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.

dragon-ball-z-4-lord-slug

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.

ps3gfyzmtwyi2pfqjvczry6bgdruynuv_hq

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).

Old_Slug

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.

Lord_Slug_-_Slug_Soldier_heavy_finish

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.

5UZdUMRvZOEnNk1Pc962Tm3Xpfx

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.

Lord_Slug's_Clan_main_members

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.

Dbzm4-053

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.

e5ffxy86ebbz

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.

banner_78

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.

dbzm4-135

“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 Namibian 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.

dbzm4-147

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.

Super Slug

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.

Advertisements

Batman: The Animated Series – “Tyger, Tyger”

Tyger_Tyger-Title_CardEpisode Number:  42

Original Air Date:  October 30, 1992

Directed by:  Frank Paur

Written by:  Michael Reaves, Randy Rogel, and Cherie Wilkerson

First Appearance(s):  Emile Dorian, Tygrus

A 65 episode order must feel like both a blessing and an unbearable burden. On one hand, that’s a big pay day. Plus 65 episodes also means syndication which is a pathway to even more riches. On the other hand, that’s suddenly 65 stories to be developed, 65 screen plays to be written, 65 story boards to be parsed through, not to mention the actual production. All of this is following what was likely months of work on a pilot and series bible so that everything was good to go for a successful pitch to the network. In the case of a property like Batman, at least there’s over 50 years worth of comic books to go through for ideas and few characters are created from scratch. No one wants to just adapt other people’s work though, so the bulk of the stories are mostly original. And they come with deadlines.

tyger03

I like the Garth from Wayne’s World better.

Such a daunting task is probably how you end up with an adaptation of The Island of Dr. Moreau in a Batman cartoon. Batman has always been one of the more grounded super heroes. His villains usually don’t possess actual super powers and instead are just mentally deranged individuals with wrestling gimmicks and henchmen. This series did establish right from the first episode that there can at least be room for some science fiction via mad scientist quackery. “Tyger, Tyger” doubles-down on that with Dr. Emile Dorian (Joseph Maher) who is basically a stand-in for old Dr. M. He’s a genetic scientist driven away from society because of his crazy ideas and crimes against nature. He’s also a big-time cat enthusiast, proving you really can’t trust those crazy cat folks (I say this as someone who has only ever had cats as pets). And since he’s a cat person, well obviously we’re going to need to bring in our old friend Catwoman, Selina Kyle (Adrienne Barbeau), to assist with this story.

TT_10_-_Selina_meets_Tygrus

Selina meet Tygrus, he’s going to be your mate!

The episode opens with Ms. Kyle visiting a zoo at night. It seems an odd thing to do, but she’s kind of an odd person. She’s looking mournfully at a tiger, a rather odd looking tiger at that, when someone from the trees behind her takes aim at her with a rifle and fires. The weapon is armed with some sort of dart, and after striking her the assailant bounds from the trees to claim his prey. He’s an ape man (voiced by Jim Cummings), and Selina tries putting up a fight, but is no match for the brute. A security guard comes to her aid, but he winds up in the tiger pen as a result while the ape-man makes off with Selina.

185023

Old friend Kirk Langstrom gets to make a cameo.

Bruce Wayne is shown waiting at a restaurant and his date is obviously late since he’s checking his watch. He phones home to see if his date, Selina, called Alfred to cancel (apparently Bruce can’t afford a 1992 cell phone). A member of the waitstaff lets him know that Selina called to say she was stopping by the zoo and would be late. He heads over there to find the crime scene. The cops are interviewing the guard who is obsessing over the ape man, and has really nothing to offer about Selina. Bruce finds a spent dart near the tiger pen (once again, the Gotham PD proves its incompetence) and brings it home for analysis.

Selina is shown a prisoner of a mad scientist – Dr. Emile Dorian. He’s all about cats and wants to experiment on her and turn her into some cat-lady. He thinks she’ll like it, but Selina seems less than thrilled.

