Dragon Ball Z: The Dead Zone (1989)

Film: Dragon Ball Z: The Dead Zone (Doragon bôru Z: Ora no Gohan wo kaese)
Release: 1989, theatrical
Starring: Sean Schemmel, Stephanie Nadolny, Christopher Sabat
Directed by: Daisuke Nishio
Previous in the series: Dragon Ball: Mystical Adventure
Next in the series: Dragon Ball Z: The World's Strongest
IMDB page: Link opens in a new window
Description: One day a mysterious group of fighters kidnap the son of Son Goku. It turns out to be the work of the powerful Garlic Jr., a villain with a connection to Kami's past.

Hans' thoughts:

The first of the Dragon Ball movies to be based on the adulthood era, the only one of the movies to directly affect events in TV-series and the first of the movies to not continue the storyline in the alternate movie universe. The Dead Zone takes place between the fight against Piccolo at the Martial Arts Tournament and the appearance of Raditz on Earth. Years after barely defeating Piccolo and saving the world, Goku has married his fiancé Chichi and had a child whom he named after his grandfather, Son Gohan. Most people who know of this era of the show know it as "Dragon Ball Z", it's a direct continuation of the original series and draws from the latter half of original manga but the "Z" was added to the title of the animated series as a reference to the distinct change in tone the story would have beyond this point, the humor would be greatly downplayed in favor of longer fight scenes and more drama-driven storytelling. The Dead Zone pretty much exemplifies this change, most of the characters that until now have been mainstays of the series have been put on the backburner. The character designs are also more humanoid - the details come more from their battle armors and hairstyles. 

Plotwise we have a pretty epic tale, it's not often we hear of events on Earth prior to Goku's landing as a small child so it's nice to get some insight, even if it is unofficial. Hundreds of years ago the unnamed Namekian that would later be known as Kami fought a man named Garlic over the succession of the former Kami (Kami being a word for "God" or "Spirit" in the Japanese Shinto mythology). Garlic's greed got the best of him and he was sealed away, in the present his son known as Garlic Jr. is gathering the Dragon Balls in order to wish for immortality and take revenge for his father. This of course causes the involvement of our hero, as one of the Dragon Balls is attached to the hat of his son and he gets kidnapped by Garlic Jr.s elite warriors in the process. The stakes feel pretty high and Goku's newly adopted serious demeanor does make for a very cool action hero. The humor of the previous movies is nearly completely gone, while there are some rather silly moments in the movie (such as a drugged hallucination sequence) the new focus is very visible. Where exactly this movie is supposed to take place in the plotline other than "before Raditz landed" is a bit of a mist however, as some of the vents directly contradict the way things go down in the main series.

Thankfully the villain of this movie is a lot better than the previous movie-original villains we have seen until now. Garlic Jr. being directly involved with characters of the main storyline makes us interested in him as a character and as opposed to original villains that would delve into fanfiction territory in later movies, he doesn't feel like a tacked on side-villain at all. As far as his minions go, while they're not particularly fleshed out they do manage to seem threatening enough for our heroes to take on.The action scenes also take up more of the movie, and thankfully they're a bit better handled than even some fights in the main series. I don't really have much to report on the side of the english voice cast, they're not doing bad jobs at all but they're not being fantastic either. The best performance in the movie is Christopher Sabat, he voices several of the characters but the one he did best with was Kami if only because of his monologue.

Animation-wise the movie is a bit of a step up from any of the former movies, the colors feel more streamlined and not nearly as blurred together with the lineart as in the others while a trippy drug sequence made for comical effect showcases some fun imagery if only briefly. Garlic Junior's "final form" is also a lot more threatening looking design-wise. While certainly not the best Dragon Ball movie, it manages to hold your attention for the duration and like the other movies the short running time of around 40 minutes makes it so it doesn't outstay it's welcome. While I'm personally more fond of the childhood tales of Goku and friends you also can't deny the utter star power of the Z series and it's version of the characters. 
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