Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Mar 26th 2008
Dragon Ball Movies DVD Box Set (Movies 2-4)
Monkey-tailed freak of nature Son Goku lives a carefree life of gluttony in his mountain home until the day that Bulma, a young female adventurer, stumbles (or runs) over him while searching for the magical Dragon Balls. Realizing the young lad's potential as a bodyguard—and coveting the Dragon Ball in his possession—Bulma takes Goku along with her. In their quest to bring together the balls, and thus gain the wish the balls can grant, the two join forces with a perverted shape-shifting pig, a mildly perverted desert bandit, and a seriously perverted hermit to take on the cruel Red Ribbon Army, a military force with its eyes on the Dragon Balls. Later Goku goes to train under the hermit, Master Roshi, only to be assigned the task of retrieving a fresh young gal for the perverted old geezer. Accompanying him on his quest is Kuririn, a treacherous but good-hearted little weasel who also covets Master Roshi's tutelage. Their training quest leads them straight into the stronghold of Lucifer, a powerful vampire, and will later send them to their first martial-arts tournament, a contest that soon gets tied up in a conspiracy by the powerful Crane Hermit to usurp the throne of the Mifan Empire. Goku soon straightens them all out. With his fists.
The three features included in this box set, in order of their placement in the series' chronology are: The Path to Power, Sleeping Princess in Devil's Castle, and Mystical Adventure. Though it takes place first—covering Goku's introduction to Bulma and the fight with the Red Ribbon Army—Path to Power is the newest of the three, having been animated to celebrate the franchise's tenth anniversary. Twice as long as the other two and with twice the budget, it also has half the charm. In spite of its running panty-gags and Goku's inherently silly personality, it's closer in tone to the more serious Dragon Ball Z than the light fun of Dragon Ball's opening episodes, and it suffers from the cramped, overcrowded feel that plagues feature-film adaptations of long-running shounen story-arcs. The attempt to wring tragedy from the film's light adventure falls flat at the end, and unless you're already familiar with the cast, their introductions will feel truncated and inadequate. The film has the advantage of fluid animation and flashy effects, but Goku isn't as incongruously chubby or cute as he originally was, and the lack of the original series' bouncy, catchy theme music is sorely felt.
The second movie in the box, Sleeping Princess in Devil's Castle, on the other hand, obviously dates to the era when the series was still in the midst of its run, and retains all of the fun and silly energy that the television series had. Its animation is far more primitive, occasionally clunky, and more prone to stills and jerky movements, but it also has a warmth that the previous feature lacked, and has Kuririn and Goku in all their pudgy, infantile glory. It's also a single, self-contained story told in fifty minutes with a minimum of plot and a leisurely sense of fun that makes Path to Power look like the overstuffed remake that it is. The random inclusion of Goku's transformation into a rampaging ape is the only hiccup in this goofy bit of fluff, and one that can be easily forgiven in exchange for the scene in which Bulma naively believes a vampire's promise of a "dinner" party, even with his assistant right behind them wielding a man-sized syringe.
The final movie, Mystical Adventure dates to roughly the same period, but is a mixed bag that, while containing more of Dragon Ball's signature humor (check out the training montage during the opening credits), falls victim to the same over-density of plot that ham-strung Path to Power. The inclusion of a tournament, a Dragon Ball hunt, and a planned coup d'état in a single fifty-minute movie leaves precious little time for the leisurely adventuring that marked the previous movie and the series at large. It compounds the mistake with the inclusion of a tragic sub-plot that the movie is too short to fully support. Nevertheless, it's worth watching if only for the assassin who kills with his tongue and the handful of scenes featuring Arale and the Gatchans that highlight Dragon Ball's role as a transition between (and in many ways, an ideal fusion of) Dr. Slump's unhinged comedy and Dragon Ball Z's epic adventuring.
As all of the features in this box are condensations of larger story-arcs from the television series, there's a certain amount of inevitable overlap. For instance, two of Goku's foes in Path to Power reappear in Mystical Adventure under different leadership and with different faces. Furthering the inconsistencies are Funimation's puzzling naming conventions, which have different spellings for the English and Japanese versions of characters (Krillin/Kuririn, Yamcha/Yamucha). Spelling Bulma's name Bulma derails a joke hinging on the meaning of her Japanese name (properly spelled, Buruma is the Japanese version of the English word "bloomer"). There's also some fancy dancing around an extended sequence based on the legend of Urashima Taro that uses English cultural references (Atlantis and Pandora's Box) and doesn't work terribly well. And that's just the subtitle script. The dub does even more extensive monkeying, but the consequences are happier, adding some well-placed wit while preserving the series fun, fluffy core and nailing the various characters with surprising accuracy.
As an introduction to the Dragon Ball franchise, this movie set is worse than useless, since the introductory material is covered by the dreary Path to Power and there are sizable gaps between each of the features. And as a collection of stand-alone tales for fans, only Sleeping Princess is worth the time or money. This movie box is the Cliff's Notes version of Dragon Ball: most of the relevant information with none of the finesse or entertainment—only of use to cramming scholars and people looking for a nostalgia kick without the investment of time.
Overall (dub) : C
Overall (sub) : C
Story : C
Animation : B
Art : B-
Music : B-
+ Sleeping Princess in Devil's Castle; Dr. Slump's Arale and the Gatchans make a cameo.
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