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Dragon Ball Z Movie Wrap-up – The Rankings

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

db super broly

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

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

Goten urinating

Lets kick this one off properly!

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

cooler surprised

Maybe this was a bad idea.

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

Slug ears.png

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

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

Bio Broly trunks goten

Swamp Thing got nothing on Broly.

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

13 trucker hat

Trucker hats rule.

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

Goku Vegeta Cooler.jpg

Dragon Ball Z Movie 6 – The Mega Powers Explode!

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

Tree_of_Might

In this one, Goku fights a tree.

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

dead zone gif

Oh yes, that’s the good stuff!

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

Bebi_Burori

Legendary Super Saiyan? More like Legendary Cry Baby.

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

vlcsnap-00003

You wanna get nuts?! Let’s get nuts!

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

pudding 1

When a god asks for pudding you give him pudding!

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

bjoack group shot

Some cool guys and Yamcha.

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

vegeta cries

Tears in Hell.

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

goku vegeta bicker

Play nice you two.

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

tapiotrunks

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

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

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


Dragon Ball Z: Wrath of the Dragon

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

Original Release Date:  July 15, 1995

English Release:  September 12, 2006

Directed by:  Mitsuo Hashimoto

Screenplay by:  Takao Koyama

Running Time:  52 minutes

 

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

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

Saiyamen

The heroes we need.

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

saiyaman saves hoi

Not everything they do is battle tough space villains.

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

hoi

That is a face that can be trusted.

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

tapion

The Legendary Hero Tapion.

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

trunks and goten

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

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

Tapion_and_minotia

Tapion and his little brother say good bye.

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

Tapion_and_bulma

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

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

Hirudegarn_better

Look who got put back together.

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

vegeta vs hiru

Vegeta gettin in his one shot.

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

bug hirudegarn

Meet the new Hirudegarn, better than the old?

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

DBZ Wrath of the Dragon Tapion

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

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

dragon fist

That’s one way to kill a giant bug.

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

goku pose

Nothing like a good victory pose.

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

tapion goodbye

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

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

trunks with sword

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Dragon Ball Z: Fusion Reborn

7e1c12908c1fd2ee3b2f5b99932706c8Japanese Title:  Fusion Reborn!! Goku and Vegeta

Original Release Date:  March 14, 1995

English Release Date:  March 17, 2006

Directed by:  Shigeyasu Yamauchi

Screenplay by:  Takao Koyama

Running Time:  51 minutes

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

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This dude is about to have an unfortunate accident.

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

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Goku is way too excited about meeting Janemba.

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

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

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

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Look who’s back.

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

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

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

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Super Saiyan 3 Goku gets to work.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Gogeta!

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

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

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

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The movie leans heavy into the Goku/Vegeta dynamic.

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

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

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

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A side of Vegeta seldom seen.

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

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


Dragon Ball Z: Broly – Second Coming

190px-DBZ_THE_MOVIE_NO._10Japanese Title:  The Dangerous Duo! Super Warriors Never Rest

Original Release Date:  March 12, 1994

English Release:  April 5, 2005

Directed by:  Shigeyasu Yamauchi

Screenplay by:  Takao Koyama

Running Time:  52 minutes

With Broly being an overnight sensation following his debut film, it was no surprise to see him turn up again. The problem with Broly though is that he’s all style and no substance. He’s motivated by his mostly irrational hatred of the one he calls Kakarot, whom we all affectionately refer to as Goku. He barely speaks and is essentially raw power unrestrained. Making things harder on him for his return engagement is that Goku is dead, so his boys are left to pick up the slack. Unsurprisingly, this makes Broly – Second Coming the first DBZ movie to not star Goku in some capacity. He may have been dead in our last film, but he still had a pretty commanding presence over the film. He makes an appearance in this one, but it’s definitely understated compared with the prior movie. This is also the first movie to not feature Piccolo, though there’s a joke at his expense in it. Another surprising stalwart of the movies, Oolong, won’t cameo either. And after appearing in the last four features, Vegeta will be a surprising omission here. It’s always tough to figure out when these movies are supposed to take place so it’s possible Vegeta is dead. Really, this movie and the next features a really small cast of characters and it’s anchored by the debut of Goten and Young Trunks. Lastly, it’s also the first to feature Dragon Ball Z‘s second theme song over the opening credits, the underwhelming “We Gotta Power.” We’ll miss you, “Cha-la…”

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A dying Broly crash lands on Earth. That’s some sense of direction.

