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S.H.Figuarts Piccolo: The Proud Namekian

A real proud one.

When the S.H.Figuarts line was launched years ago and Dragon Ball Z was at the forefront, it wasn’t Goku who got to be the first figure out of the gate. Nope, it was Piccolo. That figure caught my attention when it was announced even though I had not purchased a Dragon Ball figure in quite some time. I came close, but ultimately never did pull the trigger. The line originally adhered very close to the original Dragon Ball manga so Piccolo sported a light purple gi with yellow, puffy, things (whatever that portion of Namekian anatomy is), and a red sash at the waist. An event exclusive version would follow that depicted an anime color scheme and by all accounts it seemed like most people really liked this figure.

Piccolo looks like a fun guy…

Of course, time being what it is, Bandai has had numerous opportunities to improve upon that original figure. The mechanics of the average SHF release have been altered to create more articulation and better sculpting. As a result, the figures released more recently tend to look quite a bit better than the original ones, even though when those first ones dropped few could imagine a DBZ figure looking any better. Many of the original figures have received updates, but it took awhile for old Piccolo to finally get his. Released towards the end of 2020 though was Piccolo: The Proud Namekian. This figure is a complete do-over with basically nothing retained from the original figure. For longtime collectors of this line, this figure was overdue and just judging it based off of promotional pictures seems to indicate it’s a superior product, but how much better is it really? Well, time to find out!

I don’t think he really wants to come out.

Piccolo comes in the standard SHF window box, but he comes a bit different from what some may be used to. Piccolo has a lot of stuff on him right out of the box. I suppose it’s not surprising to see him with his shoulder pads and turban/helmet thing, but I was a little surprised to see that he has the crossed-arms pose in the box. That look is probably the signature Piccolo look so it’s not that surprising that they would go with that pose, it’s just surprising because usually that crossed-arm piece is an included accessory and not the default pose. Instead, Piccolo’s arms are just kind of chilling right there beside him since the crossed-arms pose is one piece.

Let’s cast this stuff aside for a minute.

Anyway, I’m going to start off discussing Piccolo without all of that stuff. He stands around 6.5″ which puts him on the taller side, but he’s probably not as big as he could have been. His size does kind of vary at times in the anime and the character literally can grow to any size, though that’s a seldom used power kept in his back pocket. Out of the box, he has a big, missing, chunk in his back and that’s because his cape is going to peg into there as well as some other pieces. When not wearing the cape, he has a filler piece that’s made to look like his purple gi and it plugs right in. Mine isn’t quite flush on the right side and I wonder if that’s intentional to make it easier to remove? Either way, it looks good to my eyes and it’s on the figure’s back so it’s not something I’m terribly concerned about.

Bandai included a plug to hide all of the ports on the figure’s back, which is expected of a $60 action figure.
I’ve had this Piccolo animation cel on my wall for 20 years so I’m very accustomed to his face. This scene takes place right after Piccolo’s fusion with Nail on Planet Namek.

Piccolo’s default expression is a stoic one. It looks okay, but something about the face seems a touch off to me and I’m not sure what it is. I think his eyes maybe too small and there’s too much “face” below them. The angle of the jaw is probably off too as it should come in tighter towards the center of his neck. I do not like that they painted his mouth red since he does not and has never had red lips so that choice is odd to me. He has his antennae though and they can be pulled out and if you really wanted to you could reposition them. Do be careful though as I once dropped an antennae from my King Piccolo figure and it was a pain to find in my very shallow carpet. I can’t imagine how hard it would have been had my carpet had more volume. Piccolo is depicted in his anime color scheme so purple gi, a very saturated green flesh tone, pink musculature or whatever we’re calling those, with red trim and a blue sash. He’s the “proud Namekian” as we’re calling him so I guess that makes this figure a late Frieza saga version or perhaps a Cell saga version of the character. Prior to that, he was a straight-up villain who wanted to avenge his “father” by killing Goku and then take over the world. He gradually turned to the side of good, thanks to his bond with Goku’s son, Gohan, and by the time he arrives on Namek to confront Frieza and see his home world for the first time he’s very much a good guy. Piccolo doesn’t really change much visually throughout the course of the show, so it’s not that important. In Dragon Ball, he had slightly different anatomy that included pink kneecaps, but otherwise he’s been pretty consistent ignoring the whole height thing I mentioned. Which is good, because this guy can fit in wherever you need him to. If you want him fighting Frieza that’s no problem or maybe you want to put him up against Android 17? That should work too.

This is a figure that definitely benefits from some effects parts.
Obviously, this is the more appropriate charging pose for Piccolo.

From a sculpting perspective, the figure is pretty solid. The gi he wears is sort of nothing new as a lot of characters wear something similar. And in the case of Piccolo, he looks like a scaled down version of King Piccolo and even a lot of the hand options are the same. He has a decent amount of paint since the red and pink portions of his body needed to be painted and it’s all quite clean. His gi looks to largely be unpainted though, likely because it’s a very dark color to begin with. I do wish it had more of a matte appearance because it’s quite shiny. That sheen does help to accentuate the folds, but it doesn’t help to create the illusion of realism. The only other critique of the overall sculpt and paint I have is that his upper body looks a touch undersized. Piccolo is a pretty beefy dude, or alien, whatever, and I feel like his shoulders could be a little broader and his chest a bit more pronounced. I’m guessing, they had to find a happy medium that worked with both the shoulder pads and without since it’s not as apparent when he has those on. I still think he looks good, but if I could improve something that would be it.

I much prefer this face to the more stoic one.
This figure is very stand-friendly.

Of course, if I was unimpressed with the basic, combat, look of Piccolo I could switch to his default look which includes the shoulder pads and cape. In order to put them on (or take them off) you simply pop the head off of the figure and slide the shoulder pads over it. There’s an opening on the back for the cape to peg into and the peg rotates so you can position the cape however you see fit. You can technically use whatever portrait you want with the cape, but Bandai included two heads that work with the turban: a stoic one and a yelling one. The expressions are both duplicated without the turban piece so I dislike the stoic one here, but the yelling one looks great. It just doesn’t work as well with this look since Piccolo usually ditches his weighted clothing when fighting, but he does engage in some fisticuffs with this on here and there. It’s a good look though and if I liked that stoic expression more I’d have a hard time not displaying the figure this way, but I think I’ll go in a different route ultimately.

If I liked this portrait this would be a hard pose to resist.
Though if you want that cape flowing out behind the figure you’re going to need a lot of shelf space.

Piccolo comes with plenty of things, though there’s at least one thing absent. For starters, he has five heads: stoic, stoic with turban, yelling, yelling with turban, and a teeth-gritting looking to the side expression. The heads intended for the turban don’t have a skull-top, but a chunk of plastic with a key on it so the turban can only go on one way. The other three heads have a full top and antennae. The yelling and teeth-gritting feature added veins and both look quite nice. The open mouth on both yelling heads are fully sculpted and the paint is pristine. For as much as I dislike the stoic expression, I love the other two. Piccolo also has the crossed-arms piece mentioned earlier. To use, you disconnect the arms just below the should and plug that piece in. It’s a bit tricky, but it can be done if you make good use of the butterfly joints. Just be careful about putting pressure on the shoulder piece because it has a cap that kind of just floats on it which can slide down and pop off on you. For hands, Piccolo has the usual assortment: fists, style pose, open palms, and a Special Beam Canon right hand. He also has an arm stump that clips on the left shoulder and features some sculpted, purple, blood dripping off of it. This is great if you have a Raditz figure and want to recreate that scene, though we sadly don’t have a barefoot Goku to go with it. Lastly, there are two plugs for the rear of the figure intended to be used with a Tamashii Nations stand (not included). It adds a port for the stand to plug into under the cape, and the larger of the two plugs is intended to help the cape stay up. The best application for this is so Piccolo can achieve his floating, meditative, pose. I do wish they had included an eyes closed portrait to really sell this, but oh well. The only big, missing, item is, of course, a blast effect. This guy is crying out for a Special Beam Canon effect piece and I really wish it could have been included. Seriously, if it means another 5 or 10 bucks added to the MSRP then just do it, Bandai!

I love that they included an arm stump!
This looks pretty bad ass, but it would be so much better with an actual effects piece.

Piccolo has plenty of stuff, but what good would it all be if he can’t be positioned well with it? Worry not, for he’s about as articulated as anything in this line. The head is on a ball peg with another joint at the base of the neck, and since Piccolo is bald, he has no restrictions in looking around. The shoulders are quite impressive as he has a butterfly joint, ball-hinge, and another hinge that allows the arms to drop down. This is to better accommodate the shoulder pads. The butterfly joint can swing out extremely far, which I believe is to make it easier to get the arms-crossed attachment on and less for actual posing, because it would look ridiculous to pose him like that. He swivels just past the shoulder at those ports where his arms come off and has the usual double-jointed elbow and the spacer piece looks quite lovely. The wrists are ball-jointed and the red trim helps hide them without hindering the range. In the diaphragm, you have a ball-hinge so he can rotate and pivot, but also crunch forward and back. There is some gapping if you go too far, and as usual, you want to be mindful of the parts rubbing against each other. At the waist he can twist and pivot and at the hips he can kick forward and back about as far as you need him to and swivel at the thighs. The knees are double-jointed and look okay when going past 90 degrees and the ankles are ball-jointed as well. They aren’t the best, though it could be due to the shape of the character’s shoes, but I don’t have problems standing him. He has a toe hinge as well, but it’s not particularly useful. Lastly, the cape is articulated so the ends can slide out for a more dramatic pose. It can also pivot up and down and you could turn the peg at an angle if you wished. It’s kind of funky because it’s in 3 pieces, but I think it works better than a wired, cloth, cape for this aesthetic. The superior option would probably have been to just do two capes, one just hanging and the other blowing, but maybe this was the more affordable option.

