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Dragon Ball Z Movie Mondays!

2VMZ1zRFPnUQtQp5K4WRXvDYBjhWhen I first started this blog back in 2011, I just wrote whenever I felt like it. I was a bachelor at the time with no significant other so you would be safe to assume that I had a lot of free time on my hands. Despite that though, I didn’t post a ton here. I felt like if I could do one post per week I was doing pretty well, and then I think that slid to twice per month. That’s not a lot of content, but I’ve also never blogged here for any reason other than pleasure so it’s not as if I really felt like I needed to do more. By and large, it doesn’t matter to me how many people read or follow what I do here, I just do it because it’s kind of fun to talk to myself via blogging and it’s rewarding to see my thoughts preserved. I love and appreciate any attention I get from subscribed readers and commenters, but I’d probably keep posting even if no one read at all.

I’ve found over the years though that creating goals for myself in relation to this blog is what gets me to actually write. And the more I write, the more rewarded I feel. Doing annual Christmas posts gives me a goal and something to work towards and starting the feature on Batman: The Animated Series last year gave me a goal to keep up with throughout the whole year (as well as provided me a good reason to revisit an old cartoon I enjoy). Since starting that I’ve been in search of another goal. Writing about Batman constantly does get a bit old, which is why it’s probably a good thing I at least limited myself to one a week. If you like that feature though, don’t worry, it’s not going anywhere and I’m as committed to it now as I was when it started, but I am posting today to announce my next little project:  the movies of Dragon Ball Z!

As a smaller project than Batman, blogging about the 13 theatrically released Dragon Ball Z movies accomplishes similar goals, just on a smaller scale. I’ve wanted to revisit the movies for a long time, and a few I’ve actually never seen. They’re quite affordable on DVD, and since there are only 13 it makes for a nice summer time feature. Which is why every Monday this summer I’ll post a review/synopsis of each of the 13 original DBZ movies. Now you may be thinking to yourself, “What about the other two movies released in the last few years?” Well, I already did reviews for them, and if you want to check out my thoughts for Battle of Gods or Resurrection ‘F’ you can do so. Even though they are branded as Dragon Ball Z films, they’re actually part of Dragon Ball Super, but I suppose it’s all the same anyways.

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Most of the movies can be purchased in multi-pack DVDs or as two-part Blu Rays.

The original 13 films were produced and created by Toei without input from series creator Akira Toriyama. They’re supplemental stories to the overall narrative of the Dragon Ball Z story. They all have an obvious, general time in which they take place relative to the story, but almost none of them could actually exist in the main story for the simple reason that it doesn’t contain room for them. Movie 3 for instance, The Tree of Might, obviously takes place around the time that Goku fought Vegeta because of how powered-up Goku is, but Goku spent that time either in a hospital bed or in a spaceship heading for Planet Namek so the events of that movie could not have possibly occurred in the same universe. And that’s fine, why should it have to? These movies are just for fun and not intended to intrude upon the actual Dragon Ball Z plot. The sooner you’re able to get past that the sooner you can start enjoying them for what they are.

For my reviews, I’ll be going in chronological order and using the English release titles and character names for simplicity’s sake. These movies are all available both dubbed and subtitled so you can enjoy them however you wish, it makes little difference. They’re mostly extended fight scenes with minimal plot developments rendering the non-visual aspects of each film kind of moot. That’s not to say that some aren’t better than others. For the most part, the films all seem to try and take some aspect of the main series, like Goku unlocking the ability to turn Super Saiyan, and truncating that story into a 45 minute movie. Most of the films are under an hour with the longest only lasting 72 minutes, so there’s not a lot of room for complicated narratives. I mostly want my posts to be spoiler-free reviews, but I found my main point of criticism is often in how the film’s choose to wrap-up the story and they’ve turned into more of a discussion/analysis than a true review. I don’t really think there’s much to spoil in these movies, since often the cover art or title gives away most of the plot and each film needs to reset the status quo at the end. I’ll still try my best to avoid them though and warn those who haven’t watched these movies ahead of time if I’m about to spoil something major.

