Tag Archives: funimation

Dragon Ball Z: Cooler’s Revenge

DBZ_Movie05Japanese Title:  The Incredible Mightiest vs. Mightiest

Original Release Date:  July 20, 1991

English Release Date:  January 22, 2002

Directed by:  Mitsuo Hashimoto

Screenplay by:  Takao Koyama

Running Time:  47 minutes

This seems as good a time as any to talk about the titles of these movies. The direct translation from Japanese is right at the top of each of these entries I’m making, and taken in that sense, they’re usually pretty crazy. They’re often very descriptive or kind of comical. This one, The Incredible Mightiest vs. Mightiest, is one of the more comical ones. When dubbing and releasing in English, Funimation basically gets to come up with whatever title it thinks makes the most sense. In this case they went with Cooler’s Revenge, which feels like one of the more boring titles they came up with. For one, we don’t know who Cooler is going into it so why in the world would he be out for revenge? I guess we’re supposed to watch and find out, but it just seems kind of lazy. In this case, the directly translated title sounds like something I’d want to watch! Incredibly Mightiest? – I want to know who that guy is. A cooler seeking revenge? Sounds like a beverage container got mad that it’s being used as a bait bucket on a fishing trip or something.

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We get to watch poor Bardok get smoked again at the start of this one.

Anyways, if you didn’t guess on your own, Cooler is related to Frieza. He’s his brother, to be exact, and he’s come to Earth seeking a battle against Goku to redeem his family name. He has no love for his deceased brother making it clear this quest for revenge is more about honor than anything. This is also one of the few movies that could have conceivably been fit into the actual Dragon Ball Z timeline given that a lot of time passes offscreen between the Frieza and Androids Saga. Not that it matters in the grand scheme of things, but it’s an interesting aspect of the picture.

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Cooler, who spends the bulk of the movie in his fourth form which resembles Frieza’s.

The movie begins with a recounting of Frieza destroying the Saiyan home world:  Planet Vegeta. We’re shown the events from the perspective of Cooler (Andrew Chandler) and his small army of loyal men. He scoffs at Frieza’s (Linda Chambers) carelessness and at how childish he’s behaving. One of Cooler’s men, Salza (Michael Marco), picks up a Saiyan Space Pod on their radar escaping the destruction. He suggests they destroy it, but Cooler refuses saying it’s Frieza’s problem. They apparently have their own areas of the universe to dominate, and there’s an aspect to his personality that would probably welcome the destruction of his brother. We then jump forward for a quick recap of the Goku and Frieza battle and witness Goku, as a Super Saiyan, defeat the evil tyrant.

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Like most of the big bad guys on in this show, Cooler has a group of loyal henchman. Salza, pictured here, appears to be his right-hand man.

In the present, Cooler is on his way to Earth, like so many villains before him. On Earth, Goku (Sean Schemmel) and his friends are camping (this sounds really familiar) when Cooler and his men show up. Goku isn’t looking for a fight, but he’s obviously ready to defend his friends and family. Cooler and company obviously seek something else, and they begin their attack. They overrun the earthlings, and a blast intended for Gohan (Stephanie Nadolny) is taken by Goku inflicting a near mortal wound on the warrior. They’re able to escape, and Krillin (Sonny Strait) sets Goku up in a cave to rest while Gohan agrees to head to Korin’s tower for some senzu beans. He takes Icarus so that he doesn’t have to expend any energy that would be picked up by Cooler, and off he goes.

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Gohan is sent for senzu beans but runs into some trouble.

Gohan is able to make it to the tower without detection where he encounters Yajirobe (Mike McFarland) and Korin (Mark Britten). Korin tries to play a bit with Gohan while Yajirobe isn’t in the mood for games and orders the cat to just give up the beans. Gohan thanks them and takes off, but on his way back to the cave he is unable to avoid Cooler’s men. They shoot down Icarus and rough up Gohan, but just before they can deliver a mortal blow (and stop me if you’ve heard this one before) Piccolo (Christopher Sabat) shows up! He tangles with Cooler’s men, allowing Gohan to slip away. Piccolo takes care of two of Cooler’s men, Dore and Neiz, and seems capable of taking out Salza as well when Cooler arrives. He uses his Death Beam attack to neutralize Piccolo and orders Salza to track Gohan.

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Piccolo gets a brief moment to shine in this one, emphasis on the word brief.

Gohan makes it to the cave, but before he can hand over the pouch of senzu beans Salza arrives and fries them. Krillin heads outside to buy them some time, when Gohan remembers that Yajirobe tossed him an extra which he stored in his sash. He gives it to his dad, who immediately starts to feel better. While his strength is returning, Gohan and Krillin team-up to take on Salza but find themselves overmatched pretty quickly. Goku emerges from the cave to even the odds, when Cooler shows up baring an unconscious Piccolo. He provokes Goku further by blasting Piccolo through the chest and letting his body fall to the Earth. Goku takes his anger out on Salza, sending him soaring out of the picture, and then turns his attention towards Cooler.

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Cooler – not a nice guy.

Goku and Cooler square off and the two appear to be evenly matched. That’s when Cooler breaks off from the fight momentarily to tell Goku his story, because that’s what villains do. Goku doesn’t really care, and then Cooler unveils one final trick – a fourth transformation! Cooler was in his fourth form, the result of his third transformation, as Frieza was when Goku killed him. Cooler long ago unlocked yet another form, and he’s more than willing to utilize it in order to destroy Goku. He goes through the process, which makes him bigger and results in lots of protruding spikes and a new grill for his mouth. He kind of reminds me of Super Shredder from the 1991 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II movie, but since they came out the same year he’s pretty clearly not influenced by that character.

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Cooler’s Super Shredder form. It’s fine.

In his new form, Cooler proves to be Goku’s better. Everything Goku tries fails, and he soon finds himself getting beaten down. That’s when he resorts to his old motivation techniques – thinking of those who depend on him, recalling the bad deeds of his opponent, etc. Apparently, Cooler injuring a bird is his breaking point this time and Goku goes Super Saiyan. As a Super Saiyan, he proves to be Cooler’s better forcing him to resort to the same tactic his brother did by trying to destroy the whole planet with his Death Ball technique. Goku is able to counter it with his Kamehameha wave and literally blasts Cooler into the sun. As his body breaks apart, in one last bit of poetic justice, Cooler makes the connection between Goku and the fleeing Saiyan Space Pod thirty years ago. With Cooler taken care of, the only thing left is Salza, and a certain big green guy gets some momentary revenge and the last word in this one, which is kind of nice for a change. Though how he recovered from what appeared to be multiple mortal wounds is left unexplained.

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Ouch.

Cooler’s Revenge is perhaps the simplest of all of the Dragon Ball Z movies thus far. It follows the exact same script as the past two movies essentially, with an evil invader coming to Earth seeking something and getting into a fight with Goku. In the case of the Saiyan Turles, he at least had the Tree o Might to add some spice to his invasion, while Lord Slug essentially sought the same thing as Turles, but found the Dragon Balls too. Cooler is just here to kill Goku, and in some respects I appreciate that the movie gets right to it, but then it betrays its fast start by taking Goku out of commission and forcing us to wait for his reentry into the fight. Because of its simple nature, this is the shortest film since Dead Zone and it would be even shorter if they took out the flashbacks to the main series.

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The film debut of Goku’s Super Saiyan form.

The movie’s biggest strength is its reliance on the story began in the actual series with Frieza. Connecting Cooler to Frieza is a good move as it gives him credibility. And it’s not like Toriyama didn’t experiment with Frieza’s family history as well by introducing King Cold shortly after Frieza’s defeat. It’s conceivable that he could have had a brother roaming the galaxy as well, and also not surprising that they wouldn’t exactly have any strong affection for each other. It is kind of strange that he would have never been mentioned by anyone during the events of the show given that he’s apparently more powerful than his brother, but then again no one ever talked about King Cold either. That additional transformation is kind of the obvious move, but at least it looks a little different from the others and its visually interesting. Goku having to transform in a similar manner to how he did against Frieza was kind of tired, but when you consider that a lot of these films seem to exist to condense a main plot point from the show into a short run time then I suppose it’s more forgivable.

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The film ends with a classic beam struggle, which I’ll give it credit for doing so as I was getting really sick of the Spirit Bomb.

