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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 – Budokai HD Collection

budokai hdOh, you thought we were done with DBZ?! Oh no, I have some more Dragon Ball related material to share with you and even though we’re done with the movies, I thought now was as good a time as any to talk about some video games. If you’re a usual reader, you may recall I did a post earlier this year on Super Dragon Ball Z, the Street Fighter inspired fighter for the PS2. It was the upcoming release of Arc System Works’ Dragon Ball FighterZ that inspired me to revisit that old game, and the same can be said of the Budokai series.

In case you need a refresher, Dragon Ball Z – Budokai was the Infogrames fighting game franchise of the early 2000’s and it was also the first real entry point for DBZ into global gaming. Prior to Budokai, the only Dragon Ball video games to make it out of Japan were the NES platformer, renamed Dragon Power in the US, based on Dragon Ball and the PSX fighting game Dragon Ball GT – Final Bout. Yes, somehow a game based on Dragon Ball GT made it to American soil before a Dragon Ball Z game. That early Dragon Ball game for the NES was simply a case of anything being available in Japan was brought over to other markets. It was altered so that it barely resembled Dragon Ball and there’s a chance that gamers who owned the abysmal title and went on to become fans of the franchise likely needed to read about it later in life to make the connection. Final Bout was likely released outside of Japan because it coincided with the 3D fighting game craze and the first real attempt at bringing the anime to America as well. It was a truly abysmal game that sold poorly. The anime was a flop initially so it kind of went away, but once the show became popular via Cartoon Network the after market price on Final Bout went crazy as it was the only video game released in the territory and fans wanted something, even if it was terrible.

dragon power

Technically, this was the first Dragon Ball game released outside of Japan, though you wouldn’t know it by the cover.

Of course, if you were living in Japan you had plenty of options when it came to DBZ fighters. The Super Famicom especially had a bunch of them and the PSX had an additional 2 and all were based on Dragon Ball Z as opposed to the far less popular Dragon Ball GT. Fans desperate for some DBZ content for their video game machines, like myself, turned to imports and emulation to get their fix, but in truth few of these games were worth playing. The only ones I can recommend half-heartedly were Dragon Ball Z – Hyper Dimension, a 16-bit fighter that didn’t control particularly well, but the visuals were impressive. On the PSX, Dragon Ball Z – Legends was a pretty ugly looking early PSX game, but it’s 3 on 3 simultaneous combat was really interesting and the simple, timing based, combat was actually pretty satisfying. It was just a shallow experience and once you saw everything the game offered there was little reason to return.

Once the show finally became popular around the turn of the millennium, there was a substantial rush to get content to the newly created global audience. Irwin Toys started cranking out new action figures and accessories while clothing and posters started popping up everywhere. The games took some time, and Bandai was awarded distribution for Japan while Infogrames, and later Atari, received the North American license. Dimps was selected as the developer and they got set to creating Budokai. Simultaneously, a Game Boy Advance game was also developed and released as The Legacy of Goku, an action-RPG that was at least interesting though not particularly fun. Because there was such an appetite for DBZ anything, Budokai really didn’t need to be a good game to sell well. It also didn’t need to be particularly good to immediately become the best DBZ fighting game ever released. Review-wise, it received a somewhat ho-hum reaction from critics, but fans seemed relatively pleased. It sold well enough to spawn two sequels, and 10 years after its initial 2002 release it received a high-definition makeover alongside Dragon Ball Z – Budokai 3.

hyper dimension

If you absolutely need to import a DBZ game, I’d suggest Hyper Dimension.

If you have never played a Budokai game, then let me tell you how it works. At its cores, it’s a simple 3D fighter. Characters can move in the foreground and background and are capable of attacking, blocking, firing ki blasts, and charging up their power meter. Each character typically has multiple health bars so stronger fighters will have additional health over weaker ones that’s clearly illustrated. Characters can also fly, but not at will. Instead, if a combo attack sends a fighter into the air they’ll kind of just hover in place once they recover from the attack. Simply pushing the directional pad towards an airborne fighter will cause the player-character to take to the air in pursuit.

final bout

Before Budokai, this was the best American fans had.