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Since the movies are non-canon, you’ll sometimes get to see match-ups that you would have never seen in the main series, like Trunks vs. Tien.

If you haven’t seen all of them though then I encourage you to watch along with me as I go. Dragon Ball Z is largely an imperfect series, but it’s also inherently fun. Because of the wish-fulfilling Dragon Balls, the stakes are often pretty low even when they seem vast and the movies are full of plenty of humorous moments as well. They’re often a place for the underused characters, especially Oolong, to have a little moment to themselves which is often quite nice. The super-powered Saiyans seem to soak up a lot of the attention in the series, and they do in the movies too, but it’s easy to forget that the franchise boasts some pretty entertaining supporting characters as well. If this all sounds like fun to you, then check back this Monday for our very first movie – Dead Zone! And if you’re seeing this for the very first time and I’m well into the series, use the drop-down menu to your right to find all of the Dragon Ball Z movie reviews in one handy place. And if you love Dragon Ball, but don’t care for the movies so much, well good news because I have a few other posts on the way concerning the subject. I hope to see you Monday!


Super Dragon Ball Z

Super_Dragon_Ball_Z_CoverartRecently, Bandai-Namco conducted an open beta for its latest game based on the venerable Dragon Ball franchise:  Dragon Ball FighterZ. The game is a 3 on 3 tag-fighter that exists on a 2D plane but contains three-dimensional characters. The art style is done in such a way that it more closely resembles the 2D anime that’s recognized around the world. It’s a fast and beautiful looking fighter and yours truly did check out the beta. Like most open betas where an upcoming game is essentially free to play briefly, it was a bit of a challenge actually getting logged into the servers and paired up with a match. I mostly spent my time in the training area just checking out how the game handles and plays. It’s very similar to the old Budokai games in some respects, mostly the speed and the fact that all of the characters seem to have the same move-list, only the animations for each move are unique from character to character. For example, a traditional Ryu fireball motion for Goku results in his kamehameha wave while the same for Krillin is the destructo disc maneuver.

FighterZ seems like it will be a pretty entertaining game, but it’s not what I wanted or expected. The developer, Arc System Works, is best known for Blaz Blue so I expected a more traditional 2D fighting experience with some Dragon Ball styling. Instead, FighterZ is apparently courting a more casual crowd that grew up on those old DBZ games and Super Smash Bros. as opposed to Street Fighter. This naturally lead me back to an old favorite of mine:  Super Dragon Ball Z.

Not to be confused with the currently airing anime Dragon Ball Super, Super Dragon Ball Z is a 3D fighter that plays like a 2D fighter. It was developed by Arika, the company headed by Akira Nishitani who is best known as the brain behind Street Fighter 2. The company is known for its work Capcom on the Street Fighter EX series, a 2.5D fighting game that was relatively popular in the late 90s and early 2000s. As you would expect, a DBZ fighting game developed by the father of Street Fighter plays a lot more like a Street Fighter game than the casual arena brawlers that had become the norm for DBZ. It was released to arcades at the tail end of 2005 in Japan and Europe only before arriving on PS2 in 2006 worldwide. Because it’s not what people were used to out of a DBZ game, it went somewhat overlooked. While I would not consider it on par with the best the Street Fighter series has produced, Super Dragon Ball Z is a pretty damn fine game on its own.

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End a battle with a super move and you’ll be treated to some manga-inspired word art.

Super Dragon Ball Z has the typical fighting game maneuvers you would expect of a Street Fighter clone. Think hadokens, shoryukens, and so on. Not every character has the same standard set of moves, but they do share some similarities so it’s not as streamlined as simpler games, nor as complex as the most hardcore fighters. The characters are presented in 3D with a cell-shading effect and the default colorization is meant to resemble the original Dragon Ball manga as opposed to the anime. The stages are arena types and characters can move into the foreground and background with relative ease. An action bar at the bottom of the screen controls movement within the foreground and background as well as dashing. Deplete that and you will find your movement severely hindered until it replenishes. It does refill rather quickly, but the gauge prevents characters from endlessly dodging to prolong a match or from spamming dash attacks.