As one of the earlier Funimation dubs, the original version of this film’s English dub was full of terrible nu-metal music within its soundtrack. It’s actually kind of amazing Funimation fit so much of it into such a short film, but wow can I not recommend avoiding that initial dub strong enough. I guess if you enjoy bands like Disturbed and Drowning Pool you might like it, but I can’t think of worse torture. This one is also visually the most bland film so far as the settings are just boring planes and forests that offer little spice. The fight choreography is also less than stellar as it suffers from the same issue as Lord Slug in that seemingly every confrontation is between two individuals with vastly different power levels, and that’s just not entertaining. It would have been nice if Goku’s Super Saiyan transformation had put him on more equal footing with Cooler for a more interesting fight.

Cooler’s Revenge is a movie with a solid premise – the brother of an evil tyrant is out to avenge his family’s loss by confronting a man he allowed to live long ago. After that though it pretty much botches everything else. It takes one of the least appealing aspects of the show, waiting on Goku, and incorporates that into a movie. It also doesn’t offer any great action pieces, and it even lacks in another aspect of the series we’ve all come to enjoy – the humor. It’s a drab film, and as a cliff notes version of how Goku became a Super Saiyan I guess it’s fine, but it’s my least favorite Dragon Ball Z movie so far. Hopefully it stays that way.


Dragon Ball Z: Lord Slug

lord_slug2Japanese Title:  Son Goku the Super Saiyan

Original Release Date:  March 9, 1991

English Release Date:  August 7, 2001

Directed by:  Mitsuo Hashimoto

Screenplay by:  Takao Koyama

Running Time:  52 minutes

Going into this, I didn’t have the highest opinion of Dragon Ball Z movies. They’re good fun and all, but they’re so simple and derivative that they hardly seem worth praise. In spite of that though, I’ve very much enjoyed revisiting the first three films. They vary in quality to some degree, but all three have made for some good entertainment. When it comes to the fourth Dragon Ball Z feature, Lord Slug, I’m actually just now sitting down and watching it for the first time. Back in the Toonami days, the first three films were shown on Cartoon Network often so I saw quite a bit of them. It was a long while before Funimation resumed dubbing the films, so most fans outside of Japan had to resort to the dreaded fansub. Basically, fans would take episodes of anime and subtitle it themselves then hawk them on the internet for a not insubstantial sum. A kid in my neighborhood went through the effort of purchasing a VHS tape of Dragon Ball Z movies from one such source and was happy to share the wealth when it actually arrived. Most charged for the tape plus the movies, so the incentive was to cram as many movies onto each tape as possible. Lord Slug had a reputation online as being one of the worst Dragon Ball Z movies, so this kid didn’t include it and instead opted for the consensus better flicks. I borrowed that tape and watched the movies on it, and by the time Funimation actually put out the movies officially I had moved onto other things.

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A new enemy for Goku – a runaway planet!

For this feature of mine, Lord Slug was actually a movie I was really looking forward to despite its reputation considering it would be entirely new to me. Even though it has a reputation, I didn’t really hold that against it. These movies may not be high art, but they’re so simple that it seems hard to totally botch it. Plus the villain seemed interesting to me considering his ties to Piccolo, one of my favorite characters. It was my hope going into it that because of that connection a certain Namekian might actually get to do something other than show up and get obliterated.

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The others are forced to watch as Goku and Krillin go to work.

The movies opens in familiar fashion, perhaps too familiar at this point, with Piccolo (Christopher Sabat) quietly meditating by a waterfall. Gohan (Stephanie Nadolny) shows up with his dragon pal Icarus (Sabat), making his second appearance, wearing his old school traditional attire from the very first movie and episodes of the show. Gohan is apparently excited to unveil some sort of song and dance routine he’s been working on with Icarus. It’s kind of cute to see Gohan acting like a child, even if it feels like an atypical scene for Dragon Ball Z. When Gohan starts whistling Piccolo starts to freak out. Apparently the high-pitched noise of Gohan’s whistling bothers Piccolo’s super sensitive ears. Oddly enough, Piccolo seems surprised by it so apparently he’s never heard a human whistle before (which is actually believable since he’s basically been a hermit his whole life).

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Lord Slug begins he film as a pretty old, and decrepit looking individual, but he won’t stay that way.

After that episode is concluded, Piccolo notices something heading towards Earth. We get a cut-up of a bunch of folks picking up on the same thing. Instead of the usual, a super-powered being only the Z Fighters can sense, it’s actually a giant, frozen, planet that’s on a collision course with Earth. As the whole world prepares for Dooms Day, Goku (Sean Schemmel) and Krillin (Sonny Strait) fly up to meet it. They unleash twin Kamehameha attacks that entwine and then combine into one super Kamehameha wave, but it seems to have little effect on the onrushing planet. Goku and Krillin are thrust aside and it looks like the planet won’t be spared a direct impact. As the others at ground level take cover, the Earth’s atmosphere goes to work. The giant, ice ball is melted away revealing a colossal spaceship underneath that lands on the surface. Even though the majority of the planet melted away, it still caused a ton of damage.

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Chi-Chi gets in on the action, for a moment.

Bulma (Tiffany Volmer), Oolong (Brad Jackson), Chi-Chi (Cynthia Cranz), and Gohan race toward the downed spaceship along with hordes of onlookers to see what happened. A bunch of soldiers emerge and declare that the Earth now belongs to Lord Slug (Brice Armstrong). Interestingly, everyone laughs at them except Oolong, who rightly identifies them as a threat. The soldiers inform the onlookers that Lord Slug intends to “terra-freeze” the planet to use as a new ship, the why of that is never really explained, and then they start firing on everyone. Gohan decides to spring into action and proves himself more than capable of handling these low-level grunts.

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Random minions never fare too well in Dragon Ball Z.

Meanwhile, inside the ship Lord Slug and his handlers look on. We get the usual display of tyrannical power as Slug kills a few minions that displease him in some minor way. They watch what’s happening outside the ship via a video link and Slug notices the Dragon Ball atop Gohan’s hat and recognizes it for what it is. They head outside where Gohan is fleeing with his mother in his arms after she took a rather nasty gut punch. He lost his hat in the melee, and Slug scoops it up lovingly. Bulma stupidly comments on the Dragon Ball, and Slug realizes she knows more than she’s letting on. He grabs ahold of her and demonstrates one of his abilities – the power to read minds. In seconds he knows all and steals Bulma’s dragon radar. Without much of a time jump, Slug is shown on the roof of his ship with all seven dragon balls. Slug, who is green of skin and some-what elderly looking, summons Shenron (Sabat) and wishes for eternal youth. Shenron, apparently being kinder than most wish-granting beings in other media, restores Slug to his physical prime much to his delight. They soon begin the terra-freezing process and the Earth rapidly cools.

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The henchmen of Lord Slug (left to right):  Wings, Angila, Medamatcha

Back at their home, Chi-Chi prepares tea and soup for everyone to fight off the cold. She’s still a bit sore from the beating she took earlier. When she goes to give Gohan his soup she finds him gone, and he’s taken his Piccolo attire. The Gohan-Oolong team from The World’s Strongest has been re-formed, with Oolong even sporting the same outfit from their previous arctic journey. Icarus is along too, and they’re spying on the goings-on around Slug’s ship. They soon attract some unwanted attention from Slug’s men, and unable to escape, Gohan prepares for a fight. Per usual, his guardian angel of sorts, Piccolo, shows up to give him a hand just when it seems like he’s about to be bested. Piccolo squares off with a demonic looking henchman named Wings (John Freeman), while Gohan takes on Medamatcha (Kent Williams). Piccolo finds he’s much stronger than his adversary and kind of toys with him a bit, which ends up being a foolish move because Gohan has more than he can handle with Medamatcha, who has a unique ability to sprout four mini versions of himself that are capable of draining energy.

Piccolo finally obliterates Wings, just as Gohan looks like he’s about to go down for the count. As he rushes to help him, Slug’s other henchman Angila (John Burgmeier) takes notice. They try to finish Gohan off, but Piccolo is able to absorb their blasts. The two may be alive, but Piccolo is in bad shape. Without being able to muster a defense, they’ll soon perish.

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Medamatcha is one of the crazier villains we’ve seen thus far.

Goku awakens somewhere nearby and is shocked to see the world is basically frozen. Yajirobe (Mike McFarland) had witnessed what happened from Koren’s Tower and brought some senzu beans to revive Goku and Krillin. They can’t waste time though as Gohan and Piccolo are in need of some aid and they rush to help out. Goku is able to prevent Medamatcha and Angila from killing his son and friends, and offers his usual warning to his foes before getting to it. Medamatcha and Angila at first appear to be doing well in their coordinated effort to take out Goku. Angila is able to stretch his arms out and grab ahold of Goku while Medamatcha sets his mini-me’s to work in draining Goku’s energy. It’s all for naught as Goku easily overpowers the duo forcing Lord Slug to come out and face him.