The movie opens on an old but familiar sight – a Saiyan Space Pod zooming towards Earth. It smashes into the planet’s surface and from it emerges Broly (Vic Mignogna). Having apparently escaped the destruction of New Vegeta in just the nick of time, he’s in bad shape and the wound left by Goku is still open. He soon powers down from his Super Saiyan form and collapses into the snow, ice forming over him. He’ll lay there for seven years, and of course he’s just bound to wake up all kinds of pissed off.

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Kid Trunks, Videl, and Goten make their film debuts.

Videl (Kara Edwards), Goten (Edwards), and Trunks (Laura Bailey) are out hunting Dragon Balls. Videl is sporting her short-haired look so this movie takes place after her training with Gohan, meaning she can fly and fight a little. She apparently asked Goten and Trunks to tag along to aid in her search for the Dragon Balls since Trunks’ mother Bulma possesses the Dragon Radar. Trunks and Goten are a handful given that they’re just kids, and they’ll test the patience of Videl and also likely force her to question why she brought them along in the first place when all she desires is to just see the Eternal Dragon, Shenron.

Their search leads them to a small village in the mountains – Nataday. The villagers there are preparing for a sacrifice, a young girl is to be offered to some monster in order to spare their village destruction and misfortune. The sacrifice is the brainchild of the village shaman, Maloja (Robert McCollum) and Videl is disgusted by the whole thing. Other villagers share her views, and Trunks offers to take care of this supposed monster for them.

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The village shaman Miloja – he’s a dick.

Videl, Trunks, and Goten all hide in a nearby altar and wait for the monster to show. There’s an offering of food for the beast, and Trunks swipes some which just makes Goten jealous. Video instructs him to keep quiet and stay put, but when goes for an apple she slaps him in response causing Goten to cry. Goten is apparently an impressive cryer, for his howls reach Broly himself. Baring a remarkable similarity to the cries of his infant father, they’re enough to agitate and awaken Broly from his long slumber. In case you have forgotten, Broly is driven by his hatred for Goku whom cried a lot when he was an infant, and it bothered the infant Broly enough to scar him as an adult.

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They’re quite good at irritating Videl.

Videl, feeling bad for making Goten cry, apologizes and swipes a dumpling for him. Trunks laughs and lets her know she’s been conned by the diminutive Saiyan, which just makes her more frustrated and annoyed by the whole situation. Soon the monster shows itself to be a mere dinosaur (in case you forgot, dinosaurs exist in this world) and Trunks and Goten are unimpressed. They toy with the beast a little, before eventually returning to the village with its carcass. The villagers are overjoyed to see the beast has been slain, all except Maloja who is banished by the elders for his sacrificial methods. With that out of the way, the heroes are able to resume their Dragon Ball hunt.

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Broly has awakened!

The trio calls it a night, but a loud sound wakes Videl early in the morning. That sound is Broly, emerging from his ice prison and powering up to his Super Saiyan, but not his Legendary, form. Videl finds and confronts him and, not knowing who he is, tries to attack. Broly is far too powerful for her to handle though. Goten and Trunks soon awaken to the sounds of the fight and they rush to see what’s going on. They have no idea who Broly is, but Broly sees Goten and immediately is sent into a rage due to the child’s resemblance to his father, Goku. Broly is easily able to knock the two boys around, but during the fight they’re able to spot the last Dragon Ball. Trunks devises a plan where Goten is to retrieve the Dragon Ball while he distracts Broly. This is where the movie takes a silly turn as Trunks moons the Saiyan warrior while Goten also pauses to take a pee.

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When ya gotta go…

Goten is successful in retrieving the ball, but soon loses it amongst a bunch of crystal balls. Trunks is dismayed by his friend’s clumsiness, especially because he too really has to pee. He manages to avoid most of Broly’s most damaging moves, but eventually ends up in the arms of the monster when his bladder gives out. Goten does however manage to gather all of the Dragon Balls and he takes them behind a waterfall where he can safely summon the Eternal Dragon Shenron. Unfortunately, Goten realizes he doesn’t actually know how to summon the dragon and sits there perplexed. Trunks manages to retreat behind the waterfall too and doesn’t know how to summon the dragon either. They’re forced to confront Broly, who whips them around pretty well until their savior arrives in the form of Gohan (Kyle Hebert).