I brought in one of the effects pieces from my Yellow Power Ranger figure and it works okay.

Piccolo has all of the parts and articulation to really achieve the bulk of his signature poses and looks from the show. He can bring his hands together for his Cell saga energy blast, and his range of motion on his arm is perfect for the Special Beam Canon charging and blasting pose. The open hands work as a Masenko attack or if Piccolo wants to steal Tien’s Solar Flare he can do that as well. In terms of just posing, I like the style posed “claw” hands and the fists. The grimacing expression really adds a lot of personality to the figure so he can look angry or desperate with a touch of worry too. If the box included the stand and a blast effect this would be the total package as far as I’m concerned. One thing I also like about the figure, is you can use the “claw” attachment on the stands to support the figure if you want to, but I actually prefer to just peg into the figure either via those included adapters that work with the cape, or with the port on his back for the actual cape. He’s a very dynamic figure, which is what most want and expect from this line.

We have to do the father-son picture!
A time paradox!

Bandai’s 2.0 approach to Piccolo is a very good attempt. He’s definitely an improvement over the original, which is over 10 years old at this point, and does a good enough job of capturing the character’s likeness from the anime in certain poses. I do wish his default expression looked better and I feel like the character could have been bulked up a touch in the shoulder area. Also, the shiny-ness of the pants is a bummer. And there’s the lack of a blast effect of some kind, but that’s a criticism for the entire line as so few figures come with that. Even so, this figure has a lot of display options at his disposal which is great for collectors like me who enjoy changing things up every so often. I’m going with a wounded, Special Beam Canon, charging pose for now, but who knows what Piccolo will be doing 6 weeks from now? If you’ve been holding out for a better Piccolo from this line, this will probably get the job done for you, even with the obvious room for improvement.


S.H.Figuarts Nappa – Event Exclusive Color Edition

Here comes Nappa!

When it comes to my S.H.Figuarts collection, I’ve been able to largely keep to just Dragon Ball. And by Dragon Ball, I mean the original anime and manga that centered on a young boy named Goku. Even though that’s my favorite edition of the venerable series, it doesn’t mean my favorite is the one shared by millions across the globe. Most fans prefer Dragon Ball Z to any other iteration of the anime (the manga just kept the name Dragon Ball until Dragon Ball Super became a thing) so there is ton more merchandise for those fans than there is for me.

Now, just because I have a preference, does not mean I dislike Dragon Ball Z. Like many American viewers, I saw DBZ way before I ever saw Dragon Ball. I saw it briefly when it was on a broadcast network in my area really early in the morning, but I became a fan when Cartoon Network started airing it. The popularity of the show led the network to center a whole block of action cartoons, most of which were anime, around it and Toonami was born. During those early days, only the first 56 episodes or so were dubbed in English (it’s confusing because there was enough material cut that the English dub had a smaller episode count for awhile), and since the show had failed to catch on initially, there were no plans to dub more. Those same episodes then aired over and over so we American fans came to know those characters and arcs rather well. And one of the early villains of the show was the Saiyan warrior: Nappa.

I hope you like yellow and black.

Nappa arrived with Vegeta following Raditz’s defeat with the idea being to get vengeance for his fallen comrade. Even though he viewed Raditz as weak and pathetic, there was enough Saiyan pride in the grunt to want to seek revenge. His comrade and superior, Vegeta, had other ideas though. He cared nothing for Raditz and only wished to find the Dragon Balls so he could wish for eternal life. Unfortunately for Nappa, Vegeta’s lack of affection for Raditz extended to him as well, and when Goku delivered a devastating blow to the warrior that left his back snapped in two, Vegeta decided to put the beast down rather than help him rehabilitate.

Yeah, I know, it’s the wrong Vegeta.

As a result, Nappa’s presence on the show was fairly brief. He shows up, beats up the lesser fighters, and then gets to be the sacrificial lamb to Goku in a bid to demonstrate how far the warrior has progressed in his training. Still, I always thought he was a really effective bad guy. A remorseless killing machine who just loves to fight. His design is simple in that he’s just a massive piece of man-beef with a bald head and moustache. He wears the giant Saiyan armor that was still rather new to viewers at the time, but has shown up in a myriad of places since, and just really looks the part of a guy you wouldn’t want to mess with. So many villains in the show are intentionally drawn small and unimposing as series creator Akira Toriyama seemed to enjoy toying with expectations. Nappa was different, though also kind of the same since the much smaller Vegeta was considerably stronger than him.

I love that scouter look.

A few years ago, a version of Nappa was released in the Bandai/Tamashii Nations S.H.Figuarts lineup that was really tempting. A comic book store near me had one on display in a glass cabinet, but I never could bring myself to bite on it. He even got marked down eventually, a paltry 10%, but a discount nonetheless, and I still passed. That version of the character had more of a manga appearance. His armor was basically black and brown, but he still looked cool. In the anime, his coloring was slightly different which happened from time to time. His shoulder pads were more of a yellow and the black portions had a blue hue to them. That was my Nappa, and when Bandai unveiled a version of the character that matched that appearance I finally gave in.

“Hands off the tail, Namek!”

During the virtual San Diego Comic Con in July, Bandai put what would have been its exclusives on its Premium Bandai webstore. The whole thing was a shit show, and getting from one screen to the next was incredibly tiring as the website was just overrun by collectors looking to buy one of the five Dragon Ball exclusives. It took me over an hour, but I did get an order in for Nappa. I had to wait over a month for delivery though, which funny enough, makes Nappa the first SDCC exclusive I have received in 2021. Either because the global shipping crisis delayed release, or because manufacturers expected they wouldn’t need to have product on hand for a physical con, most of the exclusives ended up being pre-orders. My NECA purchase might arrive in October, or it might arrive in December and my Mondo purchase is dated January. My guess is the reason for the delay is actually a combination of both reasons spelled out, but ultimately, it’s a case of “it is what it is.” You want this stuff? Cool, you got it, but you’re going to have to wait.

These chop hands really draw attention to how massive his hands are.

Nappa arrived in the usual SHF window box only this one features a black and yellow motif to accentuate that it’s an event exclusive. My event exclusive Kid Goku was packaged similarly, though I never did post a review of that figure since he’s the same as the other Kid Goku, just with a blue gi instead of orange. Nappa is a chunky boy. He’s not the tallest SHF figure I own, but he’s probably the heaviest. He stands just a tad shy of 7″ and really fills out the package he comes bundled in. He’s a great figure to hold as he looks and feels like a collector grade action figure. The plastic is firm and each, individual, piece has a lightness to it, but the sum of its parts results in a nice heft for this guy. All of the musculature is well sculpted and the anatomy and design of such really echoes the source material well. As is the case for most of the figures in this line, there’s not a ton of paint, but what’s there is clean. Nappa actually commands more paint than usual as his gloves and boots feature some gray piping with mustard braids around the wrists and ankles. The mustard yellow of the abdomen, shoulder pads, and skirt pieces are all painted and there’s even a slight wash on his muscles. The painted portion of his upper chest area matches the sculpted flesh color of the neck well. The only paint application that looks a little odd to me is the moustache on his smirking head because it doesn’t follow the crease of his smile on the right side. I don’t think it’s supposed to though, it’s just one of those things that looks odd. I’d have to closely inspect the source material to see if I’m wrong, but it only looks odd when the figure is placed right in front of your face. Otherwise, I have no complaints about the aesthetics of this guy.

He’s a bit of a ham for the camera.

Where the SHF line rises above most is in its ability to wed these impressive sculpts with a ton of articulation. Nappa has a whole bunch at his disposal and it’s all of the stuff you would expect. He has a ball joint at the head plus another at the base of the neck so he can look all over the place including up and down. At the shoulders, he has a ball joint plus a butterfly joint. Because of the bulky armor, he can’t bring his arms out and across his chest as well as some figures. The shoulder pads are on hinges so they can be moved out of the way, but the bicep hits the edge of his pec. There’s a biceps swivel and double elbows, but his arms are so thick that he can’t bend past 90 degrees. On the plus side, none of the plastic joiner pieces are over-exposed to accommodate a truly wide range of motion so his arms look pretty nice in whatever position you place them in. His hands are attached via ball pegs, and even though they’re recessed in those gauntlets he’s wearing, he can still move them around pretty well. In the abdomen, he has a ball-joint that I don’t think is hinged. At least, mine won’t go up. He can bend back okay, but not forward very well and you definitely have to be mindful of the upper chest area rubbing on his abs and ruining the paint. At the waist, he has a very small ball-peg that basically just affords swivel rotation. There’s a little tilt there, but nothing game-changing. At the hips, he can kick forward and back about as far as you would ever need him to. There’s a thigh twist and double-jointed knees that go just a tiny bit past 90. At the ankle I believe we have a ball-joint. It’s nice and tight, which is what a big figure like this needs, but doesn’t provide a huge range of motion. There’s also a toe hinge, but it’s not very good and is kind of ugly because the joint is too far forward.

