Tentacle-Free Anime: "Dragon Ball Z: Dead Zone" (1989)
- by Kazekun, 20 April 2017
Not everyone needs a hero. Some people just need to see their favorite characters duke it out with yet another bad guy in an hour long brawl in the form of a feature-length movie adventure. Such things exist, but are they worth your time? Let's discuss one such example.
Dead Zone, much like a lot of the DBZ films, is one that I look back on with fondness. After all it's a prequel to one of my personal favorite filler arcs of the series proper. The Garlic Jr. Saga. Upon re-watching it as an analytical adult however I notice that it is most definitely not a great movie. It's a serviceable one at best... but ultimately it's just okay. And only if you grew up with DBZ like I did, so that you have an attachment to these characters.
This film actually does a few neat things despite its lackluster story. It adds some pretty cool lore to Kami's past. He competed with Garlic's father to become the new guardian of the Earth, which (even if it didn't happen) is something I always found interesting. Garlic Jr. is the first villain, and perhaps the only – I can't remember – in this series to actually gain immortality. Having his wish granted by the eternal dragon Shenron. And finally there's a fantastic scene where Gohan gets stone cold high in this movie. Though they can't specify that in the dub, this boy is legit 4/20 blazing it at one point and it's pretty great.
Other than that however, the story follows a general path borrowed heavily from the Raditz Saga but involving more characters. Krillin, Goku and Piccolo show up in order to save Gohan and though the fighting is pretty fun and incredibly kinetic, it doesn't take long for our heroes to take out the baddies. We then see Garlic Jr. transform into a much bigger and stronger version of himself, something DBZ villains love doing, and unleashes a black hole upon the world.
The black hole sequence, or portal to the Dead Zone as its called, it pretty cool I will admit. And though our heroes have a legitimately tough time keeping it together during this moment, the fight does come to an abrupt end when Gohan – having enough of all of this – summons quite a bit of power from his anger and head butts Garlic Jr. sending the Immortal-Spice into the Dead Zone. It's the Gohan/anger/power/head-butt sequence that is much like the same thing seen in DBZ proper when Raditz nearly kills Goku.
Though logically I'm not sure why only one person, specifically Garlic Jr., getting pushed into the Dead Zone would cause it to close but I guess it's because he's the power source that it gets shut off once he's no longer around. Either way the day is then saved, Garlic Jr.'s unknown hellscape of a palace is in ruins, and our heroes can go home.
The animation is pretty good for what it is. I wouldn't say it's high quality in budget or effects than the TV series however. Which is odd considering movies generally should be. But all 13 original DBZ films never really got that treatment. The story is very formulaic and something you're going to see in many of the DBZ movies to come with a few exceptions. Such as the aforementioned Wrath of the Dragon.
I feel like Dead Zone was an okay first attempt at making Dragon Ball Z feel large on the big screen. The whole black hole thing certainly helps with that. As this did air in theaters in Japan. And watching this as a kid the feel of the scope is certainly there, or perhaps I was just as big a story pleb back then as I am now. Take off the rose tinted glasses like I did and what you're left with is a mediocre tale that holds so much promise but never truly delivers. Like a pizza guy getting lost on his way to your home.
Final Score: 2.5 Always-Relevant Spice Girl References out of 5
So! Which is better: "DBZ: Dead Zone" or "Dead Zone" with Christopher Walken? Let us know in the comments!