Dragon Ball: The Road to Film 20 – Part IV
Toei Animation seems to be pooling every available resource to make Dragon Ball Super: Broly the most action-packed, visually stunning film in the franchise to date, marking the 20th Dragon Ball film. I’ve been foaming at the mouth over the project since it was first announced, and it seems as good a time as any to look at the movies and TV specials leading up to this point. I will be covering every one to date, including two OVAs. I will however, be excluding the Toriko and One Piece crossover special as it’s focus is split between two other franchises. I will also be covering each in release order rather than where it may or may not fit arc-wise. For consistency’s sake, I’ll also be using dub terminology and names across the board, despite knowing the franchise in and out in both languages. These are less reviews and more quick reflections on what we’ve had up to this point.
Broly: The Legendary Super Saiyan
(Burn Up!! A Red-Hot, Raging, Super-Fierce Fight)
Original release date: March 6, 1993
Oh boy, here it is. Everyone’s favorite roided psychopath. This one’s a lot of fun. It also marked a significant overhaul of the aesthetic moving forward. For context, this was the first film with Tadayoshi Yamamuro as both animation supervisor and character designer, and his designs would remain a staple of the franchise nearly as much as Toriyama himself. Some of his model sheets would eventually be repurposed and standardized for the Buu Arc, and he also became the primary promotional artist for the franchise, and remains such (for the most part) to this day. Most posters from here on out are his work, as well.
Story-wise, we open on the South Galaxy under attack. King Kai, aware of the destruction, fears for the safety of the North. Meanwhile at a picnic, the Z-Warriors, Vegeta in particular, are confronted by a surviving Saiyan named Paragus. He claims to have been searching for him in order to rekindle the Saiyan race with Vegeta taking his place as king, at last. The catch is, they have a bigger threat to worry about before they can start. Paragus asks Vegeta to deal with the Legendary Super Saiyan, a being of incredible power in Saiyan folklore said to only appear once a millennium. Goku, having been asked to look into the matter by King Kai, is also on the same trail. It’s then revealed that Paragus’s son Broly is the Legendary Super Saiyan, his power and demeanor subdued by a mind control device, and this has all been a plot to get revenge on Vegeta’s family. Broly transforms, and what follows is nearly 35 minutes of pure, unhinged battering.
This film is shallow. Like, hilariously shallow. But it is an absolute blast. I’ll be honest, all I ask for with these movies, especially in a pre-Battle of Gods world, is crisp animation and a good fight. Well, you don’t just get a fight; you get an outright curb stomp. Broly is full-on anime Hulk and beats every single able-bodied warrior in the film to a bleeding pulp and it is glorious.
The eponymous Broly sports a menacing design and plenty of edge to carry a product like this, although his backstory and motivation leave a lot to be desired. I’m not asking for anything deep here, but this was the longest movie in the series at this point, sporting a 72 minute runtime. They also spend plenty of time establishing him as a threat and Paragus’s disdain for the Vegeta family, so it’s not like they didn’t have room to at least make Broly’s drive a little more palpable. It’s no surprise the character became so popular however, especially in the west. The dub also brought with it the most licensed insert songs of any of the films, including one from Pantera which has been permanently seared into my mind as far as Broly’s big transformation scene is concerned. I guess we’ll see how he’s retooled in the upcoming movie, since it’s a complete reimagining.
(The Galaxy at the Brink!! The Super Incredible Guy)
Original release date: July 10, 1993
The last film of the Androids and Cell arcs. Taking place after the Cell Games but before the timeskip leading into the Buu arc, Gohan and the others are taking part in the Intergalactic World Tournament, a showy affair sponsored by a millionaire to impress his son for his birthday. Despite the “intergalactic” part being just being part of the aesthetic and show, the tournament is interrupted by galactic soldiers, led by Bojack. A bloodthirsty man, Bojack was sealed away by the Kais years prior after he wreaked havoc throughout each of the four galaxies. However, when Goku brought Cell to King Kai’s planet and it exploded, the seal containing him went with it.
Tournament contestants are then systematically attacked, and Mr. Satan’s pupils posing as the galactic contestants are killed. He and his minions are eventually confronted by Gohan and the others, and because this is a movie, Gohan needs a little coaxing before he can go Super Saiyan 2 and wipe the floor with them. What separates this film from the others is that Goku isn’t the lead. He’s still dead, and while he plays a more passive role observing the chaos, his place in the story is very miniscule.
