Game Corner [Dragon Ball Day]: Dragonball Z: Battle of Z


DragonBallDay

When the Great Demon King Piccolo was released upon the world, he broadcasted a message on television declaring May 9th as “Piccolo Day”…and promptly celebrated by announcing his ownership over the planet. Since then, May 9th has been officially recognised as “Goku Day” but, to make things simpler, I’m using this as a good excuse to celebrate all things Dragon Ball,


Released: 23 January 2014
Developer: Bandai Namco Games
Also Available For: PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita

The Background:
Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Ball franchise, particularly Dragonball Z, has a long history with videogame adaptations; the first Dragonball Z videogame released for the Family Computer (Famicom) back in 1990 and, since then, a range of different titles based on the long-running manga and its popular anime counterpart have been released, generally in the form of tournament fighters or one-on-one beat-‘em-ups that retell the events of the anime over and over again. In 2009, Bandai Namco acquired the rights to the franchise and, since then, got into a bit of a routine of releasing new Dragon Ball titles on an annual basis. With Dragonball Z set to make a long-awaited return with the first feature-length production in seventeen years, Dragonball Z: Battle of Gods (Hosoda, 2013), the publishers produced a new Dragonball Z game to coincide with the film’s release, one that focused on team-based combat rather than one-on-one fights or role-playing mechanics. Dragonball Z: Battle of Z received mixed reviews upon release, however, with criticisms levelled at the game’s repetitive and unreliable combat mechanics and artificially augmented difficulty.

The Plot:
Through a series of battles, ranging from one to four characters at a time, Dragonball Z: Battle of Z retells famous events from the long history of the Dragonball Z franchise, from the arrival of the Saiyans, to the Z Fighters’ battles against Frieza, the Androids, Perfect Cell, and Majin Buu, and even select fights from the many non-canon movies and alternative timelines, culminating in battles against the franchise’s biggest names, enemies, and characters and a showdown with the God of Destruction himself, Beerus.

Gameplay:
I’ve played a handful of Dragonball Z  videogames in the past; I remember really enjoying Dragonball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 3 (Spike, 2007) and have been putting off picking up Dragon Ball FighterZ (Arc System Works, 2018) for ages as I’m waiting to see if it gets re-released with all the downloadable content (DLC) included. As a result, and being a big Dragonball Z fan, I was intrigued when I was gifted Dragonball Z: Battle of Z but instantly a bit perturbed when I discovered that the game was a team-based fighter. Call me a traditionalist but I really don’t enjoy team-based fighters; I find it just artificially drags out the gameplay and the fights because you’re forced to fight two or more fighters in every round, meaning more chances to lose and more frustrations. I just don’t get why games that utilise this feature can’t just have the option to disable it and let players fight one-on-one. Interestingly, you can do this in Battle of Z but it’s really not recommended as you’re generally fighting a slew of enemies at once so you’ll need all the backup you can get.

Rush at your opponent and smash them into the air to pull off a Meteor Chain combo.

Controls and fighting in Battle of Z are surprisingly complicated for a fighting game; you can attack your enemy with Y, fire a ki blast with B, and use X and A to ascend and descend, respectively. You can target an enemy with RB (remember to do this or else you’ll have a hard time actually landing a hit on your opponent), cycle through available targets with the right analogue stick, and dash towards your intended target (and, usually, head-first into their attacks) by holding A or X. Holding LB will see your character put up their guard to minimise the effects of incoming attacks (though, annoyingly, there is no counter attack system in place), and you can press LT and RT simultaneously to unleash your character’s signature attacks when they have enough ki energy. You can also perform a side step and dodge with LB and the left analogue stick and hit your opponent with a “Strike Impact” blow that allows you to chase after them and bash them around the environment and build up a “Meteor Chain” combo with your teammates.

Fil up the Genki Gauge to unleash your character’s most devastating Ultimate Move.

As you attack your opponents, you’ll build up the “Genki Gauge” as well as your ki energy. When your ki energy is full enough, you’ll be able to pull off more powerful ki attacks such as Son Goku’s Kamehameha, Vegeta’s Garlick Gun, or Majin Buu’s Chocolate Beam. However, wasting your ki on normal ki blasts and your character’s other special attacks can make it harder for you to pull off these more powerful attacks and, if the bar is completely drained, you’ll be left stunned and vulnerable as you wait for it to refill. If you manage to completely fill up the Genki Gauge, though (and if you’re playing as the right character), you’ll be able to pull off an Ultimate Move, such as Goku’s Spirit Bomb or Super Saiyan 2 Son Gohan’s Father-Son Kamehameha blast. In some battles, the only way to win is to pull off these Ultimate Moves and fights are specifically structured in these cases to allow you to perform them but you’ll still have to work to build up the gauge. Occasionally, you’ll be asked to rapidly tap B to “share your energy” from the Genki Gauge, which seems to restore the ki energy of you and your fighters but, honestly, I must have missed the actual point of this as it just seemed like a waste of time, especially when you’re forced to switch your team out in the next mission more often than not. Of course, a major feature of Battle of Z is its team-based mechanic; before each mission, you’re asked to assemble a team of four fighters (comprised of you and three computer-controlled players or you and fellow human players if you’re connected to the internet) but, unfortunately, you’re rarely ever given free reign to pick your team as the characters you can select are restricted to the Saga you’re playing. For example, in the Saiyan Saga, you won’t be able to play as characters from the Cell Saga and you won’t be able to play as the Androids when taking on the Buu Saga.

Assemble a diverse team of fighters and issue commands on the fly to best your opponents.

You can, however, assemble a team of multiple duplicate fighters, which can be helpful for the game’s tougher missions. Each fighter has a different speciality and, thus, each behaves and controls a little differently: Melee Types excel in up-close melee attacks; Ki Blast Types deal greater damage with their ki attacks and can fire three blasts at a time instead of just one; Interfere Types specialise in distracting and disrupting enemy movements; and Support Types will prioritise healing, reviving, and restoring you and your teammates in battle. During a fight, you can issue basic commands to your team using the directional pad (D-Pad) to instruct them to fight at full power, join forces with you against an opponent, go on the defensive, or hang back and leave the fighting to you (not really recommended and I never found a time when this was preferable). If you co-ordinate with your teammates, you can chain together Meteor Strikes to bash a target all over the place and even perform a “Synchro Rush” combo where you and your allies will pummel a chosen target with a combo of strikes. You can also target your allies and restore their health, ki, or revive them if they’re fallen but I found it much easier to concentrate on the offensive and leave the reviving to my teammates. When you head into a battle, you share a limited number of retries with your team mates; when your health is drained, your allies have ten seconds to revive you before you lose a try and, if all tries are exhausted by you and your teammates falling too often, the battle ends. It’s essential, then, to keep an eye on how many tries you have left as, quite often, battles can abruptly end without warning simply because your allies have fallen once too often. You’re also constantly battling against a time limit (usually about ten minutes), which makes every fight a constant struggle and a chore to get through, especially when you’re faced with wave upon wave of seemingly endless enemies.

Battles are hetic and leave you pummelled relentlessly, which can be extremely frustrating.

Like pretty much every single Dragonball Z videogame, Battle of Z takes you through an (extremely) truncated retelling of the entire Dragonball Z saga using a strict mission-based structure, with a few bonus missions tossed in that adapt some of the feature films or present hypothetical scenarios. If you’re not that familiar with Dragonball Z then you might get a little lost as the story is told in brief snippets and character interactions before each fight and split across different missions; if you simply play the main missions, you’ll only experience events from one perspective and will have to switch to playing as the villains to experience the full story. On the one hand, this is a pretty decent way of getting you accustomed to a variety of different fighters but, on the other, it makes the story mode very fragmented and has you constantly switching out your load outs and setups as you’re forced to assemble new teams each time. Personally, I found it much easier to stick to one fighter (usually Super Saiyan Goku, Super Vegeta, or Full Power Frieza) and have three computer-controlled allies who all specialised in healing (such as Android #18 or Jeice) to avoid being pummelled into oblivion within the first few seconds battle. Since you’re forced to make a team of four for every fight, Dragonball Z’s story is tweaked to accommodate characters who weren’t present at certain events. Other times, you’re forced to battle against waves of opponents or certain foes (such as Raditz) who are inexplicably joined by disposable grunts who relentlessly bombard you with ki blasts. Every time you win (or, at least, complete) a fight, you’re given a ranking, earn a number of Battle Points (BP), and acquire cards and items. Unlike most Dragonball Z fighting games, Battle of Z opts for a quasi-open world presentation which allows you to freely fly and dash around a large environment ripped right from the anime from a third-person perspective. Unfortunately, the camera, physics, and controls are often as detrimental to your success as the often overwhelming difficulty of your opponents and you’ll be struggling with the janky camera as much as trying to land blows on your chosen target. If you forget to lock on to a target, you’ll simply swipe at thin air and, often, you’ll be battered by ki blasts from all angles or attacked from behind and, in the time it takes you to switch targets, you’ll probably end up knocked out on the ground like a chump. Helpfully, you can view your character’s abilities, your mission objectives, and the difficulty level of each mission from the pause menu and can simply manually retry if you are close to failure, which you may have to do a few times as, while the game starts off pretty simple, it quickly ups the difficulty level. It doesn’t help that downed enemies don’t seem to lose health when you attack them and you can never assemble a team of your favourite characters as you often need to have specific characters of Support Types on your team in order to succeed.

Graphics and Sound:
As is the case for pretty much every single Dragonball Z videogame, Battle of Z emulates the style and fast-paced, kinetic energy of the anime by employing a cel-shaded aesthetic. This is fitting but nothing you’ve not really seen before in other Dragonball Z games or similar fighters and results in character models looking pretty much spot on, if a little static and lifeless at times as they tend to just stand there or strike a dramatic pose while spouting abridged lines from the anime. Battle of Z expands on its roster by having each character’s different forms and transformations take up a character slot; as a result, you won’t be powering up or transforming mid-battle like the characters do in the anime and, instead, must select these forms from the character select screen. This means that we miss out on the iconic visual of the characters surrounded by crackling auras and powering up (outside of cutscenes, at least) but the game does a pretty good job of recreating the big, explosive special attacks from the anime…when you actually have enough ki to pull them off, that is. Still, it’s pretty cool to finally bust out attacks like Evil Buu’s Assault Rain, Super Vegito’s Spirit Sword, and Super Saiyan Broly’s Burst Eraser.

Environments may be accurate to the anime and partially destructible but they’re also quite barren.

Environments are just as faithfully recreated, almost to a fault; you’ll battle out in the countryside, in the middle of cities, out in the desert, and on iconic planets such as Namek and the Supreme Kai’s world. Unfortunately, while much of the environments are destructible (if you manage to smash your opponents into them properly), they’re largely barren and lifeless and often only varied by such exciting elements as different times of day. They’re also quite large, which is helpful if you’re trying to take a break from being relentlessly attacked and means that the onscreen radar actually comes in useful at times, but also means that it’s very easy for you to be attacked from afar due to lack of cover and results in you flying head-first into attacks as you desperately try to dash across the open plains to reach your target.

After an incredible anime opening, the game relies on its in-game graphics to give a little context to its fights.

As I mentioned, the game’s story takes a bit of a backseat; the in-game graphics are used to relay a condensed version of Dragonball Z’s sagas and movies through a few brief interactions between your team and their enemies. This can result in some different lines and interactions if you have different characters from the Saga present, and unique interactions between characters like Goku and Bardock, and all of the voice actors from the anime return to recreate and redub their lines from the anime. The game also recreates the music from the anime, including a remix of the iconic theme song, ‘Cha-La Head-Cha-La’, over an impressive anime opening sequence created specifically for the game that is, honestly, one of the more entertaining moments of Battle of Z.

Enemies and Bosses:
Since Battle of Z recreates the events of the anime and a handful of the feature-length movies, you’ll be tasked with tackling all of the series’ most iconic villains and characters as you play through the different missions with certain specific characters. Along the way, you’ll also have to contend with waves of disposable enemies who either come at you over and over again, support the more formidable characters, or respawn after being defeated. This means you’ll face numerous palette swapped variants of the Saibamen, Frieza’s grunts, Cell Jnr’s, and facing off against Z Fighters like Piccolo, Yamcha, and Tien Shinhan who often come in to tip the odds against you right when it seems like you’re on the cusp of victory.

The Saiyans arrive on Earth to cause trouble and wreck havoc in their Great Ape forms.

In the Saiyan Saga, you’ll have to battle Raditz, Nappa, and Vegeta in a variety of different formations; the first time you face Raditz, you’ll first have to dispose of a wave of Saibamen, which can leave you quite drained and underprepared for the actual battle against Goku’s brother. After recreating Gohan’s training against Piccolo out in the wastelands, you’ll then have to take on Nappa, first accompanied by Saibamen and then joined by the main antagonist of this Saga, Vegeta. Vegeta’s ultimate threat comes when he transforms into his gigantic Great Ape form, which you can stun by targeting its limbs while trying to dodge his massive mouth laser and crushing grip. Honestly, though, the most annoying enemies in this Saga are Nappa (who constantly targeted me with relentless melee attacks) and Vegeta (who fires a non-stop barrage of ki blasts when you’re trying to fend off his cohorts). When playing as the villains, you’ll have to take on the Z Fighters as the perspective shifts to you mainly battling against Goku; you’ll also have to take on Gohan’s Great Ape form, which is far more rampant than Vegeta’s and likes to toss boulders right at your head.

To finish off Frieza, you’ll have to also battle against a tight time limit and deal with his rapid teleporting.

In the Frieza Saga, you’ll mostly be confined to the planet Namek in various stages of disarray; Frieza’s soldiers are a constant headache all throughout this Saga and make battling the Ginyu Force much more annoying than it needs to be. The Ginyu’s are also far more versatile and frustrating than their Saiyan counterparts as Guido will freeze you in place with his telekinetic powers, Recoome will constantly fly at you with melee attacks much like Nappa, and things only get more annoying when the entire Ginyu Force comes at you in waves. Thankfully, Captain Ginyu doesn’t bust out his annoying change form mechanic (or, at least, he didn’t in my playthrough) so you don’t have to worry about him taking over your body or being forced to play as him but it’s quite a shock to find the Ginyu Force being so formidable when they’re generally depicted as being incompetent nincompoops. Once you get past the Ginyu Force, you’ll have to battle against Frieza’s various forms as Namek disintegrates around you. While his first form is a walk in the park, his second form allows him to shield himself with a protective aura and, as if that wasn’t bad enough, you’ll be forced to take on his third form in the same mission, making it more of a gauntlet. Another mission has Frieza zap your team to half health and asks you to either defeat him or survive for three minutes before he reaches his full power form, which you’re given just five minutes to defeat him. This makes this fight needlessly frustrating as Frieza is an absolute bitch and teleports all over the place while blasting at you with devastating ki attacks but it does work to your advantage in the villain story where you get to play as Frieza and battle against Super Saiyan Goku. Another alternative mission in the Frieza Saga has you battling all of Frieza’s forms at once which, honestly, I found easier than battling the damn Ginyu Force!

After besting the Androids, you’ll face your toughest challenge yet in the form of Perfect Cell.

In the Android Saga, you’ll first have to spar against the other Z Fighters before tackling Future Trunks and then confront Android #19 and Doctor Gero; unlike in some Dragonball Z videogames, and the anime, the androids are susceptible to your ki attacks rather than absorbing them and you’re also given a bit of a break as you don’t have to defeat Dr. Gero when he decides to run from the battle. Android #18 and #19 are more formidable, primarily because of how good #18’s healing abilities are, but they’re easy to target individually since they’re not supported by endless swarms of goons. Once the Cell Saga starts, you can actually have Cell attack the Androids on your behalf as the mission briefing is to destroy Cell’s different forms and the only real benefit to taking out all your enemies is the acquisition of additional BP. Cell isn’t much of a threat in his Imperfect form but he loves to spam Solar Flare to evade your attacks and his threat dramatically increases when you’re forced to battle Android #16 and #17, then them and Semi-Perfect Cell, and then fight Perfect Cell all in the same mission! This, however, is nothing compared to the sudden brick wall of Mission 26, which sees you annihilated by aggressive and frustrating Cell Jnr’s before being wrecked by Perfect Cell once more. The only way I could clear this mission was to have my three teammates be Teen Gohan so that I could be consistently and reliably healed and revived during the fight, which was particularly annoying to me as I wanted to use a team of Super Saiyans. Things only get more challenging in the villain and alternative missions, which have you battling against Perfect Cell as the Androids or fighting as Perfect Cell against Super Saiyan 2 Gohan (alongside Super Saiyan Vegeta, Super Saiyan Trunks, and Android #16, of course).

Buu becomes a significant threat once he assumes his powerful, maniacal Kid Buu form.