The main criticism of the original Budokai was the lack of beam attacks. Rather than simply ordering Goku to unleash a Kamehameha wave, the move was affixed to the end of a combo. A series of punches would end in Goku performing his signature attack, but at very close range so it was hardly spectacular looking. Instead, the eye-catching attacks were left to the super moves which are the moves that are designed to be difficult to pull off, but when successfully deployed, unleash devastating amounts of damage via a cinematic. These moves include Vegeta’s Final Flash and the like.

goku vs vegeta

The original Budokai does a decent job of laying the groundwork, though the visuals were never considered great even for the time.

Dimps seemed to target two important factors when creating the game:  make it look authentic and make it easy to play. As a result, all of the fighters essentially feel the same and have the same move-set, just with different results. In order to make the game feel authentic though, Dimps made sure to include various transformations in its games. Once advancing passed the Freiza arc, Goku could unlock his Super Saiyan transformation and use that in battle. Prior to getting it, he also had his Kaio-ken technique. Dimps even gave Piccolo his fusions from the series with Nail and Kame as transformations. The game featured a story mode that went up through the Cell Games and featured a roster of 23 characters. Later games would focus on expanding upon the roster to include practically anyone who ever partook in a fight during the series.

budokai story

The first game does at least boast better presentation in terms of its story mode, though these visuals are kind of “yuck.”

Budokai was a success, and it soon became an annual franchise. Budokai 2, released the following year and not included in this collection, corrected a lot of what people disliked about the original. Ki blasts and flying were now more manual than before and the story mode received more cinematics and was overall more rewarding (though it featured a weird board game interface). The roster was also greatly expanded upon due in large part to the game featuring the Buu Saga. More transformations were available and the game was largely just more fun. Budokai 3 arrived the following year with even more characters and moves and yet another revamped story mode. Instead of playing through the events of the show, players could select specific characters and experience the story from their perspective. And doing so also allowed the player to simply fly around the world looking for the next event as well as hidden ones. It felt less restrictive, and was thus pretty exciting.

budokai 3 story

Budokai 3’s story mode was more engaging, if lacking in the presentation department. It makes up for it though with much improved graphics and styling.

So how do these games hold up in 2018? Well, not surprisingly the original Budokai is showing its age. The visuals have been upgraded to HD, but the textures were so bland and basic to start-off that there’s virtually no improvement. It makes everyone look like vinyl dolls and the empty battle maps are even more boring than before. The simple combat is easy to grasp, but also not particularly engaging. This game is basically here as a nostalgia trip and to illustrate how the series began. Fire it up if you either never played it or just want to relive it, but after that you probably won’t play it again.

Budokai 3 is the main attraction of this set. There’s still a section of the fandom that considers it the best DBZ fighter ever released. It was the last main Budokai title as the many sequels saw the series move in a different direction, sometimes for the better and sometimes not. There was a PSP edition of the franchise called Shin Budokai and some place the 2006 title Infinite World in the Budokai series, but this was the last numbered entry. It’s quite easy to see how refined the game is in comparison with its predecessor. The visuals took on a more cell-shaded approach with additional detail and the move to HD doesn’t highlight the imperfections like it does with the first game. DBZ has a pretty simple, yet distinct, look and it doesn’t require incredible processing power to do it justice.

dragon rush 2

Dragon Rush adds some chaos to battles, but at the cost of skill.

From a gameplay perspective, the game is not quite as fast as I remembered. You will still spend most fights dashing at your opponent to unleash combos attacks and build towards bigger moves. I had forgotten how odd the gameplay structure was. Much of the fights hinge on your ability to pull off super moves and Dragon Rush attacks. The Dragon Rush is a bit convoluted, but it’s essentially a follow-up attack from a teleporting move. There’s a lengthy tutorial section in the game that’s not particularly helpful. It’s one of those things you just have to perform for yourself to get a feel for how it works. When connecting with one of these maneuvers, a quick-time event is enabled that’s basically a version of Rock-Paper-Scissors. The attacker selects a face button and the defender does as well. If the defender guesses right, the attack is thwarted. If not, it continues with both players now having only 3 face buttons to choose from. If the attacker is able to string together three successful attacks via this encounter, then a big move is unleashed and the opponent’s stamina (as well as some health) is knocked away leaving them more susceptible to damage. Actual super moves are done fairly easily by holding a shoulder button, but it starts a slow animation that can be tricky to connect with. And if you miss, you lose all of the energy stored for the attack. Connect and you get treated to another cinematic while also doling out some big damage. There’s always another QTE spot, this time with a meter rapidly filling and decreasing that you have to time properly, that determines how much damage the attack does.

gogeta fusion

There are lots of power-ups that take the form of transformations including fusion.

