Dragon Ball Z: Bojack Unbound Review
Onto movie #9 out of 13! We are in the final stretch now. I only knew vaguely how this one went, having only ever really experienced any Bojack related content from the video games. Bojack is a movie antagonist who kind of flies under the radar with much less notoriety than Broly or Cooler, so I was curious about his movie because I’d seen a lot of gorgeous screenshots from it with some crazy looking backgrounds. This was one of the movies I had in mind specifically when I decided to start reviewing DBZ movies, I really wanted to see if this one was as good as the isolated pictures over the years had made it seem.
And it was.
This movie has a lot of callbacks. Most are good, some are great. One they did not do, however, is the ill-fated camping trip. It seems like perhaps without Goku at the helm, the Z-Fighters can avoid going on picnics that coincidentally trigger world invasions.
Instead of camping or a picnic, the movie starts with a martial arts tournament hosted by Mr. Satan (Hercule) and a plutocrat billionaire literally named X.S. Money. Instead of a normal World Martial Arts Tournament, however, this is an “Intergalactic Tournament”, and those who make it to the semifinals must fight “aliens” (Mr. Satan’s pupils in disguise) to try and take the belt from the legend himself.
The tournament is really great, it is mostly for laughs but we do get to see a short fight between Tien and Future Trunks, a matchup that may never have happened otherwise. Most of the other fights are gags, which is fine, but there was definitely some degree of wasted potential just based on how many characters are present. I mean, even MAN-WOLF from the original Dragonball comes back for a (brief) appearance!
I sincerely wish they had given Piccolo vs. Krillin (not a serious fight, played up for laughs) and Tien vs. Future Trunks a little longer. The movie is back down to a more digestible 50 minute runtime thankfully, but I couldn’t help but feel that the tournament was cut a bit short to introduce the villains.
Also, thankfully for Krillin, Yamcha appears in this movie for the first time in eons and is eliminated before he even makes it to the semifinals. Another fighter crashes into the pole he is laying on and knocks Yamcha into the ocean, forcing an embarrassing ring out.
Things get even more when the premise of the semifinals rolls out. Instead of another bout for the remaining fighters, the 4 winners of the quarterfinals (the sumo, Future Trunks, Gohan, and Krillin, due to Piccolo’s forfeit) must take “rocket shuttles” to fight the four aliens Mr. Satan has gathered for the tournament, with each fighter being spit out into one of four locations and racing to fight the champion after their bout.
One of the great mysteries of this movie is what the fuck is going on when they take these shuttles. We see them drive through a giant Tron-like grid tunnel and briefly see Krillin fly through what appears to be space, but it is assumed that they actually never leave Earth and instead arrive to battlefields assumedly constructed for the tournaments. Some have suggested that these were computer simulations or a sort of alternate reality, but there are problems with almost any explanation that don’t just shrug it off as non sequitur DBZ nonsense.
These battle zones the fighters arrive at are really nice. Usually DBZ fights take place somewhere like a canyon, glacier, or a field, so it was interesting to see a change from the usual style with these. The sumo and Krillin’s arena were nothing special, but Future Trunks and Gohan ended up fighting in some of the most interesting Dragon Ball Z locations yet to be seen, and the final location was also unexpectedly detailed and unique.
However, things soon go awry. Krillin is easily defeated by his opponent, which is no surprise to the viewers, but the sumo is strangled to death onscreen by an alien in his zone. Panic arises back at the site of the tournament, with the producer announcing that these aren’t the same “aliens”. As it turns out, they are the minions of Bojack, who has been released from his seal. And thus begins the meat of the movie.
As a bit of a detour, this detail was kind of silly to me, but it actually works out when King Kai explains it, and is part of one of my favorite things about this movie. This movie is the first to take place chronologically post-Cell (for reference, everything from the first Cooler movie to Broly were post-Frieza but pre-Cell), and instead of things happening parallel to the canon it seems that this movie specifically is billed as an off-shoot result of the fight against Cell.
Goku is dead in this movie. This is the first movie that he has not been at the helm of, and it is really interesting for that reason specifically. Not only is Goku mostly outside of the plot, but his death in the Cell saga actually explains Vegeta’s almost total absence from the movie as well. Bulma remarks that since Goku’s sacrifice fighting Cell, Vegeta has completely lost his fighting spirit. This leads to Goku and a very dejected Vegeta watching the events occur on television, with Goku in the afterlife and Vegeta in his depression nest.
In addition to Goku’s absence, Bojack’s appearance is actually a direct result of the Cell saga. When Goku teleports the self-destructing Cell at the last second to King Kai’s realm to save Earth, the destruction of the sacred plane unlocks the seal that King Kai and the other Kai placed on the genocidal Bojack long ago. Thus, Bojack is an off-shoot of the canon timeline in a way that is rarely broached within the movies aside from Cooler’s intended revenge for Frieza’s death. I love this kind of care for continuity and it really feels like this movie fits snugly into the canonical 7 year gap between Cell and Buu.
But back to the movie…
The minions of Bojack are some of the stronger movie sidekicks, and it kind of tracks because they were also sealed away. Well, actually it doesn’t. Because Future Trunks gets whooped decent for a while and actually pulls out a rare W against his opponent.
Almost the entire roster appears at some point during the fight with Bojack and his remaining three minions, and it has the makings of what could’ve been a great brawl between some of the Z-Fighters who don’t always get love, especially in Goku’s absence. However, they get the dog shit beat out of them. I am not exaggerating when I say Bojack’s sword guy that Trunks kills must have been a new hire, because the other three freaks absolutely destroy the Z-Fighters. My only real gripe with them is that they have this dumb, anti-climactic power involving strings that drain one’s energy, and it is used constantly in lieu of actual fighting.
