Dragon Ball Z: Wrath of the Dragon Review
Well, we are finally here. The last movie. I had planned to finish this one before 2022 started, but a combination of the holidays, getting Covid, and taking lots of overtime took up most of my schedule. And this was one I didn’t want to squeeze in, I needed to savor and appreciate the last one, one of the movies I began the series specifically to watch. Did it hold up? Did it close things out nicely? The simple answer: Hell yes.
So the running gag over this series has been the movies beginning with an ill-fated camping trip. This one actually subverts that! Instead it starts with child death. No, really, the first scene of the movie is Tapion’s younger brother, Minotia, being crushed to death by the gargantuan demon Hirudegarn, the antagonist of the movie. It really helps set the tone for the rest of the movie, actually. There aren’t a lot of jokes in this movie. It has a more serious tone than some of the earlier entries, which in my opinion is kind of nice in establishing a bit of finality with the series.
After that, we get a little bit more of Gohan and Videl as the Saiyamen. A lot of people are divided on the Saiyamen, (as well as the Majin Buu Saga in general) but I’ve always liked them. They’re about as cop-adjacent as Batman is, but I love Videl and the two are a fun team with all the stupid poses.
After they stop a high speed chase and return to school, the two are called to try to prevent an old man from jumping off a building. The old man is revealed to be Hoi, who was looking for the help of the heroes to open a mysterious music box with the aid of Shenron. This is actually pretty similar to the story of Babidi and Majin Buu within the series, but Hoi appears as an ally at first instead — proclaiming that the legendary hero Tapion has been trapped inside of the box and seeks to be released.
Most of the extended Z-Fighters are absent from the movie, (no Piccolo, Tien, Yamcha, Chiaotzu, etc) and normally this would be something I would miss, but this movie feels focused specifically on the characters who appear, which is a welcome change since the background ensemble to Goku is usually as trivial as whoever Toriyama remembers exists in that movie. Instead, there is a more concentrated cast of Trunks, Gohan, Videl, Goku, and even Bulma! I will go more into Trunks and Bulma’s role in the movie and why I think their characterization should’ve been something the whole series did later.
After establishing that they need to summon Shenron to open the music box, the gang split up in different directions to find the Dragon Balls. I really loved this part. The characters, all having grown up through DBZ, really show how far the series has come over the years while they do the one task that has never really changed.
After this, they summon Shenron and unlock the music box. Even Shenron appearing for the last time in DBZ was kind of bittersweet. Shenron tells them to state their wish quickly, which I can only hope was a callback to whichever movie it was where they accidentally made Shenron hang around waiting for their response.
Tapion emerges from the shattered music box and gives the heroes a very cold shoulder. Instead of being happy, he is upset that he has been freed and declares that they have no idea what they have done. Unsealing him has also unsealed the Phantom Majin known as Hirudegarn. Hoi shrinks to the back and starts glowing menacingly during the opening process, but Tapion approaches him with sword in hand. Instead of killing him there, which would make a lot more sense in retrospect, Tapion decides to just leave instead.
That night, the Z-Fighters in the movie decide to have a barbeque. I really liked this scene too, it was cute to see them all together again before things start to get crazy in the movie. One of my favorite parts of the movies are the moments when we see the characters just having fun in between having to protect the world from tyrants. Moments like this are sometimes the only glimpses we see of mostly non-fighter characters like Oolong, Master Roshi, and Bulma.
This rooftop barbeque sparks a really important moment in the movie that I think attributes to part of its greatness. Goten and Trunks sit under the grill, sneaking kebabs while the others are distracted by Roshi. Goku sees and keeps a laugh to himself, but surprisingly they aren’t just creating mischief like usual. Trunks ends up sneaking away to bring a plate of food to Tapion, who has taken up solitary residency in what appears to be an abandoned oil refinery.
While Trunks tries to extend an olive branch to the troubled Tapion, he is unsuccessful and Tapion orders him to leave. This is a noticeable change from Trunks’ usual behavior. Usually he and Goten are treated as a pair of comic relief characters, but this time Trunks takes the spotlight and acts in a surprisingly earnest manner in comparison to his portrayal in almost every other appearance.
The barbeque is interrupted by the lower half of Hirudegarn wreaking havoc on the city. Hirudegarn remains incomplete because half of him is sealed inside of Tapion, but his legs alone manage to completely overwhelm the military and thoroughly level the city. Gohan and Videl rush in to help and manage to make some progress against the gargantuan monster, but ultimately the threat is only neutralized by Tapion appearing and playing his ocarina, the only true weakness that Hirudegarn has.
That night, Tapion falls asleep and drops his ocarina. While he is asleep, the upper half of Hirudegarn begins to materialize above him and almost kills him before he is able to recover the ocarina and seal him again.