Things get a little less frustrating in the Buu saga, which sees you battling the likes of Dabura (who can turn you to stone with his spit) and, of course, Majin Buu’s various different forms as well as Majin Vegeta (who loves to block your attacks and is, fittingly, super aggressive). In these missions, Buu will also attack your enemies so it can be useful to hang back and let him weaken them on your behalf while conserving your ki energy but you’ll also have to battle Evil Buu right after defeating regular Buu, which can be quite the chore. The shit really hits the fan when you face off against Kid Buu, a maniacal and hyper aggressive enemy who is super fast and super tough, dashing and teleporting all over the place, blocking your attacks, and attacking with his stretchy limbs, furious ki combos, and even gaining invincibility frames and taking refuge behind the environment to really drag out the battle. When playing on the villain’s story, you’ll also be tasked with defeating or surviving for three minutes against Super Saiyan 3 Goku and a particularly gruelling gauntlet that sees you battling Son Goten and Kid Trunks individually, fused as Gotenks, their Super Saiyan 3 form, and Piccolo all in the same mission within the Hyperbolic Time Chamber.

Fight hard enough and you’ll unlock missions based on the feature-length movies and specials.

As mentioned, you’ll also recreate some of the most recognisable fights from the feature films; this means battling the Androids as Future Trunks, taking on Bardock (who has his own Great Ape and Super Saiyan forms), and fighting against the likes of Cooler (a battle that I found impossible to clear because of how tough and annoying his goons were), Hirudegarn, Meta-Cooler (which are essentially the same as battling the Great Apes but made far more frustrating), and Broly. As you might expect, Broly represents one of the game’s most challenging battles as he’s not only accompanied by constantly-respawning Saibamen but he also powers up to his Super Saiyan and Legendary Super Saiyan forms. Additionally, there are a number of alternative battles on offer that see you fighting against all of Vegeta and Goku’s family, all of the Saiyans in waves where they power up to their strongest forms, the entire Ginyu Force followed by all of Frieza’s forms and Cooler, and, eventually, a battle against Beerus (and against Super Saiyan Vegito as Beerus) in an adaptation of the Battle of Gods feature film. Unfortunately, to reach this (and unlock all of the game’s fights), you must complete and clear every single mission in the game, which is an incredibly tall order and one unfortunately, beyond my ability as I tapped out some time after losing to Super Saiyan 3 Gotenks.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
When you select characters, you can customise their palette and power them up with cards and items. These are often earned, or unlocked, by clearing missions but are primarily purchased in the in-game shop using your BP. Cards can be used to increase your character’s melee attack power, defence, ki blast attack power, and have their natural abilities increase or cause their attacks to have detrimental effects on their targets. You can also earn Premium Points (PP) by meeting certain conditions or earning SS ranks in missions. PP can be spent in the Premium Shop and allow you to acquire more powerful items (most of which can only be used once before you have to buy another one and cards). These will buff your character and team’s stats, increasing them under certain conditions or draining health or ki from your enemies, speeding up your ability to level up and earning you more BP, or restoring you to full health upon defeat using Senzu Beans. Since you’ll be switching your teams out quite often, it’s best to make use of the auto customise options, which allow you to assign the most powerful cards to your characters (or which remain after equipping cards) at the push of a button.

Additional Features:
There are forty-nine Achievements on offer in Battle of Z; a lot of these are awarded simply for clearing each of the available story routes, though this becomes increasingly challenging as you tackle the alternate story missions. Others are tied to performing Ultimate Moves, clearing every mission, earning certain cards, playing as every character, or meeting certain conditions in the game’s online mode. You can team up with other players online to take on the game’s missions in co-op mode, battle against each other in a standard four-on-four fight, fight to attain the highest score, or race to acquire the seven Dragon Balls scattered throughout the environment.

Drop a bit of extra cash to download a few new forms and characters.

Sadly, the game doesn’t include couch co-op or offline multiplayer, so I never got to experience any of these modes as the servers don’t appear to still be active (or, if they are, players are few and far between these days). There’s a decent amount of replayability on offer through the many different story mode missions on offer; clearing missions unlocks parallel, adjacent, and subsequent missions that see you playing as different characters or taking on characters from the feature films. However, as these are some of the more frustrating and difficult missions in the game, it can be very tedious and challenging to clear every mission and unlock all the game’s playable characters (many of which can only be attained by clearing certain missions with the highest rank). You can also purchase some additional DLC in the form of extra fighters and forms, such as a Naruto (1999 to 2014) inspired outfit for Goku, Super Saiyan Bardock, and Super Saiyan Vegito.

The Summary:
Dragonball Z: Battle of Z certainly looks and sounds pretty good; its cel-shaded aesthetic closely mirrors the look of the anime and it’s great to hear the voice cast come back and re-record their lines for some new interactions in certain situations. It provides a slightly different spin on the usual formula through its use of team-based fighting mechanics, meaning that it’s a little different from most videogame adaptations of the anime but, essentially, if you’ve played any Dragonball Z videogame, there’s not really anything new here narratively speaking and it’s the same retreading of the Sagas we’ve seen numerous times before. What lets Battle of Z down, though, is the steep difficulty curve and the reliance on these team-based mechanics. Your teammates are often not really good for much more than distracting your enemies and will drain your retries if you don’t heal them up; it’s equally annoying that you can’t form your own, personalised team right off the bat and have to compromise or cheese the more challenging missions by loading up on Support Type characters. The game’s focus on a heavily condensed version of the story also hurts it as you simply jump from fight to fight and mission to mission with very little context and have to hop between the different story routes to get the full story, which is a bit annoying. In the end, it was fun at times but infuriating for the most part as missions were a chore to clear, the requirements to unlock everything were ridiculously unfair at times, and I can’t say that I’d recommend this one over other more traditional, 2.5D/tournament-based Dragonball Z videogames.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

Have you ever played Dragonball Z: Battle of Z? If so, were you a fan and how would you rate it compared to other Dragonball Z videogames? Are you a fan of team-based fighters? Who was your go-to team in this game? What did you think to Battle of Z’s recreation of the anime and the slight twists it took with the different missions? What is your favourite Dragon Ball videogame and how are you celebrating Dragon Ball day today? Whatever your thoughts on Battle of Z, or Dragon Ball in general, leave a comment below.

Talking Movies [National Anime Day]: Akira


Though anime traces its origins back to around 1917, its characteristic visual style first rose to prominence in the sixties through the works of animator Osamu Tezuka and developed a worldwide audience throughout the second half of the 20th century through its focus on the detail of settings and use of dynamic camera effects. To celebrate and appreciate this distinct style of animation, 15 April has been designated National Anime Day, giving anime fans the world over a chance to voice their admiration through conventions, cosplay, or a general sharing of their memories and experiences of anime.


Released: 16 July 1988
Director: Katsuhiro Otomo
Distributor:
Toho
Budget: ¥700 million
Stars:
Cam Clarke, Jan Rabson, Lara Cody, Tony Pope, Lewis Arquette, and Bob Bergen

The Plot:
The year is 2019 and Neo-Tokyo is plagued by corruption, anti-government sentiment, and terrorism following Tokyo’s sudden destruction on 16 July 1988. Amidst the chaos, biker Shōtarō Kaneda (Clarke) uncovers a diabolical government conspiracy when his friend, Tetsuo Shima (Jabson), acquires incredible telekinetic abilities after a motorcycle accident that eventually threaten an entire military complex.

The Background:
It’s hard, if not practically impossible, to talk about anime without mentioning Akira; pretty much single-handedly responsible for the popularity of the genre outside of Japan, Akira remains an incredibly influential and popular animated feature and, arguably, the principal reason why anime remains so prevalent in the western world. Akira began life as a cyberpunk manga series written and illustrated by Katsuhiro Otomo. What was initially thought to be a short work of only ten chapters ended up ballooning into a 120 chapter piece that was serialised bi-weekly in Young Magazine from 20 December 1982 to 25 June 1990. Akira proved such a success in its native Japan that Otomo was approached to publish an English language version in 1983; indeed, Akira is often credited for introducing manga to Western audiences, and Otomo was eventually intrigued at the prospect of adapting his story for the screen…as long as he retained creative control, which meant not only collaborating on the screenplay, but also helming the adaptation, which was the most expensive anime film at the time. In a first for the genre, Akira used pre-scored dialogue where the dialogue was recorded first and the animation was keyed to match it and over 16,000 animation cels were used to bring the story to life, although Otomo later expressed disappointment at making the anime before the manga was finished due to how many omissions had to be made. Although a moderate success at the Japanese box office, Akira eventually grossed $49 million worldwide, and its success on home video basically kick-started the widespread release of anime outside of Japan. Anyone with even a passing knowledge of anime will be unsurprised to learn that Akira is held in extremely high regard; critics praised the dubbing and presentation, especially the slick animation and kinetic action, and film went on to be extremely popular and influential on a generation of writers, filmmakers, and creators and is widely regarded as one of the greatest anime films ever made.

The Review:
I feel like it’s important to preface this review by saying that I’m watching the original 1989 version of the film, dubbed into English; I know a lot of anime purists” might take exception to this, but I always prefer a dubbed version over subtitles or the original Japanese language as it’s easier for me to digest it and understand the content. Secondly, I never really cared for Akira; I’ve seen this version, and the 2001 re-dub, a few times both dubbed and with subtitles and, while the animation and attention to detail and the premise has always intrigued me, it tends to lose me about halfway through so I went into this viewing a little hesitant, to say the least. The film opens on 16th July 1988 to dramatically set the stage for its narrative by showing the utter obliteration of Tokyo from a massive energy blast; thirty-one years later, Neo-Tokyo was built on artificial islands nearby and all that’s left of the once bustling metropolis is an ominous crater. 2019 Neo-Tokyo is both a technologically advanced civilisation and a crime-ridden cesspit full of seedy bars and dilapidated back alleys. It’s in both of these locations that we meet our two main characters; abrasive Kaneda, the leader of a biker gang known as the Capsules (who are embroiled in a bitter feud with the rival Clown gang), and Tetsuo, a young, embittered member of the Capsules who both idolises Kaneda and is envious of his iconic high-tech bike. A brutal high-speed chase between the Capsules and the Clowns is cut short when the cops arrive to chase them off and, amidst all of this, the city is under lockdown following a student riot; armed police are called in to help manage the chaos, and end up shooting an armed man as he tries to desperately protect Takashi (Barbara Goodson), a young boy with a wizened appearance who exhibits incredible psychic powers when under stress.

A chance encounter with a strange child causes angst-ridden Tetsuo to develop incredible powers.

The streets are thrown into chaos as the cops use gas to disperse the crowd, and Tetsuo takes a bad fall from his bike after running across Takashi; Takashi’s abilities attract the attention of Masaru (Bob Bergen), a fellow ESPer, who leads Colonel Shikishima (Pope) of the Japan Self-Defence Forces right to him, resulting in Takashi, Tetsuo, Kaneda, and the rest of the Capsule gang being apprehended. While the injured Tetsuo is transported away, Kaneda and his gang prove too clueless to be involved in the greater concerns of anti-government protesters and resistance fighters, and are released from custody. However, Kaneda spots Kei (Cody) amidst the suspects and, taking a shine to her, manages to trick the cops into releasing her alongside them by claiming she’s part of his gang, though she rebukes his advances afterwards. At school, Kaneda and his gang are severely disciplined for their actions, which only riles the anti-authority biker up even more; he and the Capsules attract a lot of female attention for their bad boy antics, but he’s in no mood for socialising after the night he’s had, and openly criticises Tetsuo for “showing off”. Only Tetsuo’s girlfriend, Kaori (Barbara Goodson), shows concern for the boy, and he goes to her after escaping from the military facility; traumatised by his experiences, and fearing for his life, he steals Kaneda’s bike and prepares to leave the city with Kaori, but their escape is cut short by a group of vengeful Clowns. They attack Kaori, humiliating and hurting her as Tetsuo is held helpless and, though they’re saved by Kaneda and the Capsules, Tetsuo is angered at Kaneda’s constant interference in his life. Suffering from crippling headaches, nightmarish visions, and a voice tormenting him with an unknown name, “Akira”, over and over, Tetsuo is easily detained and returned to the facility for further observation by Shikishima’s staff.

Shikishima is a complex soldier who takes the ESPer’s word, and threat, very seriously.

Shikishima acts as the stubborn, pig-headed, yet surprisingly complex antagonist of the feature; convinced that there’s a mole within the executive council and determined to shut down any anti-government sentiment and apprehend anyone who learns of the ESPers no matter the cost. With no time for political games, Shikishima is more concerned with identifying and controlling telekinetic abilities so that the military can gain a formidable weapon without the risk of mass destruction exhibited by Akira; when Doctor Ōnishi (Lewis Arquette) identifies that Tetsuo has the potential to become as powerful as Akira, Shikishima orders that he be subjected to a series of painful and invasive procedures to unlock that potential but warns that the angst-ridden biker is to be terminated the minute any danger arises. Despite his implacable, hardened exterior, Shikishima seems to have a greater deal of respect and admiration for the ESPers in his employee and care and thus takes Kiyoko’s (Melora Harte) warnings of Neo-Tokyo’s impending destruction very seriously. Although he is disgusted at how quickly the city has degenerated into a den for hedonistic excess and believes that the people have lost their way, he’s not a scientist or an optimist and instead sees the world in very black and white terms and from a strict military perspective of action versus inaction, with little room for debate or hesitation between these extremes. Unfortunately, the supreme council fail to heed his warnings or to grant him the funding necessary to prepare against Kiyoko’s prediction; instead, they cast doubt over Akira’s existence and involvement in the last World War, call the colonel’s integrity into question, and would rather bicker and squabble about preparations for the upcoming Olympics, which only enrages Shikishima. Determined to track Tetsuo down and contain him before his powers reach their full, destructive potential, Shikishima takes control of the government and the entire military in a coup d’état and engages Tetsuo with the military’s full force, which results only in countless soldiers perishing and tanks being destroyed by Tetsuo’s raging powers, which allow him to form protective shields, toss back tank shells, and tear apart an entire bridge in his fury.

Tetsuo is a slave to his emotions, consumed by rage, then envy, and then his own monstrous body!

Kaneda continuously runs across Kei and is so besotted by her that he even tries to downplay her first kill and ends up following her to a resistance safehouse; there, he learns not only that they are trying to free the ESPers from their confinement but also that Tetsuo has become the military’s newest test subject, and he agrees to join their efforts both to help his friend and get close to Kei (and he’s allowed to if only to serve as a patsy for the resistance’s actions). While at the hospital, Tetsuo is plagued by vivid and disturbing nightmares of both his childhood, his destructive powers, and the mysterious Akira, the most powerful of all the ESPers who once potentially represented the next stage in human evolution. Akira’s power was virtually limitless, but when the government tried to take control of him, he lashed out in self defence and caused the catastrophe that decimated Tokyo. His remains are kept in cryogenic suspense beneath the Olympic Stadium’s construction site, and Shikishima has no desire to see that destructive power unleashed once more, and takes a vested interested into making sure that the remains stay dormant, though Akira still has a strong influence as many zealots in the city foretell of his destructive return. Sensing that Tetsuo’s powers are raging out of control, the ESPers try to kill him before he can awaken Akira and trigger another catastrophe; however, despite them being more adept at creating illusions and wielding their psychic powers, Tetsuo’s abilities are exacerbated by his anger, confusion, and trauma, which makes him more than a match for them, to say nothing of Shikishima’s forces. Revelling in his newfound powers, Tetsuo is driven to near insanity, lashing out at friend and foe alike with a maniacal glee; he kills a couple of his former comrades in search of Kaneda’s bike, garbs himself in a dramatic cloak, and is heralded as the returning “Lord Akira” for his immense powers. Despite Kiyoko’s best efforts, Tetsuo exhumes Akira’s tomb and is astounded to find that the feared psychic is nothing more than just organs and remains in jars; Kaneda attacks Tetsuo with a high-powered laser rifle and berates his friend with taunts, only to be outmatched by Tetsuo’s powers and at the mercy of his power-drunk friend. Despite losing at arm to Shikishima’s orbital cannon, Sol, Tetsuo proves his superiority by flying into space and obliterating the orbital weapon before constructing a replacement mechanical arm for himself. Although Kaori tries to comfort him, and even Shikishima tries to talk him into returning to the hospital for treatment, Tetsuo’s powers grow dangerous and out of control; wracked with constant pain and mutating at an alarming rate, Tetsuo metamorphosises into a horrific, foetus-like monstrosity that is only stopped by the ESPers reviving Akira and drawing him into a singularity.

