Akira Toriyama’s international money printing machine, Dragon Ball Z, featured a huge number of movies and specials over the course of its Japanese run. This recent release from Madman takes care of packaging the first six movies plus the Bardock and History of Trunks specials in delightfully restored HD.
Given the volume of content in this release, we’re going to give the synopsis part of this review a dramatic challenge – can every Dragon Ball Z movie be summed up in three sentences or less? Let’s see…
- Movie 1, Dead Zone: It’s the return of Dragon Ball and Goku has a kid named Gohan who has a Dragon Ball on his cute hat. The evil Garlic Jr. wants to wish to be rad so he kidnaps the kid to steal his Dragon Ball and works on creating the Dead Zone. Goku rescues his son, Piccolo reluctantly teams up with Goku, all hope in the universe is lost until Gohan saves the day at the last possible moment.
- Movie 2, The World’s strongest: A crazy dead scientist’s evil base is uncovered when the crazy dead scientist’s assistant uses a wish from Shenron to get rid of the ice. Gohan and Oolong stumble across everything as Oolong wants to wish for panties. Gohan, Piccolo and Master Roshi are defeated and all hope in the universe is lost until Goku saves the day at the last possible moment by throwing a Genki Dama.
- Movie 3, The Tree of Might: Space bounty hunters plant the seed for a demon tree that kills the world. Krillan is useless, everyone else gets beaten up. All hope in the universe is lost until Goku saves the day at the last possible moment by throwing a Genki Dama.
- Movie 4, Lord Slug: Gohan sings a song that pisses off Piccolo then Namekian Lord Slug lands a spaceship on Earth and summons Shenron to grant him eternal youth so he can conquer the Earth. All hope in the universe is lost until Goku saves the day at the last possible moment by throwing a Genki Dama.
- Movie 5: Cooler’s Revenge: Cooler does a shitty job of not killing Goku when he was a baby and comes to Earth to smash everything because Frieza was killed by Goku. All hope in the universe is lost until Goku saves the day at the last possible moment by blasting Cooler into the sun with a kamehameha.
- Movie 6, The Return of Cooler: Goku and Friends visit New Namek to fight T-1000/Cyborg Cooler, blow him up, save the Namekians and discover Cooler’s real ambition was to be a computer so he has turned himself into Unicron. All hope in the universe is lost until Goku wins with what looks like a mini Genki Dama in lieu of using the Autobot Matrix of Leadership.
- Bardock – Father of Goku: Bardock fathers a baby with a rubbish power level and goes back to blowing up planets with his mates. Bardock’s team are betrayed by Frieza who sends his henchmen out to kill them off, which leads Bardock to try and muster a social revolution on Planet Vegeta. All hope in the universe is lost until Bardock… fails to save the day and everyone gets blown up by Frieza except Goku who got shoved in a space pod to travel to Earth before Planet Vegeta explodes.
- History of Trunks: It’s the future… and everything’s rubbish. Earth’s greatest warriors are all dead except Trunks and Gohan thanks to Dr Gero’s Androids, and the world lives in fear. Bulma performs Fusion with Lucca from Chrono Trigger to create a time machine to send Trunks back in time to defeat Lavos/the Androids, which Trunks jumps into in order to save the universe without having to use a Genki Dama.
It’s been a while since watching most of these (Return of Cooler is the only title I hadn’t checked out back when Madman started releasing the Dragon Ball Z movies and specials on DVD), and looking at them through 2018 goggles the experience was met with a little fatigue. The picks from this set are probably Dead Zone, Return of Cooler and the two specials.
Dead Zone’s strength is that it acts as a very good bridge between Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z, has an interesting premise and is happy to play around with humour. Return of Cooler actually isn’t terribly inspired, but the sheer ridiculousness of Cooler becoming a robot planet that devours others is all kinds of stupid and Vegeta’s eventual entrance mixes the cast up a little.
However, it was with the specials that things actually got really interesting. I remember initially being apathetic about the Bardock special when I first watched it when I was at uni, but I think it still keeps things engaging. Because there’s a narrative focus on the outcome we were presented in brief during the Namek saga of the main TV series, it forced the team to squeeze in enough story to set the pace for the cast and offers an insight to Vegeta’s time with Frieza and some of the other cast we’d meet on Namek. While the outcome was a sure thing if you’re familiar with the second season of Dragon Ball Z, the journey’s reliance on a tragic narrative played to its favour and it was a nice change from the otherwise-predictable turn-arounds the movies generally presented.
History of Trunks is similar insofar that we have only been given a brief preview of what lead Trunks to the third season of Dragon Ball Z. Watching a teenage Gohan and young Trunks train together and explore a world under an oppressive, eccentric force allowed the team to play with a sort of post-apocalyptic setting in the context of Dragon Ball Z which is, to be honest, generally pretty Blue Skies at times.
Even though some of this review comes off a little contemptuous of some of the contents in this release, it remains a really solid collection of movies (and TV specials) – the increased budget benefits the visuals with improved animation and backgrounds, and the generally tight running times keep them from too much filler. The Blu-Ray transfer itself is nice – it’s been DNR’d to hell and back so we loose some of the finer details in exchange for smoother colours, but it’s a far cry from, say, Viz’s efforts with their efforts on the ‘90s Sailor Moon releases. Each release has the original Japanese version with some extremely solid work on the translations (yay for honourifics!), along with your choice of English dub with original music or, if you’re a terrible human being, English dub with the arranged soundtrack. It would have been nice to have had the option to grab the original Japanese title splash screen and credit sequences as the film’s English hack of the title blocks and credits shatter the film-like vibe of the video feed itself (digital assets plastered on top of a film transfer can have a habit of looking tacky) and it also fails to acknowledge the original staff behind the films and specials.
But finicky complaints aside – it’s been a lot of fun revisiting Dragon Ball Z’s films and specials, and the combination of remastered assets, uncut language options and sheer quantity of content in this package makes it highly recommended to Dragon Ball Z fans (even grumpy weebs like me!).
A review copy was provided by Madman Entertainment to the author for the purpose of this review.