The game’s button layout is a bit unique. The square and triangle buttons are your weak and strong melee attacks while circle is the jump/fly button and X is guard. The shoulder buttons contain both dash attacks and a dedicated throw button. Any fighter that utilizes a dedicated block button takes some getting used to, and the jump/fly dynamic is a bit wonky in execution. It’s mostly used to go after your opponent, as opposed to setting up an attack. The dash buttons are useful for closing the gap quickly with your opponent or just to get you on the same plane as your opponent.

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It may not be the flashiest DBZ game, but your favorite characters will still have their most recognizable moves.

The fighting mechanics are a mix of traditional fighters and DBZ fighters. Projectiles play a large role, but up close combos are also present and a major part of combat. Certain characters function better as ranged attackers versus up close ones and the AI for each character feels rather true to the source material in terms of how they attack the player. There’s a simple health gauge that needs to be depleted to end a round and there’s also an ultimate gauge that gradually fills up during a match. This gauge is expensed when using a character’s best attacks, but unlike other DBZ fighters, there is no charge button to build up ki forcing you to better manage the resources you have. The big moves are also less destructive than in other games. There’s more of an emphasis on dealing out damage gradually as opposed to in big chunks. Being able to dodge properly is the best way of avoiding damage as opposed to blocking and countering and canceling are certainly effective ways to victory.

The game is overall a lot slower and less manic than other DBZ fighters. Characters do not move at crazy speeds and only Frieza can do the popular teleport move in battle. Battles feel a bit more strategic as there’s still an environment to navigate with obstacles to hide behind or toss foes into. Combos are present and they’re more similar to Tekken style combos than Street Fighter ones requiring a series of well-timed button presses. With only two dedicated attack buttons, they’re fairly similar but the timing for each character is a little different and requires some practice. It may be different, and to someone just watching the game it will likely seem less authentic when compared with the anime, but it feels more strategic and ultimately it has its own rewards.

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Even after unlocking the hidden characters the roster is still on the small side when compared with its contemporaries.

The character roster is much smaller than what fans are used to. At the onset, the characters available are:  Goku, Gohan, Vegeta, Trunks, Piccolo, Krillen, Chi Chi, Androids 16, 17, and 18, Frieza, and Cell. Additional characters can be unlocked and most are just variants of existing characters. The saiyan characters have the ability to go super in battle, and it’s an ability that rapidly depletes stamina so it’s not meant to be a permanent state. Only Super Saiyan level 1 is available, so there’s no going 2, but it does make those characters a bit more interesting than the non saiyans. Of course, every character has pluses and minuses. Piccolo, by virtue of his stretchy limbs, has incredible range and Krillen’s destructo disc can carve through every move in the game. It’s a roster a bit on the small side, but each character feels relevant and the secret characters are also fun too (and some of my favorites).

The game has a standard set of modes including Arcade and training as well as a survivor mode dubbed Z-Survivor. Arcade is a series of seven battles with five of them being random. Each subsequent opponent gets stronger and their strength is represented by a scouter reading before battle, which is kind of neat. The mode always ends with a battle against Frieza followed by a fight with Cell. There are no custom endings for each character, which is a bit disappointing, nor is there really much of an ending at all, but if you’ve seen the anime and played almost every DBZ fighter released then you’ve seen how the story ends more times than you can count. What is interesting is that after each victory you get one of the titular dragon balls. By collecting all seven, you can summon Shenron and make a wish. This is how you get additional characters, and also how you improve your existing ones.

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Spend enough time collecting dragon balls and eventually you’ll unlock additional characters like cyborg Frieza.

By far, the most interesting aspect of Super Dragon Ball Z is the custom character process. Other games have dabbled with this, but Super Dragon Ball Z really seems to go for it. As you fight with a custom character, your character naturally gets stronger. Once you fill an experience bar, and completing arcade once is more than enough for the first go around, you can learn a new skill. The skills range from increased health to faster action regeneration time as well as to new and better moves. The most powerful attacks are reserved for custom characters, and some of them have to be wished for. This encourages you to pick a character and stick with it. As a bonus, if you max out a character you can then take another character and inherit moves from the previously maxed out character. For those who really want to craft the ultimate character, doing this is necessary since only some characters have the worthwhile Super Cancel ability.