The Nitty-Gritty:
The animation quality in Akira remains almost unparalleled; the feature-length anime definitely set a standard for all to follow with its gorgeous chase sequences, intense attention to detail, and slick, striking character designs. Neo-Tokyo is a neon-drenched metropolis that owes more than a debt to Blade Runner (Scott, 1982) and, alongside that classic science-fiction thriller, helped popularise the “cyberpunk” art style and genre. The city is ruled by the classic class system, with the lower-class and impoverished literally fighting for survival in the filthy back alleys and the upper-class living in opulence and luxury in the high-rise skyscrapers, far above the violence on the city streets. Neo-Tokyo is under constant threat from terrorist attacks by resistance fighters, who set of explosions across the city and cause anarchy in the streets in a desperate effort to fight back against an oppressive government. The city is alive with advanced technology, from futuristic motorcycles, flying craft, and complex machinery to monitor and contain the ESPers, the city, and the people and this is juxtaposed with rancid sewers and the comparative squalor of the alleys and lower street levels. The facility where Tetsuo and the other ESPers is kept is both a sophisticated military hospital and a bizarre nursery for the decrepit, child-like psychics, but the triumph of the modern age is Sol, a weaponised space station that Shikishima turns on Tetsuo in a desperate attempt to destroy him before his powers can rage out of control.

Akira is full of horrific imagery and body horror as Tetsuo’s powers rage out of control.

One thing that separates Akira from other traditional cartoons and animation is the gritty, unabashed adult themes and content in the feature; biker gangs race through the streets at high speeds, with little protection and even less regard for who they hurt or the damage they cause in their wake, curse words are dropped with reckless abandon by the hot-headed youngsters who make up our main characters, and bodies break and blood splatters as characters beat and pummel each other. This latter aspect is only escalated by the trigger-happy Neo-Tokyo police, who brutally gun down Takashi’s handler without a second thought, and both the visions Tetsuo is plagued by and the horrific mutations he undergoes as his powers rage out of control. Tetsuo is tormented by hallucinations of demonic toys and, angry and afraid, lashes out at everyone around him to leave orderlies and guards a mere bloody mess on the hospital walls. As Tetsuo’s powers grow, his ability to control them wanes; overcome by pain and hatred, he lashes out in a mindless fury and ends up becoming a rampaging monstrosity that kills Kaori and threatens to absorb Kaneda, the ESPers, and Shikishima. This replaces Tetsuo’s fanatical lunacy with outright panic as his body refuses to listen to his demands; as if the sight of him raging into the upper atmosphere with a bloody mess where his arm once was wasn’t bad enough, the sight of this grotesque mass of screaming flesh and muscle engulfing everything in its path certainly escalates the stakes of Akira from one boy’s madness to a disaster that potentially threatens all life in Neo-Tokyo and beyond.

Kaneda’s confrontation with Tetsuo results in widespread destruction…and the birth of a new God!

Tetsuo is a tragic figure, one filled with conflicting emotions of abandonment, resentment, and anger; the more his abilities grow, the more overwhelmed and out of control he becomes. Finally given the power to strike back at those who seek to use or hurt him, Tetsuo’s confusion and fury are only exacerbated by the ESPers, Shikishima’s vendetta, and even Kaneda, who mocks his friend even as his body horrifyingly transforms. Realising that they’re not powerful to oppose Tetsuo, the ESPers revive Akira, who sucks the monstrous beast into a sphere of pure light. Kaneda is drawn inside this singularity and relives Tetsuo’s memories of his traumatic childhood, a time of abuse and fear where he idolised Kaneda; the ESPers willingly enter the singularity as well in an attempt to rescue Kaneda, and their memories of being subjugated to experimentation are also revealed to him. Shikishima, Kei, and Tetsuo’s remaining friends watch from a safe distance as Neo-Tokyo is engulfed by the singularity, destroying it in much the same way as its predecessor was obliterated some thirty years ago, and the ESPers are able to return Tetsuo to the remains of his home so that he can help Kei during the development of her own psychic powers. As for Tetsuo, the feature concludes with the ESPers and Akira using all the power at their disposal to help him fully transcend beyond the mortal realm; having tapping into the limitless energy and primordial power that exists within all humans, Tetsuo ascends to the level of an omniscient God and, to herald his birth, gives life to an entirely new universe! This, honestly, is not massively clear by the finale which is an ambiguous and surreal series of images, memories, and half-finished sentences, but brings the film to a conclusion that I have to say was very much out of left field considering it started off as a simple tale of an angsty gang of bikers.

The Summary:
Even now, after a few viewings of Akira, I struggle a bit with this film; while it’s undeniably beautiful to look at and full of some absolutely stunning animation, its surreal metaphysical undertones always knock me for a loop. Like a lot of anime and manga, there’s a lot happening here, from street-level violence and social discord, to childhood trauma, to government experiments and children developing psychic powers. It’s definitely a very complex and multifaceted world, with a lot of layers and sub-plots happening all at once that some characters, like Kaneda, aren’t entirely aware of; people revere Akira as some kind of prophet and saviour, resistance fighters bomb buildings and kill to try and expose the government’s experiments, and shrivelled up children with telekinetic powers bring toys to life in the most disturbing way possible. I think the concept has a lot of legs, however; this idea of a screwed up little biker kid being empowered by these destructive abilities and lashing out at the chaotic world around him leads to some of Akira’s most dramatic and memorable moments, and the relationship between Kaneda and Tetsuo as these kind of traumatised kids with a chip on their shoulder bonded by a lifetime of hardship results in them being the clear standout characters. Shikishima is also surprisingly well-rounded, and every character, even the ESPers, is seeped in shades of grey rather than being morally black or white. Of course, Akira will forever be remembered and praised for its slick and detailed animation, which results in some stunning chase sequences, dramatic moments, and grotesque imagery to really inspire the viewer to think about what they’re seeing, what it means, and rethink their surface evaluation of these characters. It can be a lot to take in, no doubt, but the visuals and narrative intrigue are well worth taking the time to give Akira a watch and, if it hooks you, check out other similar anime or even read through the manga if you want your mind blown even further.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Are you a fan of Akira? Which of the characters was your favourite and what did you think to the morally ambiguous nature of its cast? What did you think to Tetsuo, his emotional outbursts, and his eventual monstrous transformation? Were you a fan of the film’s cyberpunk setting and the escalation from street gangs to psychically-endowed children? How did you interpret the ending, and were you a fan of how the story wrapped up? Have you ever read the original manga and, if so, how does the film compare as an adaptation? Was Akira your introduction to anime or did a different feature make you a fan of the genre? How are you celebrating National Anime Day today? Whatever you think about Akira, or anime in general, sign up to drop your thoughts below or drop a comment on my social media.

Talking Movies [Sonic Month]: Sonic the Hedgehog (1999)


Sonic the Hedgehog was first introduced to gamers worldwide on 23 June 1991 and, since then, has become not only SEGA’s most enduring and popular character but also a beloved videogame icon. This year, the Blue Blur turns thirty and what better way to celebrate than by dedicating every Friday of this month to SEGA’s supersonic mascot.


Released: 1 November 1999
Originally Released: 26 January 1996 and 22 March 1996
Director: Kazuho Ikegami
Distributor: ADV Films
Budget: Unknown
Stars: Martin Burke, Lainie Frasier, Bill Wise, Edwin Neal, and Sascha Biesi

The Plot:
Doctor Ivo Robotnik (Neal) takes Princess Sara (Biesi) hostage and forces Sonic the Hedgehog (Burke) and Miles “Tails” Prower (Frasier) to journey to Robotropolis to keep Planet Freedom from being destroyed and, in the process, have them battle his ultimate creation: Hyper Metal Sonic (Gary Lipkowitz).

The Background:
After Sonic achieved worldwide success and became the hottest pop culture icon of the nineties following the release of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (SEGA Technical Institute, 1992), Sonic was practically everywhere as SEGA capitalised on their mascot’s success with comic books, story books, toys, spin-off videogames, and, of course, animated ventures. Outside of Japan, DiC Entertainment produced two widely different Sonic cartoons that ran simultaneously and would come to inform the long-running Archie Comics series.

Japan got much different Sonic cartoons to the rest of the world, one very much a traditional anime.

Just as Japan and the rest of the world saw different Sonic promotional materials and lore, so too did each country have incredibly different animated ventures for SEGA’s mascot as, in 1996, Perriot studio produced a two part original video animation (OVA), “Welcome to Eggmanland” and “Sonic vs. Metal Sonic!”, that featured a traditional anime aesthetic that was closely modelled on the anime sequences from Sonic the Hedgehog CD (Sonic Team, 1993) and much closer to the source material thanks to the involvement of Sonic Team (specifically Yuji Naka and Naoto Ohshima). As audiences outside of Japan were enduring easily the worst Sonic cartoon ever created, Sonic Underground (1999), and to coincide (somewhat) with the North American release of the Dreamcast, ADV Films combined the two-part OVA into one feature length feature, subjected it to a questionable dubbing process, and released it straight to video. Still, the feature length animation holds largely favourable reviews among Sonic fans for its closer adherence to the source material despite being just as removed from it as Sonic’s American cartoons.

The Review:
Sonic the Hedgehog: The Movie is this absolutely mental anime adaptation of the videogames that has a slick, detailed aesthetic that not only evokes the artwork of the videogames but also aligns almost perfectly with the anime sequences from Sonic CD. Because of this, though this world is as strange and unique as the various iterations of Mobius, the OVA feels like an authentic tie-in to the source material rather than a distilled, heavily altered commercial product like the cartoons.

Though short-tempered and lazy, Sonic revels in action and adventure.

What really makes the Sonic OVA stand out from other animated adaptations, apart from the anime aesthetic, is its portrayal of Sonic; rather than a wise-cracking show off, OVA-Sonic is a snarky, short-tempered teenager and actually showcases the “attitude” that Sonic was advertised as having. He just wants to sunbathe in peace and quiet and yells at Tails for interrupting his relaxation and has absolutely no interest in helping Robotnik even though the safety of the entire planet is, apparently at stake. Despite his lackadaisical attitude, though, Sonic is quick to race into action when he sees Tails is in real danger and begrudgingly agrees to solve Robotnik’s problem despite never shaking the belief that something fishy is going on. Sonic is not just cocky but also extremely arrogant, surprisingly lazy, quick to anger, and uncouth, something his current incarnations often seem to forget or ignore. While still heroic, Sonic prefers to wait until the very last second, or needs considerable persuasion, to act; Sonic desires challenge and, without it, is mainly lethargic. This is best depicted in his intense and escalating battle with Metal Sonic wherein Sonic’s stupor gives way to a passionate desire to defend his pride and identity.

Tails is at his most capable here, berating Sonic’s inaction and directly influencing the plot.

Tails, also, is far more capable and competent than his other animated counterparts; a genius with machines and computers, it’s heavily implied that he retrofitted all the junk and discarded technology to build his laboratory and aircraft hanger and he’s easily able to reprogram Robotnik’s navigational device to alter Hyper Metal Sonic’s programming and repair the Tornado after it crashes. Crucially, though clearly an enthusiastic and naïve little kid, Tails is Sonic’s conscience and the voice of reason; when Sonic refuses to help, Tails berates him and helps coerce him into action and, while he does need a bit of rescuing, he’s also quite capable of doing far more than just whining or being a mere hostage or a liability.

Sara is a pain in the ass but at least she has more personality than the President.

Tails’s usually annoying characteristics are, instead, supplanted into Sara; a grating, annoying character, Sara is selfish and aggravating, throwing tantrums over the littlest things and revelling in her ability to manipulate the hearts and minds of men with her allure. Interestingly, though, the annoying aspects of her character give her a little more personality than the average damsel in distress since she doesn’t just sit there like a lemon or cringe in fear; she shouts, screams, lashes out, and whines the entire time instead which, yes, means you end up questioning why anyone would want to rescue her annoying ass but an irritating personality is a personality nonetheless, at least, which is more than can be said about her father, the President (Neal), who is a largely ineffectual and useless character.

Knuckles is a far less gullible or bumbling character than he’s now characterised as.

Unlike the majority of Sonic’s American cartoons, the OVA immediately gets extra points from me for actually including my favourite Sonic character: Knuckles the Echidna (Wise). Of course, of all the characters, Knuckles is perhaps the most fundamentally changed by the adaptation process; rather than an echidna, he’s said to be a mole (one, somehow, capable of flying) who is more interested in treasure and bounty hunting than guarding Angel Island and the Master Emerald. In fact, neither of these two elements are ever mentioned, characterising Knuckles as this wandering nomad who is, nevertheless, “Sonic’s best friend”; Knuckles, far from the gullible and foolish character he has become in recent years, is a capable, confident, and knowledgeable source of exposition and gets some fun comedic moments like when he chastises Tails for landing on Sara’s boobs or when his beloved and bad-ass cowboy hat catches fire!

Though a buffon at times, Robotnik is still a charasmatic, deceptive, and competent villain.

For those only familiar with Sonic’s American cartoons, perhaps the most striking character in the OVA is Dr. Robotnik; rather than some bumbling fool or a semi-cybernetic, tyrannical dictator, Robotnik is far closer to his videogame counterpart and, when I think of the Robotnik from Sonic’s 2D videogames, this is the one I think of. A charismatic, deceptive, and a ruthless individual, Robotnik is easily able to intimidate the President by kidnapping his daughter, manipulate Sonic and Tails into doing his bidding, and ultimately capture Sonic’s “life data” to complete Hyper Metal Sonic. There’s a lot of backstory hinted at with this world, primarily through Robotnik, who explains how Planet Freedom works and hints towards previous encounters with Sonic and Tails, and Robotnik actually has a lot of depth to his personality as he seems to genuinely be besotted with Sara while also wishing to destroy Sonic and take over the Land of the Sky.

Metal Robotnik is an obvious ruse but gives Sonic and Tails a serious run for their money.

Robotnik, of course, isn’t the only antagonist in the OVA; at first, we’re led to believe that the primary antagonist is the mysterious “Metal Robotnik”, a massive demonic anime mech that is, clearly, being piloted or at least controlled by Robotnik. The deception, however, completely fools everyone despite the fact that Metal Robotnik sounds exactly like Robotnik! The mech suit gives Robotnik a vast array of combat options that briefly give him the upper hand but the destruction of Metal Robotnik isn’t even a set back for Robotnik; it’s all simply part of his master plan, which is surprisingly competent and threatening.

Sonic insists on battling Metal Sonic alone, seeing the robot as a degrading imposter.

Hyper Metal Sonic, obviously, ends up becoming the main antagonist but it doesn’t actually properly appear until after our heroes get past Metal Robotnik, enter Robotropolis, and shut down the Robot Generator; it’s glimpsed in the opening, pre-title sequence, however, and looms over the narrative like an ominous cloud so that, once it does appear, it’s in suitably dramatic and threatening fashion. Hyper Metal Sonic is a cold, calculating, silent antagonist and Sonic sees its mere existence as both an insult and a threat to his position, categorically refusing to have his friends help him and choosing to battle his robotic counterpart alone in increasingly violent confrontations.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Though there is a general, prevailing idea that Sonic the Hedgehog: The Movie is much closer to the source material than its other animated counterparts, that isn’t exactly true; the world we are presented with in the film is just as different from that seen in the games as Mobius is in the cartoons and comics, perhaps even more so since this is a strange world that resembles a shattered, post-apocalyptic version of our world more than the wacky, fantasy worlds seen in the videogames. However, the spirit of the videogames is evoked far closer thanks to the OVA’s anime aesthetic and locations closely resembling those seen in the games (Never Lake, for example, appears to be briefly seen onscreen at one point and Sonic races through traps and obstacles very similar to those from the games, including the first and most accurate onscreen portrayal of springs, spikes, and Badniks).

The world is both familiar and yet unique, borrowing from and then influencing Sonic‘s videogames.

One thing I love about this OVA is not just how well it captures the spirit of the source material but also came to influence later videogames and Sonic canon; it’s fitting that this was released outside of Japan around the time of the Dreamcast since there are many visual and aesthetic similarities between the OVA and Sonic Adventure (Sonic Team, 1998): Tails’s workshop, the airstrip that rises out of the ground, the visual of the “relics” of the Land of Darkness (clearly the remnants of New York City) sinking into the ocean are all clearly evoked in Sonic Adventure. Honestly, it’s a shame that more episodes of the OVA weren’t produced and that it hasn’t had a greater impact on larger Sonic canon; ideally, I’d love to see a 2D Sonic videogame utilise an artistic style or anime sequences such as the ones on display here for the cutscenes, if nothing else.

Animation is slick and fluid and the level of detail on offer is astounding at times.

Visually resembling Sonic CD’s impressive anime sequences, and loosely adapting its plot, unlike its American counterparts, the OVA featured a fairly simplistic story, but one given greater depth by its diagetic world. While some exposition exists regarding Planet Freedom and its two opposing “dimensions”, it is clearly not Earth, Mobius, or the Japanese videogame world either, despite some aesthetic resemblances to each. Instead, Planet Freedom is a post-apocalyptic alternate Earth where some calamity has caused the planet’s surface to break away and reduced the lower surface to ruins. As a result, the OVA’s visuals and scenery are amazingly detailed and even somewhat resemble the Zones of the source material. This, coupled with the OVA’s musical composition, evokes Sonic’s spirit in a way that its counterparts failed to do; by appropriating numerous anime tropes and conventions, the OVA’s characters act exactly as you expect and engage in frequent, intense, fast-paced action.

