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"Dragonball" Heed the Call of the Magic Dragonballs

After all the hubbub over Dragonball Z and its various releases, it’s rather easy to forget the series that started it all: Dragonball. Luckily, FUNimation hasn’t forgotten and has given us a taste of the classic with three of the four movies in a thinpak boxset.

Goku and Bulma's first meeting. History was made on that day.Since FUNimation is advertising this as the first movie, despite it being made almost a decade after the others, I might as well start with The Path to Power. This retelling of the original Dragonball was created to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the franchise. The story’s the same as always: A young girl named Bulma rides around tracking the mystical Dragonballs only to meet up with a young, super-strong boy named Goku. The two then eventually decide to travel together, searching for the other Dragonballs and meeting new allies along the way including a shapeshifting pig named Oolong, Yamcha the Desert Bandit and his sidekick Puar, fighting expert Master Roshi, and Roshi’s pet Turtle. But Bulma’s not the only one with Dragonballs in her eyes. The Red Ribbon Army is after them as well, and they’re much more ruthless about acquiring them. Now, it’s up to Goku to storm Muscle Tower and the Red Ribbon Army Stronghold in order to reclaim the other Dragonballs and rescue his friends from certain doom.

I have to say that, out of all the movies, specials, OAVs, and whatnot from the Dragonball universe, this is probably my favorite by far. The whimsical nature of the original Dragonball combined with the updated designs and stellar action from Dragonball Z (or, to be more accurate, Dragonball GT, since this was made in the middle of the third series) combine to create a true classic that’s highly underrated. It doesn’t bring much new material, as the vast majority of the movie is simply scenes from the original anime retold, but the way it all comes together refreshes things enough that even fans who have the entire series memorized will still find the movie fun. It helps that the classic jokes, such as Oolong burning himself with his hot soup or Yamcha freaking out over Bulma, are still funny no matter what decade it is. And the scene where Bulma tries to get Roshi’s Dragonball is easily one of the Top 10 greatest scenes in the entire franchise. Combine that with a Red Ribbon Army that looks so much more together than the series version, and you get a tale that successfully combines the mystical aspects of the original with the sci-fi aspects of Z and GT.

Best gag in any Dragonball series ever.Unfortunately, the damn thing’s just too short. One would think, given Dragonball‘s tendency to run less than an hour, that an 80-minute runtime would be enough to cram everything in, but it isn’t, though it’s not far off. Much of the movie is actually paced rather well and has a real good flow to it, but the two big fight scenes (Goku infiltrating Muscle Tower and his fight with Black) seem to go by far too fast. This all seems to stem from Android 8. Whenever he’s on screen (except for his snowfight with Goku), things seem to move at a rapid pace and the movie doesn’t get a chance to breathe. This is evident even during the credits, as Shenron is summoned and then the credits roll after the wish is granted. I would have liked to have seen some kind of epilogue instead of random splash images to give the movie an overall better ending. It would’ve also been nice if Dr. Gero made an appearance, even as a non-speaking cameo.

Along with being the best Dragonball feature, it also has the best animation. Everything’s been given a glossy makeover with extremely fluid animation that puts every single one of the DBZ movies to shame. The highlight of the visuals is easily Goku’s assault on the Red Ribbon Army stronghold. It starts out with Goku on Nimbus doing his usual aerial acrobatics and then beating up the foot soldiers using his staff, and it’s simply a joy to watch. The only weak spot is a certain part where Goku is being chased through the trees and the background’s loop cycle is extremely obvious. The only other downside is the color palette. Instead of the bright and colorful world we’re used to seeing in Dragonball and Dragonball Z, we end up with a rather muted color scheme (complete with green and tan skies) that just doesn’t pop. Part of it is from the influence of Dragonball GT, and part of it may be the studio itself, as many of the later Z features had weird color schemes. One nice touch, though, is Bulma’s hair being purple like the manga. The character designs also kick butt, with the Red Ribbon Army looking more menacing than ever.