We almost got to see Yamcha or Tien have a single moment of glory. But they don’t.
Even Piccolo and Vegeta appear briefly. Piccolo uses Special Beam Cannon to deflect a near-fatal attack from Bojack, solely to check the “Piccolo Saves Gohan” box for this movie, and then is immediately destroyed. Vegeta shows up to protect Future Trunks from a fatal attack but gets bodied by Bojack immediately after. Not only that, but he actually elbows his son in the stomach for trying to help… After he goes down again, he is out until the very end of the movies before the credits roll. Down bad. The only fighter who really manages to make a difference in the fight is Mr. Satan, who is sent via rocket to “take care” of the situation. He sends up almost crashing into the minions while they drain Gohan’s energy, inadvertently freeing him.
Bojack himself is a good villain. His reasoning for being a villain didn’t need to be deep or thought-provoking, he is simply a marauder who was accidentally released from his seal and behaves as such. Unlike most of the DBZ villains, he has no problem having his minions jump Gohan, even joining in for a brief 4 vs 1. His downfall isn’t due to hubris or anything of his accord, he actually gets beaten through a bit of an asspull from Goku and Gohan, though it shouldn’t really have been necessary in the first place given how strong Gohan is.
The actual fight itself was kind of lopsided, Bojack really just nails everyone for about half an hour until Gohan is being squeezed to death and Goku breaks the rules of the universe to protect him. Goku uses Instant Transmission to briefly appear and punch Bojack, then briefly encourage Gohan like he does during the fight against Cell.
While it is kind of a dumb way to have to spur the now battle-hardened Gohan into action, it is at least a callback to how Gohan will never naturally be a warrior and must be forced into it by circumstance. And the payoff is really worth it for another visit to Gohan’s Super Saiyan 2. This is probably second to Goku’s eventual Super Saiyan 3 in regards to being the nastiest transformation in the series, so being able to see it at full effectiveness again in such a dire situation really won me over.
Once the killswitch is activated, it is really lights out for Bojack and crew within about 5 minutes at most. It’s a surprisingly abrupt end, but I guess that is the nature of the Berserk button. One thing I really thought was absurdly funny was after Gohan absolutely wastes 2/3 of Bojack’s henchmen in one punch, and Bojack gets the genius idea to push his last surviving teammate forward and shoot a ki blast through her to hit Gohan. The impact destroys her immediately and Gohan easily dodges it, it literally wasn’t even close.
The final fight between Gohan and Bojack is literally one of the quickest that has ever gone down, and in retrospect maybe it’s a good thing. As much as I love Super Saiyan 2, I think that part of the reason it’s so effective is the way that it tends to keep things short and sweet. The end of the fight felt abrupt compared to the slightly dragging middle of the movie, but it ends on a really strong note so I didn’t mind too much. Gohan literally punches a fucking hole through Bojack on the first swing.
After Bojack is mortally wounded, instead of begging for mercy he actually asks Gohan if he has any last words. Gohan only has one, and the fight ends here. I liked that even though Bojack is beaten, he doesn’t go out sad. Bojack really was a good villain, he’s an unapologetic bastard who takes an opportunity presented to him, and is really only able to be beaten by Gohan and the incredibly convenient life-saving help of Piccolo, Goku, and even Mr. Satan.
After the fight is over, things go back to normal. Mr. Satan, who crashed into the only camera broadcasting the fighting to the home viewers, is able to take credit for saving the world once again and adds another notch to his belt as the World Champion. I actually loved having Mr. Satan in this movie, it was very refreshing to see him onscreen. I guess I never realized how little he was in the series pre-Cell, but after his involvement in the Cell Saga I was happy to see him taking a similar role in this movie as an accidental hero.
The movie really uses more humor than I thought it would. It is second only to Super Android 13 (the movie to beat) in its brevity, and I found it to be mostly appealing. There are some instances where I think things are played too lighthearted at the expense of some good fights, but I really thought the journey of Mr. Satan trying to deal with the takeover of his tournament, both by the Z-Fighters and Bojack’s group, was really funny and reminiscent of some of my favorite moments of his from the main series.
My only real gripe ties into the previous point, that a lot of the smaller fights are mishandled. I get that there is only a certain amount of runtime, but the movie was chock full of characters who really just show up for a brief appearance and then dip out. It was nice to see some familiar faces (Dragon Ball tournament characters, Yamcha and Tien) but it felt like none stuck around long enough to do much, it just felt like they were waved in my face and then tossed aside. However, having a movie without Goku at the helm for the first time in the series is change enough, so I appreciate the thought put into the reshaped character roster at least. And even if the other Z-Fighters were kind of misused here, there are some great moments:
Once again, this was one of the better movies. The last few have been really good! I would say this one beats out Broly for second best so far, with only Super Android 13 surpassing them both.
I think Bojack Unbound addresses the runtime issue in Broly, I wish they’d divided the time better between the more interesting tournament and Bojack fights rather than spending so much of the movie on the underlings, but I would rather things be short and sweet than dragging on for too long.
The art was also as nice as I expected. The fight with Bojack and his team probably wouldn’t have been as good without the gorgeous backdrops, especially in Future Trunks’ initial fight and the final arena in the ruined city. Even just the backdrops during the tournament were better than they usually are in world tournaments, it felt like this one had special care put into it and I appreciated it. It was a departure from the usual open expanses present in DBZ fighting, and I actually really liked it.
Definitely worth watching!
We have four DBZ movies left from this point, and it is almost a clean split between what I assume will be fantastic and what will be a chore to endure. I am excited for both, just in different ways. Next up is Broly — Second Coming, so see you then!