Amusingly, some risqué moments slipped past the OVA’s censors…

Of course, the OVA isn’t perfect; ask most people for their thoughts on it and the first thing they’ll mention is the pretty atrocious voice acting. Tails has a strange, nasally quality; Sonic’s voice is wildly inconsistent, croaking one minute and being strained the next, and Old Man Owl (Charles C. Campbell) is almost unintelligible. Knuckles, however, sounds pretty good and I love Dr. Robotnik’s boisterous, elaborate slightly German accent. Overall, I don’t really mind the voice work; it’s not like the ones in the American cartoons were always great and it actually adds to the OVA’s cheesy, goofy charm. Indeed, the OVA’s flaws come from the poor quality of some of the voice acting rather than the quality of the animation yet, interestingly, though it has the high-quality whitewash of respected Japanese anime to bolster its critical reception, Sonic the Hedgehog: The Movie remains almost as separate from its source material as any of the American animations, though ironically is able to better convey the essence of said source material better than any Sonic animation produced throughout the nineties. Furthermore, the OVA is made more entertaining by the fact that a few questionable moments made it past the censors: Sonic gives Metal Robotnik the finger, Sara is seen breastfeeding in a brief imaginary sequence and kicks the crap out of Metal Sonic when she thinks its looking up her dress, and Sonic lands on his crotch on Robotnik’s craft, which is all very wacky and amusing.

Metal ultimately comes to reflect not just Sonic’s speed and skill but his heroic heart as well.

Sonic the Hedgehog: The Movie excels in the quality of its animation; characters move with blinding super speed like in Dragonball Z (1989 to 1996) but are also slick and smoothly animated. Nowhere is the animation and art style represented better than in the depiction of Sonic’s battle against Hyper Metal Sonic and the design of Metal Sonic (and, also, Metal Robotnik). Their battles are a test of their skill, speed, and endurance as Sonic is somewhat on the backfoot given that Metal doesn’t tire or feel pain but Metal, far from a simple unemotional machine, begins to grow frustrated with Sonic’s persistence and will and evolves to mirror Sonic’s personality and body language as much as his speed. Thanks to Tails’s influence, Metal eventually chooses to sacrifice itself to save Sara and the President, refusing to be save from destruction since “There. Is. Only. One. Sonic”.

The Summary:
Sonic the Hedgehog: The Movie is, still, perhaps the greatest Sonic animation ever created even though it still takes numerous, strange liberties with the source material, reflecting neither the Japanese or American versions of Sonic’s story or the story as told in the games themselves. Instead, the OVA is its own thing entirely, implying a continuity and a larger backstory that we, sadly, never get to explore as we only got to see these two episodes edited into one feature-length animation. Nostalgia and the general obscurity and rarity of the OVA obviously all helps to add to its appeal but Sonic the Hedgehog: The Movie is still well worth your time, especially if you’re a Sonic fan or a fan of anime in general since there’s plenty on offer here for both. Between the slick animation, catchy soundtrack, and action-packed narrative, Sonic the Hedgehog: The Movie presents perhaps the most appealing and cohesive bridge between Sonic’s many competing narratives and I’d love to see the concept and aesthetic revisited in more detail at some point. However, since that’s extremely unlikely given how wildly different the Sonic franchise is these days, at least we still have this hidden gem to fall back on.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fantastic

Have you ever seen Sonic the Hedgehog: The Movie? If so, what did you think to it? Were you able to look past the dodgy voice acting or was it simply too much to handle, despite the OVA’s impressive animation? Did you like the unique world of the OVA or do you feel it was too separate from the videogames and generally accepted narrative of the time? Would you like to see a return to this style of characterisation and animation for Sonic or would you prefer something a little different; if so, what? How are you planning on celebrating Sonic’s thirtieth anniversary this year? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the OVA, and Sonic in general, so feel free to leave a comment below and be sure to pop back every Friday of this month for more Sonic content!

Talking Movies [Dragon Ball Month]: Dragonball Super The Movie: Broly


DragonBallDay

When the Great Demon King Piccolo was released upon the world, he broadcasted a message on television declaring May 9th as “Piccolo Day”…and promptly celebrated by announcing his ownership over the planet. Since then, May 9th has been officially recognised as “Goku Day” and, accordingly, I have spent the last few Sundays looking back at one of the franchise’s most popular villains: Broly.


Talking Movies
DBZBroly4Logo

Released: December 2018
Director: Tatsuya Nagamine
Distributor: Toei Company/20th Century Fox
Budget: $8.5 million
Stars: Sean Schemmel, Christopher Sabat, Vic Mignogna, Chris Ayres, Erica Lindbeck, and Dameon Clarke

The Plot:
After restoring peace to the Earth, and the multiverse, in the Tournament of Power, Son Goku (Schemmel) and Vegeta (Sabat) have been undergoing rigorous training to combat both the renewed threat of Frieza (Ayres) and unknown enemies from beyond their world. However, they face a threat unlike no other when Frieza joins forces with Paragus (Clarke) and his son, Broly (Mignogna), a being whose power eclipses both Saiyans and forces them to turn to the one technique they swore they’d never use again: Fusion.

The Background:
After debuting in the pages of Weekly Shōnen Jump back in 1984, Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Ball has proven a popular and influential manga and anime; its sequel series, Dragonball Z, not only came to define the entire franchise in popular, mainstream media but also spawned several feature-length movies and even a third series, Dragonball GT, all of which are generally considered non-canon as they lacked the direct involvement of Toriyama. After years of speculation and anticipation, Toriyama returned to Dragon Ball in 2015 with Dragonball Super, an official continuation of his popular manga that spawned two more feature-length movies in 2013 and 2015 and, of course, an accompanying anime series that ran from 2015 to 2018.

Dragonball Super supplanted any non-canon media as the official sequel to Dragonball Z.

Picking up immediately where Dragonball Z left off, Dragonball Super has largely supplanted Dragonball GT in the Dragon Ball canon and saw series protagonists Goku and Vegeta transform into even more powerful states, harnessing the powers of Gods, the return of many familiar characters and villains from the franchise’s rich history, and a tournament that spanned parallel universes! Soon after the end of the anime, Toryiama began working on a feature-length film to cap off the series that promised to introduce a “long awaited, strong opponent”. Thanks to his immense popularity among Dragon Ball fans, this turned out to be none other than the Legendary Super Saiyan, Broly, redesigned by Toryiama and officially integrated into his main series canon for the first time. This popularity, alongside improved worldwide distribution compared to previous films, saw the film eventually eclipse even the U.S. lifetime gross of the much-lauded Spirited Away (Miyazaki, 2001) to amass over $120 million worldwide.

The Review:
It is to my great shame that I have to admit that I haven’t really watched much of Dragonball Super, much less read the original manga. I’ve been patiently waiting and debating about buying the physical releases of the anime and caught a few episodes here and there, but the majority of my knowledge of the series comes from what I’ve read online and the previous movies in the series.

King Vegeta is introduced to the future destroyer of his world, Frieza.

Luckily, Dragonball Super The Movie: Broly opens in familiar-enough territory; with King Cold (Jason Douglas), Frieza, and the Ginyu Force arriving on Planet Vegeta to meet with King Vegeta (Sabat). If there’s one thing I’ve found Toryiama likes to do whenever he revisits his seminal franchise, it’s digging up the past; he unnecessarily resurrected Frieza in the previous film, Dragonball Z: Resurrection “F” (Yamamuro, 2015), and even brought back Future Trunks (Eric Vale) in Dragonball Super. It’s a helpful shorthand for getting a sense of how powerful certain characters are by having Frieza around but, generally, I don’t really like that villains and characters so hopelessly outclassed are suddenly brought back and deemed a threat once more.

In detailing Broly’s new backstory, the film features some unexpected cameos.

The film even revisits Frieza’s eventual campaign against the Saiyans, including Goku’s father, Bardock (Strait), into the plot and officially incorporating him into the overall canon at the same time. Interestingly, the alterations made to Goku’s origins not only recontextualise the characterisation of Bardock but also slightly alter the specifics of how Goku escaped the destruction of Planet Vegeta and the majority of the Saiyan race and even his early years on Earth. This also allows us to see Vegeta and Raditz (Justin Cook) as little kids, which is something we’ve never really seen before in the series.

Fearing Broly’s power, King Vegeta has him and his father exiled and leaves them to rot.

All of these elements form the background to Broly’s revised origin: similar to his original incarnation, Broly is still a child prodigy with a power level that initially appears to eclipse that of even King Vegeta’s son and who has the potential to be even the Legendary Super Saiyan. King Vegeta is still fearful and frustrated by Broly’s superiority over his son and ostracised the child, and his father, Paragus, by sending them to the backwater world of Vampa where Broly’s power would not be a threat to his rule or the purity of the Saiyan race. Angered, Paragus pursues his son and vows to harness Broly’s power to oppose his former king, resulting in a backstory that is largely the same but slightly different in subtle ways; clearly, Broly’s original origin as a Saiyan born with incredible powers was iconic enough to leave mostly intact but his eventual personality and the circumstances of his madness are altered quite considerably.

Broly is now a far more sympathetic and tragic figure, making him much more complex and relatable.

Originally, Broly was overwhelmed by his power, frustrated by his father’s control over him, and enraged to the point of mindless insanity thanks to Goku’s crying disturbing him as a child; though initially quite eloquent, he was always a mindless engine of destruction even before he literally became little more than a rampaging monster. Here, though, Broly is a far more complex character; naïve and almost caveman-like, he’s easily controlled by his father thanks to a restraining collar and is quite passive and childlike even when fully grown. He’s not only far more gentle and eloquent, he also makes friends with Cheelai (Lindbeck) and Lemo (Bruce Carey) and grew so attached to Ba, a gigantic creature from Vampa, that his father had to mutilate the beast to keep Broly focused on his training as an unstoppable weapon. These elements all add much-needed layers to Broly’s backstory, transforming him into a far more tragic and sympathetic figure who is a victim of his machinations of his father and upbringing as much as his limitless power and uncontrollable rage.

Goku and Vegeta remain staunch rivals, training partners, and reluctant allies.

When we are finally reintroduced to Goku and Vegeta, they are still just as enthusiastic about sparring and growing stronger than ever thanks to their experiences in the Tournament of Power. While Goku wishes to grow more powerful to take on opponents from other universe, Vegeta desires to increase his power in order to defeat Frieza, angered that Goku not only resurrected Frieza but allowed him to go free after he helped them in the anime. It’s interesting to see Vegeta be the voice of reason; I would have assumed that his and Goku’s motivations would have been reversed but, instead, Vegeta is most perturbed by the potential threat Frieza poses, especially after they discover that he has stolen six of the seven magical Dragon Balls.

Frieza’s motivations turn to revenge after he encounters Paragus and Broly.

Convinced that Frieza can’t be up to much good, Goku agrees to go with Vegeta and Bulma (Monica Rial) to the ice continent (picking up some nifty cold-weather clothes along the way) to find the last Dragon Ball. In a strangely amusing twist, though, it turns out that Frieza’s motivations for finding the Dragon Balls are as laughably vain and simple as Bulma’s: Bulma wants to wish to look five years younger and Frieza wants to be five centimetres taller, with both characters reasoning that any more would be “too noticeable”. It’s a tenuous reason to get the plot in gear but a recurring joke in the film and perfectly in line with the wackier elements and motivations of the franchise.

Despite his lack of training, Broly’s raw power is enough to push Vegeta to his limits.

Frieza’s motivations change, however, when his soldiers find the now-aged Paragus and Broly; impressed by the potential of Broly’s power, Frieza feeds Paragus’s desire for revenge against Vegeta by coercing them into engaging with his hated enemies. This time around, Broly’s rage is not at Goku alone but, instead, at anyone his father deems to be an enemy and, specifically, Vegeta for being the son of the man who condemned them to death. Once he begins to engage in battle, though, his formally peaceful and serene nature gives way to an insatiable bloodlust and increasing, overpowering rage that pushes both Goku and Vegeta to their limits.

Goku and Vegeta are forced to merge into Gogeta to counter Broly’s unstoppable rage.

Overwhelmed by Broly’s limitless rage, power, and brute strength, Goku and Vegeta are forced to not only team up with Golden Frieza to defeat Broly but also to turn to Piccolo (Sabat) for help in mastering the Fusion Dance. Previously, the two had fused into Vegito using the Potara Earrings and, though they had performed the Fusion Dance and transformed into Gogeta in non-canon anime, movies, and videogames, they’ve never performed the dance or assumed this form in canon until this moment. It’s a striking contrast to Vegeta’s fear and helplessness in Broly – The Legendary Super Saiyan (Shigeyasu, 1993); there, he was so reluctant to fight against Broly or lend Goku his power that he was almost willing to accept what he saw as his inevitable death at the hands of the Legendary Super Saiyan but, here, his resolve against Broly’s power never falters and he begrudgingly agrees to undergo the transformation in order to prevail. As much as I enjoyed seeing Vegeta’s usual arrogance and ego stripped away and him brought to his knees by fear, it’s equally as entertaining to see him forced to merge into the same body as his hated rival.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Unlike his original appearances, which quickly devolved into little more than an extended series of fights against a near-unstoppable opponent that ended in anti-climatic fashion two out of three times, Dragonball Super The Movie: Broly depicts Broly as a formidable opponent whose power increases again and again as the film progresses and, yet, also a foe whom Goku and Vegeta are able to put up a much better fight against than in his original incarnation.

Broly’s Wrath State quickly overwhelms Goku’s Super Saiyan God form.

Unlike his original counterpart, Broly is actually rather untested in battle, relying on brute strength, anger, or instinct in a way that is slightly different to in the original films; despite his vast power level, he cannot even transform into a regular Super Saiyan, much less the Legendary Super Saiyan, at the start of the film and, yet, his base form is more than capable of matching Super Vegeta and pushing him to his limits. Broly also demonstrates the ability to learn, adapt, and increase in power as a fight progresses and, after being bested by Vegeta’s Super Saiyan God form, Broly summons the power of the Great Ape but channels it through his normal body, attaining a new form not seen before: his Wrath State.

Broly ascends to a Super Saiyan, his powers apparently without limit and matched only by his fury.

In an interesting twist, Broly is far more devoted to his father than in his original depiction; rather than turning against and killing Paragus in the midst of his onslaught, Broly follows his father’s directions (when not in a mindless rage) and is so traumatised by his death at Frieza’s hands that he finally transforms into a Super Saiyan. Nothing, not even a Kamehameha/Galick Gun combination or Golden Frieza is enough to stand against Broly, forcing Vegeta to swallow his pride and endure the Fusion Dance to allow Gogeta to be born in canon for the first time.

Broly‘s fights quickly escalate into some of the most furious and explosive the series has ever seen.

Their eventual team up with Golden Frieza makes for a suitably impressive finale; as much as I may dislike Frieza being resurrected and even him being somewhat redeemed and becoming more of an anti-hero and reluctant ally, it’s still impressive seeing him forced to fight alongside his hated enemies in their merged form. The result is a series of far more impressive and spectacular fight scenes than in any of Broly’s previous appearances; as awesome as it was to see the original Broly swat away our heroes like they were nothing, there’s no denying that Broly’s fights are bigger, more explosive, and far more exciting as the stakes continually increase and each character is forced to up their power level again and again to match the other.

Broly survives to the end as a potential rival, training partner, ally…and threat.

Even better is the climax of the film; as noted, Broly’s previous appearances all ended in anti-climatic fashion save for one and even that did little to redeem the film that proceeded it. Here, Super Saiyan Blue Gogeta and Legendary Super Saiyan Broly fight so hard that they threaten not only the safety of the Earth but the entire universe as well. Tying back into Broly’s introduction as a simple man-child with a kind heart, he is ultimately transported back to Vampa by Cheelai’s wish right as Gogeta is about to finish him off. Frieza allows Broly to go, confidant that Cheelai and Lemo will be able to domesticate him so Frieza can utilise his power at a later date, and the film ends with Broly, now living a simple life as a farmer with his friends, content and at peace with himself. Unlike in his original incarnation, he even ends the film on good terms with Goku, who not only wishes to face Broly in battle once again but also finally, surprisingly, embraces his Saiyan heritage for the first time in a nod to the original films by insisting that Broly call him “Kakarot”.

The Summary:
Of all the films to feature Broly, Dragonball Super The Movie: Broly is easily the best one, even better than Broly – The Legendary Super Saiyan. One of the biggest issues the original Dragonball Z feature films had was that they were so condensed that they often focused solely on comedy or fight scenes, with little substance to their style. This is great when you’re burned out from watching characters power up over the course of three or five episodes of the anime but not so much when you’re trying to invest in their original characters and the potential of their premises.