Shortly after this, Trunks appears with food again. Tapion turns him away again, but they are interrupted by Hoi’s attempt to steal the ocarina. Hoi manages to dislodge the ocarina and Trunks picks it up. Both look to him to hand it over, while Hoi tells him that Tapion isn’t really a hero and is actually controlling Hirudegarn. Trusting his intuition, Trunks gives Tapion the ocarina again and Tapion finally accepts him as a friend by inviting him to dine with him as Trunks slinks away.
Trunks and Tapion’s friendship was a really unexpected part of this movie for me, and is even alluded to by Bulma while she and Videl are washing dishes. Bulma remarks that Trunks gets lonely as an only child and that she’s glad Goten is there to play with him. Videl, another only child, is able to empathize with the young saiyan, but is taken aback when she realizes Bulma is hoping that Trunks can befriend Tapion.
As Trunks gets ready to sleep he asks Tapion if he has any siblings and Tapion confides that his younger brother, Minotia, was the one who the other half of Hirudegarn was sealed in. After Trunks falls asleep, Tapion begins to leave the house when Bulma stops him and asks to hear his story.
Tapion tells Bulma the story of his people’s fall to Hirudegarn and explains that Hoi is the last of the Kashvar, a group of dark magicians set on destruction. I really, really loved this moment. Bulma is a beloved character who really fades to the background pretty hard in Dragon Ball Z aside from a few moments scattered throughout the show. It made me happy to see her and Trunks get to know Tapion rather than someone we’d expect like Goku or another hero.
Tapion also explains that he can’t fall asleep or else Hirudegarn will be able to escape. Bulma decides that he can stay with them and begins to build a chamber for him to sleep in that replicates the music box he was sealed in, so long as he keeps Trunks entertained.
This plan backfires once Hirudegarn begins attacking the city again, draining the life force of civilians much like Cell does when he is first introduced. His proximity to Bulma’s House causes Tapion to have a nightmare, which ends up destroying the sleep chamber and alerting Hoi and Hirudegarn to their location.
Tapion, unable to control the upper half of Hirudegarn with the lower half so close, begs for the Z-Fighters to kill him so that Hirudegarn can’t reform. Naturally, they decline, and Tapion is unable to lift the ocarina to his lips as Hirudegarn leaves his body and finishes reforming his upper body on top of his legs. With Hirudegarn complete, Hoi orders him to destroy all human life and he immediately attacks Bulma’s house.
Goku, Gohan, and Goten all step in to protect the group, and we get another really rare moment where the three all power up together. I really like that they are only somewhat effectual here, because there is pretty much no other situation in which the three of them can’t handle a villain. One of the things I was worried about in this movie was that Hirudegarn was a villain who can only be taken out by a Chekhov’s Gun like the ocarina, but this subversion of the good guys being all-powerful actually works pretty well in that even a simple deviation from the standard DBZ formula can be interesting.
It is quickly revealed that Hirudegarn has gotten intensely stronger since he reformed, and is now able to use the power of illusion against his enemies. While Tapion is incapacitated, Goku and his family try to counter the speed of Hirudegarn but are quickly dispatched along with Videl.
Vegeta actually appears briefly, with a good one-liner about how it was his day off and his house got destroyed (valid complaint, honestly, but where was he when an alien parented his son). Vegeta specifically saves Gohan from being crushed before immediately getting washed and disappearing from the movie, which leads me to believe that the voice actor for Piccolo was busy that day. Incredible that he and Goku had such a beautiful goodbye in the last movie and in this one he is onscreen for maybe 30 seconds.
Goku tries to protect his fallen friend so that he doesn’t get sent to Hell again and is crushed and knocked out immediately. Usually Goku powers up after seeing his friends and family get the everloving shit kicked out of them, but this time he just monologues something about how it can’t end like this and falls unconscious.
Things look up when Goten and Trunks see their opportunity and fuse. Gohan’s mystic form isn’t the only new transformation in the last movie, because Gotenks has now gained the ability to use Super Saiyan 3 himself. He powers up and actually manages to hold his own against Hirudegarn, even managing to focus on the importance of the battle despite his usual antics. Gotenks smashes Hirudegarn into a building and Hirudegarn becomes insert and discolored.
Gotenks admires his work and then follows up with a barrage of ki blasts to finish the job, until Hirudegarn’s corpse starts glowing where he is hit.
Hirudegarn emerges as an even stronger monster, almost exactly like Cell. There are a lot of interesting parallels to Cell and Buu in Hirudegarn, which is really interesting given that he is such a one-off type of villain overall. Needless to say, this isn’t good. Hirudegarn really gets some points here from me, because he punches Gotenks so hard that he fucking de-fuses the two. Simply incredible.