Batman discovers the chemical compound contained in the dart is similar to the serum that turned Kirk Langstrom (Marc Singer) into the Man-Bat way back in episode number one, “On Leather Wings.” He brings a sample to Langstrom for confirmation, and the good doctor lets him know he’s correct. He hypothesizes that it’s the work of disgraced geneticist Dr. Emile Dorian and even shows Batman one of Dorian’s early experiments he just so happens to keep right there in the lab – a half cat, half monkey creature. He gives Batman a tip on where to find him, and Batman wastes no time in heading off to Dorian’s island.

TT_41_-_Cat-Woman

In this episode, Batman gets to see Selina naked. It’s not what he expected.

Once there, Batman finds a huge citadel-like structure and scales the wall 60s style. He’s met on the roof by Garth, the ape-man from earlier, and the two crash through the ceiling into the lab. It’s there he sees Selina, now in an enclosure. He’s horrified to see that she’s been transformed into a human-cat hybrid. Her entire body is covered in a mustard colored fur and she has claws and cat ears to match. She seems content, but Batman reacts violently and starts smashing the place to get at her. This attracts the attention of Dorian’s prized creation – Tygrus (Cummings). Unlike Selina, Tygrus was created “from scratch” and is a massive cat-man creature with sleek features and a barrel chest. He overpowers Batman, while Selina indicates she still has some humanity within her and reacts to the presence of her old crush.

Dorian informs Batman that Selina’s transformation is not yet complete. It can still be undone, but if Batman wants to do that he’ll have to defeat Tygrus. He sets the two loose, with Batman getting a head start, on his island. Tygrus is instructed by Dorian to kill Batman, and it looks like he has no issues obeying his father. Meanwhile, Dorian and Garth set out to administer the final component of the transformation formula to Selina, Dorian obviously having no intention of playing by his own rules.

TT_32_-_Dorian_and_Tygrus

Dorian and his “son,” Tygrus.

Batman is forced to duke it out with Tygrus who is a more than formidable foe. He is able to incapacitate the creature long enough to find out it can talk. Since it can talk, it can also be reasoned with. Batman is able to convince the rather dim creature that he’s not his enemy just because his father says he is, and the two return to the lab. By now, Selina has decided she doesn’t want to remain a cat and has broken away from Dorian. This sets up a confrontation where Tygrus is caught in between Dorian and the others. He wants Selina to stay and remain a cat (and he apparently intends to mate with her), but he’s apparently learned enough about consent and he isn’t going to force it upon her. This puts him into direct conflict with his father, and he ends up destroying the lab in a fiery explosion.

TT_64_-_Tygrus_Sacrifice

Imagine what they could have been.

Batman, Selina, and Garth escape, but there’s no sign of Tygrus or Dorian. At first. Tygrus soon emerges from the burning wreckage with Dorian in his arms. He lays him down at Batman’s feet with the hope that Batman will see to him. He makes one last play for Selina, and when she rejects a life as a cat, he quietly slips the antidote into her hands. She implores him to come with them, but he turns and remarks he doesn’t belong with them, or anywhere, and our episode ends on a somber note with Batman reciting a portion of the William Blake poem “The Tyger” as the episode fades out.

hqdefault-47

Tygrus bids us all a sad goodbye.

Even with the call back to the Man-Bat, there’s no shaking that this is a weird episode. It’s not an all together bad episode, it’s just not a favorite of mine. The story is kind of rushed, and Tygrus is easily persuaded into a noble role. I also don’t particularly care for his design, though the episode looks fine as a whole. Dorian is a simple villain with no redeeming qualities so the episode doesn’t have to work hard to get us to hate him. I would have liked to see more of his creations, but since what we did see was so visually uninteresting then maybe it’s fine we didn’t. Selina is again kind of mishandled by the show. She’s lost all touch with her Catwoman persona at this point and is in need of some serious rehabilitation. Worse, she’s been pushed into this damsel in distress role which is borderline insulting. Her cat look is kind of stupid, and I have no idea why they went with the color that they chose for her fur. I guess it helps to make her pop against the dark and drab backgrounds and it’s a similar shade to her hair color. It’s also fun to have veteran voice actor Jim Cummings play a large role in an episode, though he isn’t given a whole lot to work with.