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Goku taps into his rage to into Not-Super Saiyan mode.

Krillin is apparently unimpressed by the imposing looking Lord Slug and attempts to take care of him all by himself which just results in a comedic moment of Slug batting the fool away about 1,000 meters. Goku correctly notes that Lord Slug has tremendous power, and he even finds himself overmatched. King Kai, who has popped in here and there through-out the film with an anecdote or two, telepathically warns Goku about Slug. When things seem to be at their most dire, Goku is able to summon the strength to battle back. He tries to implore his friends to lend him their energy, but King Kai (Schemmel) lets him know they have nothing left to give. This causes Goku to transform – sort of. He acquires the yellow aura of a Super Saiyan, but nothing else. Since this film came out during the battle with Frieza, but before Goku entered the fray, he’s apparently not quite a Super Saiyan yet making this moment a sort of halfway point. It’s kind of silly, but his form is obviously effective in that he beats back Slug.

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Slug turns the tables by making himself taller than a skyscraper.

Slug, fearing defeat, decides now is the time to unleash his full power. He tears off his arm, which had been broken by this enraged Goku, and regenerates it back confirming what most viewers probably already figured out – Lord Slug is a Namek. Not just any Namek though – a Super Namek! At least, that’s what King Kai calls him. He gives Goku a quick history lesson. Apparently Slug is an exclusive Namek in that he and a small number of others attainted this power. They were evil though, and the other Nameks used the power of the Dragon Balls to banish them from Planet Namek. Slug then grows to a gargantuan size, similar to what King Piccolo and Piccolo Jr. demonstrated in Dragon Ball. They fight, but Goku has seemingly lost the power surge from earlier, or he just can’t match Slug’s.

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“Hey Goku, what do you think of my smile? That Eternal Dragon sure did a good job of restoring my grill.”

As Slug prepares to squish Goku like a bug, Piccolo pops in to grab Slug’s antennae. Echoing something Goku said to Raditz about Saiyan tails, Piccolo suggests grabbing a Namek by the antennae is especially painful. If so, it doesn’t appear to bother Slug a whole lot as he tosses Goku aside and grabs Piccolo instead. Piccolo then does an odd thing – he rips off his own ears. He calls out to Gohan to do his whistling from earlier. Gohan, still laying on the ground half-dead, hears Piccolo and does as he’s told. Slug’s gigantic, Super Namekian ears pick-up on the noise and he starts freaking out much like Piccolo did earlier. He drops Piccolo, who then transfers his energy to Goku, so he can finish the job. Just as he did as a boy to King Piccolo, Goku launches himself directly into Slug’s chest and then through it. Slug isn’t dead just yet though, as Goku flies into the sky to prepare a Spirit Bomb to destroy Slug’s ship, the Super Namek grabs him by the foot forcing Goku to instead use the bomb on him. No harm, no foul though as the bomb is able to take out both Slug and his horrible ship and the Earth is safe once again. The movie ends on a joke, as others have before it, only this one is pretty bad. I won’t spoil it for you if you haven’t seen it though.

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Piccolo at least gets to play more prominent role in this one.

It would seem the consensus on the internet is actually right about this one, at least as it compares with the first three Dragon Ball Z films. Lord Slug is indeed the worst of the three. Alien invaders seeking to freeze the entire planet to use as some sort of vessel is pretty bizarre. Maybe if Toei could have come up with a valid reason for why this was necessary it could have worked, but instead they just let it hang in the air. Worse is the rather lazy writing. Goku and Krillin get taken out by Slug’s ship, but they’re out of action for way too long. At the same time, it takes Slug no time at all to amass the Dragon Balls. Way too much happens between Goku getting knocked out and returning to battle. Furthermore, the Super Saiyan transformation isn’t discussed as a possibility though-out the picture, so when Goku “transforms” it’s not earned. Instead, he just goes from getting pummeled to suddenly dominating.

The one-sided fights are too frequent in Lord Slug. There are basically no even matches. Either a hero is over-powered or a villain is, and there’s a seesaw effect at play. It makes for boring action sequences. I don’t mind seeing a couple instances of this, but it usually leads to a fight where both competitors are on relatively equal footing, at least it has in prior films so far. As a result, Lord Slug has some of the weakest action sequences so far, and worst of all it also doesn’t look so great in places. In particular, when powered-up Goku goes on the attack the effects look awful. Buildings look like they’re made of cardboard and the debris is all floaty. Even the big attacks aren’t particularly interesting looking, though I did appreciate the nod to Dragon Ball with Goku’s super headbutt attack.

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The movie isn’t the best, but I don’t lay that on the massive shoulders of Lord Slug himself.

As a villain, Lord Slug doesn’t bother me much. He has a solid design, and the slow reveal that he’s a Namekian is kind of fun, though if you were paying attention you probably would have noticed the signs. He wears a helmet throughout the film leading up to the reveal, which is why it isn’t obvious. The whole Super Namekian is kind of cheesy sounding, but I like the little built-in lore, even if I find the King Kai narration bits intrusive. The whole high-pitched sound weakness thing though is pretty stupid. I guess it’s better than having Slug get dispatched in the same manner as so many other villains, but if Namekians really had such a weakness wouldn’t it show up more often?

Lord Slug was under-served by the movie that bares his name (in English anyway). It’s the first, and likely not the last, Dragon Ball Z film that really feels half-assed. Lord Slug is an interesting villain, and it wouldn’t have bothered me to see the other Super Nameks come into play in a future film, though it never happened. They probably would have used that silly whistle thing to topple them anyway, so maybe it’s good this is the last Super Namek we see. Lord Slug is a movie of recycled bits and half measures, it’s entirely forgettable. Is it actually bad though? I suppose it’s like a bad episode of the show – it’s not particularly memorable, and doesn’t have a signature dazzling moment, but it doesn’t feel like a total waste of time. You just likely won’t feel like watching it again for a long time, if ever.


Dragon Ball Z: The Tree of Might

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

Original Release Date:  July 7, 1990

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

Directed by:  Daisuke Nishio

Screenplay by:  Takao Koyama

Running time:  65 minutes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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That’s a big tree.

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

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Damn kids.

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

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

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

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Pausing for a snack break.

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

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

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

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Z Warriors – Assemble!

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

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That Goku, always ruining his shirts.

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


Dragon Ball Z: The World’s Strongest

t89266p8t02Japanese Title:  The Strongest Guy in the World

Original Release Date:  March 10, 1990

English Release:  May 26, 1998 (Pioneer/Ocean Productions), November 14, 2006 (Funimation)

Directed by:  Daisuke Nishio

Screenplay by:  Takao Koyama

Running time:  58 minutes

In some ways, The World’s Strongest is perhaps the most unique of the 13 original Dragon Ball Z movies. It has a very sci-fi feel to it with some obvious design nods to classic tropes of the genre like 2001:  A Space Odyssey which gives the villains of the picture a very Dragon Ball feel to them. Think Red Ribbon Army era of Dragon Ball. It’s still also very much a DBZ film in how it’s setup and progresses. Released after the Saiyan Saga had just concluded on Japanese television (after episode 39, before episode 40), it contains a Goku who has been powered-up by King Kai and a battle-tested Gohan while Piccolo has also been softened and isn’t out to kill Goku any longer (though they’re still not exactly chummy). Like Dead Zone, The World’s Strongest was originally dubbed for english speaking audiences by Pioneer/Ocean and it was shown several times on Cartoon Network. Funimation re-dubbed it in 2006 without making any changes to the actual script, but at least it sounds like the rest of the series now.

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Oolong and Gohan are on a Dragon Ball hunt when our movie begins.

The film opens almost exactly like Dead Zone with Piccolo (Christopher Sabat) off by himself doing some training only this time we find him in an arctic climate. Meanwhile, Oolong (Brad Jackson) and Gohan (Stephanie Nadolny) are apparently somewhere nearby as they’re scaling a snowy mountain. Oolong has coerced Gohan into coming with him to find the Dragon Balls. He had been messing around with Bulma’s dragon radar back at the Kame House and noticed a bunch of the Dragon Balls had already been collected. Eying an opportunity to swipe-in and make a wish for himself (for women’s underwear, of course), he somehow convinced Gohan into tagging along to help him get the last few, but while in the arctic, Oolong is able to see that someone beat them to it via the radar.

