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Dragon Ball Super: Broly

db super broly poster

Dragon Ball Super: Broly

The first movie under the Dragon Ball Super umbrella is one that sets out to take what was previously non-canon and adapt it into the main series. The most recent two Dragon Ball Z films; Battle of Gods and Resurrection ‘F’, ended up being the start of Dragon Ball Super which is now well over 100 episodes into its own series and several volumes of manga as well. It was last year that the series took a pause, seemingly coming to an end, only for this feature to be announced soon afterwards. Over the summer it was revealed that the subject of the film would be the infamous Broly, a character created for the prior Dragon Ball Z films that is either a fan-favorite or fan-hated character, depending on who you ask. In that universe, Broly was the featured villain of three separate films, and according to this humble blogger only one of those three films was any good. Broly is simply an all style and no substance villain. He’s big, mean, and powerful, but he has no real motivations beyond wanting to annihilate the hero of the series, Goku, whom he despises because he made him cry when the two were infants. Yup, you read that correctly.

Finding out that Broly would soon be adapted for his fourth film and presumably brought into canon left me with mixed feelings. Those feelings quickly shifted to positive ones though as what reason did I have to really doubt series creator Akira Toriyama? Broly already had the look, and aside from the reason for hating Goku being quite lame, the rest of his origin was fine. There was enough of a skeleton there that could be fleshed out into something worthwhile. And after doubting that there was anything left in this franchise, I’ve been proven wrong time and again by the last two features and basically the entirety of Dragon Ball Super. Toriyama, and those working with him, seem to have a handle on what sets this world apart from others. It’s the humor, as well as the action, that makes it go. The series can’t stop to take itself too seriously, or else it will betray what it is. Anchoring the series on the Goku and Vegeta characters is also fan-service at its best. It’s their differences as characters that works so well. It meant taking away most of what once made Vegeta a villain, but Dragon Ball Super has managed to make him likable and understandable without also softening him too much.

dbs broly normal

Broly is re-introduced in this one as canon with a tweak to his base design.

Before I go any further, it is worth pointing out just where this film follows in the grand scheme of things. If you’re like me and have been following Dragon Ball Super via the dub that airs weekly on Toonami then you’re going to have some things spoiled for you. This film takes place after the events of Dragon Ball Super so far, so it’s after the Tournament of Power which has yet to officially begin. If you watch the Japanese dub of the show, then no problem as you saw the finale almost a year ago. For us just watching on a standard cable package, it means having the events of that tournament some-what spoiled. And I mean that very loosely as the setup for that tournament is that all of the universes who lose are destroyed. I don’t think any viewer expects the universe inhabited by Goku and his friends to be wiped out and have the story end there, so the fact that this film even exists is only the most mild of spoilers. The film doesn’t go into any detail about how that crisis was resolved, so I didn’t feel particularly spoiled by anything. Only the fate of one character would really count there, so if you want absolutely nothing else spoiled you may want to stop here as I can’t really discuss this film without mentioning that character at least in passing. There’s your final warning.

king vegetas court

King Vegeta’s court where Paragus is informed on the fate of his son.

Okay, with that out of the way we can freely talk about Dragon Ball Super: Broly! This is a review, not a synopsis like I did with my DBZ movie feature from last summer, so I don’t aim to spoil anything pertinent to the film beyond just going over the general plot and setup. If you’re a longtime fan, you’re probably most curious about how this new Broly (Vic Mignogna) equates with the old. He’s a different character, but it is also largely the same. The film begins several years before the present day when planet Vegeta was still a thing. In addition to seeing the early days of Broly, we’re also treated to something previously untouched upon and that’s the transfer of power over the universe from King Cold (Jason Douglas) to his son, Frieza (Christopher Ayers). It’s fun seeing that acknowledged, though it’s not particularly thrilling. Broly himself though is soon introduced as a baby, and like the prior Broly, he seems to have incredible untapped power. King Vegeta (Christopher Sabat) appears jealous that this child rivals his own infant son, also Vegeta (Sabat), and it may explain what he does next.

dbs kid goku

The flashback also contains a brief look at young Goku in a somewhat touching scene.