What we’re left with is not a particularly good episode of Batman:  The Animated Series, and it’s in an odd place as three out of four episodes will feature a genetic engineering subplot. It’s an odd obsession for the show to settle on, but it’s also something that the show leaves behind. We won’t hear from Dorian or Tygrus again, and I’m not particularly broken up about that. Meanwhile, Selina Kyle will finally get to go back to being Catwoman in a few weeks, though once again in more of an anti-hero role as opposed to true foil. It will be awhile before we see her do anything remotely villainous again.


Dragon Ball Z: The Tree of Might

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

Original Release Date:  July 7, 1990

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

Directed by:  Daisuke Nishio

Screenplay by:  Takao Koyama

Running time:  65 minutes

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

Turles

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

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

tumblr_inline_nsrl3pNXPA1rzy7aj_400

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

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

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

MV5BMGI2OTJmYWQtYmY2MC00MWJiLWJiNjAtNDg2MmIyMTZhMDY5XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMzM4MjM0Nzg@._V1_

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

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

dragon-ball-z-tree-of-might-earth

That’s a big tree.

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

hqdefault-41

Damn kids.

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

Goku_Movie_Tree_Of_Might

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

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

Turles8

Pausing for a snack break.

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

big_1474019698_image

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

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

6742-588x331

Z Warriors – Assemble!

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

1222556871_1

That Goku, always ruining his shirts.

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


Batman: The Animated Series – “Joker’s Wild”

Jokers_Wild-Title_CardEpisode Number:  41

Original Air Date:  November 19, 1992

Directed by:  Boyd Kirkland

Written by:  Paul Dini

First Appearance(s):  None

 

Episode 41 of Batman:  The Animated Series is written by show runner Paul Dini and it plays like a love letter to old Warner cartoons. It’s timely that we’ve arrived at this episode right now as we just recently we celebrated the 30th anniversary of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, a film that could also be described as a love letter to classic cartoons. And if you’re going to do a send-up to the old Looney Tunes then who better to man that ship than The Joker (Mark Hamill) himself?

MV5BYTJmYTExN2QtM2IyNS00ZTE5LTllOGUtZTUxM2ZlYTFlMzRmXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjI4OTE1MTA@._V1_

Joker and Poison Ivy sharing a moment.

The episode begins at Arkham Asylum where the happily incarcerated Joker is fighting over the television in the common area with Poison Ivy (Diane Pershing). They bicker like children and it’s rather amusing to see The Joker reduce Ivy to that of a whiney child, but apparently he has that effect on people. He’s delighted to be causing her such consternation to the point that he doesn’t mind when the guard forces them to watch the news since they couldn’t agree on a show before (Joker wanted to watch Letterman, Ivy a gardening program). The news is covering the opening of a new casino by Cameron Kaiser (Harry Hamlin) and even Bruce Wayne is in attendance. When the casino is unveiled to contain a Joker motif, complete with a laughing depiction of The Joker’s unmistakable visage atop the building, the audience reacts in disgust – including Wayne. The Joker is immediately ticked off to see his likeness infringed upon and Ivy delights in seeing this change in mood from him. It’s all the motivation he needs though to break out of Arkham once again (revealing how pathetically easy it is to do so in the process) and set his sights on Kaiser and his shiny new casino – Joker’s Wild.

Jokertasname2

Another instance of the show maintaining continuity with the Burton Batman film.

Joker arrives in his top hat and overcoat and is kind of impressed with what he sees. The place looks like a tribute to him complete with ushers dressed as The Joker and waitresses clad in Harley Quinn attire (who is not present in this episode marking a rather lengthy absence for her). Joker is immediately mistaken for a worker and is instructed by another attendant to go work the blackjack table where he immediately starts winning hand after hand. He may be there to wreck the place, but it’s pretty clear he’s going to have a little fun before he does.

Jokers_Wild_Revealed

The head spins and laughs, because it wasn’t garish enough.

Bruce Wayne, after seeing the unveiling, decided to book a room knowing that there was no way The Joker would stand for this. It basically highlights how quickly The Joker broke out and got himself situated that Wayne is still there. Alfred brought him his gear, and Wayne points out how he thinks something is off with the place by pealing back some wallpaper to reveal an older design. He thinks this switch to a Joker theme was a last minute addition, and plans to do some sleuthing.