Fights have a tendency to be very reliant on those two moves. Whoever is better at pulling them off usually wins. The QTE spot injects some chaos as it’s entirely random, unless you’re playing against a human opponent and look at their controller. It’s not the most rewarding system, or perhaps it’s more appropriate to call it frustrating if you’re on the losing side. If you’re on the winning end then at least the cinematics are typically fun to see. The interesting change for the third game though was mostly in the stored energy each character has. Energy will gradually accumulate up to a certain point so you really need only charge your ki if you want to go for the biggest moves possible. This was a smart addition as the constant need to charge in other games was always the least enjoyable aspect. Transformations also aren’t the energy hogs they were in prior games so there’s more incentive to use the best ones.

The story mode felt revolutionary in 2004, though now it does feel more limited. Basically, you pick a character and fly around the world. Your character has a map and can also find a Dragon Radar to look for Dragon Balls. Activating your “senses” can sometimes turn-up hidden spots on the world that usually contain an item but sometimes contain a small story event – an easter egg, if you will. Various cities and popular landmarks appear on as well but you can’t really interact with them. If the name of the place displayed when flying over it then you can enter, but it just leads to a brief exchange with another character who may or may not provide an item. These are all done with still images and text – there are no cinematics in story mode which is rather bizarre. The most interesting aspect of the mode is that it can change depending on how many playthroughs you have done and if you have finished another character’s. Goku’s is the most robust, and if you play it a second time after getting through some of the other character’s stories you’ll take on some GT villains and even unlock Super Saiyan 4.

budokai 3 cooler

Budokai 3 expands upon the roster by drawing from the movies and Dragon Ball GT.

The goal of story mode is obviously to see it through, but it also features some RPG elements in the form of experience and stats. Leveling up a character gives you an ability point to place in various offensive and defensive categories. Each character also can equip a set number of items, with stronger items taking up multiple slots. This has been a feature in most DBZ games and allows for some level of customization. Frustratingly though, transformations always have a prerequisite that includes the prior transformation so if you want to use SS4 Goku you’ll need to devote 5 slots to transformations. If you want to fuse into Vegito then you’ll have to give up something. Characters can unlock a special Breakthrough capsule which contains all of their unique moves and abilities at the cost of taking up all of the ability slots. For a character like Goku who has the most unique capsules, it won’t include everything though which is kind of a bummer. The other short-coming of story mode is that it doesn’t include everyone. A lot of characters are playable including surprises like Tien and Yamcha, but only one villain has a story mode (and it kind of sucks) and characters you would expect to have one (namely Trunks) do not. There’s enough here to keep you busy for awhile, at least.

After getting caught up with these games, my main take-away was that anyone who thinks Budokai 3 is the best DBZ fighting game released has not spent enough time with newer entries. It’s not a bad game, but I’d rather play the Tenkaichi Budokai games over it. This game wants to capture the unique combat of the anime and sacrifices skill and control to do so. The Tenkaichi games were not difficult games to play, but their arena fighter approach made the games even more authentic and the super moves weren’t huge factors. With that out of the way, I will say I still had fun with Budokai 3. It took me a little while to get back into the flow of combat, but once I did I had a good enough time. There is a shallowness to the gameplay present so it doesn’t have the staying power of a more robust fighting game, and I wish they had dropped the Dragon Rush, but it does right by its license. I do wish the story mode featured actual moving images to tell its story, and the rewards for summoning the dragon are kind of lame. Considering I didn’t have to pay much to get this collection, I’d say it was money well spent. As for the original Budokai, it didn’t need to be included on this collection and I’m surprised it is. I would have much preferred Budokai 2, even if that game is pretty similar to 3. At least it featured a different story mode while including most of the gameplay enhancements featured in the third entry.