I always wished they referred to Android 8 during the Cell Saga.Sound-wise, this was the only one of the movies to be dubbed after the series had started to record, so this is the only one to have Stephanie Nadolny as the voice of Goku. Personally, I really like her Goku, as she conveys his innocence extremely well, giving the character a lot of fun and charm. However, Tiffany Vollmer just does not work as young Bulma. She’s okay as adult Bulma in Z, but this teenage version is just too young for Vollmer’s voice, as it lacks the cuteness and charm of her Japanese counterpart. The rest of the characters are the same as their series counterparts and all work extremely well. Then again, Dragonball always did have better acting than Z ever did. As for the music, there’s a slight problem. See, the music used in the movie is fine and all, but it just doesn’t make an impact. Sure, it enhances all the scenes and fits about as well as you can expect, but it’s not as memorable as the series’ score. It would’ve been really nice if they had included some form of remix of “Mysterious Adventure,” the theme from the original series, as that tune is a staple of the franchise, but alas, all we get is a low-quality version of GT‘s “Little by Little.”

Next up is Sleeping Princess in Devil’s Castle. Goku arrives at the Kame House to become Master Roshi’s pupil, but so has a mischievous young boy named Krillin. To give them a test, and to get some action with a hot chick, Roshi sends the two boys off to rescue the sleeping princess held captive in Devil’s Castle. Meanwhile, Bulma, Yamcha, Oolong, and Puar stop by to visit Goku and also head to Devil’s Castle, only to get ambushed. Bulma awakens to one Count Lucifer and it becomes apparent that Lucifer isn’t all that he seems to be. See, he’s out to bring darkness to the world, which means blowing up the sun (because that won’t affect Earth at all, no siree). To celebrate, he’s going to drink Bulma’s blood. Yippie skippie! As if things weren’t complicated enough, a crazy thief known as Launch also breaks in, hoping to get the Sleeping Princess all to herself. Can Goku and Krillin stop Lucifer and save Bulma before it’s too late?

Chibi Krillin = AwesomeWhile it’s not nearly as good as Path to Power, Sleeping Princess is still a fun little tale that explores the meeting between Goku and his eventual best friend Krillin. Speaking of which, Krillin is just pure awesome in this movie. His stumpy character design is already charming enough, but the way he tricks Goku time and again during the race to the Devil’s Castle, and the later character chemistry between the two when they tackle the castle, is just top-notch. Krillin truly did breathe new life into the franchise at this point and it’s hard to imagine this movie working at all without the little bald midget. This is especially true considering that the rest of the film dealing with Bulma and the gang isn’t really all that interesting and seems tacked on just to get a story going. Yamcha, Oolong, and Puar don’t really do anything in the movie aside from cutting off Goku’s tail, and the final battle between the good guys and Count Lucifer is horribly anti-climatic due to its short length. The good guys literally attack once, then run away as Goku blasts his Kamehameha and the bad guys are defeated. I would’ve liked to have seen Lucifer fight a bit more and do something other than fire red energy balls everywhere.

Visually, the movie is rather standard. There’s a slight bit of improved animation, particularly when Goku and Krillin face off against a demon horde, but for the most part things are rather standard and look similar to the series. It’s the audio that’s the real standout. This is because the dub was recorded before Dragonball Z came to Toonami, let alone before FUNimation dubbed the original series, making it the first FUNimation in-house dub. Some of the characters, such as Leslie Steele’s Krillin and Mike McFarland’s Roshi, sound exactly like they do today, while some others, like Chris Sabat’s Yamcha, sound the same only a bit rougher, as if they hadn’t gotten the voice down yet. The two most notable changes are Goku and Bulma. Ceyli Delgadillo’s Goku just does not work. It worked for Dende in the original dub of the Freeza/Cell saga, but her voice is just too soft for an action hero like Goku, while Bulma’s voice is too high-pitched and sounds completely awful. Luckily, the dub retains the original Japanese music, except for the opening and ending themes, but that’s okay since this is likely the only modern DVD that will ever include the original “Get that Dragonball” theme song from the Ocean dub way back when.

