Lord Slug! For some reason, this movie was infamous to me, despite having never seen it before. In my mind, this one was going to be a necessary hurdle in order to watch the better ones further down the line. I was actually pleasantly surprised! Especially after Tree of Might was a serious letdown.
Usually the beginnings of Dragon Ball Z movies are pretty simple misadventures, but this one is really out of left field. It opens with Piccolo enjoying his solitude, meditating in front of a waterfall, when Gohan and Icarus (the dragon he rescues in the last movie) decide to show up and perform their new song and dance routine. Okay.
Turns out, instead of an easily dismissed way to burn a few minutes of runtime and amuse child viewers, this is actually foreshadowing the way they defeat the Big Bad. I’ve got to hand it to Toriyama, this bizarre choice actually paid off and showed me that perhaps I underestimated Lord Slug. The movies seem to establish Gohan as a much funnier character than the (understandably) anxious child that he is in the main series, so to see it used in a way that actually takes advantage of the flippant child’s role is pretty clever.
Lord Slug and his henchmen don’t exactly have groundbreaking writing as far as their motivations, but I was at least glad to see Slug’s looming mortality be a valid cause for action. Slug’s men seek to terraform other planets for the health of their leader, which is why it is surprising that they just happen upon the Dragon Balls, despite Slug being Namekian and theoretically knowing about them this entire time. Terraforming strange planets seems a lot more difficult and tedious (by the crew’s own admission) than simply awakening Shenron and permanently fixing your problems, but perhaps Slug is more traditional in his old age.
Once again, we see the Dragon Balls collected and activated by the bad guys. Each movie seems to involve the villains finding the Dragon Balls and making their wish, which begs the question: Why do the Z-Fighters keep bringing them around? Seriously, just put them in storage somewhere. Every single bad guy who comes to Earth essentially gets handed one of seven wish-granting artifacts and we’re to expect they’ll just let it go? Naturally, Slug gathers the Dragon Balls and summons Shenron, who grants his wish of youth.
The actual fighting in this movie is excellent, aside from some understandably stiff frames when Gohan is tearing through mooks, there are some really great sequences in this one with a lot of work put in from the animators. The characters involved get a good spread as well, Gohan seems to gradually get more and more time in the field as the movies progress, and Piccolo gets a great fight too. However, once again, the very recently world-renowned supervillain Piccolo sacrifices himself to protect Gohan. I swear to God, I think he has done this in every movie in addition to the fight vs. Nappa in the original series. Gohan is legally his son at this point, most of the time Goku simply arrives at the shattered body of his elementary school age son (and the stain on the ground where Piccolo used to be) prior to fighting the final boss.
The thing I think I like the most about this movie in particular is the setting during the battles. All of the fights take place in an abandoned, shadowy city, thanks to the terraforming efforts blocking the sun out. All of these fights really take advantage of the surroundings, and they look great as a result.
Slug’s henchmen are also perhaps the best of the movies so far, they are neither overwhelming nor useless. Maybe the biological soldiers from the second movie have a slight upper hand, but these served their purpose and were not overly long in their time onscreen, as well as displaying fairly unique abilities for how relatively low level they are in the grand scheme of things.
The transformations in this movie were doubly unexpected, which I liked a lot. The Pseudo Super Saiyan was kind of bizarre, especially because I wouldn’t have thought anything of it if King Kai hadn’t specifically mentioned “Super Saiyan” while watching the fight. Because he did mention it, I have to wonder if Toriyama was alluding to what would become the pivotal part of the Frieza Arc (which, chronologically, will happen between this movie and the next one) or if he simply fumbled because he was tired of Kaio Ken. The Giant Form for Slug was also extremely unexpected, especially since in the Frieza Arc there is not a single Namekian who uses the same thing, despite their entire civilization being hunted and slaughtered by Frieza and his soldiers — really an ideal time to use such an ability.
These are not things that detract from the movie, they are just weird one-off things specific to this movie that don’t fit well with the rest of the series lore. This is totally okay, because this movie is just an enjoyable standalone addition to the series, and Toriyama is already notorious for forgetting his own lore in the main series anyway.
The Namekian biology is what really goes off the rails in this one, I kind of love it but I know that serious DBZ fans were likely pissed. Even after Slug introduces his dubiously explained Giant Form, we see some other weird quirks with the anatomy of the Namekians. One particular callback (for the seasoned viewer) is when Slug grows his arm back, a move that Piccolo mimics almost completely much later in the series after losing an arm to Cell. There is also a moment where Piccolo attempts to steer Slug by his giant antennae, trying to convince him to drop Goku from his hands and swat at Piccolo instead. These are strange developments, but pale in comparison to the kicker.
The most unhinged and awesome part of this entire movie is after the crux of Namekian hearing is revealed and Piccolo decides to strip himself of his weakness. What is a very serious situation immediately becomes hilarious given the measures that Piccolo takes to avoid the sound of Gohan whistling, which completely incapacitates the giant Slug, who is attempting to crush Piccolo in his hands. Piccolo, thinking two steps ahead, simply rips off his own ears in order to block the noise.
Yes. This is what it takes to maintain your status as a relevant Z-Fighter. Yamcha, Tien, Chiaotzu, even Krillin are all being delegated to background characters at this point, but Piccolo retains his place. No one can ever fault him for not trying.
Lord Slug caught me off guard, I was genuinely expecting it to be average at best, simply the last in the pre-Frieza movies. However, this movie seems to have learned from the past three and taken what works from each one, I think this one is tied with Dead Zone for the best I’ve watched so far. My only regret is that I didn’t watch the Funimation Dub, because apparently this thing is scored entirely with nü-metal. I can only imagine how powerful this would have been if canonically they had made it into an AMV.
Overall, the pre-Frieza movies have been worth watching! Hopefully the next era won’t disappoint, Cooler’s Revenge is next up.