MV5BZGFkOGI3MTctYTI4Yi00NjI5LTk2ZTItMzZkYzdkN2QzZTdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjI4OTE1MTA@._V1_

Hard to imagine even The Joker himself designing a casino so lovingly dedicated to him.

Batman does some nosing around in Kaiser’s office and, because Kaiser is apparently stupid, finds all he needs to find. The casino is already deeply in debt, and apparently Kaiser has no faith in it generating enough money to pay down that debt in a timely fashion. Rather than file for bankruptcy, he made the (probably costly) change in theming to attract The Joker in hopes that he would sabotage the whole thing and Kaiser could collect on insurance. I do wonder how well that plan would have worked if the plan went off without a hitch. In a world where villains like The Joker are sort of commonplace I wonder if an insurance company would even payout for such an action? Batman attracts the attention of security, but it’s nothing he can’t handle, as he makes a hasty retreat.

Joker's_Wild

That is some room.

Joker has also attracted the attention of security (the guard is voiced by Ernie Hudson which seems like a really small role for him. I thought maybe he had a bigger part in another episode and just recorded some filler but I don’t see any other credits for him under this show) who alerts Kaiser of what’s going on. The Joker is seen clearly cheating on the security footage, but Kaiser doesn’t seem bothered and tells the guard to ignore him. Meanwhile, the patrons at Joker’s table have fled in disgust, but Bruce Wayne arrives to take their place. They make small talk, in which Bruce remarks on the distasteful decor which irritates Joker, before getting down to business. Joker hits a 20, but Bruce hits on 21 and pockets his cash and moves along. He saw what he needed, and in an exchange with Alfred, we see Bruce knows how to cheat at cards with the best of them.

041-JW

Even Wayne looks kind of off model here.

Having seen all he needs to see, Wayne hops into his Batman attire and goes to apprehend The Joker, only to find that he’s switched tables. When the real Joker sees Batman harassing a harmless worker, he decides to flee. He commandeers a Joker mobile, a dragster sort of car with Joker stylings, that was on display as a prize (I assume, because it looks like the sign to win it was lost in translation, literally, when animated overseas) and takes off. Batman jumps in, but Joker crashes the car into a pier causing Batman to plummet into the nearby bay while Joker is able to safely eject.

Joker-9

I love how Joker needs to have his likeness on his own gun. No wonder why he’s so irritated at another man stealing that very likeness.

We next see Joker wheeling a bunch of explosives under the guise of a food service cart into a closed section of the casino. It looks like it’s supposed to be a play area someday as there’s a giant roulette wheel and some other things scattered about. Kaiser notices this on camera and immediately calls for his private helicopter to be prepared for a swift exit. Batman confronts him as he’s filling a suitcase full of money and reveals to him he knows what’s going on. Kaiser, unfazed, activates some sort of electrical floor trap beneath Batman which incapacitates him. He orders his two lackeys to bring Batman down to the Joker for disposal.

jokerswild

Battle on the helicopter!

Batman stumbles out of an elevator only to be clobbered with a 2×4 by The Joker, knocking him unconscious. He wakes up to find he’s been bound to the enormous roulette wheel with its giant caricature of The Joker leering down at him. Joker taunts him, and while doing so the animation gets real wonky and he appears off-model numerous times. Batman reveals Kaiser’s plans to Joker, who seems pretty bummed that he’ll have to abort his plans to demolish the casino. That doesn’t get Batman off the hook though as Joker activates the roulette and leaves him with a live grenade bouncing around on the wheel. Joker makes the same mistake he always makes in leaving Batman to his own demise, which means he obviously is going to get out of this one. Using his trusty grapple gun, Batman makes a shot that’s even amazing by his standards as he not only hits the bounding grenade (while spinning at an extremely high rate of speed) with his grapple gun, but also causes the grenade to go into the giant Joker structure demolishing it in the process causing it fall on him and free him from his bindings. That is some crazy shot.

Jokers_Wild_Out_voted

Joker back in Arkham with very weird looking representations of Ivy, The Mas Hatter, and Scarecrow.