I couldn’t really get him into a kneeling pose to sell this one better.

Nappa moves reasonably well. Obviously, there’s no getting around that armor he wears. It’s big and bulky. The hinges on the various flaps help to some degree, but there’s only so much they can do. While I wish he could reach out in front of himself better than he can, I wouldn’t want to put any cuts in the armor to facilitate that so I’m happy with the choices Bandai made. It helps that Nappa doesn’t really have a signature energy blast like a Kamehameha or Special Beam Canon that he needs to mimic. He’s more of a brawler, and if Bandai ever did want to do a more articulated version of him they could also do a battle damaged one that doesn’t have the armor. As I mentioned in the prior paragraph, the lesser articulation means his joints mostly look really good. His elbows and knees look pretty great whether bent or out straight and there’s not a lot of gapping issues on him. The only area, besides the useless toe hinge, that I think looks a little unsightly is the neck. He’s always going to have a small gap there and since his neck is bare there’s no way to hide anything. The trade-off for the neck articulation is one I’d make though. He is an action figure, after all, not a statue.

Time to fly!

There’s a lot of plastic in Nappa, so it’s probably not surprising to see his accessory count is on the smaller end. Nappa comes with four, distinct, facial portraits. He comes with a smirking face, a yelling face where he’s looking straight-ahead, a yelling face where he’s looking down and to the left (or like he’s trying to look behind himself because there’s a guy grabbing onto him) and a smirking face with scouter. The scouter is non-removable so you only get one display option if you wish to use it. I always think of him as having the scouter on so that’s my preferred look, but I like the others as well. The head where he’s trying to look off to the side is definitely present so you can recreate the scene where Chaoz blows himself up why clinging to Nappa’s back. It’s even illustrated on the back of the box. I don’t have that figure though.

The base of the stand looks pretty cool, it’s just that Nappa isn’t the best figure for such a stand.

In addition to the alternate heads, Nappa also comes with 3 sets of hands. He has fists in the box, but also has grabbing hands and a set of hands that are in a “chop” position. I’m assuming he does some chops in the anime, though I really can’t recall specifics (maybe when he’s smashing up the jets) and the product shots on the box are of no help as none feature them. He also has a seventh hand which has two fingers extended. It functions like a cool, style, pose sort of thing and he may have done an attack that utilized such a gesture, or I could be mistaken. I think it’s present because that’s how he makes holes in the ground to plant the Saibamen. Of the sets, I definitely prefer the grabby hands, but all of them feel like they have use and I’ll likely switch them up, though I don’t know that I’ll ever display him sans scouter. That’s it though for accessories. As usual, there’s no blast effect which would have been nice. A big, mouth, blast would have been pretty fun and unique. I think the standard version might have come with a small one? Or the shop I used to see him at just happened to display him with such. That blast effect wasn’t the best, but I’d still take it over nothing.

Goku, on the other hand, works just fine. The third stand (not pictured) uses Whis’ symbol for the base.

That’s not all I have to talk about though. For SDCC, Bandai had four figures available plus a fifth set which was a box of action stands. They’re personalized to coincide with the figures they did and I grabbed a set. I think it was 40 bucks, but it got you 6 stands, 2 each of the following design: Goku, Whis, and a Saiyan Space Pod. I grabbed it because I really did need more stands and I thought they looked pretty slick. Unfortunately, when it comes to Nappa it doesn’t work too well because he is just so thick. The stand is designed to grab the figure around the waist and has some added crotch support, because even action figures need crotch support. The clasp really can’t get around Nappa’s waist, but he can at least be position on the crotch piece. You will likely need to tighten the screws in the stand as far as they’ll go to accommodate his bulk or else it will just topple. I like that the pack came with two of each style though since anyone who has the previously release Saiyan Saga Vegeta will likely want to use one with him. I do not have that figure, though if he ever gets a re-release I’ll probably grab one now. I was able to finagle a flying pose for Nappa with the stand, though I don’t think I’d trust it on a shelf. That means it’s more like a base for Nappa, and having the space pod as a base is kind of cool in its own way, but it would have been nice if it had been specially engineered to work better with the bulky Nappa.

This figure has some shortcomings, but ultimately it nails what it needed to the most and that’s the look. This looks like Nappa from Dragon Ball Z and he looks fantastic. It would have been awesome if they had found a way to make him move a little better, (and at least one of the product shots on the back of the box must be a render because he can’t wipe his mouth with the back of his hand) or stuck in a cool effects part, but he can definitely can hit all of the important poses for the character. Really, the biggest negative about him is now I want more figures that display well with him. A Saiyan Saga Vegeta is the most appropriate, but it did cause me to look at the recently released Kid Gohan, but I don’t think I need him. I considered Kaioken Goku, but he squared off with the unarmored Nappa so that doesn’t feel necessary. I did grab one figure, and I’ll tell you about him soon enough, and I also pre-ordered the new Krillin so Nappa should have a few guys to play with in due time. This is a guy that enjoys being violent, so I definitely need to feed him.

This dude looks good and he knows it. He’s not quite as tall as King Piccolo, but definitely chunkier.

This action figure is an event exclusive from Premium Bandai. Other retailers did buy some stock, but they tack on a sizable surcharge. Even with that surcharge, it looks like most have sold out so if you want him you may have to go to the secondary market. Some people are probably looking to flip him, and Bandai did open a pre-order window since their website was so terrible so some people (and possibly retailers) will get him in Q1 2022 so if you don’t like the prices right now you can wait and see if they improve next year. Bluefin Brands has also been hosting a pop-up shop that will be selling the con exclusives. They’ll probably only hit major cities like LA and New York, but maybe you have a buddy who can get to one for you or something. If you prefer the older version, maybe the release of the more anime-accurate Nappa has knocked the price down on that guy a bit. I’m pretty happy with him, even if my Saiyan Saga collection is rather light, and I don’t think any DBZ collection of S.H.Figuarts should be without a Nappa.


Dragon Stars World Martial Arts Tournament Play Set

One of the main draws for me in getting the NECA Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles diorama was that it was going to open up some more space for me. The diorama allowed me to move my TMNT collection from a shelf to a new place since now my display had a vertical component. This was necessary since that prior shelf featured my TMNT collection basically jammed together with my Bandai SH Figuarts Dragon Ball collection. I know some people out there like mixing their collections, but I am not some people. I prefer to keep my intellectual property separate and only display different IPs beside each other when I just have no other alternative or my collection in a certain IP is relatively small (which is why D&D’s Drizzt is standing next to Batman on a shelf).

The Dragon Stars line has certainly grown over the years.

It was several months ago that I grabbed a Bandai Dragon Stars World Martial Arts Tournament play set from a sale at GameStop. It was so long ago, that it was in the same order as the Capsule Corp motorcycle I reviewed. I had been eyeing this particular play set for a couple of months because it looked like something that would work well as a backdrop for my modest Dragon Ball collection. Normally, this isn’t the type of thing I buy since this is really more of a true toy intended for kids as they act out battles from the show and take advantage of the built-in play features the set comes with. However, I liked how it looked and when the price came down to a point that made sense to me, I jumped on it.

I’d say it looks the part. Could use a ring announcer though.

If you’re not into Dragon Ball collecting, basically what you need to know is Bandai has two, distinct, main, figure lines: SH Figuarts and Dragon Stars. SH Figuarts is the collector line and figures range from around $50 to over $100. Dragon Stars is the more general audience line aimed at kids and casual fans. That doesn’t mean collectors don’t or can’t collect the line, it’s just a line not specifically courting that market. The Dragon Stars figures are usually around $25, so not exactly cheap, but a far cry from the SHF product. Bandai is also able to pump them out quicker and the character roster is quite robust at this point. It started as a line focused on the latest iteration of Dragon Ball, Dragon Ball Super, but it also includes most, if not all, of the main characters from Dragon Ball Z at this point. And it’s that line that this play set is from.

The scaling is a bit wonky, especially when you introduce an actual Dragon Stars figure like Future Trunks.

Now, even though this is a Dragon Stars release, I would say the play set is not exactly to scale with that figure line. It would have to be positively massive to properly scale with any line, but I don’t know that it would appeal to collectors looking to pit Goku vs Piccolo or whatever. I only have one Dragon Star figure, Future Trunks, and he looks a bit silly standing on it. However, I grabbed this for my Dragon Ball display specifically eyeing it for Kid Goku and Krillin. It’s still not perfect, but as a backdrop and platform to draw attention it gets the job done. The set itself measures about 12 1/2 inches tall and 11 1/2 inches deep. The platform is about 15 1/4″ wide, and the backdrop extends about a half inch off either side. It’s not small, but not as big as it should be. How small is too small will be a bit subjective, but for what I want to do with it I think it works fine.

Introduce a figure like King Piccolo and the set really starts to look silly.