The only real issue with the character customization is that there is little you can actually do while leveling-up your character. It’s only so amusing to beat the arcade mode over and over so if you don’t have a friend to play it can get a little old. The Z-Survivor mode helps out as this is a mode where you’re given one health bar to vanquish 10 foes in succession. After each conquest, a roulette wheel is spun to get a little power-up for the next fight and it’s not hard to stop the wheel on what you want. However, you can’t just repeatedly select the health restore option as it gets worse each time you land on it. It starts off with a 50% health recovery, but after the next round it will drop to 40% and so on. You have to be strategic with the best rewards if you want to survive to the end. If you do manage to defeat all challengers you’ll be confronted with one more and the fun part about that is you’re allowed to wager basically all of the experience you’ve gained throughout the mode in a bid to double it, if you win, of course. It’s definitely more challenging than Arcade mode and it might end up being the mode you spend the most time in.

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Few DBZ games let you play as Chi-Chi giving fans of that character some added incentive.

Visually the game holds up pretty well. The cel-shading approach helps give it a timeless look, though some characters come off better than others. Goku, for example, has always had a some-what tough time making the jump from flat 2D image to 3D polygon. The stages are, as a whole, more interesting to look at than other DBZ games and the manga approach to its styling helps to add a little extra charm to everything. Sadly for anime purists over here, the soundtrack for the US version is a mix of industrial music that’s designed to resemble the score to the Funimation dub of the show, though it’s an original score and not authentic so even Funimation purists have a reason to be irritated. Other versions utilized some of the actual music from the Japanese anime and I’m sure a lot of US fans would have preferred that. If you hate the manga look though, know that anime colorings do exist in the game so if you want your Future Trunks to sport a royal blue coat instead of teal you can certainly make it happen. Overall, the presentation is solid, though like the gameplay, you won’t get much in the way of flashy big graphical spectacles in the form of massive super moves. At least not on the level of other DBZ fighters.

Since this is a PS2 game, there’s no online mode to easily find other challengers. And even if there were, the servers would undoubtedly be shutdown by now anyway. Having a group of friends who all enjoy the game helps increase the amount of enjoyment you’ll get out of it, but that’s also true of basically every fighting game ever created. It would have been nice if each character had a story and an ending to uncover, but then again, that would work against the drive to just use the same character over and over to make them more powerful. How eager you are to see the secret attacks and unlock the hidden characters will be your primary motivation to revisit this one. If you’ve ever played a DBZ fighting game and wanted it to be more like a traditional fighter, then check out Super Dragon Ball Z. It’s very easy to find a copy for a relative pittance these days so you won’t be risking much by doing so.


Dragon Ball: Season 3

Dragon Ball:  Season 3 (2010)

Dragon Ball: Season 3 (2010)

Apparently I’ve settled into a once a year pattern with Dragon Ball.  I have all five seasons, and I’ve viewed them all, but it’s taking me a long while to write about them.  That’s ok, as sometimes this blog becomes too video game centered and it’s nice to have something like Dragon Ball to fall back on when I want to post about something other than gaming.

Because these seasons are not actual seasons, season 3 of Dragon Ball picks up right where season 2 left off with Goku trying to defeat the evil Mercenary Tao.  In order to do so, he has scaled Korin Tower to enlist the help of Master Korin who’s training is said to make the most formidable warriors even stronger.  With Korin’s help, Goku is confident he can topple Tao and avenge the death of his friend, Bora.  Korin, the dimunitive cat-like creature, seems unwilling to offer much assistance to our young hero and the ensuing “training” Goku goes through contains a heaping dose of comedy for the viewers, which works well following the rather heavy close to season 2.