The film’s action and pacing far surpass Broly’s original appearances.

Dragonball Super The Movie: Broly takes everything that worked from Broly’s previous appearances and expands upon it, giving him a far more intricate and interesting backstory while still portraying him as a brute of near-unstoppable power. At this point in the franchise, Goku and Vegeta are so powerful that it’s hard for any opponent to be taken seriously but the fact that Broly forced them to not only merge together but also turn Super Saiyan Blue in that form shows that he’s just as formidable, if not more so, than his original incarnation. With far more impressive fight scenes, much better use of characters, comedy, and action, and even some much-appreciated peeks into the past, Dragonball Super The Movie: Broly is probably the best Dragon Ball movie out of them all and the fact that it leaves the door open for Broly to naturally and seamlessly return to the franchise is all the better.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fantastic

What did you think of Dragonball Super The Movie: Broly? Were you happy with the alterations made to Broly? How do you feel about characters like Frieza returning to the franchise and being somewhat redeemed? What did you think of Dragonball Super as an official continuation of the series? Which story arc from Dragonball Super did you like the best and which characters from the multiverse would you like to see show up in future films? Whatever your thoughts, feel free to leave a comment below.

Talking Movies [Dragon Ball Month]: Dragonball Z: Bio-Broly


DragonBallDay

When the Great Demon King Piccolo was released upon the world, he broadcasted a message on television declaring May 9th as “Piccolo Day”…and promptly celebrated by announcing his ownership over the planet. Since then, May 9th has been officially recognised as “Goku Day” but, to make things simpler, I’ve been using this as a good excuse to celebrate all things Dragon Ball and to take a look back at one of the franchise’s most popular villains: Broly.


Talking Movies
DBZBroly3Logo

Released: July 1994
Director: Yoshihiro Ueda
Distributor: Toei Company
Budget: Unable to verify
Stars: Kara Edwards, Laura Bailey, Vic Mignogna, Meredith McCoy, C.T. Anger, Bill Townsley, Chris Rager, Sonny Strait, and Robert McCollum

The Plot:
When the World’s Martial Arts Champion, Mr. Satan (Rager), is challenged by his old rival, Mr. Jaguar (Townsley), Goten (Edwards), Trunks (Baily), and Android #18 (McCoy) accompany him to an island laboratory to take part in a special tournament only to find that Jaguar’s bizarre cloning technology has resurrected the Legendary Super Saiyan, Broly (Mignogna), now mutated into a grotesque abomination.

The Background:
Dragonball Z, the anime that defined a generation of kids, was the sequel series to Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Ball, a manga and anime that followed the adventures of Son Goku, a young boy with incredible martial arts prowess who grew up to become the kind-hearted (if goofy) saviour of the world. With the anime proving to be even more successful than its original series, a number of feature-length animated movies were produced without the direct involvement of Toriyama. Though they are largely non-canon to the wider Dragon Ball story arc, they did introduce us to Broly, a near-unstoppable and mindless antagonist who appeared to be the “Legendary Super Saiyan” incarnate. So popular was Broly upon his debut that he became only the second movie villain to star in more than one film and quickly became a popular character in Dragon Ball fighting games and merchandise. This, and the ¥2.33 billion brought in by his debut feature, Broly – The Legendary Super Saiyan (Yamauchi, 1993), no doubt contributed to Broly featuring in not one but two movies in 1994 to complete a loose trilogy of sorts.

The Review:
Bio-Broly gets off to a bad start for me, personally, right from the get-go. Because of where it takes place within the Dragon Ball timeline, Goku (Sean Schemmel) is back in the afterlife after returning to Earth for one day for the World’s Martial Arts Tournament and, given the absence of many of the series’ most popular and powerful characters, this movie is awkwardly placed in the early going of the “Majin Buu Saga”. This, unfortunately for me, means that the film’s primary focus is on Goku’s youngest son, Goten, and Trunks, the son of Goku’s arch-rival and fellow Saiyan, Vegeta (Christopher R. Sabat). This wouldn’t be a problem were it not for the fact that I find both of these characters incredibly annoying; they’re all the worst parts of Saiyans (overconfidence to the point of arrogance, insatiable hunger, and being bored to the point of distraction when they’re not fighting) dialled up to the nth degree thanks to their childishness and immaturity. They’ve never made for compelling characters for me, personally; Trunks was only interesting when he was a time-travelling prodigy and Goten never even managed to grow up to match the disappointment his brother, Gohan (Kyle Hebert) turned out to be. The only time I really enjoy the characters is when they’re fused or being beaten to a pulp as it’s the only time I find them credible or tolerable, respectively.

Mr. Satan plays a central role in the movie’s plot.

The same can also be said for my thoughts about Mr. Satan (or “Hercule”), though I do find him to, at least, be a far more enjoyable and hilariously ridiculous character when he’s used sparingly and smartly. Luckily, that is largely the case here and we get to see a little bit more of Mr. Satan’s past and backstory but I find the movie’s focus on Dragonball Z’s more ridiculous characters to be its downfall and it only serves to further devalue Broly’s mystique and aura.

#18 is your traditional stoic, no-nonsense, bad-ass fighter.

This means that it’s largely up to Android #18 to carry the film’s fight scenes; a cold, focused character, #18 is only interested in receiving the money she is owed by Mr. Satan. In the absence of Vegeta or Piccolo (Sabat), she’s easily the film’s most credible fighter, fulfilling the same stoic, grouchy characterisation those two typically have and she’s perfectly cast as the reluctant muscle of the film.

Jaguar’s Bio Warriors are little more than generic goons for the heroes to pummel.

Sadly, though, the film’s fight scenes leave a lot to be desired; for the most part, our heroes are battling Jaguar’s generic-looking “Bio Warriors”. Jaguar himself is a largely ineffective and bumbling fool; the entirety of his threat is based around his cloning technology and his ability to create monstrous fighters, the majority of which are largely unimpressive to look at. Unfortunately, far too much of the movie’s runtime is devoted to fight scenes involving these Bio Warriors; the opening already hints at Jaguar having a Saiyan ready to go and we know Broly is in the film but he doesn’t actually show up until a good way into the movie, meaning the bulk of the film’s focus is on a bunch of unimposing freaks that are easily dispatched by #18, Trunks, and Goten.

Maloja probably should have been the film’s primary human villain.

As it is part of a loose trilogy of films revolving around Broly, Bio-Broly sees the return of a small character from the last movie, Maloja (McCollum); rather than developing into a fully-fledged character or playing a pivotal role, however, Maloja simply exists to explain how Jaguar was able to recreate Broly. In some ways, the film’s plot would have made more sense to me if Maloja had replaced Jaguar entirely as the film’s primary human antagonist; after all, he has an axe to grind against Goten and Trunks after the last movie and it would have been a far better pay off than randomly bringing in a guy who even more pathetic and foolish than Mr. Satan.

Broly is quickly, disappointingly, transformed into a mindless goo creature.

Once Broly is discovered by Goten and Trunks, the film steps up a notch for the briefest of moments; still just as obsessed with killing Goku and overcome by his limitless power, Broly is just as sadistic and terrifying as ever…for about five minutes. Rather than going on a destructive rampage as the Legendary Super Saiyan, Broly is almost immediately engulfed by a mutagenic liquid and becomes little more than a mindless slop monster, severely diminishing his threat.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Bio-Broly suffers quite a bit by focusing on slapstick and nonsense for the majority of its runtime; the film’s central plot revolves almost entirely around Mr. Satan, which is somewhat amusing when he’s either being pummeled or held up for money by #18, but quite a step back considering the different facets of established characters we saw in Broly – The Legendary Super Saiyan or the potential of a cross-generation conflict in the previous movie.

Broly is just as unstoppable as ever but looks far less unique and appealing.

Truthfully, Broly was always kind of one-dimensional in the previous movies, motivated purely by his destructive rage and hatred of Goku but, here, he’s even more of a blank slate; he literally could have been replaced with any other dull monster so ineffectual is his presence. The potential threat Broly has is given some lip service but the film does little to follow through on it other than showing Bio-Broly to be just as unstoppable as the original Broly, but nowhere near as eloquent or visually appealing, until he is unceremoniously dissolved with relative ease. I’m not really sure why these films go to such lengths to portray Broly as this creature of limitless power and largely immune to pain and physical damage only to have him destroyed with the most anti-climactic of methods; the last film set such a high standard with its triple Father-Son Kamehameha but this film’s climax is even more disappointing than Broly’s end from his debut film.

Broly’s threat is minimal, at best, and he meets his most disappointing end yet.

This time around, there’s no magic assistance from dead fathers or other Saiyans; Goten and Trunks are just as physically outmatched as ever and, thankfully, never depicted as being physically capable of matching or besting Broly’s power. Instead, they have to rely on dousing Broly in a caustic liquid that dissolves him on a cellular level; while this does initially cause Broly to transform even further into a gigantic goo creature, he simply collapses from the strain of the damage. I can’t help but feel like the film would have been a little better if Broly had retained his usual appearance for the majority of his screen time, exhibiting new or enhanced abilities (elasticity and near-instant cellular regeneration), and not assumed his monstrous, gunk-covered form until the end of the film. At least then he’d be far more imposing and interesting to look at rather than being reduced to a mindless sludge monster.

The Summary:
Dragonball Z: Bio-Broly is a pretty poor end to what was, initially, one of the more impressive movie (and Dragon Ball) villains. While always little more than an engine of destruction, Broly at least looked impressive and intimidating, dominating the most powerful characters of the series with ease and only being defeated by pure luck more than anything. Rather than focus his second appearance around a generational conflict that saw Broly go head-to-head with a more powerful and experience Gohan, his subsequent appearances have been little more than shameless attempts to cash in on his popularity.

It’s genuinely disappointing to see Broly neutered so badly after such an impressive debut.

There was so much potential in repeat appearances from Broly to expand on his characterisation and threat but, in each reappearance, he was neutered further and further until he literally became nothing more than a mindless monster that was more an inconvenience than a true, life-threatening menace. It’s not just my bias against Goten, Trunks, or Mr. Satan that drags Bio-Broly down; it’s flawed on almost every level of its execution and can’t even be salvaged by the brief return of Broly let alone its few unimpressive fight scenes and, even when compared to other Dragon Ball features, it is one of the weaker entries for me.

My Rating:

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Terrible

What did you think of Dragonball Z: Bio-Broly? Were you as disappointed as I was at the way Broly was treated in this film or do you actually rate this movie quite high? Are you a fan of Goten and Trunks or do you also find them to be annoying and grating characters? Which Dragon Ball characters do you like, or dislike, the most? How do you feel about this loose trilogy of films involving Broly? No matter what you think, feel free to leave a comment below.

Talking Movies [Dragon Ball Month]: Dragonball Z: Broly – Second Coming


DragonBallDay

When the Great Demon King Piccolo was released upon the world, he broadcasted a message on television declaring May 9th as “Piccolo Day”…and promptly celebrated by announcing his ownership over the planet. Since then, May 9th has been officially recognised as “Goku Day” but, to make things simpler, I’m using this as a good excuse to celebrate all things Dragon Ball and spend this month taking a look back at one of the franchise’s most popular villains: Broly.


Talking Movies
DBZBroly2Logo

Released: March 1994
Director: Shigeyasu Yamauchi
Distributor: Toei Company
Budget: ¥14.5 million
Stars: Kyle Herbert, Vic Mignogna, Kara Edwards, Laura Bailey, Robert McCollum, Sonny Strait, and Sean Schemmel

The Plot:
Whilst searching for the seven magical Dragon Balls with Videl (Edwards), Goten (ibid) and Trunks (Bailey) accidentally awaken the Legendary Super Saiyan, Broly (Mignogna), who crash-landed to Earth after escaping the destruction of New Vegeta. With Goku (Schemmel) dead, it’s up to the Saiyan children, and Goku’s oldest son, Gohan (Herbert), to confront Broly and end his threat once and for all.

The Background:
After debuting in the pages of Weekly Shōnen Jump back in 1984, Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Ball spawned not only an anime of its own but also a sequel series, Dragonball Z, in which series protagonist Goku had grown up to become a superhuman defender of the world. After being licensed by Funimation back in 1996, Dragonball Z largely dominated the lives of a generation of kids who were exposed to its depictions of good and evil and wacky, otherworldly concepts. A series of feature-length animated films accompanied Dragonball Z; though produced without the direct involvement of Toriyama, and thus largely considered non-canon, the films did introduce us to Broly, the hulking, terrifyingly powerful Super Saiyan of legend. The character became a near-instant hit, which no doubt contributed not only to him being only the second Dragonball Z movie villain to star in more than one film but also his multiple appearances in videogames and being the only movie villain to eventually be integrated in Toriyama’s recognised canon.

The Review:
Broly – Second Coming opens to show a Saiyan pod ominously crash-landing on Earth. Its passenger is, of course, a seriously wounded Broly, who is quickly frozen and entombed in ice. Apparently, mere moments before the destruction of New Vegeta in the last movie, Broly was able to make his way to a Saiyan craft and escape; quite how his pod knew to come to Earth isn’t really explained (I assume Paragus (Dartanian Nickelback) pre-programmed all of his crafts to head there since it was his goal to invade the planet, after all) and, while it is a bit lame to have Broly’s injuries not be as fatal as they appeared in the last movie, it’s no more lame than him being defeated by a simple punch.

Videl, Goten, and Trunks are searching for the Dragon Balls to make arbitrary wishes.

We quickly join Goten and Trunks, who are searching for the seven Dragon Balls in order to summon the Eternal Dragon, Shenron, for Gohan’s girlfriend, Videl. Their motivation for this literally extends to simply being that Videl wishes to meet the dragon, Trunks wants his own amusement park, and Goten wants to live in a land of cakes and ice cream; the quest for the Dragon Balls has often been arbitrary and played for laughs but you’d think the group could think of something a little more useful to wish for.

Remember this guy, he might prove important later on…

The group stumbles upon a village of locals, which is largely destitute despite the abundance of crystals scattered across the landscape. According to the village shaman, Maloja (McCollum) they are under constant threat from a monster that demands human sacrifice; Videl is characteristically sceptical but the village elder, Zalador (Grant James), attests that Maloja’s demands are the only way to appease their mysterious monster.

Goten’s cries awaken Broly from his forced slumber.

Noticing that Maloja has a Dragon Ball around his neck, Trunks offers to take care of their problem and the three of them lay out an elaborate feast to lure the monster out. When Goten is unable to resist his Saiyan hunger, he gets a slap from Videl that sends him bawling; his cries echo through the mountain and awaken Broly, who was traumatised by the cries of Goten’s father as a child.

The Saiyans slaughter the dinosaur and cook it up, returning to the village as heroes.

The villager’s monster turns out to be little more than a dinosaur, a common creature in the Dragon Ball universe, which the Saiyan kids quickly taunt and make short work of, much to Videl’s chagrin. They then roast the dinosaur’s remains and return to the village as heroes, receiving the Dragon Ball for their troubles and disgracing Maloja.

Broly goes right for Goten, mistaking him for Goku and decimating anyone who gets in his way.

Their good time is soon interrupted, however, when Broly emerges from his frozen tomb and begins destroying the countryside; still baring the scars and wounds from his battle with Goku, and driven to insanity in his desire to kill the Saiyan who has haunted his nightmares, Broly violently attacks Goten (who naturally closely resembles his father) and the others.

Shenron is uncharacteristically shy in this movie…

Immediately outclassed, the Saiyan children are little more than play toys for Broly’s raw strength. However, while Broly is attacking them and searching for them in their many periods of hiding, they manage to locate the Four-Star Dragon Ball, the last one they need to summon Shenron, and make a plan to hold out against Broly long enough to call upon the dragon for help

Gohan is mildly inconvenienced by Broly’s presence.

Sensing the battle, Gohan rushes to join the fight and is horrified to find Broly still alive. Well, maybe “mildly aggravated” would be a better way of putting it as even Gohan, despite having witnessed Broly’s bloodthirsty and brutal nature, seems more annoyed by Broly’s presence than fearful.

Hearing the desperate pleas of his sons, Goku’s spirit drops by to help out.

Equally outclassed, Gohan is unable to best the Legendary Super Saiyan, even when transforming into a Super Saiyan 2 and throwing everything he has at Broly and with Goten by his side. With certain death looming their way, they desperately wish for more power (specifically, in Goten’s case, for his Dad’s presence) and, finally, the Dragon Balls decide to activate, bringing Goku’s spirit to the battlefield and joining his sons in obliterating Broly with his own ki sphere.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Videl is just as pig-headed as always but, thankfully, her role in the film is relatively short. It’s amusing to see her charge at Broly head-on but at least the film never depicts her as having a chance at going toe-to-toe with the Legendary Super Saiyan. One scene that is a source of constant amusement, however, is when Krillin (Strait) impersonates and imitates Piccolo (Christopher R. Sabat) to rescue Gohan, proving that Krillin alone is all the comic relief a Dragonball Z movie ever needs.