The set is essentially three parts: the ring surface, the rear wall, and the rear building. There’s a small gap between the rear wall and building, but not big enough to do much of anything with. If you had some paper cut outs of characters I suppose you could try slipping them in as spectators, but you’re not going to fit any figures in there. The main attraction of the set is its play features. Just as the ring and building tended to get beat up over the course of a tournament, so too can your set. The wall comes apart, mostly on its right side (the left side if you’re standing in front of it) to simulate damage as if something was thrown into it or a wayward energy blast smashed into it. The marquee is removable so you can display it ajar in a dilapidated state and a center panel in the ring can be lifted out. In its place you have a crater formation to swap-in which is pretty fun. These are all features I’m not going to get much use out of, but it’s cool to have should I want to change-up my display at all and that gap between the wall and backdrop can at least accommodate the wall fragments. There’s sadly no real way to store the optional crater though. I thought maybe I could get away with storing it underneath the platform, since it’s hollow, but there’s just enough stuff on the underside to make that problematic. I suppose the flat panel is easily stored though.

With these guys? It looks pretty good!
“Take that, Goku!”

The set itself is just largely comprised of molded plastic. There’s some nice detail on the various ugly heads that adorn the structure, but no added paint effects to bring them out. A confident collector would take this and probably dry brush it to bring out some of that detail, but I am not confident in my abilities in that regard. In terms of accessories, there isn’t much to speak of. There’s just the bits of wall, the marquee or sign that goes over the entry way, and another sign that you can position wherever to go along with the crater piece. It would have been nice if Bandai tossed in an exclusive figure like the ring announcer, who likely would never see a retail release as a stand-alone figure, but not having one at least keeps the cost down. The only letdown for me is the tine, or point, alongside the entryway on my set is warped and bent. It’s made of a flexible material, maybe as a safety measure since it’s pointy, and I was able to fix it with some hot water.

Let’s turn up the intensity!
That crafty Krillin.

In short, this set does what I need it to do. I think it looks great as a little battleground for Kid Goku and Krillin. Should Bandai ever do a Dragon Ball Tien then that could get interesting. Would he look too silly being that he’d be a bigger character? Possibly, but maybe not enough to bother me. I passed on the Jackie Chun release, and now I’m kind of rethinking that as I think he would look okay battling Goku. Should Bandai ever get to end of Dragon Ball Goku and Piccolo Jr. then I probably would keep them off of this thing, but since Bandai doesn’t have any plans to release either of those figures I’m not going to worry about it. For now, this is a solid, eye-catching, item that adds a little prestige to my humble Dragon Ball display. Hopefully, it’s a display that will continue to grow!

The new display! More figures coming soon too!

S.H. Figuarts Dragon Ball Z Yamcha

Look out boys, here comes Yamcha!

Today’s action figure review comes courtesy of online retailer Big Bad Toy Store. No, I have not hit the “big time” where I’m getting freebies for review. Rather, BBTS had a Twitter give-away for an action figure and yours truly happened to be selected. Which is pretty cool, so thanks go out to Big Bad for the hook-up because otherwise I would likely have never had the chance to talk about this figure.

Gotta love that window box packaging.
There aren’t many characters who get featured as a corpse as part of their own product shots.

Yamcha comes straight from the anime Dragon Ball Z. I have reviewed a few of the figures from S.H. Figuarts in the Dragon Ball line, but I’ve largely avoided Dragon Ball Z. That’s because I only have room (and money) for one high-end anime property and if I had to choose I’m taking Dragon Ball over Dragon Ball Z. If I were to reverse course though, and maybe one day I will, I’d probably prioritize the earlier episodes of DBZ like the Saiyan Saga, which is where this figure comes from.

What’s this guy have to smile about?!
I wonder what shampoo he uses?

Yamcha is basically known to the fanbase as the punching bag of DBZ. He’s routinely one of the least powerful warriors and his most famous pose is lying dead in a crater. He makes himself an easy target because he’s often brash and quite arrogant, only to wind up getting his ass handed to him. He’s so bad that I even tried to make referring to someone as a “Yamcha” an insult amongst my friends back in my high school days, but I never really got the phrase over. Yamcha would change in later arcs and in Dragon Ball Super he became more self aware of his lot in life. This has made him actually endearing, to a degree, to the point where Yamcha may be able to refer to himself unironically as a fan favorite these days. After all, being outclassed by Goku is hardly meaningful anymore since virtually no one from those early episodes can hope to stand with him.

Now we’re getting serious.
Here comes the “dreaded” Wolf Fang Fist!

As mentioned earlier, this figure comes from the Saiyan Saga of DBZ so it depicts Yamcha in his orange Turtle School gi complete with big hair. He’s right at the six inch mark which I assume is pretty much average for the line and leaves him about 3/4 of an inch taller than the Vegeta from the same line (not factoring in Vegeta’s giant hair). It’s hard to say what Yamcha’s most popular look is since he’s one of the characters who seems to always change his look, but this one is certainly right up there. He maintained this look through the Frieza Saga before switching to an awful bowl cut that thankfully didn’t last long. It’s a simple look though and I suspect there’s a lot of parts reuse in this figure as he’s essentially Goku. I can’t confirm that though because I don’t have a Goku. The only real difference between he and Goku are the shoes and the lack of a blue undershirt, because Yamcha is first and foremost out to attract the ladies. The more skin showing the better.

I’m more of an energy blast guy, myself.
Solar Flare or “hands up?” Yamcha is not above backing down from a fight.

The S.H. Figuarts line from Bandai is known for its high quality and abundance of articulation. Yamcha is no exception as there’s very little he can’t do as far as posing goes. His joints are all nice and tight with none being too tight so he has no trouble holding a pose. His head sits on a ball joint with surprising range of motion considering the giant hair behind him. The hair keeps him from looking up, but he can do pretty much anything else. There’s a hinge in the middle of his hair if you want to make his hair more billowy than usual, though it doesn’t do much to free up the head any further. He has a joint at the base of his neck that honestly isn’t really needed since he can look pretty far down without engaging it. The shoulders are ball-jointed with butterfly joints as well to allow him to reach across his chest and form a proper Kamehameha pose. The bicep swivels and the elbows are double-jointed. The hands are on ball-pegs with hinges in them so they can rotate and turn in and out. There’s an upper torso joint under the gi that provides for tilt and rotation there as well as another ball-joint at the waist. The legs can go out, forward, and back pretty much without restriction and swivel there as well. The knees are double-jointed and the feet are on ball pegs. There’s a toe hinge and articulation at the knot in his belt, for good measure.

Yamcha with his former lover and the guy she left him for.

Were Bandai leaves itself open for criticism with this line is in the amount of articulation taking away from the sculpt. With Yamcha, it’s not much of an issue because the gi lends itself well to hiding articulation. It’s a flowing, roomy, garment with lots of folds to stash stuff in. Contrast this with Vegeta who is often in skin-tight outfits where the various seems and breaks in the sculpt really stand out. There are still odd parts where things look messy, like the crotch and mid-torso. The sleeves of the gi are also pegged into his shoulders and not attached to the main part of the uniform which is rather odd looking. The other frequent complaint I see is the lack of paint, and there, Yamcha isn’t much of an exception. Bandai sticks with colored plastic for the most part and almost never applies a wash or anything to bring out some of the detail. This figure though does have a wash applied to the sides of the pants, chest, crotch, and sleeves. I’m torn on if I prefer this look to what I’ve seen more recently in the Dragon Ball figures. Kid Goku, Krillin, and even Tao have really no wash applied to them and look mostly fine to me. The effect here does work in certain lighting and poses, though in others it stands out more than I’d like.

I had to…

Yamcha comes packed with an assortment of facial expression and hands to complete his look. He has four distinct expressions for you to choose from, and swapping is simple and effortless. The bangs of his hair pops off to gain access to the face plate and the seems left behind are minimal. For expressions, Yamcha has a cocky grin, an open mouthed yell, a teeth-gritting face, and a stern face. If this were a Dragon Ball version of the character I’d want a frightened/shocked look, or a love-struck one for when he encounters Bulma, but for a Saiyan Saga Yamcha this is a strong assortment. He also has four sets of hands: closed fists, wide open palms, Kamehameha open hands, and martial arts pose hands. There’s some room for criticism in this area as Yamcha really doesn’t need the wide open, Solar Flare, styled hands. What he could really use are pointing hands for his Spirit Ball technique. The Kamehameha hands and martial arts pose hands give him enough range for his other signature maneuvers though, the Kamehameha and Wolf Fang Fist.

He actually he let himself get killed by this!
There is some nice sculpting going on here.

Lastly, Yamcha comes with one other important accessory: the Saibaman. This little green guy is notoriously the one who killed Yamcha. Or rather, it was a Saibaman who felled him and left him dead in a crater and that creature was not distinct from any other Saibaman. This little guy stands a shade under 3″ and is positioned in a permanent crouch. He’s largely colored plastic with very little paint but has quite a bit of sculpting details all over. The eyes and claws on the hands and feet are basically the only parts painted. He’s at least cast in two shades of green so he more or less looks the part, but really could have used a paint wash to bring out the grooves in the skin and the veins in the head. He’s minimally articulated and it’s largely a what you see is what you get affair. His head can rotate side-to-side a bit and the arms rotate at the shoulders on simple pegs. Oddly, the right wrist is on a peg and can rotate, but the left does not. What he’s missing is articulation at the leg, because with a simple swivel there he’d be able to really grab onto Yamcha for his self-destruct attack. Instead, if you want to attempt that you basically need to make Yamcha hug the little alien, which looks a bit silly. This makes the accessory something to pose opposite Yamcha like the two are about to face-off. It’s not nothing, but it’s a shame Bandai didn’t sink a few extra pennies into the sculpt to make it really work. Though if we’re on the subject of small changes that could have made a big difference, I wish instead of the standard one-color backdrop in the box that Bandai had printed the infamous crater instead!