Like the prior Broly, this one will find himself banished from planet Vegeta. His father, Paragus (Dameon Clarke), suspects the king did it out of jealousy, but the king claims he did it out of fear over what Broly is capable of. A power so terrible cannot be controlled and he could destroy them all. It’s hard to say what the truth is, but Paragus refuses to see his son exiled to a barren world alone. He steals a spaceship and chases after him all while swearing revenge on the king who did this to him and his son. We also get another peek at Goku’s father, Bardok (Sonny Strait), and even meet his mother, Gine (Emily Neves). It retcons the events of Bardock’s solo film a bit, and also shows us a softer side to the character which provides some context for how Goku (Sean Schemmel) came to be so different from other Saiyans. We also get to check in on a toddler Vegeta and Radditz, which is amusing, and see the destruction of planet Vegeta from another angle. There’s even a mention of a brother to Prince Vegeta that I was not aware of. I don’t know if that’s mentioned at all in the episodes I have not seen, or it could be a hint at something to come in a future movie or series.

dbs paragus

The design for Broly’s father, Paragus, is also still in-line with his old portrayal only now he’s aged up. He’s also still a dick.

After the lengthy setup, the film jumps to the present day and finds Goku and Vegeta sparring. They’ll soon find out that Frieza is up to not good, and his stealing of the Dragon Balls from Bulma’s (Monica Rial) lab is what sets the plot in motion. That will get all of our main players to Earth, including a now fully grown Broly and his father, where the action takes place.

snow clothes goku and vegeta

Goku and Vegeta showing off their trendy new winter duds.

To no one’s surprise, the majority of this film is action as the two heroic saiyans take on Broly. Broly is depicted as actually kind-natured this time around, but his power drives him mad. It’s a subtle change from the previous version we’ve seen, but it’s handled far better and this character actually has meaning. He’s a sympathetic character, much more so than before, and one the audience isn’t necessarily instructed to root against. His design is only a little different from his old one, but he has a slightly more refined look. There’s some grit there as well and he actually looks like someone who has lived his whole life in exile. He’ll find some sympathetic characters which help add to his story, and overall I think he’s a fine addition to the cast this time.

dbs god vegeta

Vegeta demonstrating his mastery of the Super Saiyan God form.

The action is the main attraction, and after the slow-paced opening I am happy to report that no action was spared as a result. This is a meaty film, and by its end you may even start to feel exhausted. It keeps upping the visual ante along the way though, so it never gets boring. New tricks are unleashed, some more abstract than others. My favorite was a first-person camera in the middle of the fight that really pulled me in. It sounds like a gimmick, but it worked really well to see the lightning-quick action unfold from such a perspective. It was also tastefully utilized, so it didn’t overstay its welcome. There’s plenty of big spots, and also some rather brutal ones. Nothing is gratuitous though, and overall if you’re a fan of action this is one satisfying and spectacular film. There is also less emphasis on fan-service this time around when compared with the last two films. There’s no effort to get all of the old gang back together and the cast is actually fairly trim. This one simply has a story to tell and a battle to feature.

dbs goku blue

The film is visually stunning, but there are moments where I felt like I was watching a cut scene from Dragon Ball FighterZ.

The film is still mostly done in 2D with digital hand-drawn animation, the design of which was handled by Naohiro Shintani instead of Tadayoshi Yamamuro who has done virtually all of Dragon Ball previously so all of the characters have a slightly altered look to them, though I wouldn’t go so far as to say they appear off-model. Those hand-drawn parts are delicious for the eyes and Dragon Ball has never looked better. The movements of the characters are so fluid and sharp, and the slightly muted color palette is reminiscent of the manga more so than the actual anime. Vegeta’s battle suit, in particular, uses a more navy color than a bright blue and Goku’s orange gi is just slightly pale. This being Dragon Ball, there’s also lots of bright greens and blacks and some cute character designs amongst the villains. There are instances of obvious CG, most noticeably when space ships are shown. It’s also still used in battles, but it’s less of a distraction than in past films. There are still times though when I felt like I was viewing a cut scene from a video game as opposed to an anime. I wouldn’t go so far as to say those moments were jarring, but the hand-drawn stuff is just so flawless that I wish they just tried to stick with that as much as possible.

broly vegeta snow

Arctic settings are among my favorites in Dragon Ball. The brightly colored characters just look great against a cool backdrop.

