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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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