Seriously, Yamcha! This should be a freakin’ mismatch!
Well, looks like this one is over.

There’s room for nitpicks with this release, but at the end of the day this is easily the best Yamcha figure ever made and likely will ever be made, at least as far as the Saiyan Saga is concerned. It’s another high quality release from Bandai via the SH Figuarts brand. There are very few poses he can’t pull off and the screen accuracy aspect is fantastic. Sure, the Saibaman is essentially a foot note for the release, but it’s not as if Yamcha is missing anything. Sure, some might have preferred another energy wave accessory, but this is fine. Though I’m guessing there are some diehard collectors out there rooting for a proper stand-alone Saibaman figure. Until that happens, this will have to do. If you ever wanted to add Yamcha to your collection, it would be hard to pass on this one.


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.

dbs god vegeta

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.

dbs full power broly

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.


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.

dragon power

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.

hyper dimension

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.

final bout

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.

goku vs vegeta

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.

budokai story

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.

budokai 3 story

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.

dragon rush 2

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.

gogeta fusion

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.

budokai 3 cooler

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.

db super broly

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:

Goten urinating

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.

cooler surprised

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.

Slug ears.png

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.

Bio Broly trunks goten

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.

13 trucker hat

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.

Goku Vegeta Cooler.jpg

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.

Tree_of_Might

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.

dead zone gif

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.

Bebi_Burori

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.

vlcsnap-00003

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.

pudding 1

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.

bjoack group shot

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.

vegeta cries

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.

goku vegeta bicker

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.

tapiotrunks

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: Wrath of the Dragon

wrath of the dragonJapanese Title:  Dragon Fist Explosion!! If Goku Can’t Do It, Who Will?

Original Release Date:  July 15, 1995

English Release:  September 12, 2006

Directed by:  Mitsuo Hashimoto

Screenplay by:  Takao Koyama

Running Time:  52 minutes

 

We’ve finally reached the thirteenth and final film in the main Dragon Ball Z film-verse:  Wrath of the Dragon. Like our last film, Fusion Reborn, we get a title that’s at least slightly ambiguous and not just the name of the film’s villain. And unlike most of the movies, this one could actually take place during the timeline of the anime since it takes place after the events of the Buu Saga (though don’t confuse that statement for canon, since Dragon Ball Super ignores the events of this movie as it does basically all of the others). As a last hurrah, Toei produced a movie that’s very different in tone from the other 12 features. Even though the running time makes it pretty typical of the other films, it moves a lot slower with the emphasis of the film’s plot resting squarely on something seldom seen in DBZ movies:  character development. Rather than simply have some super-powered villain show up and challenge Goku, the film focuses on a new character, Tapion, and the fascination an existing character, Trunks, has with him.

The film opens with a young boy (Aaron Dismuke) in a frantic state. He’s on a darkened planet and armed with a sword. He has pointed years and a mohawk-like hairstyle and probably is not of Earth. He appears to be searching for an unseen danger, when from behind a giant foot emerges and apparently squashes the poor boy. An unsettling laugh is then heard.

Saiyamen

The heroes we need.

On Earth, the Great Saiyaman is out keeping the residents of one of Earth’s many cities safe. And he’s no longer a solo act. Great Saiyaman II, or Great Saiyawoman, is by his side in a similar costume to Saiyaman’s original look (as opposed to the bandana and sunglasses disguise) and they’re fouling a robbery. There’s some fun, atypical action in this piece as Gohan (Kyle Hebert) and Videl (Kara Edwards) play super hero, but a shadowy figure is watching and it’s pretty clear he’s going to play some sort of role in this story – and soon. At school, Gohan and Videl are a bit tired from their exploits, and also late for class. After just arriving in his class, Gohan is again summoned by city officials to prevent an old man from committing suicide. He has to excuse himself, much to the shock of his professor, once more to go deal with the situation.

saiyaman saves hoi

Not everything they do is battle tough space villains.

Gohan and Videl arrive in costume to see the old man dangling from a ledge. Gohan springs into action and rescues the little old man, who introduces himself as Hoi (Troy Baker). The cloaked, possibly alien, character is the same who had been spying on the two earlier. He tells the two about a legendary hero named Tapion (Jason Liebrecht) who has been sealed away in a music box that Hoi just so happens to have in his possession. He warns Gohan that the Earth will soon have need of this Tapion, and that they need to free him from the music box in order to secure his aid. Videl seems suspicious of the old man, who really looks the part of a villain, but Gohan falls for it – he is his father’s son, after all. Unfortunately, even Gohan’s mighty strength can’t turn the crank on the music box and they’re forced to go elsewhere for help.

hoi

That is a face that can be trusted.

Hoi encourages them to utilize the power of the Dragon Balls to free Tapion, so Gohan takes the box to Bulma’s (Tiffany Volmer). Goku (Sean Schemmel), Goten (Edwards), and Trunks (Laura Bailey) are there as well and even Goku can’t get the music box handle to budge. He’s game though for a Dragon Ball hunt, and the group does just that summoning Shenron (Christopher Sabat) in short order. He’s more than capable of freeing Tapion from the music box, but once released they soon find out that Tapion did not wish to be free.

tapion

The Legendary Hero Tapion.

Tapion, a warrior who looks much like the child from the beginning of the film only an adult, is angered to see Hoi and dismayed to see the music box shattered as a result of Shenron freeing him. Hoi flees, and Tapion is left with the others. Trunks takes an almost immediate interest in the strange, sword-wielding warrior from another world, only Tapion is not interested in idle chit-chat. He too retreats to a remote area near Capsule Corp in what looks to be an abandoned hangar of some kind. Trunks and Goten try and visit him, often with food, but Tapion refuses to engage the children at all.

trunks and goten

Even though he’s kind of a jerk, Trunks and Goten think Tapion is pretty cool.

It’s clear at this point that Tapion was sealed away for a reason, and that becomes even more clear when a strange Kaiju-like monster appears in nearby West City. Gohan and Videl confront the being, and are shocked to see it’s basically just a pair of massive, bug-like legs with no torso or upper body to speak of. They’re unable to do much of anything to the creature, but Tapion appears. Armed with an ocarina, he plays a haunting melody on the instrument which causes the monster to vanish. Gohan and Videl are both astonished and more than a little confused to see Tapion is connected to this monster in some form.

Tapion_and_minotia

Tapion and his little brother say good bye.

Back at Tapion’s hideout, Trunks once again attempts to bond with the sullen warrior and is again rebuffed. Hoi shows up though and attempts to steal Tapion’s ocarina when he briefly slips into sleep. Trunks is able to get the ocarina from him, and when Hoi attempts to coerce Trunks into giving it back to him, he instead returns it to Tapion. Hoi flees, but after the gesture Tapion is suddenly interested in conversing with the young Saiyan. It’s clear that Trunks is simply seeking out an older brother figure, likely a little jealous of what his good friend Goten has with Gohan, and he’s overjoyed that Tapion is finally speaking with him. He’s able to convince Tapion to join him at his home, and the warrior finally relents.

Tapion_and_bulma

Bulma just making sure this guy who has taken a liking to her kid checks out.

At Capsule Corp, Tapion visits with Trunks and puts him to bed. Following that, he encounters Bulma in the hallway and she invites him to sit down for a talk, since she knows her son has taken quite a liking to the hero. It’s at the dinner table that Tapion tells his story to Bulma. The monster Gohan confronted is named Hirudegarn (Robert McCollum). Long ago on Tapion’s homeworld, he and his people were able to defeat Hirudegarn following his creaton by a group of evil black magicians. Hirudegarn could not be destroyed though, so following his defeat his essence was split in two by a powerful sword with one half being sealed away inside Tapion and the other in his younger brother, Minotia. To prevent the monster from re-appearing, Tapion and Minotia were locked away inside the magic music boxes never to be awakened and jettisoned to opposite ends of the galaxy. The lower half of the monster was sealed inside Minotia, and with that appearing in West City Tapion fears his brother is no more. The upper half of the being is inside Tapion, and he can’t afford to fall asleep or lose his magical ocarina and sword or else the upper half of the beast could escape. After hearing all of this, Bulma decides to create a special room based on the design of Tapion’s music box in hopes that it can accomplish the same goal and allow the poor guy to finally get some sleep.

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Look who got put back together.

As Hirudegarn’s lower half reappears, Tapion attempts to sleep inside the chamber Bulma was able to create (very quickly). Nightmares overwhelm him though which result in him accidentally destroyed the chamber. Goku and the others arrive the next morning and are checking out the damage, when Tapion reappears with a request. He wants them to kill him, hoping that by doing so the half of Hirudegarn inside of him will die too. The others are understandably reluctant to do so, but before Tapion can convince him Hirudegarn and Hoi show up. Tapion is unable to play the melody that controls Hirudegarn in time and the presence of the monster’s lower half causes the release of the upper half from Tapion’s body. Now fully formed, Hirudegarn is a true monstrosity.