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Don’t worry kid, I got this.

Gohan had sensed the fighting, and unlike the other three, he’s faced Broly before and knows what he’s up against. Gohan is definitely stronger than he was when he faced Broly the first time, but he might not even be as strong as he was when he defeated Cell since this is Buu Saga Gohan before his training with the Elder Kai. He’s still able to power-up to Super Saiyan 2, but all that does is force Broly into his more monstrous Legendary Super Saiyan form. Broly is able to physically dominate Gohan in this form, but the resourceful Saiyan is able to break free of Broly’s hold and lure him into a nearby volcano where the lava engulfs Broly. Gohan collapses on a nearby rock as the lava inches closer to him. A caped warrior swoops in though to rescue him. Piccolo? No, it’s Krillin (Sonny Strait) dressed in Piccolo’s attire for some reason. I can only assume this is a metta joke for the audience since Piccolo often drops in unannounced to rescue Gohan in virtually every movie.

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Not what anyone was expecting…

The two share a nice moment, and then Broly returns. You didn’t really think lava could kill him, right? He’s surrounded himself with an energy shield and quickly takes out Krillin. Gohan is too weak and exhausted to offer much resistance, and Broly begins to torture him. He’s very much enjoying himself, until Videl tosses a rock at him. It doesn’t hurt him, but it does distract him and he turns to look as Videl collapses, the effort of just throwing a rock seemingly exhausting what little energy she had left. The sight of her falling enrages Gohan enough to tap into his reserves, forcing himself from Broly’s hold. Announcing he’d had enough, Gohan powers up to Super Saiyan and unleashes a Kamehameha attack against Broly, who counters with a blast of his own. The force of the attack knocks Goten’s bag over and the Dragon Balls spill out awakening the young child. He transforms into his Super Saiyan form and joins his older brother in firing a Kamehameha at Broly. Together, the brothers appear to be holding their own, but it’s still not enough. Goten then silently makes a wish that their dad was there with them.

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Broly has an answer for Gohan’s attack.

The Dragon Balls, apparently hearing Goten’s silent plea, flash and the skies darken. No dragon appears, but Goku does! He encourages his sons and powers up to his Super Saiyan form and joins his Kamehameha blast with theirs. And yet it’s still not enough! Trunks awakens as well and sends a last ditch effort Broly’s way. His blast is enough to sneak in behind Broly’s and throw off the timing of his own ki blast. Goku sees this, and implores his boys to give it their all. Their combined might overwhelms Broly, who cries out in pain as he’s blasted from the Earth and into the sun, seemingly gone for good (yeah, right),

Goku vanishes as quickly as he appeared, and Goten and Gohan are left to wonder if he was really ever there. The Dragon Balls seem to confirm that he was, as they’ve turned to stone and rocketed away. Videl awakens and admonishes Gohan for taking so long to get there, while Trunks remarks he wants a snack. They all set off for wherever, while poor Krillin remains where he was following Broly’s attack wondering if they’ve forgotten about him.

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The lasting image from this movie is at least a good one.

Broly – Second Coming, unlike the first film to feature Broly, is almost entirely reliant upon comedy for its entertainment value. There’s the little setup with the village before the main event, but the movie is fairly straight-forward in its execution like many DBZ films before it. I did appreciate the little bit of adventuring we saw early, and the visual of Goku joining his sons for a triple attack is surprisingly emotional, but the movie earns very little of the payoffs it tries to cash-in. Broly is even more one-dimensional than before, and he’s little more than a video game boss character. The repeated near-saves have become a trope, though at least the movie seems to poke fun at that with the Krillen rescue effort. The juvenile nature of the humor involving Goten and Trunks is sometimes charming, sometimes humorous, but hard to sustain a picture with. The arrival of Goku breaks all of the rules of the Dragon Balls, as Shenron isn’t properly summoned, never even appears, and also disappears after only fulfilling one wish. As much as I like the image of all three combining for an attack, it would have probably been better to just leave Goku out of this one. With him dead, it could have been an opportune time to have Piccolo stand-in considering he’s been a second father to Gohan, or even a more mature Vegeta finally stepping in and embracing his role as a father-figure for the younger Saiyans.