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Piccolo vs the Saiba-I mean, Biomen.

On old man (Troy Baker) is shown summoning Shenron (Christopher Sabat), The Eternal Dragon, in the same snowy, mountainous area as the others. He wishes for Shenron to release a lab containing a Dr. Wheelo (R Bruce Elliott) to be unfrozen and made accessible once again. The dragon does as requested and vanishes in a blaze of light as the ice begins to rumble and crack. Gohan and Oolong arrive to see the dragon leave and are soon attacked by the old man’s Biomen. The little blue creatures are basically Saibamen without faces (Toei probably saw an easy way to save a few bucks) and they swarm around Gohan and Oolong. Piccolo senses the fighting nearby and swoops in to dispatch of the little creatures in short order. Gohan, who adorably refers to Piccolo as Mr. Piccolo, is delighted to see his friend, but Piccolo sternly sends the two home while he plans on investigating what’s going on. As the two leave, Piccolo is confronted by three other fighters that must be working with the old man. Piccolo is overwhelmed and we’re kept in the dark as to how the fight unfolded.

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After dispatching of the Biomen, Roshi is confronted by the old man who has a proposition for him.

Back at the Kame House, the little blue Biomen make another appearance along with the old man. They’re there for Master Roshi (Mike McFarland), who’s a bit confused but willing to fight. When the old man reveals that his minions have cornered Bulma (Tiffany Vollmer), Roshi is forced to go along with their wishes and accompanies them to the arctic. Oolong, who had already returned from his own little adventure with Gohan, saw the whole thing and feels pretty guilty. He and Gohan had agreed to not tell anyone about their unsuccessful Dragon Ball hunt, Oolong fearing retribution from Bulma for swiping her radar and Gohan fearing what his mother would do to him. Oolong now realizes that’s probably not realistic and he sets out to Goku’s house where the two come clean about what happened. Goku (Sean Schemmel) is concerned, and sets out alone to find Master Roshi and Bulma while Gohan is to be punished.

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Goku fights the big, yellow, stretchy, scrotum monster.

At the lab of Dr. Wheelo, Master Roshi is forced to fight the same Biomen that apparently defeated Piccolo. He holds his own for a short while, but eventually they’re able to overwhelm him with their superior numbers. Roshi is defeated, but not dead, while Bulma is forced to look on. She lashes out at the old man, who finally comes clean about who he is. His name is Dr. Kochin, and he and his partner Dr. Wheelo were apparently some scientists known around the globe. Dr. Wheelo especially was considered brilliant, but they did some experiments considered unethical and were forced to retreat to the remote mountainous area they currently occupy where an avalanche apparently sealed their fate some 50 years ago. Bulma, being a scientist herself, knew of them and is astounded to see they’re still alive – sort of. Dr. Kochin appears to be just really old, but Dr. Wheelo’s body was destroyed. Kochin was able to save him by preserving his brain and placing it in a machine. He can communicate via traditional speech through the machine, despite having no mouth, and it’s revealed that they seek the strongest fighter in the world to place Dr. Wheelo’s brain in creating the ultimate being. Not surprisingly, they seek world domination, because who isn’t?

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Dr. Wheelo’s existence seems pretty boring.

Unfortunately for them, their knowledge of the strongest fighters in the world is rather dated considering their 50 year exile. Bulma lets them know that Roshi has long been supplanted and spills the beans that Goku is the strongest fighter in the world. Conveniently enough, he happens to be on his way and Dr. Wheelo demonstrates that he can actually sense the approaching fighter. He quickly realizes that Goku possesses the body that he wants.

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Goku has some new moves to show-off in this one.

Goku finds the massive laboratory deep in the arctic. Even though he knew he was heading for a cold climate, Goku neglected to change out of his traditional orange gi and into something warmer. As he is confronted by a bulbous yellow Bioman, he finds it difficult to power-up due to the extreme cold. He flees into the lab, where he then takes on the monster who has a really stretchy exterior. Impervious to pain, Goku is forced to use his Kaio-Ken technique to blast right through him, similar to how he dispatched of King Piccolo. He heads into the next area, giving this progression a real video game feel, to take on the next foe. There’s a rather stylized and humorous confrontation that makes it seem like the battle will be brief, but Kochin’s bio-monsters apparently can take a beating. The remaining two gang up on Goku. One possesses a Superman like frost breath attack while the other, a demonic looking fellow with arms protruding wires, has an electric attack.

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Crap, looks like Piccolo is evil again.

When it seems like Goku might have a problem on his hands, the cavalry arrives. Gohan, who was actually shone leaving his home via airplane in defiance of his mother, arrives with Krillin (Sonny Strait) to help out. They’re able to take out the remaining bio-monsters only to find out that Dr. Kochin has a surprise in store for them – a mind-controlled Piccolo! We get a taste of the fight we were denied in Dead Zone as Goku and Piccolo duke it out. Gohan is really bothered to see his father and his mentor fighting each other and turns his attention to the brain in the wall. He has his meltdown moment, as he often does during this era of DBZ, and the force is enough to free Piccolo of the mind control device on his head and convince Dr. Wheelo that he needs to take care of things himself.

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Dr. Wheelo’s surprise.

By now, Dr. Kochin has revealed he’s in fact a cyborg of some kind by transforming his arm into a canon to attack the heroes. Dr. Wheelo also reveals that his brain isn’t just fixed in some wall-mounted container, but actually part of a giant mech that emerges from the wall. Master Roshi, Goku, and Krillin combine to do a triple Kamehameha attack but it’s not enough. Dr. Wheelo is quite powerful, and it quickly becomes apparent it will take everything our heroes have to take him out.

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Well isn’t this cute.

The battle starts off as a collective effort, but it becomes a Goku vs. Dr. Wheelo battle soon enough. It becomes apparent to Goku that he’s going to need to use his newest technique, The Spirit Bomb, if he wants to defeat Dr. Wheelo for good. The Spirit Bomb makes its film debut, and it will become kind of a trope in subsequent films, but at least here it’s new and fresh. Forming the attack takes time, so the others have to help out if Goku is going to be successful with his attack. It’s a pretty spectacular battle that takes place in the earth’s atmosphere, with lots of effects and attacks with few false finishes, as those can get annoying. The film will actually end, after all is said and done with the enemies of the film, on a joke that actually lands. It’s at Master Roshi’s expense, and he’s always easy to craft jokes for. The film is a tidy 58 minutes, a great deal longer than Dead Zone and it makes good use of it.

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As is often the case, it all comes down to Goku vs the big bad guy in the end.

Dr. Wheelo and Dr. Kochin are an interesting pair. They’re very different from the usual villains in design since they’re not super-powered beings. Instead their essentially androids, or cyborgs if you want to get technical, though they’re not really anything like the other androids from the show. Dr. Wheelo has a real Metal Gear vibe to him, and it’s just kind of cool seeing Goku and company battle a giant metal monstrosity like him. They’re so different though that it does make them feel less credible because it feels like Goku should be able to rip through a metal body. Ignoring that, it does end up being a satisfying confrontation, but I would understand if some don’t really care for Dr. Wheelo and Kochin.

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One of my favorite smaller moments from the film is this bit where Krillin runs along a wall to avoid getting whacked.

Aside from the “main event,” the other action bits throughout the feature are actually really fun. There seems to be a bit more money behind The World’s Strongest than Dead Zone and it shows in the fights. The icey landscape also looks great, and while the enemy designs aren’t as fun as Dead Zone, they’re still satisfying and at least each enemy has something unique to them that works in animation. I like that Goku has the King Kai insignia on his back and that Gohan is in his Piccolo attire as well and we even got to see Oolong, who I’ve always enjoyed. Some of the big moments from the concluding battle are a bit derivative of Goku’s battle with Vegeta, but it was probably a neat novelty to see it played out in a movie theater as opposed to a television set back in 1990.

So far, the Dragon Ball Z films are demonstrating a nice progression. Dead Zone was perfectly fine, but I do feel that The World’s Strongest is the better film. It’s longer, but well-paced, with some great action bits and a nice setting. I like the setup of a dormant, out of touch villain seeking out Master Roshi thinking he’s the strongest fighter in the world. The sort-of Dragon Ball feel the film possesses definitely appeals to me, though I bet the average Dragon Ball Z fan probably is a little down on the villains presented here. The formula for these films is also still young here, and eventually our characters are going to get quite super-powered and things will feel less fresh. I kind of wish we had more movies set before the Frieza Saga, but it’s also been about 20 years since I’ve seen these things so I’m curious to see how my opinions change as I re-watch all of these. For now, The World’s Strongest is the best of the Dragon Ball Z movies, but I suspect that will change.