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Vegeta gettin in his one shot.

Even though he’s massive and not particularly fast, Goku, Goten, and Gohan are unable to land any substantial blows on Hirudegarn due to his ability to teleport. The battle all but ruins Bulma’s home as the battle spills into the city. When it looks like the monster is about to squeeze the life out of Gohan, Vegeta finally makes his first appearance of the film to save the day. He’s a little irritated at losing his house to the monster and lets him know, but he’s unable to really do anything about it. Hirudegarn knocks him into an office building and unleashes a massive blast in Vegeta’s direction. Vegeta is forced to expend all of his energy corralling the blast with a barrier to spare the inhabitants of the building. Exhausted, he collapses, and as quickly as he entered the picture he has now departed.

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Meet the new Hirudegarn, better than the old?

Seeing the others having no success against Hirudegarn, Trunks and Goten decide to fuse and unleash Super Saiyan 3 Gotenks. The cocky fused persona of the two Saiyan children has some nifty attacks, and for a moment it looks like Hirudegarn has been defeated. Since this is a Dragon Ball Z movie though, we know the villain most likely still has a trump card to play. His body hardens and cracks and soon the outer carapace shatters. Like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon, a new version of Hirudegarn emerges. Only unlike a butterfly, this thing is quite ugly and terrifying to look at (though arguably not as scary as the first form with its skull-like head). He thrashes Gotenks, causing the being to split back into Trunks and Goten. Gohan and Videl are soon taken out, and it comes down to Goku.

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Don’t ask a kid to kill you, man, just do it yourself.

As even Goku finds it hard to keep up with Hirudegarn, Tapion emerges. He plays his ocarina and the melody causes Hirudegarn to once more become sealed inside of him. With the beast now gone, Tapion turns to Trunks and begs him to use his magic sword to kill him. Trunks is taken aback by the request and struggles to come to terms with it. Tapion pleads with him, and when it starts to look like Trunks just might do it, Hirudegarn breaks free. Worse, the ocarina is destroyed in the process and Hoi emerges once again. He taunts Tapion for his failure to contain the beast, but his victory is short-lived as Hirudegarn crushes him thus at least destroying the last of the evil wizards who helped create him.

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That’s one way to kill a giant bug.

With the ocarina now gone, the only thing left is to confront Hirudegarn with raw power. Goku powers up to his Super Saiyan 3 form and begins to battle it out with the monster. Trunks, not content to sit on the sidelines, charges in with Tapion’s blade and manages to slice off the tail of Hirudegarn. Goku orders Trunks to stand down as he prepares to unleash his latest technique. With an uppercut pose and a mighty yell, Goku unleashes his Super Dragon Fist which causes a golden Shenron to form around him. The dragon unloads on Hirudegarn wrapping around him, constricting him and ultimately exploding as Goku is left in a dramatic “shoryuken” pose.

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Nothing like a good victory pose.

With the monster finally defeated, all that’s left is for Tapion to go home. An unspecified amount of time passes, and Tapion is set to leave in Bulma’s time machine. It looks identical to the one Future Trunks used in the main series, and it’s assumed I suppose that Tapion is going to search for his little brother. Before he can leave though, he has to say goodbye to his surrogate little brother, Trunks. The young Saiyan is sad to see the hero leave, but he’s given Tapion’s sword as a parting gift. As the credits role, clips and images of Trunks, including Future Trunks armed with a similar sword, are shown with the obvious implication being this is how Trunks came to be a swordsman.

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Time to say good bye. What’s that wink imply, Bulma?

Wrath of the Dragon Fist is an interesting Dragon Ball Z movie by itself, but also kind of an odd way to say good-bye to the series. With it being the last, it’s somewhat surprising that there isn’t more emphasis on getting the whole gang together, but aside from a cook-out scene early in the film, most of the regulars are no-shows. The defeat of Hirudegarn is a neat visual spectacle, but also really weird since we’ve never seen Goku do anything even remotely like that before. It’s kind of equally weird that it’s Goku at all who takes down the monster since he plays such a minor role in the film. It would have been better to just go all-in on the Trunks theme and have him take out Hirudegarn, but at least he got to cut off the beast’s tail. I guess they just wanted to give Goku a win in his Super Saiyan 3 form since that power-up has so few of them.

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Trunks gets a pretty swell parting gift. That thing is as big as him.

Rather than focus on a big ensemble story or another Goku piece, Toei and screen-writer Takao Koyama (who authored every one of these movies) decided to do a deep dive into Trunks and try and unite this version of the character with the Future Trunks we had seen earlier in the Androids Saga. It’s a solid premise for a movie and it’s nice to see a film choose to focus on exploring a character as opposed to just creating some big, bad, villain of the week. Trunks and his desire to form a bond with someone is easy to understand. He’s an only child and probably home-schooled. He’s had an absentee father for most of his childhood, and his only friend is a country boy named Goten who comes from a family in which he’s the little brother to Gohan. Trunks just wants a brother of his own, and maybe since Vegeta was such a crummy dad, he also seeks a role model too. His scenes with Tapion are cute, and it’s heart-breaking to see Trunks’ reaction to Tapion requesting he kill him. Thankfully, he didn’t have to go through with it as that would have been one Hell of a damaging episode for the poor kid.

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Tapion proves to be a rather fine addition to the ensemble.

As far as our newcomer is concerned, Tapion is handled quite well. He has a simple, easy to understand back story that makes him a sympathetic figure. He projects a mysterious aura and also possesses a unique look for the series. Some probably look at an elf-like, sword wielding, ocarina playing, hero and think Link from The Legend of Zelda, but this movie predates Ocarina of Time and Tapion doesn’t look that close to the Link that existed prior to that. Since they do look so similar it’s possible they share a common source of inspiration, but what that may be I’m not certain. Hoi and his evil wizards (who are all dead) is kind of lame. He’s a blatantly obvious villain so it’s kind of frustrating to see him scheme his way to releasing Tapion, but the movie would be rather boring if he wasn’t successful. The only motivation he’s given is that he and the other wizards are genocidal monsters that want to destroy anything that isn’t them. Hirudegarn himself is just a mindless monster. Even though he’s as one-dimensional as it gets, he still manages to be interesting since we haven’t seen Goku and company take on such a massive enemy in a long time. It’s kind of like “What if Goku took on Godzilla?”

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There apparently wasn’t enough room for Vegeta in this one.

My one major piece of lingering criticism of Wrath of the Dragon rests with its use of Vegeta. Perhaps because Fusion Reborn spent so much time with he and Goku exploring their relationship and rivalry, Koyama decided to avoid the Saiyan Prince here. I would have liked to see more of him though since so much of the movie takes place at his house. It’s just weird for him to not be seen until he makes his dramatic entrance. This was also the first chance to pair up Trunks and Vegeta in a movie, and since this follows Vegeta’s change of heart following the events of the Buu Saga, it would have been interesting to see how their relationship has changed. Come Dragon Ball Super, Vegeta is basically back to his prickly self, but it would have been interesting to juxtapose he and Tapion. Would it have made the film better if we saw a jealous Vegeta who feels threatened by Tapion’s presence? Perhaps, and perhaps not. It just feels like the movie had room to do something with Vegeta, and instead it reduced him to a cameo.

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There’s a sweetness to be found in this one seldom seen in DBZ movies.

Aside from that piece of criticism, I really have nothing else to say about the movie that would be considered bad. Wrath of the Dragon is very different for a Dragon Ball Z movie. It’s a little light on action and humor and instead more procedural. It relishes in the quiet moments shared mostly between Trunks and Tapion, but also some other small scenes as well. Its emphasis on story and character make it a more rewarding and less disposable experience. We all like our flash and pizazz when it comes to Dragon Ball Z, but it’s nice to see one of the movies treat these characters more as actual characters as opposed to characters from a fighting video game. It’s because of that I feel Wrath of the Dragon is one of the best movies to come from Dragon Ball Z. It can still impress you with its excellent visuals and make you laugh at a few moments, and it may even make you tear-up a little. It’s so interesting from a narrative standpoint that I didn’t even expound on how wonderful the film looks. This is one of the best looking things the series has ever produced. Dragon Ball Z picked a great way to bow out, and it’s nice to know over 20 years later that it wouldn’t be the end for these characters as we knew them.


Dragon Ball Z: Fusion Reborn

7e1c12908c1fd2ee3b2f5b99932706c8Japanese Title:  Fusion Reborn!! Goku and Vegeta

Original Release Date:  March 14, 1995

English Release Date:  March 17, 2006

Directed by:  Shigeyasu Yamauchi

Screenplay by:  Takao Koyama

Running Time:  51 minutes

The penultimate film in the original run of Dragon Ball Z movies is thus far the one with the closest translated title with the actual English title. Fusion Reborn is a pretty wild one that happily embraces the silliness of the Majin Buu Saga of DBZ. Almost the entire film is set in Hell as a being of supreme evil has cast a spell over Other World causing the barrier between the living world and the dead to cease to be. It’s timing in the DBZ universe is even muddier than usual, with both Goku and Vegeta being dead, but with Gohan yet to achieve his “mystic” form. It’s also the first film since Bojack Unbound to feature Vegeta and it’s the first to not feature Krillin. It’s also the only one of the 13 films to not receive a completely uncut edition in the US, but we’ll explain why later on.