Joker is able to beat Kaiser to the helipad as he’s trying to flee the casino and takes over piloting duties of his helicopter (eerily similar to his actions in his last appearance, “The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne”). When Kaiser realizes it’s The Joker and not his pilot, he gets pretty angry that The Joker isn’t down there demolishing his casino. Joker reveals he’s decided to take over the casino instead, after he knocks off Kaiser, though he does compliment him on the attempted scheme. Batman arrives too late to get on the helicopter, but he somehow manages to get high enough to soar after it in his hang glider, much to the frustration of The Joker. The animators redeem themselves with a brief, but nice looking, chase sequence that ends with Batman and Joker tussling in the cockpit of the helicopter. They crash into the casino and not only do they manage to not kill anyone in the process, they all walk away from the crash despite not being restrained at all. Joker tries to get away, but Batman knocks him into a slot machine and change pours down over him. The still image looks rather poor and the bottom of the image almost looks like a half-finished animation cel that was supposed to be cut-off in the actual picture.

JW_44_-_Bugs_Bunny

Hey! I know that guy!

The episode concludes with Joker back in Arkham amongst cameos from Scarecrow and The Mad Hatter (looking really off model) while they all enjoy watching the coverage of Joker’s failure. He tries to change the channel to Looney Tunes, but they all shout at him in protest. The camera settles on Joker’s grumbling as “The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down,” better known as the Looney Tunes theme, plays before changing back to the news coverage, and eventually Joker’s theme, which takes us out. It’s a fitting way to end this one as throughout the whole episode we’ve had little Looney Tunes nuggets tossed about. The Joker is humming that very song early in the episode, while he also makes numerous one-liners basically lifted directly from those old cartoons. He even calls someone a “maroon.” It’s really silly, and I actually wouldn’t blame someone for thinking it’s too silly and a bit out of character for the show. We do often get dueling Jokers in this show where he’s sometimes really calculating and murderous, while other times he’s looney and breaks the fourth wall (as seen in his debut “The Last Laugh”). This episode might push things a little too far in that direction, but as someone who unabashedly loves the Looney Tunes, it’s hard for me to be too bothered by it.

Joker_DCAU_026

Joker’s eyes are right triangles in this show. I never want to see that again.

Our villain of the week, Cameron Kaiser, will never be heard from again. He served his purpose, but the conflict of him vs Joker means this episode doesn’t rely a whole lot on Batman. That’s nothing new for the show, but he feels especially buried in this one. He has some really generic and corny lines as the episode feels like its rushing through his scenes. It’s not the worst we’ve seen him, but it sticks out in a Paul Dini episode which are usually the show’s best. It’s also weird because kids don’t really understand insurance, for the most part, so they might not quite understand the plot and yet so much of the humor and direction feels aimed at children. In particular, the bickering of the inmates in which the line “I know you are, but what am I?” is uttered more than once. The hang glider thing also really bothered me. I know I should be willing to overlook how unrealistic it is for Batman to get as high as a helicopter without an obvious launching point, but some things just can’t be ignored. Just have him grapple gun the stupid helicopter!

JW_26_-_Batman_and_Joker

The blackness around Joker’s eyes constantly pops in and out in this episode and it’s very distracting.

The animation for this one is all over the place. I made mention of it during the summary portion, but it warrants further mentioning. The Joker’s face is often tricky to animate as he’s always grinning, but the animators seemed to have more trouble than usual here as he sometimes has some off mouth flaps. The black around his eyes is really inconsistent too, and it’s particularly egregious when he’s confronting Batman. Batman is also really stiff and the action scenes don’t feel especially dynamic. He’s slow, and when he’s strapped to the spinning roulette wheel we don’t really get a sense of motion out of the scene. It feels very detached. The hang glider sequence is well done though, so maybe they blew the budget on that part. The backgrounds also look good, and since the setting is rather unique, there probably wasn’t too many opportunities for cost-savings. It was handled by Akom, who has been responsible for more bad than good episodes. I actually wasn’t aware of this while watching, but Akom was apparently fired because this episode came out so poorly. In addition to the issues I pointed out, there also just some silly gaffes in some shots, like items appearing and disappearing at random. Apparently Akom had a bad reputation amongst the staff often referring to it as “The Kiss of Death” when an episode was assigned to the studio.