The music composed by Norihito Sumitomo is also quite bombastic and in-time with the visuals. Some of the main themes, in particular Broly’s and a character I won’t mention by name as it would constitute a spoiler, include a chant in the song where the name of the character is spoken. It further adds to the fighting video game feel of some of the visuals and I’d consider it ludicrous if this were any other property save for maybe Mortal Kombat. It manages to add to the spectacle of everything. Also, some old favorites return though it’s worth mentioning this movie doesn’t feature an opening credits scene like the old ones. I kept waiting for it to pop-in, until I realized it wasn’t coming. It’s probably for the best, though I did kind of miss it.

dbs full power broly

If you’re looking for some of the old Broly you know (and love?) you’ll get that here as well.

Ultimately, I was left feeling like seeing Dragon Ball Super: Broly on the big screen was very much a worthwhile experience. This film was designed for that setting, and I really enjoyed my time with it. I was surprised to find it actually showing at quite a few theaters in my area, and further surprised to find many shows sold out. Thankfully, I was planning on seeing this alone as I couldn’t find two seats side-by-side anywhere. The machinations of the plot are pretty contained so if you haven’t bothered to watch Dragon Ball Super you shouldn’t have too much trouble getting into this and and figuring out what’s going on, so don’t let that be an obstacle. If you ever cared about Dragon Ball, then you owe it to yourself to catch it on the big screen.

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Dragon Ball Z Movie Wrap-up – The Rankings

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

db super broly

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

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

Goten urinating

Lets kick this one off properly!

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

cooler surprised

Maybe this was a bad idea.

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

Slug ears.png

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

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

Bio Broly trunks goten

Swamp Thing got nothing on Broly.

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

13 trucker hat

Trucker hats rule.

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

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Dragon Ball Z Movie 6 – The Mega Powers Explode!

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

Tree_of_Might

In this one, Goku fights a tree.

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

dead zone gif

Oh yes, that’s the good stuff!

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

Bebi_Burori

Legendary Super Saiyan? More like Legendary Cry Baby.

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

vlcsnap-00003

You wanna get nuts?! Let’s get nuts!

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

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When a god asks for pudding you give him pudding!

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

bjoack group shot

Some cool guys and Yamcha.

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

vegeta cries

Tears in Hell.

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

goku vegeta bicker

Play nice you two.

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

tapiotrunks

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

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

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


Bandai Dragon Stars Super Saiyan Trunks

IMG_2529Dragon Ball Super did to me what basically every cartoon/anime does:  it made me want toys based on it. It’s a compulsion I’ve never outgrown, apparently, and Bandai has made it fairly easy (but not cheap) to get what I want. Months ago I did an entry on the SH Figuarts Super Saiyan Vegeta. That line is like the premium action figure line for Dragon Ball Z (as well as other franchises) and a single figure from that line routinely sells for over $50. Not all fans are into 6″ figures at such a price point, and even though I have two such figures I can’t say I’m really into it myself, and for those fans Bandai has its Dragon Stars brand. These action figures are more in-line with what you would get from Hasbro. They’re super articulated figures that run for around $20, which is sadly the going rate for such toys in this day and age. They often have a few interchangeable parts and also come bundled with a piece of another figure. Collect the whole line and you can assemble a sort of bonus figure. Back in the days of ToyBiz and its Marvel Legends line that bonus figure was often a giant figure twice the size of a standard one, but in today’s world it’s just a standard sized figure.

The Dragon Stars line has produced a few waves at this point. The first was basically a Dragon Ball Z wave, but the second was all about Dragon Ball Super. When I was really into DBZ and collecting toys from Irwin, I always found the majority of Future Trunks figures a bit underwhelming. When I saw the Future Trunks from the Dragon Stars line it immediately caught my eye because it felt like a figure that had eluded me for years. Even so, I passed on it several times before it finally won me over and I’m sure that was at least due in part to the Future Trunks arc airing on television from Dragon Ball Super. Eventually, I caved, picking this guy up at my local GameStop and now I’m going to tell you all about it.

