One of the movies I set out to watch when I began this series! It feels like forever ago that I decided to start, and now we are one away from completion. Crazy. I knew a little bit about this one from playing the video games, but my real formative memory of this one is watching part of it on Toonami as a child. With the inclusion of network TV commercial breaks, it seemed like it stretched on forever, and it was incredibly hard to parse what was actually happening because of the bizarre nature of the story. Naturally, I was enamored.
Did Fusion Reborn live up to my hopes, all these years later? The short answer: Yes.
Man, where to begin. The movie starts with Goku in Other World, fighting in a tournament between the Kais. Funny enough, this kind of serves as a foreshadowing of Dragon Ball Super, in that all the supreme beings have to do to cure their boredom is charter fights between their representatives. This time we actually see Pikkon as a character rather than an indirect mention.
While this happens, the movie cuts to King Yemma at the Check-In Station for the dead. While the new souls are processed and sent to either Heaven or Hell, a happy-go-lucky demon attending the machines is listening to his music too loud and gets distracted, resulting in them overloading and exploding. A gust of dark energy from the processed souls hits him and when the smoke clears, he is being transformed into the great evil Janemba, a product of the darkness in people’s souls condensed over the years.
After a few seconds he is fully transformed and Janemba grows to massive proportions. With just a clap of his hands, the entire Check-In Station is warped and enclosed in what appears to be some sort of jelly, effectively opening the barrier between the living and the dead.
Naturally, this begins causing serious issues for those on Earth as the dead return en masse. The Dragon Ball Z interpretation of this is taken with a lot of Toriyama’s typical humor, what could’ve become a really dark or dangerous event is largely played for laughs and causes one of the best gags in the movies (which I will elaborate on later) and also a surprisingly beautiful moment for an unlikely character.
Goku and Pikkons fight is interrupted by a large crystal structure appearing on the battlefield, and the two are tasked by the Kai to investigate the cause of the disturbance at the Check-In Station. The two are wary to stop their bout, but decide the idea of fighting an even stronger enemy is too alluring. Goku seems to have found a good friend in Pikkon, who more than a little bit resembles Piccolo, who is entirely absent from this movie as well.
The two descend on Janemba, but Pikkon is tasked with clearing the crystal that encases the Check-In Station while Goku tries to convince Janemba to follow him to Hell so that he can be taken down away from King Yemma and the others encased in jelly.
The fight between Goku and Janemba is fucking excellent. It changes in tone several times and keeps things lively, beginning with mostly jokes and playfulness between the child-like Janemba and Goku and eventually becoming much more serious once Goku is attacked by a horde of smaller (but still massive) Janemba clones. Janemba’s absolutely bizarre arsenal of attacks really never gets old, but especially when he is in this form there are some really great moments. The best of all is when Goku, realizing the threat at hand, fires off a Kamehameha and Janemba absent-mindedly produces an exact replica of Goku to mimic it and defend him.
While Goku’s fight begins playfully and starts to get serious, things seem to be the opposite on Earth. With the dead coming back to Earth, naturally there are familiar faces reappearing looking for revenge. What they fail to understand about DBZ is that if you are sidelined for even half of an arc you will never see the light of glory again. Tien was an important character once.
While Gohan and Videl patrol the city to try to manage the chaos, Frieza appears atop a building seeking retribution. While he initially doesn’t recognize Gohan, once he makes the connection he sics his horde of warriors on them. Most notable in this ensemble of minions is BOJACK, who would canonically DESTROY Frieza in any fight in Dragon Ball Z, so it is utterly insane to imply that he would ever take orders from Frieza.
Seeing an issue here, Goten and Trunks are sent to recover the Dragon Balls and try to wish everyone back to Hell. The misadventures of the two are cut short (thankfully) after Trunks finds the last Dragon Ball on a golf course.
When Gohan and the others reconvene to make their wish and fix everything, they are met with an unusual dilemma. Shenron is unable to grant the wish.
Because of the pandemonium going on in the Other World, which these characters have no idea about, their wish is impossible. Thus these characters are delegated to simply stopping all the rogue villains for the rest of the movie. This is actually a good idea, in my opinion, because after the past few movies I know I was ready to get back to Goku and Vegeta instead of the children.
The Broly movies are okay, but one can only take so much of Trunks and Goten. By being side characters in this one rather than the main fighters, we are able to still have their chaotic presence without dilution of the theme. Fusion Reborn reaches a perfect balance by keeping everything in check and switching between humor and seriousness pretty tactfully. For example, after the characters try to wish the dead away and are unsuccessful, they disperse and resume clearing the streets of the dead. Shenron, still summoned with two wishes left, starts to sweat and ask if anyone has any other desires so he can go back to rest.