The over-reaching conflict of the first part of season 3 is still General Red and the Red Ribbon Army.  It is they who hired Tao to take out Goku and eliminate their greatest obstacle in recovering the seven dragon balls.  Goku will have a satisfying encounter with Tao following his training with Korin and then go on to assault the home base of the Red Ribbon Army to put a stop to them once and for all.  It’s here Dragon Ball settles into its pattern of Goku easily dispatching most foes before tasting defeat, training with a powerful warrior, and then returning to topple the previously unstoppable.  There’s a lot of good action pieces, and the whole Dragon Ball gang gets involved which is nice after the Goku heavy season 2.

Sometimes Master Roshi's perversions can be useful.

Sometimes Master Roshi’s perversions can be useful.

Following the end of the Red Ribbon Army conflict, the heroes seek out the help of Fortune Teller Baba in order to find the final dragon ball so that Goku can restore Bora to life.  It turns out that Baba’s services come with a steep price that can either be paid with money or blood, and since Goku has no money, he opts for the latter.  Baba pits Goku and his pals against her warriors, and if he wins, she’ll help him.  Most of the matches here exist for comedic relief as the first combatant for Baba is a vampire and another, invisible opponent, is defeated when Master Roshi’s nose explodes with blood to cover him at the sight at Bulma’s breasts.  There is one serious fight between Goku and a masked man who turns out to be someone very important to Goku and is a mostly entertaining affair.

Following the Baba portion are a bunch of filler episodes of Goku traveling the world and helping people along the way.  These are the most boring sections of Dragon Ball for me as it’s just Goku and he’s usually not given anyone to play off of.  He tends to encounter these overly nice and kind characters and he tends to work better when paired with the impatient types like Bulma and Krillin or the perverse like Roshi.  Along his travels he does encounter Tien Shinhan and Chiaotzu for the first time who will play a bigger role going forward.  They’re depicted as talented and powerful fighters who lack character, which makes them natural foils for Goku.

Chiaotzu, Crane, and Tien Shinhan are the main foes for Goku and his friends during the final act of season 3.

Chiaotzu, Crane, and Tien Shinhan are the main foes for Goku and his friends during the final act of season 3.

The final act of season 3 covers the World Martial Arts Tournament once again, with the natural goal of pitting Goku against his newest rival Tien.  There are several lesser characters inserted into the tournament for comedic relief, but the main players are mostly the same from last the time:  Goku, Krillin, Yamcha, and Jackie Chun, with new-comers Tien and Chiaotzu.  Master Crane is the one who trained Tien and Chiaotzu and it’s revealed early on during the tournament that he is the older brother of Mercenary Tao.  It’s the clear the two did not have much love for each other, but pride dictates that Shen must avenge the death of his brother at the hands of Goku.  This just adds another layer of conflict to the main tease of the tournament.  Unfortunately, because of FUNimation’s arbitrary end points for its seasons, the bulk of the tournament falls to season 4 giving season 3 a mostly unsatisfying conclusion.

Season 3 of Dragon Ball, as defined by FUNimation, might be my least favorite of the five, though season five is also a bit slow.  It’s very top heavy with the early part being fairly entertaining but the last 15 or so episodes are a bit of a slog.  For whatever reason, Dragon Ball (and it’s successors) are bogged down by a lot of filler episodes and a great many of them found their way into season 3.  The seasons preceding it were not absent of them, and the ones to follow aren’t as well, but they just felt less entertaining here.  Hurting it too is the fact that the main enemy, the Red Ribbon Army, is never really billed as a credible threat to Goku outside of Tao.  At no point during Goku’s assault on the RRR HQ am I lead to believe that he might actually fail.  This tends to be one of the problems of the show as Goku’s enemies are either woefully under-powered or obviously over-powered.  The exceptions usually end up being the final matches in the martial arts tournaments, but unfortunately, that falls to season 4.  That said, there are some nice moments on season 3 and there’s also a good dose of comedy.  Some fans could probably skip it entirely if they’re mostly interested in the biggest fights the series has, but if you want the full Dragon Ball experience there’s still some must-see episodes contained here.


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