Trunks stands roughly 6″ with the tips of his hair taking him a little beyond that. He’s more or less in scale with the other figures in the line (from what I can tell) and he even looks fine with the Figuarts Vegeta next to him. Since this is from Dragon Ball Super, he’s in his attire from that show which doesn’t differentiate much from his look in DBZ. He still sports charcoal gray pants and yellowish boots, the main difference being now he has a denim coat that actually fits properly and he’s tossed in a red ascot for good measure. His clothing is torn in places reflecting the harsh life he’s had to live in his future battling the likes of Goku Black. He’s in his boosted Super Saiyan form from later in the arc, which is kind of like Super Saiyan 2 in terms of looks only Trunks is way more powerful. The show never gave this form a proper name, but Wikipedia refers to it as Super Saiyan Rage. He’s armed with his trusty sword once more and his figure actually comes with two: an unsheathed sword to swing around and a sheathed one that pops into his back. He comes packaged with a pair of fists, but he also has a pair of hands that can hold the sword and a pair of open hands in a Gallick Gun/Burning Attack position. Lastly, he comes with the head of Fused Zamasu which looks pretty awesome and does kind of make me want to collect all six figures in the wave to complete the figure.

Trunks’ range of motion is pretty typical of a modern action figure. He has ball joints virtually everywhere and his hands pop off and on easily enough. His head is really limited though and I think it’s due to the collar on his jacket. He’s kind of always looking down slightly. His arms are also hindered a bit and he doesn’t possess as much range of motion there as one would think. For instance, he can’t really do a proper Gallick Gun pose or really cross his arms. The cuffs on his sleeves also prevent his hands from pivoting back much. The legs on my figure are also a little loose, but not enough to make it hard to pose or stand him. In the end, he can do just enough to make it interesting to mess around with him on a shelf, but I can see feeling a bit let down as far as the articulation is concerned.

When a figure feels a bit lacking in the pose department, I often turn to the sculpt for value. In truth, the sculpt is the most important part for me since my figures just end up on a shelf. In the case of Trunks, the sculpt is pretty good for the price. If this were a $60 figure, I’d probably be disappointed, but as a $20 he’s solid. The hair looks good and it’s a nice, vibrant, yellow. He has a determined, serious, expression on his face which is befitting the character. The jacket and pants look good with enough little texture details to make them interesting. The sculpt also hides the articulation well giving him a clean look. The boots, oddly enough, are perhaps my favorite part as there’s some nice detail here. His sword and scabbard also look nice and clean. I’m guessing Bandai opted for this approach over a traditional sword that fits into a scabbard so that it didn’t have to compromise on the actual size of the sword. Cartoon swords tend to be illustrated much larger than the actual scabbard they’re supposed to fit into so I consider it a nice touch.

So what’s missing? Well, in addition to the articulation shortcomings it should be pointed out that this figure could have wowed in other ways. Not having a non Super Saiyan head is kind of a disappointment considering it doesn’t look like we’ll get a figure of that down the line. It’s not even really a cost issue as he has a second head, it’s just not a second Trunks head. It also would have been neat to see him come with his Hope Sword, but it also wasn’t something I expected.

Considering this is the first Dragon Stars action figure I purchased, did it sell me on the line? Yeah, it kind of did. I don’t really want to get too far down the line with another series of figures, preferring to stay in my lane of TMNT and Bucky O’Hare, but I could see myself getting a few more. The other five figures in this wave were mostly good, the only one I did not care for was Super Saiyan Blue Vegeta who has a weird face sculpt. These things tend to sell out though, so I don’t expect to run across any in a discount bin other than maybe Zamasu or Hit. I do like this look for Trunks though, and I really enjoyed his arc in Dragon Ball Super. I enjoyed it so much that I’m really tempted by the upcoming SH Figuarts version of this same figure due out later this year. That one actually has the things I would have loved out of this figure including a normal head and the Hope Sword. About the only thing it lacks is a standard Super Saiyan 1 head and an affordable price. At $65, it may just be too rich for me, but at least I have this one which is pretty good on its own.