To see the Eternal Dragon, who has always served as a sort of figurehead for the culmination or causation of an arc of conflict, used as a simple side note and played for laughs shows me that by now the writers have really come into themselves and learned how to manipulate the rich world for max effect.
Before getting back to Goku and Janemba, I would like to highlight one of the most insane parts of this entire series by far. I would say Fusion Reborn might be the second funniest DBZ movie, only behind Super Android 13. While Gohan and Trunks mop up Frieza and the other returned villains, Goten and Trunks return from Shenron to face perhaps the most unexpected villain in the entire DBZ franchise: Adolf FUCKING Hitler.
No. I am not joking.
These two ten year olds have to fight against resurrected Hitler. And they mop the floor with him and his whole army. One of the funniest gags of all time is when the two decide to show off and transform into Super Saiyans. Hitler, whose army has been destroyed, comments “Blonde hair… blue eyes… Super strength… I should be recruiting them.” While this line was actually a creation of the Funimation dub, the entire scene was exempted from the original airing that ran on Toonami in North America, as well as Germany and France. Toriyama is no stranger to controversy or pushing the envelope, but the line about recruiting them actually made me laugh out loud because of how fucking absurd the entire situation is.
Anyways, back to Goku and Janemba. After getting thrashed a good deal, Goku decides he needs to finish things. For the first time in the movies, we see the Legendary Super Saiyan 3. This has always been my favorite transformation, none of the new forms in Super have ever managed to create something so impressive as Super Saiyan 3 when it originally was revealed.
This does nothing but add bonus points to an already great fight. Super Saiyan 3 Goku is able to easily trounce Janemba, and even unveils a new technique to land the finishing blow. Naturally, this couldn’t be the end of such a good villain. Janemba begins melting down and changes form.
I personally really like Super Janemba. Since neither form uses words in any intelligible way (standard Janemba just chants his own name), he is very similar to Kid Buu in that way. It’s kind of interesting how in the Majin Buu saga movies most enemies have kind of followed suit with the titular villain and spoken little to none. We don’t have any Turles or Coolers spending time on long monologues, just a freak set on raising hell.
Goku holds his own for a short time after Super Janemba emerges, but is quickly overwhelmed. Super Janemba is another great fight because of how he employs another insane set of techniques that are still totally different from his former version’s, aside from one shared move with portals.
One of the biggest problems with DBZ villains in the movies is reaching their final forms and becoming boring or losing what made them exciting in the first place, but Janemba’s actually helps him because he goes from evil, giant, super powerful baby to actual villain. It provides definition and is just overall a really cool and fun design. Despite the horns and swords, they are still fighting in Hell with giant jelly beans floating everywhere. This entire scene, in my opinion, just highlights the best parts of the Majin Buu era for how strange things get in comparison to the earlier parts of the series.
Even Super Saiyan 3 can’t hold up to Super Janemba, and once he picks up a fallen ogre’s club and transforms it into his sword, things really go south for Goku. He is seconds from being killed when a stray ki blast hits Janemba from off-screen. To everyone’s surprise, none other than Vegeta appears! Vegeta, who has died a true death and turned into a soul, also reappears after the Check-In Station is incapacitated. He tells Goku he has absolutely nothing to lose, because he (assumably) still went to Hell in the afterlife despite his heroism in the later half of the series. But for the first time since Cooler, the two are forced to team up against the final boss.
They are quickly overwhelmed even after Vegeta saves Goku’s life and seek solace within the Giant Spikeball Pile of Hell to regroup and try to figure out a way to win. I think if I watched Dragon Ball or maybe Dragon Ball Z filler I would know if this pile of spines was a callback, but I didn’t so I have no idea. However, the two have a surprisingly friendly conversation while they hide from Janemba that shows some of Vegeta’s growth since dying and newfound benevolence towards Goku.
The two decide on something else that appears for the first time in the movies: Fusion.
Fusion has always been one of my favorite mechanics in Dragon Ball Z, even as far back as Piccolo fusing with Nail and Kami. So to see it in the movies for the first time is monumental. It seems like the natural climax of the movie, and while we have the usual gags with Vegeta refusing to do something as stupid as the fusion dance, it looks like the only way to beat Janemba. The two finally coordinate after a brief tutorial from Goku and perform the technique…
…and out comes Veku. I’ve always wondered where this gag came from, but I had utterly no idea it was from THIS movie, at such an important moment too. It totally caught me off guard and I burst out laughing. I know the video games and fan series take a ton of liberties with the fusions, but to see this (even if it is non-canon) was fucking mind-blowing.