Broly overwhelms the Saiyan kids but is also mocked by their childish antics.

Goten and Trunks are as annoying as ever in their arrogance and stupidity; they constantly avoid serious harm simply by virtue of being little kids and having been basically born Super Saiyans. Realistically, they would never stand a chance against Broly based on his power level from the last movie, especially at this point when they haven’t even mastered fusion yet. As expected, the children care more about food, peeing, sleeping, and looking cool rather than actually being capable fighters, lucking into a lot of their advantageous positions due to dumb luck and the raw power of their Super Saiyan forms rather than skill or strategy.

Even Gohan is no match for Broly’s raw power, which really isn’t all the surprising…

The same largely applies to Gohan, who was continuously noted to be far weaker as a young adult compared to when he destroyed Cell (Dameon Clarke) as a teenager. Indeed, Gohan’s power at this point was presumably far lower than his father’s when he fought Broly, and Goku could only defeat the Super Saiyan through the power of his allies. Because of this, the battles against Broly lack the impact and danger of those in the last film; rather than seeing Dragonball Z’s most powerful characters helpless and beaten to within an inch of their lives by this monstrous new foe, Broly – Second Coming is more about the remaining protagonists trying to survive until Shenron decides to hear their wish and summon Goku to the battlefield.

Broly has lost a lot of his mystique in his second appearance and is far less imposing.

As a result, Broly’s power and menace seems far less impressive this time around; injured and driven to a near-mindless rage, he even seems leaner and less imposing that in his debut appearance. Though he makes short work of the children, and Goten, it’s nowhere near as impressive as the way he no-sold the combined attacks of Goku, Vegeta (Sabat), and Future Trunks (Eric Vale), characters all far more powerful than those that appear in this movie.

A triple Father-Son Kamehameha is a fitting end for Broly.

Sadly, despite his raw power and constant rage, Broly is a bit of a joke in this movie; he is easily outwitted and eluded by the kids (despite the fact that he should be able to sense their ki) and even gets pissed on by Trunks at one point and still fails to live up to even half of the threat he posed in the last film. Once Broly finally powers up to his “Legendary Super Saiyan” form, much of his former glory begins to return as he pummels Goten mercilessly, to the point where he is forced to beg for his father’s help. This, of course, leads to a pretty decent call-back to the iconic “Father-Son Kamehameha” that finally destroyed Cell as Goku joins his sons, in spirit, and, after Trunks follows his own father’s example and lands a minor blow that is enough to distract Broly, the three Saiyans vaporise Broly once and for all. It’s a great moment and trumps Broly’s disappointing end from the last movie, finally giving him a fitting death, but the entire film is a poor imitation of Broly – The Legendary Super Saiyan.

The Summary:
Broly – Second Coming could have been so much more than it ended up being; thanks to the time period at which the film takes place (essentially some time after the end of the “Cell Games Saga”), we’re left following Goten and Trunks for the majority of the film’s runtime and, biased though I may be, I never found these characters that interesting; they’re an annoyance at the best of times and aggravating at the worst, constantly messing about and acting like…well, spoiled, arrogant little kids.

Gohan really should have been the focus of the film rather than a bit-player to the Saiyan kids.

I would have much preferred that the film focus on Gohan and his personal battle against Broly in a recreation of his battle against Cell; since much of the film borrows from these recognisable elements anyway, I feel it would have been far stronger if it had gone down this path and included Vegeta, Goten, and Trunks as supporting characters rather than not at all and primary protagonists, respectively. Either way, Broly is a neutered threat; he lacks most of the imposing menace and destructive power so brilliantly showcased in his debut film and seems to struggle against a handful of opponents who are far weaker than those he faced last time, making for a bittersweet reunion with one of Dragon Ball’s more ferocious villains.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

Did you enjoy Broly – Second Coming? How do you feel it holds up compared to Broly – The Legendary Super Saiyan? How do you feel about Goten and Trunks and the missed opportunity to have Gohan become the series’ main protagonist after Goku’s death? Do you agree that Broly was severely neutered in this film or do you, perhaps, rank Broly – Second Coming quite high compared to other Dragon Ball movies? Whatever you think about this film, feel free to share your memories of Dragon Ball in the comments below.

Talking Movies [Dragon Ball Month]: Dragonball Z: Broly – The Legendary Super Saiyan


DragonBallDay

When the Great Demon King Piccolo was released upon the world, he broadcasted a message on television declaring May 9th as “Piccolo Day”…and promptly celebrated by announcing his ownership over the planet. Since then, May 9th has been officially recognised as “Goku Day” but, to make things simpler, I’m using this as a good excuse to celebrate all things Dragon Ball and spend this month taking a look back at one of the franchise’s most popular villains: Broly.


Talking Movies
DBZBroly1Logo

Released: March 1993
Director: Shigeyasu Yamauchi
Distributor: Toei Company
Budget: ¥713.7 million
Stars: Sean Schemmel, Vic Mignogna, Christopher R. Sabat, Stephanie Nadolny, Eric Vale, Sonny Strait, Mike McFarland, and Dartanian Nickelback

The Plot:
A rare moment of peace for Son Goku (Schemmel) and his friends is interrupted when Paragus (Nickelback) lures them to New Vegeta by appealing to the vanity and ego of Vegeta (Sabat), prince of the Saiyan race. Their curiosity is piqued by stories of the “Legendary Super Saiyan” running amok but things soon take a turn for the worst when they encounter Paragus’s unhinged son, Broly (Mignogna), who desires nothing more than death and destruction.

The Background:
Debuting in the pages of Weekly Shōnen Jump back in 1984 as Dragon Ball, Dragonball Z is the much-loved and popular creation of writer and artist Akira Toriyama. Originally borrowing many of its plot and characters from Journey to the West (Cheng’en, 1592), Dragon Ball followed Goku, a young boy with a monkey’s tail and exceptional martial arts skills, as he travelled the world growing stronger and often searching for the seven magical Dragon Balls. In Dragonball Z, Goku was depicted as an adult and a member of the exceptionally powerful Saiyan race. Dragonball Z took a far more science-fiction-orientated approach to the narrative, introducing several new characters and concepts that would come to define the entire franchise in popular, mainstream media.

Dragon Ball charts Goku’s growth from child prodigy to world saviour to Super Saiyan.

Dragonball Z was a massively popular anime in the West and was first licensed by Funimation back in 1996, who set about cutting or otherwise altering the often graphic and violent content of the original anime for its less desensitised audience. Nevertheless, the anime was popular enough in both the East and the West to inspire the creation of several feature-length films, seven of which had been produced prior to this one for Dragonball Z alone. Generally produced without the direct involvement of Toriyama, these films told a truncated version of the “Sagas” depicted in the anime and often failed to align with established canon as a result. As is often the case, though, Toriyama was invited to conceive of the design for an all-new antagonist, creating one of the most recognisable characters in Dragon Ball canon as a result, one who was so popular that he featured in three more movies (two of which were direct sequels to this one) and numerous videogames and ancillary media.

The Review:
Broly – The Legendary Super Saiyan sets the stage for the threat the titular Super Saiyan poses right from the off as it opens with the South Galaxy being “shattered by a Super Saiyan”; the level of destruction is so fearsome that it puts the wind up King Kai (Schemmel). While that may seem impressive, though, you have to remember that every threat that comes along in the Dragon Ball franchise tends to give King Kai the shivers; it’s such a common theme that it doesn’t really carry the same weight, especially when viewed retroactively.

Chi-Chi is just as much of a pain in the ass as always, and Goku is the same lovable goof.

We then jump to series protagonist Goku, who has been forced into a fancy suit and is being badgered, as always, by his highly strung wife, Chi-Chi (Cynthia Cranz). Desperate to make a good impression so that their son, Son Gohan (Nadolny), can get into a fancy private school, Chi-Chi is even more overbearing and demanding than usual (if that’s even possible) and Goku is just as awkward and dumb-headed as ever, thinking only about fighting and food, and only serving to aggravate his wife even more.

Paragus and his troops pay reverence to their prince, Vegeta.

Goku is restless not only because he’s bored and hungry but also because he’s missing out on a nice little picnic for his closest friends and family; in many ways, though, I envy Goku as he doesn’t have to put up with Krillin’s (Strait) God-awful singing, which is so bad that Vegeta looks ready to kill him. Thankfully, this ear-splitting screeching is interrupted by the arrival of Paragus, who drops down in a massive spaceship full of alien soldiers, all of whom immediately bow and pay reverence to Vegeta.

Master Roshi and Oolong provide the film’s comic relief but they quickly outstay their welcome.

While Vegeta isn’t massively impressed with Paragus’s desires to rebuild the Saiyan army, his curiosity is piqued when Paragus mentions that the “Legendary Super Saiyan” is wreaking havoc across the galaxy. Sure that it’s some kind of trick, Future Trunks (Vale) moves to stop his father from leaving and stows away on the spaceship with Krillin, Master Roshi (McFarland), and Oolong (Bradford Jackson), of all people. These latter two character exist simply to act as our comedy relief for the remainder of the film, which is generally their role in most of the Dragon Ball movies and anime but it’s somewhat out of place here; Roshi’s intoxicated state is good for a few laughs but I can’t help but feel like Krillin could have handled the awkward comedy relief parts perfectly well all by himself.

Both Goku and Vegeta are excited at the prospect of battling the Legendary Super Saiyan.

Goku, having learned of the “Legendary Super Saiyan” from King Kai, is just as excited at the prospect of facing such a powerful opponent. While Vegeta views the presence of the mythical warrior as a worthy challenge, arrogant in his belief that he will be able to overcome such a foe, Goku is as giddy as a schoolkid at facing someone that is potentially more powerful than him and immediately heads to the South Galaxy to track the Super Saiyan down. Neither character, or any of the others for that matter, seems to think about the fact that Super Saiyans already exist (Goku, Trunks, and Vegeta are already Super Saiyans by this point) but there is clearly a distinction between their power-ups and the “Legendary Super Saiyan” that inspired their golden forms.

Vegeta takes an instant liking to Broly, despite him apparently being unassuming and weak.

Equally odd is how easily impressed Goku is with the destruction left by the Legendary Super Saiyan; considering Frieza (Linda Young) did far worse to both Planet Vegeta and Planet Namek compared to what Goku sees, it’s a bit strange to see him so concerned about this new being’s power when all he’s seen is a wrecked city. Still, once the others reach New Vegeta, Vegeta is hailed as a king and takes an instant liking to Paragus’s Saiyan son, Broly. Vegeta even chooses Broly to accompany him in confronting the Legendary Super Saiyan over his son, which is a bit odd considering everyone goes out of their way to say how weak, timid, and unassuming Broly is.

Paragus has enslaved an alien race to keep up his charade.

Clearly affected by his father’s choice, and concerned about Paragus’s true motives, Trunks investigates the planet with Krillan and Gohan and discovers that New Vegeta is little more than a barren wasteland filled with the skeleton of a civilisation to give the illusion of a vastly populated world. They also discover an alien race being enslaved by Paragus’s troops to power his citadel but, after Goku arrives via Instant Transmission, their concerns about Paragus are almost immediately and stupidly put to ease. However, we the audience are then subsequently shown that Paragus is, in fact, plotting to have a comet destroy the planet.

Broly is extremely agitated by Goku’s presence.

Vegeta and Broly return empty-handed soon after; Vegeta is characteristically frustrated not just because they failed to track down the Legendary Super Saiyan but also because of Goku’s presence. And he’s not the only one annoyed by Goku as, upon meeting him, Broly gets extremely agitated, is barely able to contain himself, and must be subdued by his father and his handy-dandy remote control.

Broly was an immensely powerful and violent child.

The very next scene reveals that the remote is starting to have less and less effect on Broly’s power due to Goku’s presence and we get the first of a number of flashbacks to help flesh out the backstory of Paragus and Broly. Broly was a super destructive feral child and Paragus, unable to control him, was forced to fit him with a suppressing device out of fear for Broly’s violent and ever-growing powers, which almost caused Broly to kill his father, and in a bid to use that same power to dominate the universe. Critically, Broly was also born with a power level of ten thousand and on the same day as Goku; baby Goku’s constant wailing and crying disturbed Broly, traumatising him and causing him to grow up with a dead-seated hatred for Goku.

Broly attacks Goku, revealing his true nature as the Legendary Super Saiyan.

Unable to contain this hatred, Broly attacks Goku in a mindless rage, proving a formidable opponent whose power appears to be almost limitless, until Paragus is able to calm him once more. The fight is enough to convince Goku that Broly is the Legendary Super Saiyan they have been searching for, a fact he shares with Vegeta just as he is about to leave and which is corroborated when the alien slaves identify Broly as the one who ransacked their world.

Paragus and Broly were betrayed and left for dead by Vegeta’s father, King Vegeta.

With the truth revealed, Paragus immediately reveals his true intentions: he orchestrated the entire charade in order to use the oncoming comet to remove the only ones capable of keeping him from invading and colonising Earth with a new Saiyan army (quite how he intends to do that without any Saiyan women is beyond me…). He also reveals that he desires revenge against Vegeta since it was his father, King Vegeta (Sabat) who, fearing Broly’s power, banished the two of them and tried to have them killed.

Vegeta is uncharacteristically paralysed with fear in the face of Broly’s awesome power.

Unable to contain himself any longer, Broly disobeys his father, begins to power up, and engages with the Saiyans. Even as a Super Saiyan, Vegeta’s attacks don’t even faze Broly, who relentlessly targets Goku, shattering his restraining headband and finally transforming into the hulking Legendary Super Saiyan in an explosion of power so immense that it threatens to split the planet in half. Now little more than a mindless, ravenous beast, Broly’s awesome power is enough to bring Vegeta to his knees in fear; seeing that Broly truly is the Legendary Super Saiyan, Vegeta refuses to fight, believing that they (and even he) are powerless in the face of such awesome might.

So consumed by his rage and power is Broly that he mercilessly crushes his father to death!

Broly makes short work of all those who oppose him, his power actually increasing the longer the fight progresses, and lays waste to the entire planet in a burst of rage. So total is his mindless, insane fury that he callously murders his father, freeing him of all restrictions and allowing him to truly let loose his full power.

Thanks to Piccolo’s timely intervention, and the energy of his allies, Goku emerges victorious.

True to form, Piccolo (ibid) eventually arrives to lend a hand, healing the protagonists with some Senzu Beans and setting the stage for the film’s ultimate climactic battle and eventually convincing Vegeta to join the fight. Of course, Vegeta’s fears are true and they are no match for Broly’s power, even fighting as a group, forcing the protagonists to pool their energy into Goku for one last blow, defeating Broly and leaving him to die as the comet strikes New Vegeta.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Broly is a nigh-unstoppable force of nature not unlike DC Comics’ Doomsday, who debuted a few months earlier, and attacks do little to faze him even before he powers up to his “Legendary Super Saiyan” form. He has the same distinct footsteps as Cell (Dameon Clarke) but, despite having an interesting backstory that directly ties him to Goku and being far chattier here than in other appearances, he is a far cry from more loquacious and charismatic villains like Frieza or Cell. Instead, Broly is all about sheer, mindless power and unbridled destruction; he is the Saiyan lust for battle incarnate and dialled up to eleven, revelling in death, devastation, and driven only to kill Goku and all those who stand before him

Broly is a monstrous, unstoppable powerhouse.

So awesome is Broly’s power that he destroys an entire world with one energy blast; this puts him at a level above Frieza, who took forever and a day to charge enough energy to destroy Planet Namek. His sheer indestructibility and ability to absorb and no-sell hits also puts him on a similar level to Cell, though he favours raw, unbridled strength over absorbing or adapting to the abilities of his opponents. In just a few blows, Broly is able to blast Gohan and Trunks out of their Super Saiyan forms and, even after Piccolo’s Senzu Beans restore their vitality, Goku is, of course, soon left to tackle the Legendary Super Saiyan alone with only his strength and matchless tenacity.

Crippled by fear, Vegeta refuses to fight with Broly and becomes despondent.

Vegeta is so horrified by Broly’s power that he refuses to fight; never before has Vegeta been so crippled by fear and awe. Even in the face of Frieza and Cell’s final forms, he would rise to fight, refusing to admit that he was outmatched but, here, he can’t even bring himself to defend himself much less try to oppose Broly. He cannot understand why Goku and the others even attempt to match fists with Broly, so total is his despair at the futility of their situation; even when completely out-matched by Kid Buu (Josh Martin), Vegeta at least attempted to fight but, against Broly, it’s all he can do to begrudgingly lend Goku the power to defeat the Legendary Super Saiyan. It’s an interesting new twist on Vegeta’s stubborn, prideful nature; seeing him shaken to the core and paralysed by dread is a sobering moment and really helps sell the level of Broly’s threat just as much as seeing him make mincemeat of Goku and the other Super Saiyans.