Adding to the tonal problems is a rather bland presentation. The backgrounds are kind of typical DBZ and don’t really offer up much. The visuals are more in-line with the main series as well and do not have that extra special ingredient that most of the films have. Maybe Toei knew this one wasn’t going to be as good as the others because of the lack of Goku and just didn’t sink as much money into the production as they normally would. It all adds up to a very subpar experience, and Broly – Second Coming just may be the worst of all of the Dragon Ball Z films. It has some inherent entertainment value, so I would still say watch it if you have never seen it, but it’s one you’ll only revisit out of a feeling of obligation or when you’re just sick of watching the other, better, films.


Dragon Ball Z: Bojack Unbound

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

Original Release Date:  July 10, 1993

English Release Date:  August 17, 2004

Directed by:  Yoshihiro Ueda

Screenplay by:  Takao Koyama

Running time:  51 minutes

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

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

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Bojack – the villain of the day.

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

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

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

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Making his film debut, the incomparable Mr. Satan!

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

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

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

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

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

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Here comes Vegeta!

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

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Good talk, Dad.

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

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Even when dead, Goku can still make the save.

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

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Now he’s serious.

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

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

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

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Speaking of shit getting real…

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

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

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


Dragon Ball Z: Broly – The Legendary Super Saiyan

Dragon_Ball_Z_Broly_–_The_Legendary_Super_Saiyan_(Movie)Japanese Title:  Burn Up!! A Close Fight – A Violent Fight – A Super Fierce Fight

Original Release Date:  March 6, 1993

English Release:  August 26, 2003

Directed by:  Shigeyasu Yamauchi

Screenplay by:  Takao Koyama

Running Time:  72 minutes

If there is an MVP of the Dragon Ball Z movies then it might be Broly by default. Starring in a record three films, Broly is the most over-exposed of the movie villains. Thankfully, he doesn’t appear in three consecutive films and there’s a film in between this one and his second appearance as three in a row really would have felt like overkill. Probably owing to his exposure, Broly has become a some-what polarizing villain among DBZ fans. He’s very recognizable and his appearance is striking so he has a tendency to show up across all media related to the franchise. He’s featured prominently in video games, toys, and other merchandise though he’s been kept out of the main series as well as Dragon Ball GT (or at least he was, until it was announced in July that he’ll be the featured villain in the upcoming Dragon Ball Super movie due to hit theaters in Japan this December). His status as the Super Saiyan of Legend gives him instant credibility to go along with his menacing appearance. He’ll never be as overpowered as he is here, nor will he ever be as interesting, but for a first appearance this one is pretty good. This is also the longest DBZ film thus far and will remain so until Battle of Gods. Most of these movies are kept under an hour, but this one is over 70 minutes and it feels pretty long as a result. Is it too long? Maybe, but we’ll get to that.

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Master Roshi enjoying himself during a picnic.

The film opens with King Kai (Sean Schemmel) sensing the destruction of a planet in the south galaxy. It’s an ominous piece of foreshadowing and I think it’s safe to say we’ll unravel the mystery of who’s responsible in short order. He reaches out to Goku (Schemmel), who is preparing for a school interview with his wife Chi-Chi (Cynthia Cranz). Chi-Chi is trying to enroll Gohan (Stephanie Nadolny) in a fancy school and needs Goku to be on his best behavior during the interview process in order to get him in. Goku has been forced to put on a suit and is clearly out of his element as Chi-Chi coaches him on the right things to say. She’s more than a little annoyed when King Kai starts butting in to fill Goku in on what’s transpiring in space.

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Paragus, along with his son Broly, claim to be among the few remaining Saiyans to survive the destruction of their home world.

Elsewhere, the rest of the Z Warriors are enjoying a picnic. Master Roshi (Mike McFarland) is looking pretty toasted as he makes a fool of himself. A spaceship touches down and a Saiyan male named Paragus (Dameon Clarke) emerges and immediately swears fealty to Vegeta (Christopher Sabat) who apparently wears his battle armor when attending a picnic. Paragus claims to be one of the last remaining Saiyans and informs Vegeta that they’ve settled on a new planet Vegeta (not to be confused with our Saiyan prince), and he wants Vegeta to rule them. There’s also a problem as the Super Saiyan of Legend has emerged and is wreaking havoc across the galaxy. Paragus needs Vegeta to take care of him, and Vegeta is ready to go. Vegeta, surprisingly, buys the story hook, line, and sinker and doesn’t even question how Paragus could be alive. The others are skeptical, and Gohan, Trunks (Eric Vale), Krillin (Sonny Strait), Master Roshi, and Oolong (Bradford Jackson) decide to board the spaceship and tag along.