Dragon Ball Z – Resurrection ‘F’

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Resurrection ‘F’ (2015)

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

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

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

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Pilaf always has to be starting trouble.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Goku’s got a new look to debut.

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

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

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Frieza’s new form is quite statuesque.

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

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

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

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

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Oh, and this is apparently what Hell looks like.

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


SH Figuarts Super Saiyan Vegeta

IMG_2172He’s the Prince of all Saiyans. The last survivor to have laid eyes on Planet Vegeta, home world of the mighty warriors and birthplace of the legendary Goku. And he’s also a pretty fine toy. Vegeta, arguably the most popular character to emerge from Dragon Ball Z, has seen his likeness cast in numerous forms of plastic over the years. The Dragon Ball franchise is probably the most recognizable anime franchise around the globe and probably the most beloved. Despite concluding over 20 years ago, Dragon Ball Z remains insanely popular. It has experienced a renaissance over the past few years due in large part to the launch of Dragon Ball Super, the Akira Toriyama blessed true sequel to Dragon Ball Z which basically erases the lackluster Dragon Ball GT from canon. It’s thanks to that series, as well as Giant Bomb’s new Dragon Ball Kai podcast All Systems Goku, that I’m feeling awash in Dragon Ball related nostalgia. And when I get nostalgic, I often turn to toys.

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Final Flash, sort of?

SH Figuarts, a division of Bandai, has been releasing high quality action figures for a few years now. I reviewed each figure in its aborted Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles line and came away really impressed with the build quality of those figures. That license was reportedly rather expensive for SHF, so I should not be surprised that their Dragon Ball products actually seem more substantial and are even a bit cheaper in price. They’ve been dabbling in the franchise for a few years now, but it’s only just now that I finally bit the bullet on my first DBZ figure and who else was I going to pick other than Vegeta? Truth be told, my options were rather slim at my local comic shop as these figures aren’t stocked like a typical action figure line or the much cheaper Dragon Ball Super figures. I had my choice between Vegeta, Tien, and Kid Goku from Dragon Ball and opted for Vegeta because he was always one of my favorite characters and at $50 he was also the cheapest. That price point is substantial for a lone action figure and it’s the most I’ve ever spent on a DBZ figure, but after having a couple of days to mess around with him, it’s hard not to come away impressed.

Super Saiyan Vegeta comes in at roughly 6″ in height and is depicted in his iconic Cell Saga blue armor attire. He has more points of articulation than is worth mentioning and loads of optional parts. His parts list includes 4 interchangeable face plates, nine different hands, and a set of crossed arms. His wide range in articulation means he’s capable of numerous dynamic poses, though the lack of a display stand of some kind is a bit disappointing (they’re sold separately) as he can’t truly assume his classic Gallic Gun pose or Final Flash. His joints are nice and tight so there’s no flopping around. The paint apps on my figure are all really clean. His face has few paint accents, but his expressions work really well and it kind of plays off of the yellow in his hair this way. His bodysuit has some shading and the armor does as well so it’s not just stark white. There’s no battle damage or anything like that and nothing is removable, but the armor itself is part of the sculpt providing maximum articulation at the slight cost of true likeness.

The SHF line is composed of numerous smaller pieces and the figures can practically be deconstructed if you so desire. This means you can get a little rough with them without fear of breaking anything as it’s more likely the piece will just pop out instead. The hands all popped out rather easily for me. They’re seated on a small peg which is attached to a ball joint. Snapping on a new hand can be a little tricky as that ball behind the pegs wants to move, but it’s still fairly simple. The cross arms piece is a little more tricky as you have to remove Vegeta’s arms just above the bicep. They come apart easy enough, but getting the crossed arms to fit means inserting one side then kind of bending the other arm to make it work. Still, I never felt like I was endangering my figure when putting it on. The end result is a classic Vegeta pose, though it looks slightly unnatural. That may just be due to me knowing it’s one solid piece and overthinking it, so judge for yourself in the picture below. As you can see, SHF did a great job of making sure the blue of the sleeves matches Vegeta’s shoulders.