Dragon Ball Z: Dead Zone

DBZmovie1_JapanJapanese Title:  Return My Gohan!!

Original Release Date:  July 15, 1989

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

Directed by:  Daisuke Nishio

Screenplay by:  Takao Koyama

Running Time:  42 minutes

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

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

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

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


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

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Garlic Jr.’s somewhat effective henchmen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Kami is not match for Garlic Jr.

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

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

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

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

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


Dragon Ball Z Movie Mondays!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Dragon Ball Z – Resurrection ‘F’

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Resurrection ‘F’ (2015)

Dragon Ball Super still feels very much like a new series to me, which is kind of funny since it just concluded with episode #131. Although it may have just ended (and production company Toei Animation has suggested it’s likely to continue), I’m currently about 80 episodes behind since I’ve been watching it on Cartoon Network’s Toonami block which just aired episode #59. It’s been really interesting seeing the franchise resurrected, no pun intended, after being seemingly relegated to video games for the foreseeable future. Maybe it was getting older, maybe there were just new stories to tell, but something compelled series creator Akira Toriyama to return to the franchise that made him famous around the world. And wouldn’t you know? The fans have been there and willing to re-embrace this franchise. It’s been something to behold as I personally never saw it coming after Dragon Ball GT was so poorly received, but here we are.

Battle of Gods was the film that got the ball rolling on this new era of Dragon Ball. It brought the old gang back together and introduced some new characters in Beerus, the God of Destruction, and his attendant Whis. It was a mostly fun little film that managed to rise above the Toei Dragon Ball Z films that were largely generic filler. It certainly helped that Toriyama wrote the picture, but it also really helped that it was both canon and it is basically a replacement for the unimpressive GT. Still, some fans were left feeling a bit underwhelmed. The movie was heavy on personality and humor and light on DBZ’s trademarked action. It may have also disappointed fans to see their hero, Goku, actually fail in his bid to top the God of Destruction giving the film a very different feel from the usual fair. I was actually pretty receptive to the film. While I could see the obvious faults and the age-old formula at play (minus the little twist ending) I found it very charming and really enjoyed the introduction of both Beerus and Whis.

Battle of Gods was a fairly simple reintroduction for the Dragon Ball franchise, enough so that it was adapted as the first arc of Dragon Ball Super (along with the movie I swear this post is about), but it was light on fan service. In to make up for that is 2015’s Resurrection ‘F,’ and make no mistake, the ‘F’ is for Frieza.

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Pilaf always has to be starting trouble.

Frieza was the big baddie of DBZ’s second major story arc. In some ways, he was the ultimate villain of DBZ as he was responsible for the death of Goku’s father and his home world, though to Goku neither was a huge loss. Frieza was also the catalyst for Goku’s transformation into a Super Saiyan, the blond-haired ultra-powerful version of the character that’s almost now more famous than the old black-haired spiked version. He was an incredibly detestable villain, a ruthless tyrant willing to kill anyone who stood in his way – including children. He casually ended the lives of many of Planet Namek’s inhabitants as well as both Krillen and Vegeta, just when the audience was warming up to the Saiyan Prince.

Toriyama apparently felt there was more to do with old Frieza, even though the protagonists of Dragon Ball Z have long since surpassed the villain’s strength. Frieza barely survived his battle with Goku, needing to be partially rebuilt using cybernetics, and briefly returned to battle only to meet his end at the hands of a debuting new character – Trunks. Ever since then he’s been dead, confined to Hell which is where our story begins. What looks like the setting of a preschool show is actually Frieza’s own personal torment. Teddy bears and bunnies happily prance about playing happy songs in a pastel paradise where the once mighty Frieza (Chris Ayres) dangles from a tree like a pupa. He’s obviously agitated and the implication is this has been going on ever since the tyrant’s demise many years ago.

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He’s back! Technically again, since Cyborg Frieza was his first surprising return.

In deep space, the remnants of the Frieza Force, lead by the diminutive Sorbet (Jeremy Schwartz), are struggling to maintain control over Frieza’s once vast empire. Sorbet has decided they can no longer continue without their lord, and having failed to locate the new Planet Namek, he decides that he and a small force need to head to Earth and find the Dragon Balls there to revive Frieza. He’s done his homework and knows that the fighters of Earth are capable of detecting power levels without a scouter and thus the decision to only bring along one attendant is made. Aiding him in his mission is that fact that both Goku and Vegeta have journeyed to the home world of Beerus to be trained by Whis while the other earthlings are too busy with their own day-to-day lives to notice Sorbet’s presence.

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Goku and Vegeta have been spending their time training with Whis, apparently ignoring their families back home.

Using the aid of an old enemy, Pilaf, Sorbet is able to locate the Dragon Balls and make his wish. Unfortunately for Frieza, since Trunks decimated his body the dragon can do little except restore life to a pile of flesh and cybernetics. Sorbet indicates they have the technology to heal Frieza, even from this state, without the need for cybernetics. Pilaf’s underling, the canine-like Shou, uses the second wish to acquire a million Zeni and Sorbet, along with the remnants of Frieza, take their leave.

In space, Frieza is healed and quickly decides his first order of business is revenge. When some of his followers politely suggest that this may be unwise, considering that Goku has since defeated Majin Buu who even Frieza feared in his old life, he lashes out killing some and making his point clear. For the first time in his life, Frieza decides to train and work hard to make himself stronger, which is how Toriyama is going to convince the audience that Frieza could perhaps go toe-to-toe with the current version of Goku. Apparently Frieza’s power before was just natural talent. He was never tested or forced to work and was able to effortlessly take whatever he wanted. He concludes four months should be enough, and thankfully, we’re in for a time jump.

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Making the leap from manga to anime is Jaco, and his impressive artist’s rendering of Frieza.

On earth, the Galactic Patrolman Jaco (Todd Haberkorn) makes his series debut when he arrives on Earth to warn Bulma (Monica Rial) that Frieza was alive and coming for Goku. Bulma is only slightly concerned, but there is the issue of Goku being too far away to get ahold of easily. She explains to Jaco that Whis can be lured to Earth with tantalizing sweets, and Jaco doubts that Beerus and Whis even exist assuming the God of Destruction is the stuff of fairy tales. Still, Bulma is only slightly annoyed when Whis fails to notice the strawberry sundae she’s waving at the sky, but then becomes a bit concerned when Jaco informs her that Frieza will be there within the hour. Well, that changes things a bit!

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Some old friends are going to have to get their hands dirty while they wait for Goku and Vegeta to arrive. Nothing really changes.

Krillen (Sonny Strait), introduced doing some cop stuff, along with the other fighters assemble. Krillen even has his wife 18 (Meredith McCoy) shave his head so he can capture that classic Krillen look before he heads out to take on Frieza. 18 correctly reminds him that she’s stronger than he and should go, but he thinks it’s more important she stay behind to take care of their daughter and she puts forth no argument. She remarks that he’s so cool as he flies away, which is the most affection we’ve ever seen her show up to this point (that I can recall, anyway).

In the outer reaches of space, Goku (Sean Schemmel) and Vegeta (Christopher R. Sabat) are sparring with their latest teacher, Whis (Ian Sinclair). Unable to land even a single blow, Whis explains to the two their weaknesses. In his estimation, Vegeta is always one step behind Goku because of the rather large chip on his shoulder. Meanwhile, Goku is too arrogant and lets his guard down too easily, which Whis demonstrates with a sucker punch. Their training awakens Beerus, who nearly annihilates them all with a simple sneeze. Whis warns the Saiyans to be careful around him for Beerus once accidentally destroyed the sun their planet orbits around. Goku is pretty shocked to hear that and assumes they have the power to give birth to the very stars, but Whis corrects him by explaining he can actually rewind time by a few minutes and was able to undo Beerus’s mistake. Beerus is still agitated about being woken up from his slumber, but Whis cures his angst with some pizza he acquired on Earth. If you didn’t see Battle of Gods, the gimmick, if you will, of Beerus and Whis is their fascination with Earth cuisine. They love experiencing new dishes and could best be described as foodies. It’s also why Beerus decided to spare the Earth from destruction.

