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Episode XVII: Dragon Ball Z “The World’s Strongest” (1990)

Fifty years ago, Dr. Wheelo and Dr. Kochin were imprisoned in the glacial ice while conducting evil science experiments. Fifty years later, Dr. Kochin escapes the icy prison and uses the Dragon Balls to free his partner. Now Dr. Wheelo plans to capture who they believe to be the strongest man in the world: Master Roshi, one of Goku’s first teachers, and replace his brain with his own. Now, Goku must journey to Dr. Wheelo’s fortress to prevent the human race from becoming his specimens.

Dragon Ball Z is perhaps one of the most popular and most recognizable anime series in the world. Alongside running the Dragon Ball Z TV series, Toei Animation also produced a total of thirteen Dragon Ball Z theatrical movies. The stories and plots would often coincide with events that happened in the TV series, but they are not part of the DBZ continuity set by Akira Toriyama and the manga he wrote and drew. This is probably why DBZ movie villains are almost never mentioned in TV episodes.

The World’s Strongest is the second of thirteen theatrical DBZ movies. It’s also one of three that received more than one English dub in the USA. For this review, we’ll be looking at the more recent dub by FUNimation.

Dr. Wheelo overlooking the Z Fighters; Dragon Ball Z “The World’s Strongest” (1990) | Credit: Akira Tokiyama

Although it probably helps if you are already familiar with the characters and storyline of the Dragonball Z series, it is not a necessity. The animation of Dragonball Z has always focused on fighting, and this movie is no exception. If you’ve never seen this series and you’re wondering what you’re missing, this is a good place to start. The main thing to keep in mind is that the film is over 20 years old. The film was later re-dubbed by Funimation’s in-house voice cast and released again to DVD on November 14, 2006 in a box set titled “First Strike,” which included Dead Zone and Tree of Might. It was later remastered and released in a Double Feature set with Dead Zone on Blu-Ray and DVD on May 27, 2008. Goku, Krillin, Piccolo, Master Roshi and Gohan are all in top form. The fights here are great, and as mentioned before, have fluid animation.

The events of The World’s Strongest seem to take place after Goku’s first battle with Vegeta in the TV series. In the TV series, Goku would be in the hospital recovering from his injuries, but he uses the Kaioken and the Spirit Bomb in the movie’s fighting scenes. That might help illustrate that the movies are not officially part of DBZ cannon according to the manga it’s based on.

Most significantly, characters who are entirely comic relief or nonexistent in the later movies, such as Kame-Senin and Kuririn, get a chance to have some halfway decent action of their own. Moreover, the threat they face is considerably different from their standard “super-buff martial artist from another world/dimension”, and while of course the problem will have to be solved by standard Dragonball Z [fighting], the solution will not be as easy as they first think, and the problem has some complications. The ending was extremely action-packed, and had more to do with energy blasts than fists, but it’s funny because everytime Krillin tries to attack the villain he gets easily smacked aside, and he’s the only one that happens too.

Dragon Ball "The World's Strongest" (1990) | Credit: Akira Toriyama

Dragon Ball “The World’s Strongest” (1990) | Credit: Akira Toriyama

Its main weakness is that the hardcore fan isn’t too sure of this movie’s place in the timeline. Goku uses some techniques from his time as a dead man, which means that the Saiyans should’ve already shown up, but Piccolo is still alive…let’s face it, though, these movies aren’t known for staying true to the series. Even as far down the line as Movie 6, there are still some issues that haven’t been resolved.

The plot of Strongest is far better than Dead Zone because it clearly involves world domination and/or destruction as the main goal of the antagonist. The fans will really appreciate the epic scope of this conflict. It’s a little on the short side but that’s more than made up for with all the action crammed into it. From the opening frames of an icy wasteland, to the pounding drumbeat of the opening credits, to the simply awesome appearance of Dr. Wheelo, this movie is a standout amongst action animes. Most of the action takes place inside a huge fortress (which always offers limitless potential for coolness) before moving to the upper atmosphere for the climax. Check it out, whether you’re a DBZ fan or not, you won’t be disappointed.

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