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Vegeta is not impressed with your fighting ability.

Veneta’s face plates are all relatively easy to remove and re-apply. His “bangs” are attached to his face and including that as part of each face plate helps add depth to his hair and also hide the seem. After struggling with the face plates of the recently released Bucky O’Hare from Boss Fight Studio, it was nice to have no similar issues with the faces here. He comes capable of four different expression: a serious face, a cocky grin, an angry scream, and an angry scream while looking off to the left. I’m not really sure why that last one is included, but I’m not complaining as it’s not like anything is missing (unless you enjoy horrified Vegeta). His screaming faces even have that little vein that shows up in the show whenever Vegeta gets pissed which is a nice touch. The only challenge to the faces is finding a spot to place your fingers as you push another face on – that hair is pretty damn spiky!

Between the numerous hands and the various expressions it’s relatively easy to recreate any scene you wish from the show or manga. The only thing missing is a true Big Bang Attack hand gesture, which if I’m being honest actually is a pretty disappointing omission. He can handle the Final Flash with ease though and it’s possible to kind of contort him into a Gallic Gun, but that one always was a bit odd and a pose more appropriate for a Saiyan Saga Vegeta. It would have also been nice to get a a non-super head, though I personally wouldn’t display him with black hair so I guess I shouldn’t complain. Now if they had wanted to go the extra mile and include removable shoulder pads, tail, and armor “skirts” then that would have been great – basically creating an ultimate Vegeta figure. That would have also added considerable cost to the figure and already being at $50 I can understand why SHF would rather not. If you love all forms of Vegeta though SHF has you covered as they’ve done a Saiyan Saga Vegeta, Majin Vegeta, and a Super Saiyan Blue version as well.

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Hug me!!!

Considering prior to purchasing this Vegeta action figure the only ones I had were made by Bandai, Irwin, and Unifive, it probably comes as no surprise that this is the best Vegeta I’ve ever purchased. Since it’s the most expensive, I guess that makes sense. It’s also given me a bit of an itch to acquire a few more of the Dragon Ball figures released by SHF. I can’t see myself going nuts and trying to collect the whole line, but a few choice figures is not out of the question and I may or may not have already bought a second figure (spoiler alert, I did and you can expect a review of that one in the not too distant future). The only danger is with companion figures. If I decide I really want a Saiyan Saga Vegeta will I then feel the need to pair him with a Nappa which runs around $75? It’s a dangerous game. For now at least I can feel pretty happy with this figure.


Super Dragon Ball Z

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods

Dragon Ball Z:  Battle of Gods (2013)

Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods (2013)

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I find Dragon Ball Z to be a pretty overrated anime. Some of that sentiment stems from the fact that it’s considerably more popular than its predecessor, Dragon Ball, despite being the inferior product. Part of that also stems from the fact that Dragon Ball Z fans seem to regard it as the greatest anime of all time, rather than what it really is; the most popular anime of all time. This is not to say I find the show to be a bad one. For awhile during the 1990’s I found myself quite captivated by the show. I was incredibly disappointed that the dub, for many years, ended right in the middle of the Namek Saga with Goku preparing to take on The Ginyu Force (I was also really disappointed when the series finally returned with an all new and quite terrible dub). Little did I know, that I had basically seen the best of the show up to that point. While the Cell Games and Buu Saga have their moments, for the most part the show became almost a self-parody with extended filler sequences and familiar plot lines.

It’s the formula of Dragon Ball Z that makes it a rather pedestrian television program. The characters are all simply constructed and tend to embody one archetype. Each “season” consists of the gang being forced to take on the latest “Most Powerful Being in the Universe” with the same familiar pattern: dispatch weak enemy, hear latest prophecy of doom, be defeated by said enemy, train endlessly, power-up and defeat enemy. The stakes are always the same, and even though characters are killed off several times, they usually find their way back to the land of the living and there are few lasting repercussions on the show (aside from the novel concept that the characters do age over time). It was basically like watching an animated fighting video game: it just moves from one battle to the next with very little connecting tissue in-between. As such, it’s quite easy to take a cynical view towards the show but it still has its moments where it’s genuinely entertaining and even charming.

