has a trump card he can play if things go wrong for he is capable of opening a portal to the Dead Zone that once trapped his dear old dad.

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Kami is not match for Garlic Jr.

The final 20 minutes or so of this rather brief feature is mostly fighting, and it’s a lot of fun to witness this old style of DBZ combat. This is before Goku could even fly so the action is quick, but there’s none of that cheap “teleporting” combat that can be rather boring to watch. Garlic Jr.’s minions also have this neat ability to basically pull blades out of their anatomy. There’s some nice swordplay and dodging on display, as the action builds. By comparison though, the actual fight between Garlic Jr. and the duo of Piccolo and Goku is quite short. The ending is a bit odd, and it’s actually better explained later in the anime during the Garlic Jr. Saga (Garlic Jr. being the only movie enemy who got to make a jump into the main series as part of some of Toei’s continuity-busting filler), though the general way it unfolds is somewhat expected.

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In what is commonplace for DBZ, the once un-intimidating villain transforms into something more deadly. Of course, Frieza will eventually take this one step further by going from tame, to scary, and back to tame again.

Dead Zone is a perfectly solid way to kick-off the Dragon Ball Z movie franchise. The story almost fits in with the series, and it’s kind of like an alternate way to introduce the character of Gohan and bridge Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z. I like how it tries to kind of upend the status quo by having the villain very early in the picture actually make a wish for immortality. It’s one of those wishes that has been teased and will be teased numerous times in the show, but never feels like something that will actually be attained. Garlic Jr. is also fine as a villain, and it’s nice seeing Kami get a chance to do something since he’s mostly a background character in the anime. It’s guilty of relying a little too much on characters just popping in at the right time to help out, which will become overplayed eventually, but with characters capable of moving at the speed of sound it’s not as glaring an issue as it would be for other franchises. There’s also some nice, very Toriyama-like humor, with Gohan and the bad guys. It is impressive how well Toei is able to maintain the tone of the show without input from its author proving that the company does understand the material quite well. Goku is also less of a doofus and it’s kind of refreshing to see him actually get pretty angry when he finds Chi-Chi defeated and his son missing.

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If you liked Garlic Jr., then I have good news for you! Unlike the other villains we’ll see in these films, he actually gets to appear in the anime series right after the Frieza arc and just before The Androids Saga.

Overall, I enjoyed catching up with Dead Zone after not seeing it for many years. Having previously only seen the Ocean version, it was nice to see some scenes restored (like a funny urination joke) and hear that the dub works well. Dead Zone is available on Blu Ray as a two-pack with the second film, The World’s Strongest, or as part of a five-pack on DVD with movies 2-5. I watches this on the remastered DVD, and it definitely shows its age. The picture is grainy and there’s some film burns here and there as well. I find that aged look, as long as it’s done naturally, kind of charming so it doesn’t bother me. I never saw the HD transfer so that might be superior, but the five-pack can probably be had for 20 bucks or cheaper which is hard to beat. If you only ever saw it on Cartoon Network, it’s definitely worth a re-watch.


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