Dragon Ball Z Movie Wrap-up – The Rankings

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

db super broly

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

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

Goten urinating

Lets kick this one off properly!

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

cooler surprised

Maybe this was a bad idea.

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

Slug ears.png

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

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

Bio Broly trunks goten

Swamp Thing got nothing on Broly.

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

13 trucker hat

Trucker hats rule.

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

Goku Vegeta Cooler.jpg

Dragon Ball Z Movie 6 – The Mega Powers Explode!

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

Tree_of_Might

In this one, Goku fights a tree.

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

dead zone gif

Oh yes, that’s the good stuff!

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

Bebi_Burori

Legendary Super Saiyan? More like Legendary Cry Baby.

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

vlcsnap-00003

You wanna get nuts?! Let’s get nuts!

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

pudding 1

When a god asks for pudding you give him pudding!

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

bjoack group shot

Some cool guys and Yamcha.

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

vegeta cries

Tears in Hell.

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

goku vegeta bicker

Play nice you two.

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

tapiotrunks

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

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

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


Dragon Ball Z: Wrath of the Dragon

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

Original Release Date:  July 15, 1995

English Release:  September 12, 2006

Directed by:  Mitsuo Hashimoto

Screenplay by:  Takao Koyama

Running Time:  52 minutes

 

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

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

Saiyamen

The heroes we need.

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

saiyaman saves hoi

Not everything they do is battle tough space villains.

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

hoi

That is a face that can be trusted.

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

tapion

The Legendary Hero Tapion.

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

trunks and goten

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

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

Tapion_and_minotia

Tapion and his little brother say good bye.

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

Tapion_and_bulma

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

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

Hirudegarn_better

Look who got put back together.

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

vegeta vs hiru

Vegeta gettin in his one shot.

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

bug hirudegarn

Meet the new Hirudegarn, better than the old?

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

DBZ Wrath of the Dragon Tapion

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

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

dragon fist

That’s one way to kill a giant bug.

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

goku pose

Nothing like a good victory pose.

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

tapion goodbye

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

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

trunks with sword

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

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

tapion flute

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

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

vegeta wrath of dragon

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

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

kid trunks and tapion

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

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


Dragon Ball Z: Fusion Reborn

7e1c12908c1fd2ee3b2f5b99932706c8Japanese Title:  Fusion Reborn!! Goku and Vegeta

Original Release Date:  March 14, 1995

English Release Date:  March 17, 2006

Directed by:  Shigeyasu Yamauchi

Screenplay by:  Takao Koyama

Running Time:  51 minutes

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

oTu1KUa

This dude is about to have an unfortunate accident.

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

Goku_et_Paikuhan

Goku is way too excited about meeting Janemba.

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

dbzm12-028

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

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

Fusionreborn14

Look who’s back.

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

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

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

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Super Saiyan 3 Goku gets to work.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Gogeta!

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

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

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

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The movie leans heavy into the Goku/Vegeta dynamic.

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

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

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

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A side of Vegeta seldom seen.

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

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


Dragon Ball Z: Broly – Second Coming

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

Original Release Date:  March 12, 1994

English Release:  April 5, 2005

Directed by:  Shigeyasu Yamauchi

Screenplay by:  Takao Koyama

Running Time:  52 minutes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The village shaman Miloja – he’s a dick.

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

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They’re quite good at irritating Videl.

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

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Broly has awakened!

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

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When ya gotta go…

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

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Don’t worry kid, I got this.

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

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Not what anyone was expecting…

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

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Broly has an answer for Gohan’s attack.

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

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

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

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

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


Dragon Ball Z: Bojack Unbound

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

Original Release Date:  July 10, 1993

English Release Date:  August 17, 2004

Directed by:  Yoshihiro Ueda

Screenplay by:  Takao Koyama

Running time:  51 minutes

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

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

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Bojack – the villain of the day.

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

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

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

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Making his film debut, the incomparable Mr. Satan!

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

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

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

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

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

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Here comes Vegeta!

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

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Good talk, Dad.

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

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Even when dead, Goku can still make the save.

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

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Now he’s serious.

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

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

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

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Speaking of shit getting real…

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

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

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