“Joker’s Wild” is an okay piece of comedic filler for the series. It’s not the best Joker episode, but the images of the Joker casino help make it more memorable than it deserves. How much you enjoy the episode will partly hinge on if you enjoy the humor and the little nods to Looney Tunes shorts. At this time, Tiny Toon Adventures was a thing and the shows had some overlap in terms of talent so it isn’t surprising to see something like this make it to air. Previously we had seen some sight gags in past episodes, but this one really went for it and the results were…okay? We’ve got some less than stellar episodes upcoming though, so after about four weeks this one may seem positively divine by comparison.


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.

Dragonball Z - Movie - 02 - The World's Strongest (11)

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.

Dragon.Ball.Z.The.Worlds.Strongest.1990.720p.BluRay.x264-CiNEFiLE.mkv_000738.727_1

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.

8BF

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.

banner_76

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?

uHvgDdURWUQwQ0y1wb3I9Q0dHfV

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.

MV5BZjZiNzQ1YmItNzFiZi00ZGY1LWFiM2EtYThkNDhjNTlmZTlhXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTk3OTMzOA@@._V1_SX888_CR0,0,888,499_AL_

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.

d8673e23e23c5f42b972746c97da9db20333f36e_hq

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.

dbz_d

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.

1001_animations__the_world_s_strongest_by_regulas314-da0i3cx

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.

maxresdefault-32

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.

Krilling_Dodging_Bullets_(World's_Strongest)

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.


Batman: The Animated Series – “If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich?”

If_You're_So_Smart,_Why_Aren't_You_RichEpisode Number:  40

Original Air Date:  November 18, 1992

Directed by:  Eric Radomski

Written by:  David Wise

First Appearances(s):  The Riddler

 

It only took 40 episodes, but we’ve finally made it to the debut of what I would consider the last of Batman’s most famous adversaries:  The Riddler. Thanks to his inclusion in the 60’s television series as well as Batman:  The Movie, The Riddler (John Glover) was a very well known villain and was so well known that it was basically considered a given that he would be the featured villain in the sequel to Batman Returns. And it turns out he was! That version of The Riddler, played by Jim Carrey, ended up being very similar in character to the one from the 60’s most famously portrayed by Frank Gorshin right down to the green spandex. For Batman:  The Animated Series, a more cerebral version of the character was chosen. Clad in a green and gray suit with bowler hat, he’s not very much like what we had seen before in popular media. He still is all about riddles though and the essence of the character is preserved. He’s also given an interesting motivation, and he’s yet another villain who was wronged in the past, but flouts the law in order to rectify what happened bringing him into conflict with the one and only Batman.

maxresdefault-35

Enter The Riddler.

Edward Nygma is a computer game designer who’s latest creation, The Riddle of the Minotaur, has become exceedingly popular. He works for Competitron, a company owned by Daniel Mockridge (Gary Frank), and unfortunately for Nygma all of his work has come under a work for hire agreement. He enters his office one day to find that he actually has no office. Mockridge is there gleefully waiting for him to let him know he’s being terminated. Nygma, irate at this treatment, points out how much money he’s made the company while Mockridge dangles his contract in front of him essentially boasting that he’s completely right, but there’s nothing he can do about it. Because he’s essentially a contractor, he receives no royalties for the game (or if he does, they’re not large) and no creative control. As a parting shot, Mockridge throws the episode’s title right in his face, “If you’re so smart, then why aren’t you rich?”

SR_11_-_Billboard_Riddle

Mockridge being taunted as he makes his pitch to Wayne and Fox.

The episode jumps forward two years and Mockridge is pitching Competitron to Bruce Wayne and Lucius Fox. Mockridge is looking to sell and cash-out of his growing business while Bruce is interested in moving the company to Gotham to create more jobs. As Mockridge is making his pitch, a word crawl on a building across the street (like one you would see outside a stock exchange) taunts him with a riddle and makes a reference to the big deal he’s trying to negotiate. Mockridge is unnerved, though Wayne and Fox aren’t aware of the message since it’s behind them, and are rather confused when the pitch is cut short. After Mockridge leaves, Wayne notices the riddle and begins reading it aloud while the shot transitions to the Batcave for Batman to finish the riddle. It’s a neat little trick as it points out how voice actor Kevin Conroy portrays Wayne and Batman just slightly differently.