Having Gohan be the lead of his own film is a good idea but it’s a very middle-of-the-road film to play that card. Bojack is about as bland as we’ve come to expect, although I do really like his initial design. Very creative, very distinctly Toriyama. Too bad his transformation kind of ruins it. Goku also intervenes in the climax and while it serves as a moment for him to tell Gohan to get it together, it’s frustrating in its own right. Gohan needing to be instilled at all at this point in the series feels contrived. It’d make more sense in the Buu arc, but not so much here.
On the superficial side of things, this film sure is pretty to look at. From Movie 8 on, the last of the original Z films were just gorgeous. This was when Yamamuro was at the top of his game. When I think of the Z section of the franchise, I think of this era’s style.
Broly: Second Coming
(The Dangerous Duo! Super Warriors Can’t Rest)
Original release date: March 12, 1994
The big beefy boy is back. Last time a movie villain got a sequel, it didn’t turn out so well. So how does this one fare? Having (somehow) survived the battle with Goku, Broly escaped Comet Comori in a Saiyan pod and crash landed on Earth. Losing the last bit strength he had left, he falls unconscious, reverting to his base form. The crater he formed is then filled with water and flash freezes, preserving him in the ice. Years later, we now found ourselves at the beginning of the Buu arc. Sort of. The continuity in these rarely make any sense.
Goten, Trunks and Videl are searching for Dragon Balls because of course they are, and wind up saving a village from a dinosaur as barter for the village shaman’s necklace, which has the last one they need. When Videl makes Goten cry after reprimanding him, Broly hears it, triggering his old memories with Goku when they were children, and he awakes in a fury. From there on out, it’s a cat-and-mouse game between Broly and the two kids. They narrowly avoid death while Broly just gets angrier. Eventually Gohan shows up, and the remainder of the fight is left to him.
I think your enjoyment of this film will vary depending on how much you like Goten and Trunks, especially as a major focus. Personally, I’ve always found the levity around the pair endearing and a good palate cleanser for the intensity of the series, especially given how much of a mouthful the entire arc is. If you find them annoying, this isn’t going to be for you. Also, Broly may as well be a block of wood in this film. He has very little in the way of dialogue outside of shouting Goku’s Saiyan name and screaming. It’s certainly a better follow-up than the last time a movie villain got a second chance, but there’s not much to chew on this time.
P.S. This was the last of the dubbed movies to use licensed rock songs. From here on out, the only time we’d get an insert would be because it was used in the sub.
(Super-Warrior Defeat!! I’m the One Who’ll Win)
Original release date: July 9, 1994
How about a second encore? That’s right. Broly’s back a third time, except this time you’ll wish they left well enough alone. Get this, the shaman from the last film obtained some of Broly’s blood left on the battlefield and brought it to Jaguar, an old rival of Mr. Satan’s as part of his experiments to create Bio-Warriors. After the billionaire responsible for the experiments invites Mr. Satan to his laboratory, Goten and Trunks follow him and Android #18 to the island. Of course, Jaguar sets the Bio-Warriors on our heroes, including Broly, who breaks out of his tank ahead of schedule. His body incomplete, cannot hold it’s form, and melts. Hence, Bio-Broly is born. I think Nick “Lanipator” Landis of Team Four Star put it best when he described it as the hideous love child of Swamp Thing and a Muk.
There goes that pesky B-Movie sci-fi once again. Not only do Bio-Warriors rear their ugly heads again, but now we’re bringing cloning into this? Who’s idea was it to turn your most popular anime-original villain into a pile of goop? Sure, Mr. Satan and #18 give us a little more character than just Goten and Trunks on their own but it can’t save this farce. This is without a doubt the worst the movies ever had to offer. Shame too, as the visuals in places are on the same par as the last two films.
Second Coming was lazy, but Bio-Broly, while “fresher” an idea, is so much worse in execution. The World’s Strongest was dull, but it at least had some interesting setpieces. The Return of Cooler was derivative, but I could still appreciate Goku and Vegeta fighting on the same side. Here? There is just… nothing. What little “something” there is is painfully misguided. Worst of all, it actually ends on a note that would’ve made for a more interesting movie. We cut to Goku and King Kai in Other World, as apparently Broly has been wreaking havoc in Hell and Grand Kai wants him and Pikkon to take care of it. Where was THAT movie? I would’ve taken that! Yeesh. Next time, the universe balances itself out. Not with the premise I just mentioned, but with something a little more creative.