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The quiet and docile son of Paragus – Broly.

Paragus takes the group to New Vegeta, a ruinous planet where the others await. Paragus introduces his mostly mute son Broly (Vic Mignogna), and Vegeta decides to take Broly with him to look for the Legendary Super Saiyan as he’s grown annoyed by his own son, Trunks, who has voiced his doubts about Paragus. Broly is a tall, somewhat lanky, black-haired man with a  soft expression. Paragus seems to suggest he’s not very powerful, but we’ve seen the title of this movie and we know better. As Vegeta and Broly search for the Legendary Super Saiyan, Trunks, Gohan, and Krillin explore the rest of the planet. They soon encounter the other inhabitants of the planet, a cute, small, race of creatures who have been enslaved by the forces of Paragus. They’re horrified by what they see, and Gohan jumps in to fight the slave masters. During the fight, Goku arrives via his instant transmission technique as he’s interested in meeting this Legendary Super Saiyan.

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When Broly powers up his hair takes on a purple, and eventually a blue, hue.

Back at the palace, Vegeta and Broly return empty handed. Vegeta is a bit annoyed to see Goku, but it’s Broly who really seems agitated. He begins to grow angry at the sight of Goku, forcing Paragus to raise his hand upon which a golden gauntlet shines. It seems to react with a tiara that Broly wears and the boy is soon calmed while Goku is puzzled. That night, Goku is attacked in his sleep by Broly. The two trade blows until Paragus arrives, calming his son once again with the device on his hand. As he leads Broly away, Goku begins to suspect that it’s Broly who is the Legendary Super Saiyan.

Paragus returns to his room and questions if his mind control device is malfunctioning, or if Broly is just becoming too strong. We’re then shown the origins of the two. Broly and Goku were born on the same day and were placed beside each other in the nursery. It was obvious to all that Broly possessed incredible power from birth, but the constant crying of Goku beside him basically drove him mad. King Vegeta, fearing what Broly would become, ordered the execution of both him and Paragus, but Broly proved hard to kill. He saved his father, and the two were exiled following the destruction of the original  planet Vegeta. Paragus has been using his mind control device ever since to keep Broly’s power in check, as without, he becomes lost in his own power.

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The Legendary Super Saiyan revealed!

Goku confronts Paragus about Broly, while Vegeta has decided he’d rather just head back to Earth. Paragus denies the accusations, but eventually the slaves see Broly and confirm that he is indeed the Legendary Super Saiyan for he’s the own who destroyed their home planet. At the sight of Goku, Broly is unable to control his rage. He breaks free of the mind control device and his power is unleashed. He bulks up to an outlandish size as his hair takes on the traditional Super Saiyan look and his eyes go completely white. A green aura envelopes him, giving his hair a slightly different tint to what we’re accustomed to seeing from the other Super Saiyans, and the battle is on.

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Probably the film’s most famous shot.

Goku and Broly battle, but Goku is overmatched. Trunks and Gohan join the fray, but Vegeta is too paralyzed with fear to do the same. He’s spent a lifetime hearing about the Legendary Super Saiyan, and views him as unbeatable (why he was so eager to find him early in the film isn’t explained, maybe he just doubted that the being could possibly exist). Paragus sees this as an opportunity to taunt Vegeta and fill him in on he and Broly’s backstory. This is Paragus’s way to get revenge against Vegeta’s father for nearly killing he and his son years ago, and as icing on the cake he reveals that a comet is heading straight for New Vegeta and will destroy them all.

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Vegeta finally enters the fray, but is just as helpless as the others.

The other Saiyans are having no luck against Broly, until Piccolo (Sabat) shows up with some senzu beans. Adding Piccolo to the mix changes the outcome little, as Broly is still just too powerful. Piccolo realizes they’ll need Vegeta’s help if they’re to have any chance, and he basically shames the proud warrior into action, though he’s just as successful as the others. Paragus tries to escape in a Saiyan Space Pod, feeling it’s probably best to let the comet kill his son, but Broly catches him. He kills his father by throwing the pod into the incoming comet, and he’s now free to set his sights on the others.