A physically impressive, if somewhat one-note antagonist, Broly decimates our heroes with ease.

Yet, as impressive as Broly is, he is little more than a mindless beast and this film essentially boils down to an extended fight scene. The plot moves along briskly, never stopping to dwell or elaborate on things and characters more than it has to, which is something I always liked about the Dragon Ball feature films: they distil the generally prolonged fight scenes and endless power up sequences of the anime down to the basics and get right to the action as quickly as possible. Broly has an interesting backstory and certainly makes an impression…right up until his anticlimactic defeat. In the end, after all the ki blasts, power-ups, and blows he has absorbed, Broly goes down relatively easily from a super-powered blow to the abdomen. At least it makes a change from Goku defeating his opponent with a Spirit Bomb but it’s a disappointing way to defeat what is an otherwise very impressive villain; luckily, though, the next movie retroactively shows that Broly actually survived this attack (and rightfully so) but Broly’s unbeatable aura would be diminished in his subsequent appearances.

The Summary:
The Dragon Ball feature films have always been quick snapshots of the generally long-winded anime and Broly – The Legendary Super Saiyan is no different; flying through the simple plot and getting right to the action, Broly – The Legendary Super Saiyan stands out from its predecessors through the sheer impressive presence of Broly. A sadistic, merciless, hulking monster of a Saiyan, Broly is fascinating for the questions he raises about the Super Saiyan form alone: is he truly the Legendary Super Saiyan whom Vegeta had heard stories of as a child or is he simply an enormously powerful Saiyan who has tapped into a raw form of the same energy the other Saiyans use? While little more than one massive fight scene, Broly – The Legendary Super Saiyan is worth a watch for the titular Super Saiyan, if nothing else, and definitely to see Vegeta so wracked by horror that he flat out refuses to fight.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

What did you think of Dragonball Z: Broly – The Legendary Super Saiyan? Where does it rank for you against the other Dragonball Z feature films? What did you think of Broly’s introduction and how would you rate him as a character and antagonist? Would you have liked to see Broly integrated into the main series canon sooner or do you feel he’s over-rated and, perhaps, a relatively underwhelming character? What Dragon Ball character (hero, villain, or otherwise), saga, or movie is your favourite and why? How are you celebrating Piccolo/Goku Day this year? Whatever your thoughts on Dragon Ball, please leave a comment below.

Screen Time [National Anime Day]: Attack on Titan (Season One)


Though anime traces its origins back to around 1917, its characteristic visual style first rose to prominence in the sixties through the works of animator Osamu Tezuka and developed a worldwide audience throughout the second half of the 20th century through its focus on the detail of settings and use of dynamic camera effects. To celebrate and appreciate this distinct style of animation, 15 April has been designated National Anime Day, giving anime fans the world over a chance to voice their admiration through conventions, cosplay, or a general sharing of their memories and experiences of anime.


Season One

Air Date: 7 April 2013 to present
UK Distributor: Netflix, et al
Original Network: MBS/NHK General TV
Stars: Bryce Papenbrook, Josh Grelle, Trina Nishimura, Jessica Calvello, Lauren Landa, Matthew Mercer, and R Bruce Elliott

The Background:
Attack on Titan began life as a Japanese manga written and illustrated by Hajime Isayama and has been published in Bessatsu Shōnen Magazine since September 2009. Drawing from personal experiences regarding the fear of strangers you cannot communicate with, the isolated and enclosed nature of Japanese culture, and the Muv-Luv visual novel series (âge/5pb, 2003 to 2016), Attack on Titan was very well received, selling over 100 million copies by the end of 2019 and quickly etching itself into worldwide popular culture. As a result of the manga’s popularity, Attack on Titan has been adapted into videogames, live-action movies, and an ongoing anime. The anime was produced by Wit Studio and Production I.G, directed by Tetsurō Araki, and dubbed into English by FUNimation Entertainment. Like the manga, the anime was received generally positively, with critics praising the storyline, animation, and music but criticising the crudeness or the titular Titans and the bleakness of the story’s tone.

The Plot:
For a hundred years, the last vestiges of humanity has lived in cities surrounded by enormous walls that protect them from gigantic man-eating humanoids referred to as Titans. After his mother is devoured by a Titan before his eyes, Eren Yeager (Papenbrook) vows to join the Titan-hunting Scout Regiment alongside his friends Mikasa Ackerman (Nishimura) and Armin Arlert (Grelle) and rid the world of the Titans once and for all.

The Review:
In a world where we are literally swamped with all kinds of bat-shit crazy ideas for manga, anime, and videogames, Attack on Titan offers what can only be described as a “unique” premise: one day, about a hundred years ago, the gigantic cannibalistic Titans simply showed up and started eating humans left, right, and centre. They appeared seemingly out of nowhere and decimated humanity, driving them behind fifty-foot high walls and to the point of near extinction. Since then, humanity has lived in relative peace, training generations of soldiers to battle the nigh-indestructible Titans and scout out new areas for expansion and the acquisition of resources. The titular Titans are gruesome, disturbing creatures; ranging in height from around three to fifteen meters tall, they vary in appearance from constantly-grinning or alarmingly stoic-faced naked humanoids, to twisted, frenetic freaks and skinless, steam-emitting monstrosities. Deceptively fast and light despite their enormous size, the Titans are superhumanly strong and constantly regenerate from any injury unless attacked at their one weak point at the base of the neck. The Titans generally attack without reason or mercy, devouring humans not for sustenance but, apparently, simply out of some kind of base instinct (though more intelligent Titans do exist).

Horrific, intelligent Titan variants pose a real threat to humanity’s survival.

The Colossal Titan (which is so huge that it can peer over the walls that keep humanity safe from the Titans) systematically destroys the weakest part of Wall Maria to allow its brethren to enter the outer area of the city. This act alone earns the Colossal Titan (and the Titans in general) Eren’s hatred as it directly leads to the death of his mother and kick-starts his entire crusade to hunt down and destroy all of the Titans. Later in the season, Eren and Squad Levi encounter a skinless Female Titan that specifically targets Eren and is capable of hardening its skin at will and is smart enough to cover its neck when under attack. Similarly, the Armoured Titan is not only highly resistant to the army’s anti-Titan cannons but methodically picks and choose its targets, unlike the horrific Abnormals, which run and skitter around in an unhinged frenzy.

The Titans are practically unstoppable and have driven humanity to near extinction.

Honestly, one of the best parts of Attack on Titan is the Titans themselves; they are horrific creatures that are cold, unmoved, and seemingly unstoppable. Just one Titan is capable of swatting attackers right out of the air, stomping on them, or chomping down on them in the apparent blink of an eye. Often, two or three Titans are seen as a significant threat to the populace and those trained to protect them but, other times, soldiers (specifically the army’s more highly-skilled individuals) will be able to cut Titans down almost effortlessly and, yet, the Titans continue on regardless and it is stated at one point that humanity has never, in a hundred years, scored anything close to a significant victory until the episode “Primal Desire: The Struggle for Trost, Part 9” (Koizuka, 2013).

The O.D.M. allows the characters to perform superhuman feats.

Opposing the Titans are the city’s military; trained in the use of Omni-Directional Mobility Gear (O.D.M.), these guys are able to fly all over the place thanks to the O.D.M.’s gas-powered grapple hooks. Once mastered, the O.D.M. pretty much turns every character into Peter Parker/Spider-Man as they swing, fly, and rappel all over the place with superhuman skill and ease, attacking Titans with their swords and yet, despite all their skill and extraordinary physical prowess, they are still splattered into mush or devoured by the hundreds in seemingly every campaign, willingly throwing their lives away even when escape would be a far better proposition. Attack on Titan centres around three human characters: Eren (the hot-headed, idealistic protagonist), Mikasa (Eren’s stoic, but highly skilled adopted sister and self-appointed bodyguard), and Armin (their childhood friend who is more of an academic than a fighter). Of the three, Eren is easily the most relatable and interesting; wracked with guilt after never appreciating his mother and haunted by fragmented memories of his father, he is driven by an unrelenting desire to succeed in the military, join the Scout Regiment, and experience life beyond the walls of the city to hunt down and destroy every Titan he finds. Eren is quite the flawed character; despite his bravado and commitment to his mission, he struggles to master the O.D.M. gear, is far less capable at battling the Titans than Mikasa or Captain Levi (Mercer), the military’s most decorated and powerful soldier, and isn’t as well-read as Armin.

Somehow, Eren is able to transform into the Attack Titan to take the fight to the Titans.

However, his heart cannot be denied; in the face of a Titan assault in “First Battle: The Struggle for Trost, Part 1” (Ezaki, 2013), Eren immediately takes command and leads the charge against the Titans. Briefly paralyzed with fear in the face of the Titans’ awesome power, he barely hesitates to sacrifice himself to save Armin from being swallowed by the Bearded Titan, apparently dying in the process. Luckily, however, Eren later resurfaces in his own Titan form, the Attack Titan, apparently mysteriously having the innate ability to transform into a Titan when injured and with a clear, defined goal. At first, and sporadically throughout the season, Eren cannot fully control this transformation and struggles to understand it; understandably, it causes a lot of fear and mistrust amongst his fellow soldiers, who constantly treat him either with respect and awe or terror and hatred, and his superiors constantly flip-flop on whether to use his powers to aid them or simply execute him.

Levi is the army’s most formidable soldier and a decorated Titan killer.

Eventually, Eren is assigned to Squad Levi and the direct scrutiny of Captain Levi, a stoic but superhumanly capable soldier who is equal to the strength of a hundred fully-trained soldiers. Levi is the anime’s standard detached, bad-ass character, slicing up even the near-unstoppable Female Titan in a whirlwind of blades and fully prepared to sacrifice his entire regiment (comprised of the army’s best and longest-living Titan hunters, it must be said) to protect Eren.

Though stoic, Mikasa has a natural aptitude for combat.

Levi’s demeanour is largely mirrored by Mikasa, a damaged young girl whose entire family was slaughtered before her eyes until she was saved by Eren, the two of them killing her attackers in a mindless fury. Since then, Mikasa has attached herself to Eren, following him everywhere, even to military school and out into the 104th Regiment. Though not quite as stoic as Levi, Mikasa is nevertheless capable of killing entire swarms of Titans all by herself through some innate physical prowess that is never really explained. It’s hinted numerous times throughout the season that Mikasa’s feelings towards Eren border on something more than friends and family but both are quick to either brush off this suggestion or are far too focused on the far more prominent threat of destroying the Titans.

Armin is the weakest and most annoying of the three protagonists.

Finally, there’s Armin, easily the weakest and most annoying character of the three. Many episodes either grind to a halt or entirely focus on one of the three debating the merits of teamwork, humanity, or reliving their memories and feelings through long-winded internal (or external) monologues or flashbacks but never is this more annoying when the focus is placed on Armin. The weakest link of his regiment, Armin’s prowess lies more in academics, strategy, philosophy, and introspective analysis; he’s quick to give in to despair (though, to be fair, so are a large number of the anime’s soldiers and characters in the face of the Titans’ inexorable threat) and to stand useless and in fearful awe in the midst of a heated battle where untold numbers of his friends and peers are decimated by the Titans to incessantly monologue about his shortcomings or the bravery of others.

Hange Zoë is easily the worst and most annoying character of the season.

Still, as annoying as Armin is, he’s got nothing on Hange Zoë (Calvello), a military scientist who is so incredibly obsessed with the Titans that she has been driven to what appears to be near insanity. Loud, obnoxious, and exploding into a crazed frenzy at the drop of a hat, Zoë wants nothing more than to study and investigate the Titans, growing uncomfortably close to captive Titans and disconcertingly obsessed with Eren and his unique physiology. Though her experiments and studies have uncovered numerous helpful insights into the Titan’s composition and nature (and has led to the creation of numerous weapons to bring them down or kill them), her character is largely both uncomfortable and annoying at the same time as she often cares more for the well-being of the Titans than her fellow humans.

Many of the supporting characters are easily forgotten until they suddenly die.

Rounding out the cast are a number of expendable soldiers and civilians; sure, most of them have names and character traits but it’s largely pointless to remember them or grow too attached as they are liable to either get splattered into a bloody mess, eaten alive, horribly dismembered, or found as little more than a bloodied and mutilated corpse. Often, another character would lament their comrade’s fate and I would find myself struggling to remember who they were, what they did, or when they last appeared. Interestingly, the city is made up of varying classes, each of which experience life within the walls differently and views the military, and the Titans, in different ways: many criticise the need for expensive military ventures and pursuits, others are living comfortably deep within Wall Sina, while those in the outer areas live relatively underprivileged lives. Like a lot of post-apocalyptic narratives, I have many questions regarding the world of Attack on Titan; I’ve looked into the series and researched it a little bit to get some answers regarding the history of this world and how the walls and city were erected but, in the context of season one, we get very little information regarding how the city was built and how they survive.

I have many questions about the city, its society, and the lore of this world.

For some reason, currency and wealth is still a thing within the city; many of the wealthier citizens are frustrated at their “taxes” paying for what amount to little more than suicide missions against the Titans and the Royal Family live in opulence within Wall Sina. Equally, there is a lot of mention of rations and finite resources; every time Titans breach the walls and cause a mass evacuation, food and supplies are strained so badly that it is often seen as a good thing when hundreds of soldiers are killed by Titans so that the city’s resources can last a bit longer. I have many questions regarding this: shouldn’t the city just be entirely focused on training soldiers, fortifying their defences, and building a military society rather than giving people the option of living passive lives? Why is money and wealth a thing? How can money really mean anything in this type of world? Where do the resources come from? How were all these houses built, to say nothing of the walls that protect the city? How do the citizens even have the means to build anything with such finite resources? Why aren’t the soldiers, especially the veterans, better at killing Titans when the creatures are largely predictable, have a well-known weak spot, and seem so cumbersome and slow despite their surprising speed and daunting strength?

Eren isn’t the only one who can transform into a Titan, raising many questions for season two.

These questions are generally disregarded in season one and, for the most part, it works; despite characters knowing a lot about the Titans’ physiology, the creatures and their origins are a complete mystery to the characters and they are constantly forced to learn as they go and endure horrific losses to gain slivers of new information about them. How Eren, and others, are able to spontaneously produce Titan bodies is left obscure and the motivations of the Titans’ cannibalistic ways are up for debate at this point. The season ends, however, not only with the knowledge that Eren is not unique as Annie Leonhart (Landa) is revealed to not only be a traitor to the humans but also capable of transforming into a Titan herself, but also that gigantic Titans are encased within the walls of the city, ending the season on a massive cliff-hanger as we’re faced with the knowledge that human-to-Titan individuals are more commonplace than first thought and that there is more to the history of this world than we, and the characters, are aware.

The Summary:
I had heard a lot about Attack on Titan for quite some time; I am not, by my own admission, the most well-read anime fan as I find a lot of the most popular anime films and series to be dense almost to the point of being impenetrable and with so many episodes (most of them being filler or padding) that I just don’t have the time or patience to fully invest my energy and effort.

There are so many monologues! It really grinds the pace and action to a halt.

However, when I saw Attack on Titan was on Netflix, I figured I’d watch a few episodes and see if it hooked me. Within three episodes, I was interested enough to carry on but, by around episode fifteen, the series had started to lose me. I quite liked Eren’s flawed character and the constant life and war lessons he was forced to learn through numerous encounters with the Titans and characters like Mikasa and Levi helped make the anime exciting and engaging when it was actually focused on action rather than constantly slowing the plot down with endless monologues and prattling on and on (often, inexplicably, when characters are moving at high speeds) about teamwork, friendship, and the futility (or glory) of war.

Attack on Titan excels whenever Titans are onscreen or the action picks up.

Attack on Titan excels when it focuses on the Titans and the action-packed assaults against them; seeing Eren and his fellow soldiers swing and fly all over the place, either being crushed, devoured, or successfully cutting down the creatures is exciting and gorgeous to behold and really showcases the detail and intricacies of the anime’s smooth and slick animation. Sadly, though, entire episodes can go by without the merest hint of action or appearances by the titular Titans; while this can lead to some interesting character development, more often than not episodes drag their runtime out focusing on characters who quickly die, strategies that immediately fail, or retreading the same ground about Eren, Mikasa, and Armin’s characters and backstory.

Some flashbacks and slower moments help flesh out the main characters.

Occasionally, our protagonists will learn and grow as characters, which is nice to see, but often they’ll learn a lesson or some self-confidence in one episode only to immediately have to relearn this again in the next (or subsequent) episode. It makes for a disjointed pace and gives me far too much time to think about the rules of this world and questioning how their society even works much less proves so unreliably effective against the Titans even with years of experience in fighting them. As a result, despite the massive cliff-hanger at the end of the season and what I’ve read of how the plot develops later on, I can’t see myself coming back to Attack on Titan again. At least, not the anime, anyway.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

What are your thoughts on Attack on Titan? Did you enjoy the series or, like me, did you have issues with its plot, pacing, and content despite its interesting premise, creatures, and characters? Did you ever read the manga; if so, do you prefer it to the anime? Perhaps you prefer the live-action films, or the Attack on Titan videogames; if so, which is your favourite and why? Which character, or Titan, is your favourite? Do you also find Zoë and Armin annoying characters? How are you celebrating National Anime Day today? Whatever you think about Attack on Titan, or anime in general, please do leave a comment below.