Beerus and Whis are the latest antagonists to threaten earth.

Beerus and Whis are the latest antagonists to threaten earth.

If one were to be jaded with the prospects of another extension of the Dragon Ball Universe, they’d likely be less interested in yet another Dragon Ball Z film. The show was so successful that it rather logically spawned feature films. These films were little more than cash-grabs and often contained less plot than the show and an even more obvious formula. Thirteen films in all were released based off of Dragon Ball Z with virtually none fitting into the canon of the show’s storyline. Aside from a select few that contained some genuine entertainment value, most are just mediocre with the only contribution they made being the superior animation when compared with the show. As a result, I was not all that enthused to hear that Toei Animation was returning to the series for a new film:  Battle of Gods. The only cause for optimism was that it was announced series creator Akira Toriyama, who had little involvement with the awful Dragon Ball GT, was handling the screenplay and character designs. Toriyama, unlike some of his fans, seems to understand what makes Dragon Ball special. It’s not some super sophisticated anime meant to challenge the likes of Neon Genesis or Cowboy Bebop, it’s strictly intended to entertain with humor and action.

Battle of Gods opens with some familiar characters pondering the awakening of The God of Destruction. Supreme Kai, along with Elder Kai, fear what this god may do now that he’s awoken early while King Kai gives Goku a quick lesson on who this guy is. It’s not a very promising open for the film as it’s pretty much in line with most of the movies and we know Goku and this god are going to have to have a showdown. We’re then taken to this god’s home world and are introduced to Beerus, The God of Destruction, and his attendant Whis. One of the themes of Dragon Ball is to never a judge a book by its cover, and Beerus embodies that concept quite well. He’s basically an anthropomorphized sphinx cat complete with tall ears and a wrinkly cat muzzle on his face. Not only does he look like a cat, but he also embodies one as well. When we first meet him he’s just waking up from a 39 year slumber much in the same way we’d expect any cat to awaken. He’s lethargic, hungry, and summons for Whis almost immediately. Later we’ll see him acting rather petulantly and impatiently while also toying with his prey, further driving home the point that he doesn’t just simply look like a cat, he is one. Whis gives him a refresher on what transpired during his slumber, and he’s quite pleased to learn that Frieza dealt with those insolent Saiyans by destroying their planet. He’s further surprised to learn that one dubbing himself a Super Saiyan defeated Frieza, which reminds him of a dream he had where he encountered a Super Saiyan God. Remembering this, Beerus decides to journey to earth to meet the one who defeated Frieza and to hopefully find out more of this Super Saiyan God.

Beerus and Goku reenacting the infamous WCW Finger Poke of Doom.

Beerus and Goku reenacting the infamous WCW Finger Poke of Doom.

When Beerus arrives he encounters Goku almost immediately, and in true DBZ movie fashion, they fight and Goku is easily outclassed. Unlike other films, Beerus is essentially neither friend nor foe. He isn’t a good guy, but he’s also not really a bad guy. Sure he’s The God of Destruction, but apparently someone has to be. He decides to seek out Vegeta to see if he knows anything of this Saiyan God, since he learned nothing from Goku, and finds the Saiyan prince at his wife’s birthday party. Beerus loses interest in his pursuit of a Super Saiyan God when it turns out Vegeta knows nothing, and not wanting to turn down an opportunity to feast, invites himself to the party. Some hijinks involving some familiar faces for Dragon Ball fans occur at the party and things seem to be going well until Buu hogs all of the pudding, sending Beerus into a rage. Only Vegeta knows just who Beerus is and what he’s capable of, which is why the other party-goers jump to their friend’s defense further irritating Beerus. This causes him to declare that it’s time he destroy earth, just as Goku shows up. The heroes are able to request Beerus give them five minutes to consult The Eternal Dragon on the matter of a Super Saiyan God, and when Shenron reveals the secret of how to produce one, Beerus gets his wish.