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This dude is about to have an unfortunate accident.

The film starts in Other World with Goku (Sean Schemmel) and Pikkon (Kyle Hebert, utilizing a voice basically identical to that of his narrator role, which is distracting) battling in the latest edition of the Other World Tournament. The Kais are all looking on and rooting for their respective fighters with seemingly everyone rooting against King Kai and his fighter, Goku. At the Earth’s check-in station, something major is about to go down. Saike Demon (Jim Frond, with the character credited as simply Young Rocker in the Funimation dub) is in charge of making sure all of the souls inbound for Hell are purged of their negative energy, but he’s too busy rocking out with his head stuck between some headphones. He’s admonished by another worker after King Yemma (Chris Rager) complains about being able to hear the music from his desk. He’s allowed to continue to listen to his music after his superior seems to take pity on the lad, but he forgets to swap out the tank that stores the evil energy and it overflows. All of Other World begins to tremble, and the purple goo takes over the kid transforming him into Janemba.

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Goku is way too excited about meeting Janemba.

Janemba (Foronda) is a colossal monster that looks like a cross between Majin Buu and the baby from Dinosaurs. He’s infant-like, apparently only capable of saying his own name, and his presence causes the entire check-in station to be encased in an amber like substance. Weird, gigantic, jelly beans float all around him and dot the background. With the check-in station frozen, King Yemma informs us that the barrier between the living world and Other World is down and spirits can freely move between the two. The dead who were sent to Hell and denied their bodies, are now fully restored and able to reek havoc once again.

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Goku battles Fat Janemba in Hell amidst a backdrop of candy and jelly beans.

The Grand Kai (Evan Jones) stops the match between Goku and Pikkon and sends the two to see what’s going on at the Earth check-in station. The two happily head there and encounter Janemba. Goku is extremely eager to take on the baby-like monster and is able to convince Pikkon to stay behind and try to break through the barrier holding King Yemma and the check-in station. Pikkon, reluctantly agrees while Goku leads Janemba down to Hell where they can fight freely.

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Look who’s back.

On Earth, Videl (Kara Edwards) is dining with Gohan (Kyle Hebert) and his family at their house when she receives a call about some weird occurrences back in the city. The dead have risen and zombies are now roaming the streets of Satan City. Gohan puts on his Great Saiyaman costume and the two head out to see what’s going on. There they’re confronted by hordes of zombies and a dictator baring a strong resemblance to a real world villain is roaming the streets with an army of Panzers. Of more concern to Gohan is the presence of Frieza (Linda Young) who would love to get revenge on Goku by killing his son. Gohan is more than happy to dispatch the former tyrant with a single blow, heightening in a comical fashion how much has changed since we last saw Frieza. Legions of other fallen enemies fill the sky though, and it’s a lot of fun to pause these scenes to see who you can spot.

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Admit it, you’ve always wanted to see a Super Saiyan kick the crap out of Hitler.

In Hell, Janemba is proving to be a tricky foe capable of even reflecting Goku’s attacks back at him. He has no choice but to debut his Super Saiyan 3 transformation in the film-verse, complete with extended transformation scene accentuated with some mid-90s CG effects. In this state, Goku is more than powerful enough to pulverize Janemba, but just when he thinks he has the monster defeated, he does what most enemies do – he transforms! Gone is Janemba’s (now voiced by Kent Williams) bulbous exterior and in its place is a sleek, demonic form capable of so much more. He can still reflect some attacks, while also demonstrating an ability to break-apart like a game of Tetris and re-form in an instant. Goku does a good job of hanging with him, but his strange fighting style packs enough surprises to knock him off his guard. He then forms a vicious looking sword out of a mallet just hanging around Hell, and utilizes that to great effect knocking Goku into a strange conical pond of blood and out of his Super Saiyan 3 form.

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Super Saiyan 3 Goku gets to work.

On Earth, Goten (Kara Edwards) and Trunks (Laura Bailey) are having a pretty good time taking out the dead while even Mr. Satan (Chris Rager) is proving useful in dispatching the many zombies roaming about. Goten and Trunks soon find themselves in the crosshairs of The Dictator (Christopher Bevins), who even with an army of tanks, poses no real danger to them. They go super anyways just for the fun of it, and The Dictator remarks how he should be impressed with the blonde haired, blue-eyed (even though they’re green), super warriors.

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“Toon” Trunks and Goten power-up to take on The Dictator!

As Goku is getting beat down, an old friend shows up to give him a hand. Vegeta (Christopher Sabat), having regained his body thanks to the weird goings-on, is eager to engage Janemba since his existence since death pretty much sucks (his words, not mine). Goku warns him that Janemba is too strong, but Vegeta doesn’t care. He gets taken care of pretty quickly, and Janemba tosses him into this vicious looking mountain made up entirely of giant spiked balls. Goku is able to prevent Vegeta from getting impaled, and the two share a quiet moment amidst their surroundings. Vegeta expresses frustration at how strong Goku has become, while he has remained the same. Goku kind of tries to downplay everything, but Vegeta sees right through him. Goku then proposes that the only shot they have at defeating their enemy is to fuse. Vegeta is staunchly opposed to the idea and remarks he’d rather be dead than fuse with Goku, which just prompts Goku to point out that he is in fact dead already.

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The transformed Janemba is a lot scarier than that pudgy thing.

Vegeta is eventually forced to concede that it’s their only option after a lot of back and forth. His admission reads like defeat, and the two perform the fusion dance only for the results to be not desirable. Veku is the result of their fusion, a monstrously bulbous individual whose only strength appears to reside in his powerful flatulence. Veku is forced to dance around Janemba and hope to survive the 30 minute duration of fusion without getting killed. He never dubs himself Veku, that’s the Kais watching via a television set as they provide some commentary on our fight. Eventually the transformation wares off, and Vegeta and Goku are free to attempt the technique again. Only they would be if not for the fact that Janemba has caught on and is not exactly feeling generous. Pikkon shows up though, after having discovered the barrier Janemba created is weak to insults (really), and is able to utilize the same method on Janemba giving the Saiyans time to perform the fusion dance one more time.

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Veku’s only offense is his potent flatulence. He also has a Rabbit Feet technique, which is just what he calls it when he runs away.

The resulting fusion is Gogeta, a supremely powerful being most likely rivaled only by Vegito from the main series. Sensing the transformation of their fathers prompts Goten and Trunks to do the same. Again, they didn’t have to, but Gotenks wasn’t going to miss out on being featured on the big screen. He unleashes his Kamikaze Ghost Attack on the imposter Hitler and the results are what you would expect.

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Gogeta!

In Hell, Janemba is no match for Gogeta and their confrontation is surprisingly brief. Rather than utilize some mash-up of Goku and Vegeta’s attacks (as he will in Dragon Ball GT), Gogeta does this weird attack that creates an energy ball that kind of looks like television static mixed with a rainbow. It’s not at all impressive, but it is effective. With Janemba gone things can return to normal. The fusion wares off and Goku and Vegeta share a surprisingly tender moment before Vegeta’s body fades away. The films ends with the living congratulating themselves on a job well done. Goten and Trunks are able to rib Gohan and Videl so we can get our usual comedic ending.

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Not wanting to be outdone, Gotenks decides to show himself.

Fusion Reborn is one of the better received Dragon Ball Z films, and for a lot of fans it’s the best. It’s easy to see how that can be since the film is able to deftly toe the line between being a comedy and taking its stakes seriously. The setup is admittedly bonkers even by Dragon Ball Z standards, but for the movies it’s also a welcomed change from the usual settings. The movie gets a lot of attention for the comedy bits involving the dead returning to life, but its real strength is in exploring the relationship of Goku and Vegeta. The proud Saiyan Prince still gets in his stale line of wanting to be the one to finish off Kakarot, but outside of that we’re mostly shown a vulnerable Vegeta. We saw a glimpse of this character in Bojack Unbound, but that was without Goku to interact with. I enjoyed how Goku went from being kind of a ridiculous caricature of himself to a very serious one once confronted by Vegeta. Their farewell is sweet, and it’s the type of thing I think Akira Toriyama deliberately avoids with Vegeta, not wanting to make him get too soft and show too much emotion, but the folks at Toei may not possess such hang-ups.

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The movie leans heavy into the Goku/Vegeta dynamic.

It’s not all a sappy love-fest though as much of the movie leans heavy into comedy. It’s kind of exciting to see someone like Frieza show up, and also funny to see him dispatched of so quickly. While I could have used more of him, I do see the value in the joke being made. It’s actually surprising that the film doesn’t delve more into the fan-service territory by having Gohan face off with more dead enemies from the past, but at 52 minutes this is already one of the longer DBZ movies. The stuff with The Dictator is also amusing from both a narrative and a visual style. When he’s onscreen, perhaps to lessen the real-life image of Hitler, the whole scene takes on a more toon-like vibe. The backgrounds are more colorful and the characters appear flatter, due mostly to the presence of thick, black, outlines. The inclusion of the failed fusion, Veku, is also handled well. He resembles Fat Gotenks from the main series, and for his voice Schemmel used something closer to his King Kai voice as opposed to his Goku one, while Sabbat does his interpretation of a fat Vegeta. It’s a nice touch and it adds to the comedy.