Dick is also in the Batcave and he just so happens to be playing The Riddle of the Minotaur on the Batcave’s computer (which Alfred reveals cost 50 million dollars) which features sound effects lifted straight out of Super Mario Bros. Since Bruce Wayne had to pour over documents relating to the sale of Competitron to Wayne Enterprises, he knows about the creator of the game, Edward Nygma. The riddle also made reference to The Wasteland, which is both a region in the game and a night club owned by Mockridge. Batman decides that’s the most logical place to check-out and declares that Mockridge is in danger.

SR_33_-_Riddler

There’s something “off” with how Riddler’s expressions are animated. It’s animation more befitting Tiny Toons or Animaniacs.

It turns out, Batman was correct. Mockridge arrives at his club’s office and finds Nygma seated at his desk. He’s now The Riddler and he taunts Mockridge with a ring puzzle. He also has help in the form of two very large goons. Batman and Robin soon arrive, dramatically crashing through a stained glass skylight, but they find no one. The Riddler soon appears to let them know they’re too late, and Mockridge is bound within the ring puzzle The Riddler had been playing with. They have a scuffle with the hired muscle, who put up a pretty good fight. Robin is rather proud of himself when he literally kicks one of them in the rear. The Riddler eventually traps Robin in an over-sized finger trap as a fire breaks out, forcing Batman to either save Robin or pursue The Riddler, who flees with Mockridge. Batman obviously decides to save his ward, allowing Riddler to escape.

As the dynamic duo speed away in the Batmobile, Robin notices all of the lights in the city are flickering on and off. Batman, affixing some sort of mini computer to his glove which looks kind of cool, recognizes that the lights are flickering in a pattern indicating Morse Code. The code contains a riddle, because what else would it, who’s solution leads them to a maze in a closed amusement park. During the prior confrontation, Batman revealed that he knows The Riddler’s identity, so The Riddler determined that he needs to take out Batman to protect his secret. By luring Batman and Robin to his maze he hopes to do just that while also taking care of Mockridge.

hqdefault-43

The Riddler welcoming Batman and Robin to his maze.

The maze is a literal recreation of the one from Nygma’s game. Robin, having played it quite a bit, is familiar with it and Batman is gradually brought up to speed as they go along. Nygma has made this version of the maze much more lethal than the video game counterpart, and Batman and Robin have their hands full. The Riddler is able to taunt them from various video screens throughout the maze and he lets them know they only have a few minutes to make it to the center and save Mockridge, who is gagged and bound beneath the blade of the Minotaur. The problem is, no one has ever solved the riddle of the Minotaur and made it through the maze, meaning Batman and Robin will have to be the first if they want to save Mockridge and apprehend The Riddler.

Batman is willing to play along only so much, but when they make a wrong move The Hand of Fate is sprung on them. We saw the video game version earlier in the episode as The Hand of Fate is a game mechanic that punishes wrong answers by bringing the player back to the maze’s start. In the real world, it’s a literal flying hand that Batman and Robin are able to avoid. When it becomes apparent that they have no chance at making it to the center of the maze in time, Batman intentionally makes a wrong move to draw the hand to him. Using a piece of shrapnel from an earlier trap (The Riddler made them leave their utility belts outside the maze in order to gain entry), Batman is able to hack The Hand of Fate, and together with his little glove computer, is able to pilot the hand to the maze’s center. It’s cheating, but effective. There they have to answer one final riddle in order to prevent the Minotaur from killing Mockridge, and it’s actually a pretty simple riddle. Not content to make it so easy, The Riddler springs the Minotaur on them as one final obstacle that Batman is more than capable of dealing with, in his own way.

batman-the-animated-series-if-youre-so-smart-why-arent-you-rich-3

A confrontation with the Minotaur awaits at the center of the maze.