The part after was incredible too. At the pivotal moment, the height of the battle, we are given a very Toriyama joke reel of Veku vs Super Janemba. Veku is totally useless except for being really fast and gassy, so he manages to stumble into some attacks (very similar to Mr. Satan) while trying to escape certain death. The fusion lasts 30 minutes, so Veku must avoid being annihilated until they can regroup and try again.
Pikkon arrives to briefly hold off Janemba while they wait for the fusion to reset, and gets merked in a way that even puts Gohan getting hugged to near-death to shame. The only plus to him being snubbed is when he briefly discovers a way to hurt Janemba, the same way that he cleared the crystals encasing the Check-In Station earlier: screaming at them. When Janemba teleports to finish him off, Pikkon screams at him and it actually shatters his armor a bit. Not enough to protect him from getting worked though.
Anyway, after this painful occurence, Veku manages to get away just in the nick of time. Janemba fires a giant beam of metal at Veku and the two defuse at the perfect moment to dodge it.
After the initial fusion gag, anyone who knows DBZ knows it’s about time that Janemba gets whooped. And man, does he get whooped. After realizing their mistake — Vegeta failing to extend his index finger to match Goku — the two complete the fusion, and we see the first fusion in the DBZ movies. Gogeta emerges, which would technically be the first chronological fusion if one was to compare this to the canon timeline, even before Vegito.
Instead of toying with his opponent like Vegito, Gogeta is much more forward. He does not beat around the bush at all. After a few punches and kicking, clearly showing his superiority, Gogeta unveils his signature move, the Stardust Breaker.
Janemba, sensing eminent doom, makes one last charge to try and stop it, but it’s too late. He gets erased from existence almost entirely.
With that, Janemba is gone. At first I was annoyed that he was dispatched so quickly, but in retrospect it kind of makes sense given how different Gogeta is from Vegito and I don’t mind so much. It at least cements Gogeta as the strongest hero by far within the movies, which is a nice note as we close them out. We will see if things are different in the last movie, but I think it has a more structured story and is less about Goku. I could be wrong, but ending on Gogeta would be a good note in my opinion.
After Janemba is exorcised, he reverts to the young demon from the beginning of the movie. I really liked that Gogeta just stares him down and scares him away, it helped illustrate the difference in personality between him and Vegito, who we see much more often.
With the Check-In Station restored to functionality and all the souls back where they belong, things seem to be wrapped up, but we get a surprisingly sweet moment at the end of the movie! With Vegeta, no less! As the natural order starts to be reinstated, we are reminded that Vegeta is truly dead and not coming back to Other World with Goku.
Goku thanks Vegeta, who asks why he’s thanking him. Goku says he loved every minute of it and bids farewell, even calling Vegeta his friend. We know they are friends based on the canon story, but it is rarely touched upon in the movies because of limited screentime and jumps between arcs, so it was an unexpectedly touching moment. Even though chronologically, Vegeta reappears fairly soon within the canon story, it was a really nice sendoff for the movie. Fusion Reborn really did a great job of closing the movies out, I sincerely hope the last movie is just as good because otherwise I would say this one was the perfect curtain call for DBZ movies.
This was objectively the best Dragon Ball Z movie. There was nothing in it that disappointed me, and it excelled in pretty much every aspect of the DBZ movies that I enjoy. The premise was fun, we saw Pikkon, Janemba was an excellent villain with a great fight in both of his forms, and then Gogeta and the moment at the end with Vegeta were just icing on the cake.
They really saved the best for (second to) last. I am honestly glad that this one was so far down the line because this would have absolutely been the one to beat, and I probably would’ve liked the previous movies less for failing. The only reason it doesn’t get a perfect score is because I didn’t cry or punch a hole in my monitor. But it still got a 3000 word review of a 50 minute movie, so that’s perhaps the next best thing.
Next up is the LAST MOVIE, Wrath of the Dragon. This is one of the ones I was also most excited for, I’ve always loved Tapion and would play him in the video games whenever possible. When I grew out my mohawk it was for him and Android 16, so I am eagerly awaiting seeing the actual source material he is from. Time will tell if it lives up to my expectations!
One bonus that I would be remiss to leave out is the culmination of the fight between the pseudo-Hitler and Goten and Trunks. They notice that their fathers have fused and decide to show off and follow suit. Seeing Gotenks in the movies was an unexpected treat! Even if Goten and Trunks are often pawned off as comic relief, Gotenks is one of my favorite fighters from the series because he is one of the trademarks of Akira Toriyama, a super powerful form with the personality of a rascal. I love every fight with Gotenks, even if they didn’t use the volleyball attack this time.
One thing that is really funny to me is that they fail multiple times in the canon timeline when they attempt to learn the Fusion Dance, but in this one, which technically takes place earlier in time (even though it isn’t canon), they manage to nail it effortlessly. Guess they just got stage fright with Super Buu. Whatever works!