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It only took 12 movies, but King Yemma finally gets a turn on the big screen.

The Other World, and Hell especially, proves to be a pretty neat place to set a DBZ film. Hell is somewhat barren, but with some imaginative areas to spruce things up. The weird, cone-shaped pond of blood that Goku winds up in is pretty surreal, as is the mountain of spiked balls. The jelly bean background dominant before Janemba transforms is also wild, but it suits the personality of the villain. Janmeba, like Buu, is innocence run amok combined with absolute power and it’s a fun basis for a villain. Unlike Majin Buu, the short duration of a movie means Janemba doesn’t get to overstay his welcome.

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A side of Vegeta seldom seen.

As I mentioned in the first paragraph, this movie does feature some mild edits in the English version and you’re probably not surprised to read that they concern The Dictator character. His swastika has been replaced with an X on his hat and any mention of The Third Reich has been removed from the tanks and such. It’s a superficial edit. I’d probably be bothered by it if I were younger with a more absolutist take on cuts, but I don’t really care as an adult. I know why Funimation did it and it doesn’t do anything to harm the film. I don’t think they would have received any flak had they left those symbols in, but it’s understandable if it made them uncomfortable. Also, for some reason, the opening theme for the dub goes back to the Funimation English dub main theme. I’m not a fan of “We Gotta Power,” but it’s better than the instrumental theme Funimation crafted.

Dragon Ball Z:  Fusion Reborn lives up to the billing as one of the better Dragon Ball Z movies and I won’t fight you if you think it is the best of the bunch. I’m not sure I would put it that high, but after a couple lesser films, it was nice to sit down and watch this one. It has a good blend of action and humor and it doesn’t run on too long. Only one movie is left in our feature, so check back next week for the final Dragon Ball Z movie of the 90s, Wrath of the Dragon.


Dragon Ball Z: Bio-Broly

DBZ_THE_MOVIE_NO._11Japanese Title:  Super Warrior Defeat!! I’ll Be The Winner

Original Release Date:  July 9, 1994

English Release Date:  September 13, 2005

Directed by:  Yoshihiro Ueda

Screenplay by:  Takao Koyama

Running Time:  46 minutes

Well, I hope you wanted more Broly following the last movie, because he’s back again. Breaking a tie with Cooler, this movie marks Broly’s third appearance in a Dragon Ball Z feature and it also means 3 out the last 4 movies all featured him as the main antagonist. When we last saw Broly (Vic Mignogna), he was getting blown up by the combined might of Goku, Gohan, and Goten. How could he have survived a triple Kamehameha? Well, he didn’t, and another person from that film is responsible for Broly’s return here.

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Dr. Collie and Mr. Jaguar, our enemies for today.

The movie opens at a lab where a cackling, obviously evil guy, named Mr. Jaguar (Bill Townsley) is enjoying the specimens his team of scientists, led by Dr. Collie (Christopher Sabat), has produced for him. He plans to use them to take over the world or something, but also mentions how he wants to go after Earth’s hero. The camera lingers on one large tank containing a humanoid creation, and a tail flickers into the picture to let us in on a not so subtle secret about who inhabits this particular environment.

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The bio-men won’t be winning any beauty pageants.

After the intro song, we’re taken to Satan City where Android 18 (Meredith McCoy) is attempting to collect payment from Mr. Satan (Chris Rager) for the events that transpired during the World Martial Arts tournament in the main series. In case you forgot, 18 was pitted against Satan in the finals and he convinced her to take a dive in exchange for riches. Before she can get the money out of him though, an odd fellow in a blue suede suit shows up, falls in the pool, and manages to get inside Satan’s mansion to issue him a challenge. Apparently Mr. Jaguar and Mr. Satan attended summer camp years back and he knows Satan’s dirty little secret – he once wet his pants! In order to keep this from reaching the press, Mr. Satan needs to accompany this guy, Men-Men (Jim Foronda) back to an island to face Mr. Jaguar, and since he failed to pay 18, she is going too. Goten (Kara Edwards) and Trunks (Laura Bailey), having been promised a big lunch from Krillin(Sonny Strait) once 18 gets paid, stow away in Men-Men’s flying car and head off to the remote island where Mr. Jaguar awaits.

Once they arrive at the island, Mr. Satan finds out he’s not to be squaring off against the diminutive little Jaguar, but against his Bio Men. These slimy, green and pink creations give him the creeps, and they’re also well beyond his fighting ability. Having no other recourse, he offers 18 more money to take care of them for him, and she’s happy to oblige.

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18 is more than happy to step in for Mr. Satan, provided he pays her.

Goten and Trunks, after having helped 18,  go exploring in the lab and find all of the Bio Men still growing in their oversized test tubes. Trunks, having a genius scientist for a mom, is happy to share that information with anyone who will listen and does seem genuinely interested in what’s going on. Goten notices one of the specimens has a tail, and the two check it out and are startled to discover that it’s Broly! He soon awakens, and Goten and Trunks flee in terror. They go to talk some sense into the scientists about Broly, and find the shaman Maloja (Robert McCollum) whom they exposed as a fraud to his village in the previous movie. It was he who scraped up some of Broly’s blood after his defeat and sold it to Jaguar. His scientists utilized that to recreate Broly as one of Dr. Collie’s bio-monsters. Goten and Trunks are horrified, and decide the only thing they can do is destroy Broly themselves.

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Broly was a bit fragile of mind to begin with, this can’t be good for his self-esteem.

It’s a good thought, but the duo’s combined attack on the tube only succeeds in freeing Broly. Enraged at the sight of the two young Saiyans partly responsible for his death, Broly goes on an unstoppable rampage. At first, he looks like his old self, but his body soon begins to deteriorate into a grotesque pile of slime with red eyes. He kind of looks like a combination of Mukman from the Mighty Mutanimals, complete with his yellow hair poking out of the goo resembling spent banana peels, and also kind of like the Tyrant from Resident Evil since both feature a glowing, red, heart. Broly immediately attracts the attention of 18, who gets flattened almost right away, and it falls on Trunks and Goten to take him out.

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The two Saiyans show promise when fighting as a pair.

Broly is apparently not as powerful in his bio state as he was in life since Trunks and Goten are able to go toe-to-toe with him, provided they attack in unison. The problem is, Broly has wrecked the lab all around him, and the weird purple goo that created him is seeping out. It’s acidic to all lifeforms, and Goten keeps getting pulled away from the fight to save people from certain death. Broly’s goo body also makes him seem invulnerable to real physical pain, and the boys are at a loss as to how they can destroy him. Trunks will figure out a plan though, and it involves utilizing his own buttocks in an antagonizing manner, but they need to also content with the the purple goo that threatens all of the island’s inhabitants, not just those in the lab.

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Even in this weakened state, Broly still packs a punch.

I am happy to say, there will be no Goku (Sean Schemmel) saving the day. Even Piccolo and Vegeta decline to make an appearance to bail someone out, though Krillin will show up to fight at some point. Instead this one rests entirely on the young shoulders of Goten and Trunks. After seeing them upstaged by Gohan in the last film, it’s kind of nice to see them get to shine on their own. Trunks will even utilize a Kamehameha attack along with Goten, and also what looks to be his dad’s Final Flash. Goku does make a very brief cameo right before the end credits, but it has no baring on the story, because apparently we can’t have a Dragon Ball Z movie without at least one appearance from Goku (Gohan, on the other hand, is completely skipped for the first and only time).

BioBroly_1307

Step aside Krillin, the kids got this one.

Bio-Broly is often cited as the worst movie in the Dragon Ball Z film-verse and I’m actually happy to report that it wasn’t as bad as I expected. It doesn’t look particularly great, having a quality more in-line with the show as opposed to the other movies. There’s some jokes that kind of miss, especially early, and the Mr. Satan stuff does feel a bit redundant at this point. I like that character, for the most part, so it doesn’t bother me that much and I like that it attempts to resolve a plot point from the show. Broly has definitely overstayed his welcome at this point, but at least he’s largely mute in this one and we don’t get any silly “Kakarot!” yells out of him. His bio form is rather lame looking, and you could argue the movie didn’t need him and the bio monster could have been anyone.

In the end, this isn’t my least favorite of the Dragon Ball Z movies. I like that it allows other characters to shine, not just Goten and Trunks, but 18 as well. It’s quick and tidy, but if I had one lingering piece of criticism is why did they have to title it Bio-Broly? If we didn’t know that Broly was incoming it would have actually given that moment a little more weight. It’s setup like a Hollywood thriller, and even the fight is resolved in a similar manner as seen in The Terminator, and spoiling the reveal like that just feels like a waste. Dragon Ball Z rarely gets to surprise, so that’s a missed opportunity. It’s not that big a deal though, and I look forward to reexamining this film in a broader light when I eventually set out to ranking all of this movies when this feature is concluded.


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