With Mockridge saved, the only thing left is to catch The Riddler. Unfortunately for them, he’s no where to be found. He’s been speaking to them from aboard an airplane and he’s now long gone. In the episode’s epilogue, we find out the deal was completed and Mockridge came away with a cool ten million. Dick is kind of disappointed as they’re well aware that Mockridge is a creep who took advantage of Nygma’s genius, but Bruce points out that all the money in the world can’t buy a good night’s sleep as we’re shown a very paranoid Mockridge locking his doors at night and keeping a gun by his bed as he shivers in fear.

This episode very much reminded me of Mr. Freeze’s debut, “Heart of Ice.” The only difference is that Freeze’s adversary was a criminal himself, while Mockridge is just your typical corporate sleezeball taking advantage of a system that’s rigged in his favor at the expense of someone much poorer than he. Mockridge hasn’t broken any laws, but he’s obviously a morally bankrupt individual. It’s not that surprising to see a show who’s origins stem from a comic book incorporate such a villain into an episode as Mockridge’s tactics are similar to the ones comic publishers used to box out the artists and creators that made the comics successful. It would be many years later that we would find out a similar travesty occurred with Batman as Bill Finger never received credit for his contributions to the character during his lifetime. Finger, appropriately enough, was also the creator of The Riddler.

hqdefault-44

Mockridge “enjoying” his money.

As a result of Mockridge being such a lame person, we’re in essence rooting for Nygma during this episode. In reality, he probably could have filed a lawsuit against Mockridge and Competitron and possibly could have won. For all we know he did during the two year time-jump and maybe lost. He chose to take things into his own hands though and turn to crime to exact revenge against the man and company that wronged him. How he was able to finance that ridiculous maze is not explained and I suppose we’re supposed to just ignore it so the episode can work. Even though we’re supposed to disagree with The Riddler’s methods, I have to assume we were supposed to take some satisfaction in his escape at the episode’s conclusion.

This episode is one of two animated by Blue Pencil, S.I., and it’s not a particularly strong episode. A lot of new backgrounds had to be utilized so there was some cost there, but the animation is inconsistent and there are numerous visual errors. The Riddler’s mask at one point changes from pink to gray and a key re-appears on a wall when it shouldn’t be there, among other little flaws. That stuff was common in a lot of kid’s cartoons of the era, though not so much in this one, so it stands out more. The Riddler himself is also some-what toon-like in his movements and mannerisms with his face stretching and contorting into odd shapes as he speaks. It looks out of place, and there’s some odd shots of Batman as well. The Minotaur at the episode’s conclusion, who is supposed to be a robot, also moves like this making it seem like he’s more flesh-like than steel. Blue Pencil only worked on one other episode, which we’ll get to in about a month from now, and I wonder if it’s because the quality wasn’t up to par.

The Riddler is not a villain we’ll be hearing from very much. It’s kind of a shame because John Glover’s take on the character is quite good and I much prefer it to the Gorshin and Carrey portrayal. I do wonder if he was avoided because it’s pretty hard to come up with clever riddles to dot his episodes with. The ones in this episode are kind of weak, but not embarrassingly so or anything. I can definitely see it being a very intimidating task to write a Riddler episode. I always liked The Riddler though and I kind of wish we saw him in the Nolan trilogy as I think he would have made his Riddler similar to this one. We had to wait awhile for him to show up in this series, but it would seem he was mostly worth the wait.


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.

DragonballZ-Movie1_1265

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.

dragon-ball-z-movie-collection1-dead-zone-screenshot3

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.

dragon-ball-z-dead-zone-3

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.

c64ec65831723ba756b0a12d82cd13866a66131b_hq

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.

dbz_a

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.

MV5BYzNhY2NjMDUtOWE4My00MmI0LTgyOGEtMzY5OGVhZmQyYmNkXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTAyODkwOQ@@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_

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.

1001_animations__dead_zone_by_regulas314-da0p6s8

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.

maxresdefault-28

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.

MV5BODUzYWFkYTQtOTk0OC00YWJjLWIxZjctMzRlNTU2N2Y3NGMwXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMzM4MjM0Nzg@._V1_

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.