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Goku’s got a new look to debut.

With Goku and Vegeta occupied, the other fighters of Earth are forced to confront Frieza and his army of 1,000 men when they show up. Leading the charge is Gohan (Kyle Hebert) along with Krillen, Piccolo (Chris Sabat), Tien (John Burgmeier), and Master Roshi (Mike McFarland). Two notable absentees are Trunks and Goten, and it’s explained that Bulma didn’t want them to know about Frieza to keep them safe. Frieza’s army offers little resistance when it engages the fighters, which is fine because it’s a way for the film to shine a light on some of these forgotten characters. It’s been a long time since Master Roshi, in particular, got to mix it up and do some damage and it’s definitely a whole bunch of fan service. When they’re out of the way, it’s down to Frieza who quickly puts Gohan on his back. Since this is a film, we don’t have time to mess around and Goku and Vegeta quickly show up to challenge the old tyrant.

Frieza is delighted to see Goku and immediately goes to his final form. Goku does a lot of posturing while Vegeta angrily waits his turn. After some warming up, the two decide there’s no point in holding back. Goku unveils his new form, Super Saiyan God Super Saiayan. That mouthful of a form will eventually be simplified as Super Saiyan Blue as it’s basically just Super Saiyan but with blue hair instead of yellow. Of course, in terms of power it’s well beyond even Super Saiyan 3. Not to be outdone, Frieza unveils a new golden form that appears to be roughly equal with Goku’s new form. The two trade blows until Goku boasts about discovering Frieza’s weakness. When he starts to take control of the fight, Frieza resorts to some dastardly tricks and interference like a classic wrestling heel, forcing Vegeta to enter the fray. Frieza, holding out some hope that Vegeta will return to him and kill Goku, is shocked when Vegeta turns down his offer to be his Supreme Commander and he too transforms into this blue-haired form for a final showdown.

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Frieza’s new form is quite statuesque.

As a plot, it’s simple and fast-moving though the picture still ends up around 90 minutes. It doesn’t drag at all, unlike the Dragon Ball Super version of this arc which stretches it out over the course of 13 episodes. It’s packed with fan-service as a pretty sizable portion of the plot is devoted to the Goku/Vegeta rivalry and how the two view it and each other. It firmly confronts and establishes how those two coexist and view each other, and it’s kind of sweet to see it confronted openly. It’s also a source for a lot of humor and having both Beerus and Whis around adds to that. The film also teases a team-up between the two proud warriors, with both of the god-like characters remarking the two Saiyans would be unstoppable if they worked together.

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For once, Vegeta and Goku have reached a new level of power together making the two as close to equals as they’ve ever been.

Resurrection ‘F’ is also the best Dragon Ball Z has ever looked. There’s still some of that CG junk that marred Battle of Gods, but it’s relied upon sparingly here. The opening, featuring an underwater scene, is kind of ugly, but thankfully not a harbinger of things to come. The colors all pop and are richly vibrant. There are no obvious animation shortcuts and some genuinely nice uses of CG like a battle among some colossal trees that invokes images of Endor, only the speeder bikes have been replaced by supersonic warriors. The film also slightly upends the old formula of the other DBZ movies which often featured Goku having to clean-up after Vegeta was defeated. It’s a small change, but welcomed.

The score for the picture is also quite well done. It feels very much like a DBZ score, but with a modern touch. There’s some contributions from two noted Japanese bands, Momoiro Clover Z and Maximum the Hormone, the latter of which served as the inspiration for the plot as Toriyama was a fan of their song “F,” which was all about the villain, Frieza. It’s good stuff, and the English voice cast is pretty great as well. Voicing Frieza is Chris Ayres, who took over voicing duties for the character when Funimation went back and re-dubbed the series for Dragon Ball Z Kai. His Frieza is stupendous, and he does an especially great job of screaming as the character. And I continue to be a huge fan of both Whis and Beerus, even though their obsession with food will start to feel repetitive come Dragon Ball Super, but here it’s still funny.

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Oh, and this is apparently what Hell looks like.

Battle of Gods was the return to Dragon Ball Z I never knew I wanted. Resurrection ‘F’ manages to top it, even if it sounds kind of stupid on the surface. Somehow the film is able to make Frieza a compelling threat so many years after his defeat and I didn’t realize how much I appreciated him as a villain until I revisited him. It’s also nice that he’s just confined to this movie, as opposed to a massive arc where a single confrontation is spread over 30 episodes or whatever the old fight encompassed. And since I had already seen this plot covered in Dragon Ball Super, it was interesting to see what changed when they stretched it out over more than a dozen episodes. Super did deal with one long lingering pothole that the film does not touch, the frog version of Captain Ginyu, but other than that it doesn’t add anything important and really just contains a lot of subpar filler. That’s Dragon Ball though, you kind of have to both love it and hate it at the same time. At least here, for a brisk 94 minutes, you’re able to mostly just love it.


Dragon Ball – Season 5

images-237What?! I’m actually finishing my look back at the entire series of Dragon Ball AND two entries are being made within a week of one another?! If you’re just stumbling upon this, I started looking back at Dragon Ball back in 2011 and it’s taken me until 2018 to finish it. Not because I needed all of that time to watch the show or go into exhaustive detail, I just plain didn’t do it. Now it’s done though, and we’re upon the final volume as released by FUNimation on DVD, which they chose to refer to as Season 5.

When we left off with Season 4, King Piccolo had just been defeated by the plucky young Goku in sort of gruesome, yet satisfying, fashion. Just before Piccolo truly died though he was able to spit an egg halfway across the world. Referring to it as his son as it traveled through the air, he encouraged it to continue his work and above all, seek revenge for his death. The whole scene was unnoticed by Goku, Tien, and Yajirobe who all were there to witness Goku’s triumph. Goku was beaten up pretty badly though and was in need of some immediate attention so Yajirobe scooped him up and tossed him in his hover car presumably to take to Korin. Meanwhile, Yamcha and Bulma were arriving on the scene with their other friends in tow and were prepared to render aid to Tien, who also took a pretty good beating during the confrontation with Piccolo.

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Season 5 marks the debut of Kami, who will play an important role in the episodes (and series) to come.

The first several episodes continue to deal with the fall-out. Goku, needing to revive the Eternal Dragon in order to restore his friends to life, journeys to the tallest point of the world, beyond even Korin’s tower, to the lookout. There he meets Mr. Popo, the djinn-like attendant up there. Poor Mr. Popo would later be viewed by network broadcasters as a racial stereotype when Dragon Ball Z Kai started airing in the US and be re-colored a garish neon blue. Here he is presented in his traditional black with red lips. Honestly, I see a genie when I look at him so I don’t really know what Toriyama was going for, but if you see him as racist that’s your right too. Anyways, Goku has to prove himself before Popo in order to meet the guardian of the earth, Kami. When he does he’s stunned to see that Kami looks just like the elder version of Piccolo!

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Mr. Popo’s appearance was deemed controversial enough to edit when airing on the CW as part of Dragon Ball Z Kai.

Again, this is another moment in the series spoiled by the popularity of DBZ. Having seen that series, I know all about Kami and how he and Piccolo used to be one person. Kami, needing to prove himself worthy of being the earth’s guardian, purged himself of any and all malice. That lead to the creation of Piccolo, a collection of every bad aspect of Kami’s personality. Kami is also aware of the existence of Piccolo Jr., and rather than commit infanticide, wants Goku to train with him to face that challenge someday. In exchange for reviving the dragon, Goku agrees to train with Kami for 3 years (apparently, Kami’s race grows up fast). For Goku, the length of the commitment seems daunting, but he’s always eager to get stronger and training under Kami is viewed as a worthwhile opportunity.

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Yeah, this is going to happen.

The next half-dozen episodes or so comprise Goku’s training. He’ll enter the Spirit Room, do some fishing, and even journey back in time. Meanwhile, Tien, Yamcha, and the newly resurrected Krillin and Chiaotzu seek out Master Korin to take part in some of the training that worked out so well for Goku. These episodes seek, in some respect, to go back to the more whimsical tone of the show. Even though the main characters are largely training, they end up going on small adventures with fairly low stakes. There’s an emphasis on comedy, particularly with Goku’s time-traveling, but they do suffer from the usual training fatigue this series and the ones to come fall victim to.