Screen Time: Pokémon Origins

Air Date: 2 October 2013
Worldwide Network: Pokémon TV 
Original Network: TV Tokyo
Stars: Bryce Papenbrook, Lucien Dodge, Jamieson Price, Kirk Thornton, and Kyle Hebert

The Background:
The brainchild of executive director Satoshi Tajiri, Pokémon began life as Capsule Monsters (later changed to Pocket Monsters and rebranded as Pokémon for the games’ worldwide release), a role-playing game inspired by Tajiri’s childhood days wandering through forests and collecting bugs. Thanks largely to the decision to produce two versions of the game, each with different Pokémon to collect and encouraging gamers to battle and trade with their friends to catch every Pokémon, the games sold very well in Japan and were soon localised for a worldwide audience. Fearing that American audiences would struggle to connect with the game’s cute concepts and creatures, Nintendo apparently spent well over $50 million localising, rebranding, and marketing the games for their international release. It turns out, however, that Nintendo were wrong to doubt Pokémon’s appeal; still, when Pokémon: Blue Version and Pokémon: Red Version released in 1998, they were accompanied by an anime, a trading card game, and more advertisements and media coverage than you could shake a stick it. Of course, history shows us that this aggressive strategy paid off; Blue and Red sold over 30 million copies worldwide, birthing one of Nintendo’s most popular and enduring videogame franchises ever, and the anime continues to air to this day, with feature-length movies and television specials being regularly produced.

Thanks to a co-ordinated marketing campaign, Pokémon dominated an entire generation.

In short, Pokémon was not just some short-lived fad of one generation but a multimedia blockbuster franchise that has spanned multiple generations and shows no signs of stopping. By 2013, there were over 720 Pokémon to be found, battled, and traded in comparison to the 150 regularly-obtainable Pokémon of the original videogames. The anime was well into its sixteenth season, having aired over 780 episodes, the sixteenth feature-length movie had just been released, the excellent ongoing Pokémon Adventures manga (Various, 1997 to present) was entering its eleventh chapter, and Pokémon was celebrating its fifteenth anniversary that year. This was also the year that Production I.G, Xebec, and OLM, Inc. produced a ninety-minute animated special, split into four parts, which retold the events of the original games in a way that was more faithful to the source material than the regular, ongoing anime. First broadcast on TV Tokyo ten days before the release of Pokémon X and Pokémon Y (Game Freak, 2013), the episodes were dubbed into English with a new voice cast and made available both on home media (in some countries) and to watch on various online platforms, including Pokémon TV.

The Plot:
Red (Papenbrook) and his childhood friend and rival, Blue (Dodge), have been chosen to select their first Pokémon from Professor Oak (Hebert). Tasked with completing Oak’s lifelong dream of capturing and recording data on all Pokémon, they set out into the region of Kanto, battling both Gym Leaders and the nefarious Team Rocket in a quest to not only capture every Pokémon but also become Pokémon League Champion.

The Review:
Pokémon: Origins is split into four parts, “File 1: Red” (Kawasaki, 2013), “File 2: Cubone” (Kuroda, ibid), “File 3: Giovanni (Takahashi, ibid), and “File 4: Charizard” (Tomiyasu, ibid). The animation style is quite different to that of the existing Pokémon series; for one thing, Origins looks much more professionally rendered and of a higher quality than even some of the Pokémon feature films. For another, many episodes feature music inspired directly from the videogames, with the classic Pokémon battle theme playing during Pokémon battles and the iconic, creepy Lavender Town theme playing when the story reaches the haunted Pokémon Tower. Of course, the anime did feature remixed versions of some recognisable Pokémon themes but nowhere to the degree of Origins; Origins also opens and closes each episode with a game save/load screen and includes dialogue boxes ripped right from the videogame.

Origins includes many aspects and mechanics from the videogames.

This closer fidelity to the source material brings Origins more in-line with Pokémon Adventures, which recreated many of the gameplay mechanics of the videogames with a surprising amount of detail and loyalty compared to the anime but also took the source material a bit more seriously as well, featuring blood, much higher stakes, and even Pokémon dying. While Origins doesn’t go fully down this path, it does go out of its way to stay closer to the source material than the anime: Red receives Technical Machines (TMs) and Hidden Machines (HMs) in the form of floppy discs, just like in the game; Pokémon battles (while generally much faster and glossed over thanks to Origins’ short runtime) are much more intense and closer to how they go down in the games (there’s no bullshit strategies like sprinkling water on an Onix to make it weak to electric attacks); and many of the items (such as the PokéFlute, the fishing rods, and the Silph Scope) from the videogame make an appearance, albeit a brief one.

Sadly, Origins glosses over many of the game’s important battles and plot points.

Something that lets Origins down, though, is the brevity of its narrative and the way it devotes the focus of each of its four episodes. “File 1: Red” begins in standard fashion, with Red and Blue beginning their Pokémon journey, establishing their rivalry (which is much friendlier than portrayed in the games or the early days of the anime), and Red learning the basics of Pokémon battling and capturing from Brock (Johnny Yong Bosch). However, from “File 2: Cubone”, each subsequent episode begins, and includes, a recap and a montage of sorts that glosses over what I consider to be some very important story beats: Red tells us about, and we briefly see, how he defeats the majority of the Gym Leaders (we only see him battle two in full throughout the course of the series), acquires the aforementioned fishing rods, captures the majority of his Pokémon (again, we only really see him capture a handful in any kind of detail), the evolution of his Charmander (Shin’ichirō Miki), and even his battles against the Elite Four and, most egregious of all, some of his most important encounters with the villainous Team Rocket.

Red and Blue begrudingly team up but Team Rocket are easily defeated despite their reputation.

Obviously, there are only four episodes of this mini series so the story cannot cover everything from the videogames but, for me, glossing over Red’s first meeting with Team Rocket and his eventual vendetta against them is a bit of a mistake. Take “File 2: Cubone”, for example; sure, it features Team Rocket having overtaken the Pokémon Tower, but it’s far more concerned with the trauma the group caused Cubone (Cristina Vee) and the ghost that haunts the tower. Red and Blue begrudgingly team up to solve both problems but Team Rocket is easily defeated first off-screen by Blue and then with a ridiculous amount of ease by Red, who successfully scares them off after defeating one of their Pokémon. Considering how the townsfolk were so afraid of Team Rocket’s power and threat earlier in this episode, this is more than a little disappointing and I would have preferred to see Red’s journey through Mt. Moon and his battle against Lieutenant Surge to help properly establish Team Rocket’s threat in this world. On the plus side, at least the group isn’t portrayed as largely ineffectual bunch of goofballs and Red takes his opposition to their plot a lot more seriously than Ash Ketchum (Veronica Taylor/Sarah Natochenny).

Although he stumbles in the first episode, Red quickly becomes a competent and capable trainer.

When comparing Red to Ash, it’s like comparing night to day or apples to oranges. There are some similarities but these are generally due to the fact that both characters are based on the avatar from the games and therefore follow the same path the player forges in the source material. While both are big Pokémon fans and excited to become Pokémon trainers and both start out knowing very little about the actual mechanics of Pokémon battling, capturing, and the scope of their journey, it takes Red a bit more time to learn that a close bond with his Pokémon is required to grow stronger and succeed in battle. While Brock does help to teach him these lessons, Red’s bond with Charmander is nowhere near as intense as Ash’s with Pikachu (Ikue Ōtani) yet he quickly becomes a far more competent trainer than Ash; in a surprising amount of restraint, Pikachu only appears in a brief cameo and, to separate Red from Ash even more, Red not only uses a far more competent Electric-Type Pokémon in Jolteon (Unknown) but only captures a Pikachu after he has become the Pokémon League Champion! Granted, most of this is implied, seen in montages, or takes place between episodes but Red captures way more Pokémon (mainly because he’s much more committed to completing the PokéDex than Ash), easily defeats pretty much every trainer and Gym Leader he comes up against, and has a far more well-balanced and well-trained team than Ash has ever had. Hell, Red even ends up with Articuno (ibid) in his squad and, generally speaking, has much more in common with his counterpart from Pokémon Adventures, who was also a far more competent and capable trainer compared to Ash.

Blue is humbled in defeat, realising Red’s bond with his Pokémon has made him superior.

One thing that helps separate Origins from the anime is the relationship between Red and Blue; in the games, and the anime, these two had a largely antagonistic relationship throughout the story until facing off in the Pokémon League. Here, though, while Blue is arrogant and a blowhard and determined to complete the PokéDex before Red and become a more powerful and capable trainer than him (he picks Squirtle (ibid) not because it matches his name but specifically because it will give him the type advantage over Red’s Charmander), he and Red have a much more friendly rivalry than one based on actual animosity. Blue sees himself as Red’s superior and seems to both be motivated to beat Red to the punch wherever possible and happy to walk away from confronting the likes of Team Rocket when it doesn’t suit him but the two are generally more about ribbing on each other and winding each other up about their progress and abilities than actually hating each other. Sadly, though, because of the brevity of the mini series, Red and Blue only battle head to head twice in this story; the first time, Red is soundly defeated as his strategy of mindlessly attacking without having properly developed trust and partnership with his Charmander prove his downfall. Brock specifically uses Blue as an example of a trainer who has established this bond and it is from both of them that Red learns to put his love and trust into his Pokémon, which are treated as his beloved partners and allies rather than mere tools. However, when they face-off again in “File 4: Charizard”, the tables have turned; though Blue has already become the Pokémon League Champion, he falls to Red despite having amassed a team powerful and diverse enough to conquer any and all opponents not because of his lack of strength but because he had failed to maintain the bonds of trust and friendship between himself and his partners. Humbled by his defeat, Blue nevertheless congratulates Red on his victory and accomplishments and the two retain a friendly rivalry for the final episode of the anime, one based on Blue’s desire to one-up Red at any opportunity while still acknowledging his skill and capability.

Battling with Red awakens a passion that Giovanni had long forgotten.

Despite much of Origins being reduced to quick montages, there is still a strong sense of Red’s capability throughout the anime; after learning valuable lessons from Blue and Brock, Red goes from strength to strength, easily defeating other trainers and Gym Leaders even when he has a massive type disadvantage. Not counting that initial battle against Blue, Red only runs into two roadblocks throughout his journey, the first being his showdown against Giovanni (Price). Though Red’s first meeting with the Team Rocket boss is glossed over in a recap, his battle against him for the Earth Badge is a significant part of the aptly-named “File 3: Giovanni”. The strength of Giovanni’s Rhyhorn (Unknown) alone is enough to wipe out all of Red’s team even when Red has the type advantage but Red’s determination and passion for both battling and towards his Pokémon awakens something in Giovanni he had long forgotten. Exhilarated by the thrill of the battle (even though it’s ridiculously one-sided in his favour for the majority of the time), Giovanni is impressed, humbled, and even grateful to have been defeated by such a zealous trainer. So touched is Giovanni that he disbands Team Rocket and wishes Red well on the remainder of his journey, urging Red to follow the path that he (Giovanni) strayed from long ago and pledging to carve a new path for himself going forward.

Mewtwo represents Red’s final, and greatest, challenge.

The second obstacle Red encounters is hinted at in “File 2: Cubone” and forms the central focus of “File 4: Charizard” and it is, of course, Mewtwo (ibid). Mewtwo’s threat is immediately established by how badly, and easily, it overwhelms Blue, leaving him badly injured and putting the wind up the usually arrogant trainer. Nevertheless, motivated by the desire to finally complete Oak’s PokéDex, Red heads to Cerulean Cave to confront the creature, which is still a genetic copy of the mythical Pokémon Mew (Christine Marie Cabanos) but, unlike in the anime and manga, it never speaks or communicates in any way other than brutal, aggressive battle. Far from the nuanced, tortured character in other media, Mewtwo is portrayed more as simply an extremely powerful Pokémon to be captured like any other, which is much more in-line with its position in the games as a “super boss” of sorts rather than a pivotal plot point. However, even Red is unable to match Mewtwo’s monstrous power; luckily, though, he was gifted two Mega Stones by the mysterious Mr. Fuji (Kirk Thornton) in “File 2: Cubone” and, even more helpfully, they just so happen to react to the close bond between Red and Charizard (Shin’ichirō Miki) and allow Charizard to mega evolve into Mega Charizard X (did I mention that Origins came out around the same time as Pokémon X and Y?) This is enough of a power boost to allow Red to overwhelm Mewtwo faster than it can react and capture it with a ridiculous amount of ease; seriously, Red throws two Ultra Balls and captures Mewtwo with the second, which is some serious bullshit when you think about how many damn balls it can take to snag Mewtwo in the games. I would have liked to see Red use a Master Ball but, sadly, he never acquires one in Origins as it’s merely an unfinished prototype in this story.

Origins ends with Red eager to find more Pokémon, starting with the mythical Mew.

Regardless, Red is successful and captures all 150 Pokémon but his mission is far from over as, while celebrating with Oak and Blue, he remembers that Mewtwo was created from Mew and rushes out a bundle of excitement and anticipation at the prospect of encountering and capturing still more Pokémon. It’s here, and in Red’s steadfast determination in battle, that we see the closest links between Red and Ash: both are stubborn in battle and endlessly excited about capturing and finding new Pokémon. However, Red ends Origins a far more accomplished and experienced trainer; he’s the Pokémon League Champion, for one thing, and now has numerous Legendary and incredibly powerful Pokémon in his possession. In this regard, Origins ends exactly as a standard game of Blue or Red would end, with the character having numerous Pokémon at their disposal and ridiculously overpowered. While Ash does also grow and become more accomplished as a trainer, this takes…what? A hundred episodes? Two hundred? And even then he still makes rookie mistakes; no such foibles befall Red but, to be fair, much of his growth as a trainer and a character is implied, rushed through in montages, or takes place between episodes and relies heavily on the viewer’s familiarity with the videogames to fill in the blanks whereas the anime is able to use many (many) episodes to show Ash’s numerous lessons and growth.

The Summary:
Pokémon: Origins is an extremely enjoyable, gorgeously-animated anime; everything from the character designs, Pokémon battles, and sounds is fantastic to look at and closely reminiscent of the source material. Unlike the anime (and a lot of Pokémon media), Pokémon do not constantly speak their names and instead have more realistic, animal sounds like in the games; Japanese text is also left unaltered, which is refreshing, and while many elements, mechanics, and important plot points from the games are glossed over, at least they’re actually included here rather than either being ignored or significantly altered. As much as I enjoy the anime (specifically the films because of their focus on Legendary Pokémon), it can be grating at times to follow a character as annoying and unreliable as Ash and, because of that, Red is a breath of fresh air. Like his manga counterpart, Red is competent, brave, and determined; he starts out as a rookie, knowing very little about the basics and nuances of Pokémon battling, and quickly matures to the point where he can defeat Gym Leaders with ease, single-handedly brings down Team Rocket (something Ash is still struggling to do), and not only captures Legendary Pokémon but casually uses them as part of his team just like the player would. His fidelity to the player’s character and journey is commendable; he learns the same lessons that the player does throughout the game while still being his own distinct character separate from the player’s avatar, Ash, and even his manga counterpart.

Origins‘s fidelity is impressive, though it rushes through many usually-important plot points.

It’s this fidelity to the source material that elevates Pokémon: Origins and makes up the majority of its appeal; the anime strayed too far from the gameplay mechanics and spirit of the games for my taste, as much as I enjoy it, so it’s refreshing to see such a well-crafted and well-animated series tell a very similar story to the anime but in a way that is so much closer to the source material. The only thing that lets Pokémon: Origins down is the brevity of its narrative; limiting its story to just four episodes means so much of the game’s story gets glossed over and the focus can be a bit skewed at times. While, at its core, it focuses on Red’s journey and his mission to complete the PokéDex and his ongoing rivalry with Blue and Team Rocket, I can’t help but feel like this would have benefitted from being more like ten episodes to spend a bit more time on Team Rocket, Red’s battles against the Kanto Gym Leaders, and, specifically, his battles against the Elite Four.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

What did you think about Pokémon: Origins? How do you think it holds up when compared to the anime and numerous feature films? Did you enjoy how faithful it was to the source material or do you feel that it was weighed down by focusing on fidelity over telling a more unique story? Do you agree that certain parts were rushed or were you happy with the story it told? Which character, or Pokémon, is your favourite and why? How did you capture Mewtwo when you first played Pokémon? Whatever you think, do please leave a comment below and join me next Saturday for National Pokémon Day!