Of course, Goku is the one to step-up and challenge him as the very underwhelming Super Saiyan God. If you were expecting a fantastic new transformation then you’ll be let down to see that “God Mode” is essentially a skinny Goku with a bad dye-job giving his hair a reddish hue. He possesses a fiery aura, which looks kind of cool but is also visually distracting, but that’s about it. Goku and Beerus fight, and I won’t spoil the outcome but you can probably guess at the ultimate end result.

The gang's all here.

The gang’s all here.

The plot for the film is rather familiar, and judged solely on that, the film is a disappointment. However, how it navigates the plot is what helps to elevate it above the normal DBZ fare. For one, Toriyama’s humor is sharp, and while there are some in-jokes to be found for longtime fans, the majority of the humor is fairly natural. It’s also refreshing as Beerus is the source for much of it. He’s definitely one of the better villains Toriyama has conceived of and his ambiguous nature and ambivalence towards mortals makes him almost charming, in a way. He plays off of his attendant Whis fairly well, a character who also embodies a notable Toriyama trait in that he’s a supremely powerful male with obvious feminine features. Toriyama’s affinity for food-related humor shows up in both Whis and Beerus as they’re very interested in the different flavors present on earth. Thankfully, we’re spared the often repeated visual of Goku stuffing his face which stopped being funny somewhere around the character’s first visit to King Kai’s planet.

For fans of DBZ’s unique action sequences, the film may be a disappointment. A lot of the time is spent on Beerus interacting with the earthlings at the expense of the big fight scenes the show is known for. When the film does go there, the action is a bit restrained. Some of that is a plus. As the characters grew in power during the show there was basically no way to visually establish they were stronger and faster than they were 100 episodes prior making many fight scenes look visually lazy as the characters “moved too fast for the naked eye.” In Battle of Gods the action is slowed down and there’s a satisfying weight to the blows landed. There’s still a few instances of old standby DBZ staples, but they’re not overused. Despite that though, the action is underwhelming and some curious uses of CG effects didn’t help things.

Goku's "God" form is a bit underwhelming, but at least it's better than Super Saiyan 4.

Goku’s “God” form is a bit underwhelming, but at least it’s better than Super Saiyan 4.

Visually, DBZ never looked better. The animation is smooth and every scene pops with bright colors. Some may have thought the more muted color palette of the manga would be present since Toriyama was so heavily involved but that is not the case. The only criticism I have of the visuals is the just mentioned CG used in the fight scenes. While the characters fly through a city landscape, it’s rather obvious the backgrounds are being drawn by a computer. This is a fairly common effect going back to the 1980’s but I’ve always found it jarring. Less forgivable are the few instances in which the characters themselves are CG animated making them look like they’ve been ripped right out of the latest DBZ video game. It looks silly and something I would recommend they scrap for future features.

Dragon Ball Z has had an up and down relationship when it comes to the english dub. The original Ocean Group dub was a mixed bag, but was miles ahead of the original Funimation dub that followed. Funimation first starting dubbing DBZ over 15 years ago, and all of that time with the series has actually lead to a pretty wonderful english cast. The voice actors, most of whom have been on the series since the beginning, really know their characters. The writers handling the localization also know these characters and they’ve created a very lively and witty script. The language is probably of a PG nature though there’s very little in the way of graphic violence. If you’re a longtime fan of the series who prefers to watch it subtitled, then by all means, watch it subbed but you won’t be missing anything if you go the dub route.

Dragon Ball Z:  Battle of Gods managed to both meet my expectations and also exceed them. The general plot is typical for a DBZ movie and rather boring, but the presentation is excellent (aside from a few visual hiccups) and the film is genuinely entertaining. It’s probably too long by about fifteen minutes, but not long enough to feel like a drag. The way the film is written makes this feel more like Dragon Ball than Dragon Ball Z. For me, I consider that a good thing but those who enjoy DBZ for the over-the-top action may be disappointed. Lastly, the introduction of Beerus was a success as I’m actually interested to see more from him. Apparently, Toei and Toriyama were banking on that as he’s in the recently released Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection F and is also a recurring character in the new television show, Dragon Ball Super.  I have no idea if more Dragon Ball Z is a good thing or not, but I do know that Battle of Gods was a fun nostalgia trip. Time will tell just how long that trip lasts.