At episode 133, we get a three year time jump. This was likely done to accomplish two things:  gloss over Goku’s training with Kami and age-up Piccolo Jr. This leaves us at the latest edition of The World Martial Arts Tournament which will not only showcase the world’s finest but also serve as a reunion for the majority of our cast. The reunion doesn’t just cover the usual gang, but even reaches back to older acquaintances and even some we never saw play out, like Tien and the brutal Mercenary Tao. This is also a re-debut for many of our children characters who now find themselves aged-up into young adulthood. It’s fun to see how the characters, who apparently haven’t seen much or any of each other over the years, react to seeing one another again, but it’s also a little sad for us the viewer as it means we’ve now said goodbye to kid Goku. I’m going to miss that sweet little boy.

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Piccolo Jr as a bit of an evil look to him that will soften in DBZ.

In his place, naturally, is adult Goku. I must say, it’s pretty cool for a manga and now an anime series to do something as permanent as age-up its child protagonist into an adult. It’s pretty risky, since there’s a chance the young audience that comprises the fanbase will no longer identify with Goku. And there’s also the risk that they just won’t want to see Goku as an adult and prefer he remain a boy. From the creator’s perspective, Toriyama must have felt there was nothing left for a young Goku to accomplish. After all, having adults underestimate a child over and over again gets old and his last major act as a kid was basically saving the world. It’s hard to accomplish something bigger than that. Goku, as a child, even had to deal with trauma in the form of watching his friends and mentor die as well as face the burden of taking a life himself. That’s a pretty full childhood.

Thankfully, as an adult Goku hasn’t lost what made him so endearing as a boy, only his tail (so the moon could come back). He’s still kind-hearted and trusting to a fault and pretty ignorant of the world around him. Age has brought him little wisdom, and he still approaches every challenge with the same youthful eagerness and excitement he always has. Meanwhile, Krillin has grown into a more well-rounded individual who is less devious and less assure of himself, without actually growing much physically. He was over-confident as a boy at times, but now has a more realistic outlook, though we’re still a long way from him being totally outclassed by his peers so this is a Krillin who still feels like he can hang with anyone in a fight. Also re-debuting, is Chi-Chi, who we haven’t seen in quite some time. Chi-Chi, daughter of the Ox King, took a liking to Goku once upon a time and he even agreed to marry her one day. Chi-Chi apparently has not forgotten that promise.

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Tao is back, and he’s had some enhancements.

And then there’s Junior. Piccolo Junior, that is, makes his presence known by also entering the contest. He’s not so much there to win as he is to defeat, and then kill, Goku to avenge the death of his “father.” Piccolo Jr. is more of a clone than a true son, from what I gather, though we’ll learn way, way, down the road that he’s part of a race that actually reproduces asexually so maybe it’s a bit murkier than that. Whatever he is, he knows all about the encounter between his father and Goku even though he wasn’t there and had no one to raise him. He mostly looks like his father, though he’s a bit more slight and takes to wearing a cape and turban with giant shoulder pads. He’s convincingly evil, like his dear old dad, which is a far-cry from where he’ll be when DBZ picks up.

The tournament is going to take around 15 episodes to complete, making a pretty long competition. Like most of the tournaments featured in this show, the final match-up feels pre-ordained which does suck some of the suspense out of it all. To add some spice, there’s the new and improved Mercenary Tao who’s now part machine after being nearly killed by Goku in Season 3. He gets put on a collision course with Tien, who apparently doesn’t have fond memories of the brute dating back to his time with Tao’s brother, Master Shen, who would spar with Tien. Tien and Goku also need to have a rematch following Goku’s defeat the last time the two met in competition, and a mysterious fighter named Hero enters the tournament and his identity is in question, until it’s not.

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The eventual confrontation between Goku and Piccolo is a pretty satisfying battle.

Of course, the two fighters destine to meet in the finals are none other than Goku and Piccolo Jr. It may not come as a surprise, but it wouldn’t make sense for it to be any other pairing. For Piccolo, it’s an opportunity to not only best Goku in a fight, but to also embarrass him in front of a large audience. For Goku, this is his third trip to the finals of this tournament and a chance to finally win one having fallen to Master Roshi (disguised as Jackie Chun) and Tien previously. Their battle will encompass parts of six episodes, which feels like a make-up for the relatively brief battle between Goku and King Piccolo. To heighten the stakes, Piccolo essentially promises to destroy the world after he finishes off Goku. Goku likely can’t just settle for winning this match as a ring-out or some other technicality likely won’t prevent Piccolo from going on a rampage. He needs to beat him down and make sure he can’t accomplish his goal of total annihilation for earth.

This fight is essentially the grand finale for Dragon Ball. It’s going to rely on some old staples of past fights while also attempting to up the stakes as high as possible. Think huge energy attacks and a literal huge adversary when Piccolo demonstrates his growing abilities. When all is said and done, the show feels almost as if it’s been creatively exhausted. The fighters are so beyond what they were when this show started and it feels impossible to ponder where they go from here. Of course, Toriyama and TOEI weren’t quite there yet as DBZ will prove there’s still something left in the tank, but for now, this conclusion feels complete.

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Goku and Chi-Chi are going to need some time to get reacquainted with each other.

It doesn’t end there though. The last five episodes detail Goku and Chi-Chi’s quest for marriage. They have to embark on some minor adventures for a dress and other wedding planning activities that try to recapture a bit of that old Dragon Ball magic, but sadly come up short. That’s not to say these episodes are bad, but they lack some of the whimsy of the old ones and feel like padding to draw out the season. I’m not really sure why anyone felt the show needed to be 153 episodes instead of 150, but it is what it is. In the end, Goku and Chi-Chi are married and they display as little chemistry together here as they will in DBZ. I’ve always been some-what dissatisfied with their pairing as Goku is almost too child-like to imagine getting married, let alone procreating eventually. Chi-Chi at least gets to be an interesting character, albeit briefly, before becoming a nagging shrew in DBZ. She’ll rarely be in the wrong from here on out, but she’ll often be made to feel like an adversary of sorts for Goku. That’s sort of a problem with the series as a whole though, as the women often feel more like stereotypes than anything.

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In a bit of a surprise, the series ends with a wedding.

Dragon Ball has a some-what muted end, but in a way it’s also satisfying. The World Martial Arts Tournament is a chance for Goku to shine for a final time doing what he does best:  fighting. There’s also a nice send-off for him that hints at a more stable life by having him marry Chi-Chi. The reunion feel of the tournament also allows for basically every one of the secondary characters to have some screen time to not only see what they’re up to, but say goodbye. Of course, the manga continued on after this while the anime would be rebranded as Dragon Ball Z and run for over 200 episodes by itself. I personally like that the two anime properties are separated, albeit slightly, in their naming as Dragon Ball has always had a very different feel than Dragon Ball Z. It’s the more charming of the two and the series more concerned with character creation. Watched separately, Dragon Ball Z lacks that, but it’s largely due to the characters being established by this series, although that’s no excuse for the cookie-cutter villains added in DBZ. In light of that, I suppose it goes without saying that I view Dragon Ball more favorably than I do Dragon Ball Z, even though DBZ is the series I consumed first. Dragon Ball just holds up better on repeated viewings as its humorous tone and smaller stakes are easier to digest rather than every fight being a battle to save the universe. This final volume of episodes is definitely not the best, and in some ways just feels like a lot of fan service, but it is at least fan service done well as if you’ve been along for the ride you’ll likely find yourself smiling a lot while watching these final episodes. It probably wouldn’t make sense to view it without having seen the previous 122 episodes, but for those who have it would make even less sense to skip this final batch of 31. All in all, a satisfying conclusion to a wonderful series.

If you’re looking to enjoy Dragon Ball on your own, your options are unfortunately rather limited. Aside from streaming options, you basically only have the five season sets put out by FUNimation. Even in Japan, the series was only released as a made-to-order set as even there DBZ is more popular than Dragon Ball. The FUNimation sets are limited to strictly DVD and no Blu Ray release is currently planned. The sets themselves are solid, if unspectacular. The transfer is about as good as you would expect of a television program from the 1980s. FUNimation wisely left the aspect ratio alone, having faced some backlash for messing with it for its DBZ box sets. The original audio is also preserved and available. FUNimation obviously re-dubbed the character voices and narration but left the music alone. Dragon Ball benefitted greatly from being dubbed by FUNimation long after it started doing in-house dubs. Their initial dubs were pretty terrible, including Dragon Ball Z, but the Dragon Ball one is pretty fantastic. There’s no “warm-up” period for the actors as they all feel comfortable with their characters from the get-go. If you prefer to hear the characters and understand them as opposed to reading, then you’ll probably be happy with the dub. The sets are short on any sort of worthwhile bonus material, but they at least contain the essentials. These sets were once really cheap, which is how I got them, but now that they’re out of print they aren’t as friendly on the wallet but still reasonable ranging from $20 to $30 per set. I think it’s worth it, and if you’re into anime Dragon Ball almost feels like required viewing. If you’re a fan of Dragon Ball Z or Dragon Ball Super and tend to like them for their large scale confrontations then maybe Dragon Ball isn’t for you, but I think it’s worth giving a try. On the other hand, if your favorite episodes of Dragon Ball Z are the early, pre-Frieza episodes then you’ll probably love Dragon Ball. If you do end up checking it out I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.