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A powered-up Goku and Broly clash.

Goku realizes the only way to destroy Broly is for the others to lend him their power to concentrate it into a super attack. I suppose it’s the same concept as a spirit bomb, but instead it requires the others to just give them his power directly. They all do as requested, even though they’ve all been beaten to a pulp themselves, but Vegeta is the lone holdout. Goku still doesn’t have enough power, and eventually Vegeta relents. Bathed in a tremendous glow, Goku is finally able to go toe to toe with Broly. The fight is brief, and he concentrates his attack into a single punch aimed at Broly’s abdomen. It was there Broly was stabbed and left for dead as an infant, and the impact of Goku’s fist causes the old wound to reopen. Broly explodes, and the remaining warriors round up the slaves and pile into the spaceship Piccolo used to reach New Vegeta. They all escape before the comet’s arrival. Goku teleports he and Gohan home, where an angry Chi-Chi awaits. Goku is able to recite his scripted interview responses, causing Chi-Chi to faint and allowing our film to end on the usual humorous note.

Broly – The Legendary Super Saiyan makes good use of its long run time by bringing us along slowly. If not for the film’s title, the mystery of the Legendary Super Saiyan would probably be more satisfying, though it would probably still be fairly obvious that Broly is connected to the figure of legend. It’s an interesting setup though, and it’s different from what we’re used to as the heroes are whisked away to a new world and new location instead of having some alien invader come to Earth seeking Goku or whatever. I like the tragic backstory of Paragus and Broly, though the trauma inflicted upon Broly of a crying baby Goku is pretty stupid. I don’t know if Toriyama came up with that as it’s kind of in-line with his brand of humor, but it misses the mark. If they wanted a comical reason for Broly to hate Goku I feel like they could have come up with something better. If they wanted it to seem sincere, then they really missed the mark. The film also largely looks awesome, with some different backgrounds to take advantage. In particular, I really enjoyed setting of the picnic at the beginning of the movie with all of the cherry blossoms in the background. It would have been neat to see a fight unfold there.

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This movies takes an interesting look at Vegeta, that works in some ways and doesn’t in others.

The portrayal of Vegeta feels inconsistent and kind of off. Vegeta has always been the proud warrior, so it made sense to me why he would want to seek out the Legendary Super Saiyan. He welcomes a challenge, but he apparently also has respect for the myths and legends of his deceased people. He’s unusually quiet, and just goes along with Paragus, when I feel like he should have been more cocky and proclaimed himself the actual Legendary Super Saiyan. When Broly’s power is revealed, seeing him a puddle is really bizarre. I have no problem with exploring a different side of Vegeta, and in fact it’s something I really like about our next movie, but I think they took it too far and it feels like too much of a betrayal of who Vegeta is.

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This one features the film debut of Super Saiyan Gohan as well as Trunks’ long-haired look.

These movies have a hard time coming up with unique ways to end the conflict. It’s disappointing that this one basically utilized the same method as our previous film, Super Android 13!, with Goku borrowing a bunch of power in order to deliver a killing blow. The problem with this movie is that we have no even fights at all, save for maybe the very first, brief, encounter between Goku and Broly. A large portion of the film’s run time is devoted to the fight with Broly and it’s mostly a slaughter. He’s so effectively violent though that it remains engaging watching him decimate the heroes. It’s just disappointing that when Goku does power-up, he basically ends the fight with one blow. I would have preferred to see a more even matched confrontation that lasted some length of time, but oh well. The side-story with the enslaved race also felt rushed. It’s crazy that with the film running as long as it did that some stuff still felt under-developed, but I guess that’s what happens with a more ambitious plot.

Even with its problems, I still came out of this one really enjoying it. It’s one of the better Dragon Ball Z movies, and say what you want about Broly, he comes across as a legitimate villain with a cool design. He resembles the bulky Trunks from the main series, only he’s even bigger and isn’t penalized in the speed department by his massive physique. It’s kind of a novelty to see Goku dominated so convincingly, though the final outcome was cheap. As a result, it’s not surprising that the films would want to revisit Broly even if his demise seemed pretty damn final. It’s just too bad that the rematch is going to be a pretty underwhelming affair.


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 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.


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