Finally we have Mystical Adventure. After completing Master Roshi’s training, the martial arts guru takes Goku and Krillin to the Mifan Empire, ruled by Emperor Chaozu and his attendants Tien Shinhan and Master Shen, the Crane Hermit. There, the boys will take part in a martial arts tournament and hone their skills. However, Shen’s out to take over as Emperor and is gathering the Dragonballs to do so. The only one left is in the hands of the mighty Bora and his son Upa. Making things complicated for our heroes is Shen’s top soldier, the mighty mercenary known as Tao. A professional assassin, Tao is super strong and easily takes advantage of the good guys’ anger to get the drop on them. However, if he wants to get the last Dragonball, he’s going to have to defeat not only Goku, but a strange little robot girl who seems like she’s from a different series altogether.

I wonder if Arale could beat Freeza...I’m not quite sure what’s so “Mystical” about this movie, but whatever. Much like Path to Power, this movie takes elements from the series and transplants them to the big screen. Much of the transplant comes from Tao’s fights with Goku, as it’s almost a frame-by-frame recreation. The Tien/Chaozu bit is changed thanks to the movie’s background, but it would’ve had more impact had either Tien or Chaozu actually done anything before the last few minutes. Unfortunately, this movie is pretty much all Goku vs. Tao with Arale from Dr. Slump thrown in. In the series, this crossover extended into multiple episodes as Goku and General Blue fought in the Penguin Village. Here, however, only Arale and her two twin fairy companions appear, and it seems like they come out of nowhere. It’s kind of a treat to watch if you’re a Slump fan, but if you’ve never seen the series, Arale’s inclusion is even more random than her inclusion in the series. As far as good points go, the various characters remain true to themselves, and Tien was always one of the more fascinating characters that Toriyama never explored, but overall there’s just too much extra stuff crammed in and the movie suffers greatly. This is one time where it’s better to stick with the series.

Visually the movie has a bit more pop than Sleeping Princess due to all the golds and reds running about. Goku and Krillin sport their classic orange gis for the first time, though I never did like that the Kame symbol was yellow instead of white early on here. I am annoyed by the end credits, though. I get that there was no creditless version available, but I wish FUNimation had simply shrunk the video like they usually do instead of covering up half the screen like they do here. As far as the dubbing goes, this was also recorded before the series began, but by this time Z was well underway, so all the characters that also appeared in Z, as well as Laurie Steele’s excellent Krillin, retain their roles. Unfortunately, also returning is Ceyli Delgadillo as Goku instead of Stephanie Nadolny, and Ceyli continues to pale next to Nadolny. Pilaf, Mai, and Shuu also sound a bit different from their series counterparts, but since they only appear in the beginning, it’s not too big a deal. As for the music, all of the Japanese music, including the opening themes, is intact, but the dub of “Mysterious Adventure” eventually used during the series wasn’t created yet (as FUNi had yet to start dubbing their songs), so unfortunately we don’t get that. Extras on here are profiles and trailers. That’s it.

As a special note, the first Dragonball movie, Curse of the Blood Rubies, is still missing from this set. Unfortunately, thanks to Kidmark owning the license for a long, long time and Lions Gate (who owns Kidmark) not bothering to care about what little share they have in the franchise, FUNimation can’t release the movie, which is why they’re calling Path to Power the first movie. Now if only they had changed the cover art of the movies to get rid of the horrible “Includes 2 Versions!” crap.

Overall, what we have here is a set of varying quality. The Path to Power is downright awesome and is a must-own for all Dragonball fans. Sleeping Princess in Devil’s Castle isn’t a must-own, but worth at least a watch simply for the dub. Mystical Adventure, however, you can just leave at home.

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