Dragon Ball: Season 4

dragon_ball_season_4_600x600_itunes_artwork_by_eddie09-d58sdkjIt sure is taking me a long time to post about the “seasons” of Dragon Ball. I place the word seasons in quotations because these aren’t actual seasons of television, but just how FUNimation chose to label them when releasing the show on DVD. As a result, Season 4 starts during the World Martial Arts Tournament as opposed to before it or at its conclusion, which is a pretty poor way to start a season (though it’s a better start for Season 4 than an ending for Season 3 which was quite abrupt). Thankfully, Season 4 will end at a better spot setting up for the fifth and final volume of Dragon Ball episodes.

Season 4 has a different feel than its predecessor. While Goku has dealt with loss before and even experienced a desire for vengeance, he’ll be pushed towards a darker path even more so in this volume, but first the tournament. When we left off, Goku and his friends were participating in yet another World Martial Arts Tournament with the plot very clearly setting up a showdown between Goku and his latest rival:  Tien Shinhan. Tien is a student of Master Crane, who is also the older brother of Mercenary Tao, who Goku dispatched in Season 3. As a result, Crane wants to see his brother avenged and is relying on his pupil to do so. In order for the two to meet though, they need to win their respective matches to meet in the finals.

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Some unfinished business from Season 3.

The first 9 episodes deal with the tournament, and throughout it both Goku and Tien will be tested. By its conclusion, they’ll gain a new understanding of each other and Master Roshi will gain some new students, but he’ll also lose one. Setting up what is the main arc of the season is a murder and one that will have a lasting impact on Goku. If you want zero spoilers, then skip ahead, but the murder of Goku’s best friend and one-time rival Krillen is perhaps the darkest moment in Dragon Ball history. Perhaps the only comparable moment is the death of Dende in Dragon Ball Z at the hands of Freeza. Krillen is still basically a child when he’s murdered in Dragon Ball. It happens off-screen, but when Krillen is taking an especially long time in returning to their group’s celebratory dinner Goku runs back to the training ground to retrieve him only to find his lifeless body. It’s an affecting scene to behold as the image is held for an uncomfortably long time. This moment moves Goku to tears, naturally, but it also gives rise to an anger inside of him that is also uncomfortable to see. Up until now, Goku has been our happy-go-lucky protagonist. He’s dealt with loss mostly with sadness and to some degree a lack of comprehension. He’s learned empathy over time, he’s bore witness to how unjust the world can be, and he’s fully equipped now to experience a wide range of emotions at the sight of his best friend’s corpse.

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He doesn’t look THAT scary.

This sets the stage for the evil King Piccolo to enter our story. Piccolo is an ancient evil that not even Master Roshi could handle. He’s often referred to as a demon, and it took a technique from Roshi’s master Mutaito that cost him his life to seal him away previously:  The Evil Containment Wave. Roshi naturally preaches caution to his young pupil, but Goku is too headstrong and determined to avenge his fallen friend. He will pay for his impatience, as Piccolo isn’t alone. Since he’s rather old and feeble looking, Piccolo has surrounded himself with some powerful adversaries. They’re all named after musical instruments just like their master, and all have a sort of reptilian or demonic appearance:  Piano, Cymbal, Tambourine, and Drum. In order to defeat them, Goku will need to get stronger and he’ll be forced to seek out Master Korin once again.

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King Piccolo likes his minions scaly and green.

Meanwhile, Master Roshi together with Tien and Chiaotzu, decide they’ll need the help of the Dragon Balls in order to essentially wish away the demon king. While they’re doing that, and Goku is off training, Piccolo’s minions are seeking out the strongest fighters in the world with the goal of killing them to pave the way for King Piccolo to take control over the world (he’s a rather conventional villain, in that respect). Roshi’s plan to assemble the Dragon Balls ends up backfiring and he’s unable (or unwilling) to master the Evil Containment Wave. As a result, Piccolo seizes control of the legendary artifacts and is able to restore his youth, and power. In the process he also kills the Eternal Dragon. Suddenly, death has real consequences in this world with no dragon able to restore life to those who have fallen or will fall.

With King Piccolo fully powered-up, all eyes turn to Goku. His training with Korin puts him into confrontation with the bulbous Yajirobe. Yajirobe is essentially a punch-line in DBZ, like a lot of the main characters from Dragon Ball unfortunately, but here he is not such a push-over. Still, he’s no Goku. There’s some humor to be found in Goku’s training with Korin, but it’s largely a bit of a slog as we’re more eager than usual to see Goku face-off with the evils that stand before him. Once his training is complete, he’s forced into conflict with Piccolo’s minions and eventually the demon king himself.

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If you’re a fan of Pilaf and his crew, don’t worry, they’re still hanging around.

Some drama is created in the meantime. Tien has mastered the Evil Containment Wave, and with Goku still missing in action, he’s resolved to use it as Piccolo has begun destroying the earth city by city. Using the wave against Piccolo would mean Tien’s death, so it becomes pretty important for Goku to hurry up and get there. Goku and King Piccolo are naturally destined to meet in combat, and surprisingly, their confrontation is pretty short spanning just three episodes, but as I mentioned in the lead-in it’s at least all contained on this set without bleeding over into the next. It does mean a some-what abrupt end to the season as the immediate fall-out is left for Season 5.

Dragon Ball Season 4 marks both a new story-telling device for the show, vengeance, as well as a doubling-down on the previous format. That format is essentially Goku encountering a new foe, getting beaten down, training, and then returning to face the enemy in a rematch now powered-up. It’s a formula that Dragon Ball Z will beat into the ground, but at least here it’s not quite so worn out. Still, the training moments between Goku and Korin are slow, and they’re made even more so because the story did give us an effective motivation earlier for Goku to face Piccolo. It’s both refreshing and sad to see Goku motivated by vengeance. It would be nice if Goku could remain unaffected by the evils of the world, but it’s also unrealistic for a show with such an expansive amount of episodes. Sort of forgotten is how the season begins, with Goku turning an adversary in Tien into a new ally. It’s handled well enough, with Tien’s sense of honor ultimately being the aspect of him that is won over by Goku and his friends. Of course, if you’re like me and you experienced Dragon Ball Z before Dragon Ball then you knew Tien was destined to be an ally, but it was still entertaining to watch.

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A powered-up Goku is ready to take on the king.

At this point, the show has also improved visually. It’s success likely lead to some increased production budgets by TOEI Animation so the special effects and animation are better than they’ve ever been. The aged King Piccolo is well illustrated and he’s actually a lot more interesting to look at than the youthful version. There’s a moment where he forces an egg out of his mouth to create a new minion and it’s both gross and strangely satisfying to watch the scene play out. The original soundtrack is kept, and while it’s certainly dated, it has a whimsical quality that works really well with Dragon Ball. The benefit of FUNimation dubbing the series after DBZ means these actors have had plenty of time to get a feeling for the roles and everyone sounds mostly great. They’re all familiar if you’ve watched the other dubs, and the continuity is nice and appreciated. If you prefer Japanese audio it’s there as well. The original aspect ratio is also preserved.

Season 1 is still my favorite Dragon Ball season, mostly because it’s just a lot of fun and the ignorant Goku of Season 1 is really entertaining. Season 4 might be my second favorite though. It has some filler, but not as much as Season 3, and the stakes feel high which is also an improvement over both Seasons 2 and 3 and helps to give the confrontation more weight. It’s also satisfying when taken as a whole, and though I wouldn’t recommend it, you could conceivably just jump-in at Season 4 and enjoy it without seeing the previous material. I don’t know that I would call it peak Dragon Ball, but there is a downward slide following it with Season 5 basically feeling like an encore for the show as well as a setup for what’s to come. I promise to not take over four years to get to that one.


Super Dragon Ball Z

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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