Here’s an Otaku Confession of the Past: Dead Zone was my first introduction to anything remotely related to Akira Toriyama’s sprawling world of superhuman fisticuffs. There I was at a Kentucky flea market when I saw illicit VHS tapes of what would, in a year or two’s time, pop up on American television and sweep the nation. Now, as you’ve probably gathered from select Dragon Ball Z writings on this site and in the magazine, this left quite an impression on me, and it didn’t take long to start crooning out Hironobu Kageyama’s legendary theme song before blissful ignorance was washed away by a realization that I had, like, one million episodes of this show to watch.
After so many years, I can see why this left such a deep groove on the surface of my younger mind. Without any knowledge of the series whatsoever, the first thing I saw was a green guy in a turban screaming, a mountain exploding, and a sudden attack from all sides of the sky courtesy of some shadowed warriors. Talk about wild first impressions: these guys fought in mid-air! Punches and kicks in the stratosphere! And they only grew stronger as they segued from scene to scene of strange alien dudes yelling at each other, a little kid getting drunk off an apple to the point that he’s seeing dancing dinosaurs, and a swirling black hole to the antagonist’s own personal Hell.
Things have changed. I know the turban guy is Piccolo, the bad guy is Garlic Jr., and the drunk kid is Gohan, son of the strongest man in the world. What hasn’t changed is my appreciation for this first movie, which still has its charms as something I’d recommend to pretty much anyone that’s never seen Z before. Sure, much of the history is lost on the viewer with no background knowledge, but there’s only one chance to get someone in at ground level and make such a widely popular show seem like a collection of crazy alien assaults.
And what better to follow up that shocking show than the second movie, which happened to be the second half of my then-lofty purchase at the flea market so many years ago. Treated to tales of the bizarre Dr. Wheelo (though I could have sworn it was “Willow” in the corners of my memory) and his quest for a mighty body with which he plans to wreak devastation upon the occasionally mortal coil of DBZ. Both Piccolo and Master Roshi seem like solid picks for this dubious honor, but they’re not The World’s Strongest, are they? Careful readers will note that the title belongs to our hero, Goku, and they’re in for a-hurtin’ when they mess with him and his friends.
I don’t know if it really matters which one of these movies is “better” than the other. The second is more of a light sci-fi yarn, but if you’ve seen any single Dragon Ball Z feature, you probably know what to expect, and it’s always pretty entertaining. The animation of these and the other features (the 13th has always been my personal favorite) is a fair improvement over the television series, but it’s not exactly mind-blowing. Still, it has everything you want from 45 to 60-minute films that pit the most muscled of protagonists since He-Man rocked Grayskull against sometimes one-shot villains and others (like Garlic Jr.) that are destined to repeat their follies.
With a generous helping of both DB and DBZ movies out there, it’s nice to see FUNimation dipping into the twofer trade and offering up these double features. When combined, the length of these adventures is just right for a night or afternoon in front of the TV for a hair under two hours of fists and fireballs. Those with fancy setups will probably want to check these out on Blu-ray, but the standard DVDs look pretty nice, as well, and come in a sexy steelbook to seal the deal.
Studio/Company: FUNimation Entertainment