Tag Archives: piccolo

S.H.Figuarts Piccolo: The Proud Namekian

A real proud one.

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

Piccolo looks like a fun guy…

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

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

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

Let’s cast this stuff aside for a minute.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


S.H. Figuarts Piccolo Daimaoh (King Piccolo)

Before there was the noble Piccolo, trainer of Gohan and ally of Goku, there was the evil King Piccolo. Known as Piccolo Daimaoh outside of the US, King Piccolo was the evil purged from the namekian Kame, who would assume the role of guardian of Earth in the world of Dragon Ball. Piccolo was the usual villian bent on world domination who was imprisoned in a magic rice cooker long ago, but like all ancient evils, he escaped to make life miserable for Goku and his friends.

King Piccolo is one of the more recent releases in the line of Dragon Ball action figures released by Bandai and Tamashii Nations under the S.H. Figuarts banner and he’s a big boy. He’s the main villain of the penultimate arc of Dragon Ball as he escapes from his imprisonment and is able to assemble the dragon balls and wish for his youth to be restored. He is depicted here following that wish in his navy blue gi and cocky smirk. In many ways, he’s the ultimate villain from the original Dragon Ball and, once defeated, it’s his son/clone who would continue on to Dragon Ball Z and become the more popular Piccolo.

King Piccolo stands a tick under 8 inches, so he towers over his adversary, Kid Goku. I do not own a Piccolo from DBZ, but I’ve noticed from looking around online that he’s much taller than his successor. The only visual difference between the two is in the face with King Piccolo having higher cheek bones and an overall narrower face. The figure is colored after his anime appearance so he has patches of pink flesh on his arms and ankles as opposed to yellow. He’s a sturdy figure, with tight joints that aren’t too tight. He stands well and is surprisingly light given his size. The plastic is firm and the paint clean while the upper area of his gi is soft and pliable.

Since he’s from the Figuarts line, King Piccolo has plenty of articulation. His head is on a ball-joint and free to move around. He can look up a bit, and look down as far as any human needs to. His antennae are articulated and can be removed easily, if you wish. Careful though, they’re small and I spent over half an hour trying to find one I popped off by accident. He has a joint at the base of his neck which adds a bit to his range of motion. His shoulders are on ball-joints with a butterfly joint to back them up too so he can reach forward and across his chest. There’s a bicep swivel, single-hinge at the elbow, and wrist swivel with a hinge in the peg. When popping on a hand, you have to pay attention to which way that hinge is oriented to make sure you can get the desired motion you want. The elbow can bend 90 degrees, but the lack of a double-joint means it can’t go any further. There’s a mid-torso ball joint that’s nice and firm as well as a waist swivel. There’s ball joints at the hips, thigh swivel, double-jointed knees, and the feet are on ball joints. The feet can really move all over the place and there’s a toe hinge for good measure.

The articulation is quite expressive and does a good job of not interfering much with the overall look of the figure. There’s a lot going on in the crotch area in terms of trying to maintain the folds of Piccolo’s pants, but the dark color helps keep it a bit neat as opposed to Goku and his orange gi. I love the little sculpted details like the folds in the gi, the texture of the sash, and even the little piece of visible ankles above the shoes. The paint is very clean and also minimalist, as seems to be the case for Figuarts. There’s a hint of a wash on the face, especially the more expressive ones, and what is here looks terrific. It’s hard to imagine someone making a better looking version of King Piccolo.

Piccolo comes with an array of different hands and heads as well as a few other accessories. As is the tradition with the Dragon Ball figures, he comes with a dragon ball of his own. In this case, the one star ball. It looks so tiny in his giant hands. He comes packaged with a pair of fists and a smirk on his face. He has a pair of open, clawing, hands and a pair of fully open hands like he’s firing off his energy blast. He also has a right hand in a karate chop position and a pointing right hand. On the head front, he’s incredibly expressive as in addition to the smirk he has a teeth gritting expression, a yelling expression in which his veins are popping out and his eyes bloodshot, and a “puking” head from when he regurgitates the egg that contains Piccolo Jr. Speaking of which, he also has that egg which has some septum at the end of it to make it look like it’s being fired through the air. There’s also a piece of mucus that it can sit in like a football tee. Lastly, there’s the electronic rice cooker which once held him prisoner. It can open and close and is a cute little accessory.

As you can see, he rightly towers over Bulma and Goku.

The different heads and choice of hands makes Piccolo a truly fun toy to pose. I’m torn on what my favorite head is because they’re all so well done. I love the smugness of the default head, while the other two are great for action shots. The egg puking head is definitely more specific, but again, it’s so well-sculpted that there’s a desire to pose him with that head as well. It also doubles as a good reaction head for when Goku slugs him in the stomach. The egg even has a hole in the bottom of it so it can take advantage of the stands Bandai sells for fireballs and other effects. I do wish Piccolo had a hole in his back for stands as I don’t trust the grabbing stands Bandai uses to hold up with such a big figure. He is pretty light for his size, but I wouldn’t leave him on a shelf suspended in the air by one of those things. I know some people wish Bandai added shading to these figures, but I think natural light works well on the folds in the uniform, especially on darker colors like this one. The rear of the knees is the only part of the sculpt I’m not keen on because they’re so shiny, but they’re also on the back of the figure so it’s not something that will be displaying. Lastly, it’s the little things that bring this one together. The veins on the various heads or the way the antennae can be manipulating on all of the heads is a great touch. You can make them flailing back if he’s in a rushing pose, for instance, which is just great attention to detail.

King Piccolo is an awesome action figure from Bandai/Tamashii Nations. He’s a great and necessary addition to the Dragon Ball line as he has a terrific look and his action figure covers all of the bases. Maybe some have a desire to add an elder King Piccolo to their display, but I’m all set with this one. I’m curious if Bandai will do a proper Piccolo Jr. in the near future that’s distinct from the Dragon Ball Z figure. When he first showed up, Piccolo Jr. had a rather skinny appearance so it would make sense for Bandai to do a new sculpt. We’ll see. For now, I’m just pleased there’s a lot to collect for Dragon Ball fans and I hope Bandai keeps them coming!


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.


Dragon Ball – Season 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Yeah, this is going to happen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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