Reviewby Theron Martin, Oct 24th 2005
Dragon Ball Z Movie 1: The Deadzone
Garlic Jr., son of Kami's onetime rival for the position of Earth's protector, seeks the Dragonballs so that he can summon Shen Long and wish for immortality, after which he will plague the Earth with all manner of demons in retribution for his father's demise. After his men ambush Piccolo, they kidnap Gohan to get the Dragonball in his hat, not realizing that he is the son of Goku. Goku comes looking to recover his son, but he isn't the only one with a bone to pick with Garlic Jr. and his men. Can Garlic Jr. be stopped before he rains chaos on the Earth?
The first of the Dragonball Z movies, Deadzone originally was released uncut on VHS in 1997 by Pioneer (before they became Geneon), followed by a DVD release back in 2000. The offering reviewed here is the same uncut 40 minute version, now available on DVD with a remastered print, a brand-new English language track and extras.
Dragonball Z played a critical role in American anime history as one of the main “gateway” titles of the mid-90s through early 2000s, primarily due to its long run on various Cartoon Network programming blocks. This short movie, only barely as long as two episodes, was made early in DBZ's run, at a time in the story when Piccolo and Goku were not friendly and Gohan had yet to realize any of his power. Chi-Chi, Ox King, Master Roshi, Bulma, and most of the rest of the supporting cast make only very limited appearances, as the emphasis is on Goku, Gohan, Piccolo, and to a lesser extent Krillin. This allows it to showcase exactly why the series became so popular, especially with boys: lots and lots of great action mixed with video game-like power-up sequences.
And that's really all Deadzone is: 40 minutes of almost nonstop action sprinkled with small doses of the posturing and silly humor that are hallmarks of DBZ. The minimalist plot only exists to give the characters an excuse to fight, and the characterizations are only developed enough to distinguish the individual characters. DBZ doesn't pretend to be anything other than a slam-bang shonen action series, though, so it pours all its effort into the dynamic, fast-paced fight scenes. The rapid-punch sequences that are a staple of DBZ fights are numerous, but they are interspersed with plenty of more exciting maneuvers and a fair amount of blasting. Mostly missing are the dramatic, long power build-ups which bogged the series down in its later stages; this is DBZ action at its purest, finest, and most thrilling.
The artistry in Dead Zone looks exactly like that of the earlier DBZ episodes; no increase in production values for this one! It is rougher and less refined than what is seen in the later stages of the series, and even for its age (its production dates to 1989) it was never one of the more sophisticated titles visually. The visuals overall are good enough that no one is likely to be turned away just on the basis of how it looks, however. Designs for the DBZ regulars are as distinctive as ever, while Garlic Jr. and his henchmen all have the “stock DBZ bad guy” look about them. The animation does not use a particularly high frame rate, but compensates for this by keeping its fight scenes moving along so quickly that only a really trained eye is going to notice that the movements aren't especially smooth.
The English dub for Dead Zone uses the opening and closing theme music made for the original CN broadcast and puts everything in the viewer's choice of an English stereo or glorious English 5.1 track. This results in some great surround-sound audio quality, while the Japanese mono track sounds bland and painfully inadequate by comparison. The musical scoring is suitably dramatic in both cases, though of course it sounds tremendously better on the English tracks. The English dub cast for the DBZ regulars uses the same personnel who dubbed the first couple of seasons of the TV series. Although the casting and delivery for them and the villains feels right for the roles, they are quite dissimilar from the original Japanese cast except for the dragon Shen Long. In most cases the American performers are lower-pitched than their Japanese counterparts, and the difference overall is distinct enough that a viewer used to watching the series one way will have a harder time than normal adjusting to watching the series the other way. The audio production quality is so much better in the English tracks, though, that most viewers will be better off with the dub track. It is for this reason, rather than actual superior performances, that I have rated the dub so much higher below.
Because this is a FUNimation production, turning the subtitles on with the English tracks gets “dubtitles,” while having them on with the Japanese tracks gets the more literal translation subtitles. Unlike most FUNimation productions, extras are sparse: only company trailers and an audio commentary track featuring voice actor Chuck Huber (who voices Garlic Jr. in this title and other assorted DBZ characters) and occasional ADR director and VA Chris Sabat (the voice of Piccolo and Kami in this title). It is silly and mostly inane, really only worth watching if you're completely bored. A nice, eye-catching foil cover is also provided.
Though being at least generally familiar with the Dragonball/DBZ franchise will allow a viewer to better understand the character relationships, familiarity is not required to fully appreciate the title as a fairly ferocious action flick. The English audio quality makes it a worthy pick-up for DBZ fans or completists and the action is good enough to make it a respectable choice in general.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : C
Story : C
Animation : C+
Art : B
Music : B
+ Excellent English audio quality, heavy doses of dynamic action.
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