One thing you can say about the Z-Fighters is that they do not give up. Gohan gets back up just to get whooped up a hill and crushed by an even stronger Hirudegarn. While everyone gets turned into pulp by a giant bug, Tapion comes to and decides that the ocarina is their only chance. He manages to seal the entirety of Hirudegarn inside of his body and then presents Trunks with the only remaining option: to kill him and end Hirudegarn forever.
Trunks is unable to process this at first, but steels himself. Once again, this is really unexpected for a character like Trunks to take such an important role in a pretty solemn scene. Wrath of the Dragon does a really good job of actually using Trunks for something other than comedic effect and it really pays off, there is actual investment in this scene and it is surprisingly sad. However, Trunks is too late. Hirudegarn breaks free, and the ocarina is destroyed in the process. Hoi, who has largely remained on the sidelines, has a good laugh at their expense before promptly being killed by his warrior completely accidentally. While Majin Buu kills Babidi purposely, this is still a pretty big parallel between the pairs that doesn’t go unnoticed.
As the rubble clears and the situation appears hopeless, Goku finally emerges from the rubble and is ready to make a last stand. Once again, we get to see Goku in Super Saiyan 3 (my personal favorite) in the final battle. Before Goku can do anything, however, Trunks takes the Hero’s Sword and cleanly slices off Hirudegarn’s tail, making the first true injury to stick to the Phantom Majin since the beginning of the battle.
Goku tells Trunks to back off, that it’s his fight, which is fucking insane advice given that Hirudegarn has mulched Goku like almost no other villain until the last 20 seconds or so. However, Goku seems to have figured out Hirudegarn’s weakness. By antagonizing him and baiting him into attacking, Hirudegarn won’t turn into smoke and reappear. Naturally, Goku takes it upon himself to piss off Hirudegarn until he almost kills Goku with a punch. But once he has withstood it, the gloves are officially off.
With all trump cards played by Goku, there is a lot of joy in seeing the Spirit Bomb or a perfect Super/Father-Son Kamehameha. But in this movie we are actually treated to an entirely new move that is only ever seen again in Dragon Ball GT a handful of times.
Dragon Fist is a simple but incredible technique and I really enjoyed that they gave a character with multiple arcs of source material and 12 previous movies an entirely new ultimate attack to close out the movies. In my mind it really provided a nice gift to long-time viewers, especially with the most powerful move in the series taking the form of a golden version of Shenron. With this, Hirudegarn is finally slain and Tapion is free of his curse.
After the battle, the Z-Fighters must say their goodbyes to Tapion, who will be taking one of Bulma’s spaceships to go back to his homeworld. Before he leaves, however, he calls Trunks over. As a long-time DBZ fan, there is little that can surprise me at this point. But when Tapion gives Trunks his sword and I realize that it is the signature weapon of his Future self, I was in awe that I didn’t realize it much earlier in the movie. It’s such a funny thing to establish that sort of continuity in a movie that is decidedly non-canon and chronologically last in order, but I was really impressed with the idea that this is how Future Trunks gets his sword since it is never specified how he obtained it in the original series when he is introduced in the Cell Saga.
And with that, Tapion takes off, and the last DBZ movie comes to a close. Once the credits roll, however, they start with a very familiar scene…
THE VERDICT: ☆☆☆☆☆☆★ 6/7
I have to say, I really enjoyed pretty much every aspect of this movie. As far as a movie to end the DBZ series on, this one checked every box and more, truly an excellent closer to a a franchise that generally only got better and better as it went with regards to the films.
The story was great, I really liked the way that Hirudegarn as a villain is sort of nebulously unstoppable and kind of breaks the rules within DBZ for bad guys. The ocarina is a check to his power but doesn’t become the disappear switch for him either. But truly where this one shines is using Bulma and (to a larger degree) Trunks as more than their usual stock in DBZ. Having Trunks be an emotional center for this movie really was unexpected for me, but seeing he and Tapion become friends was a genuinely pleasant surprise, and I really enjoyed the way that they managed to loop it all around to his future self.
With that being said, it almost makes me sad that the other DBZ movies never managed to do something like this. There was plenty of times where we could’ve had a side character take on a bigger role like this, but most of the time characters are simply relegated to their usual tropes and played straight. As good of an ending to the DBZ movies this was, it does make me think about lost potential in the other movies. Or even mourning not having anything further, since it seems like every movie learns from the last and moves in a (somewhat) upward trajectory. But despite feelings of maybe missed potential in the others, it doesn’t dull the shine of this one at all. It is really special in that way and I’m glad that it was done.
Overall just a really great movie, satisfies just about every itch I had and proves to me that this series was worth undergoing to get here. Maybe my only gripe is that I would’ve liked to see Piccolo, Hercule, or even the Good Buu at least once before things ended. But this is pretty small in comparison to how great Wrath of the Dragon was, so in summary I would say this is absolutely one of the best, if not number one overall.
I would also like to mention how beautiful this movie was. DBZ has never been ugly so to say, but towards the end of the movies they start to look a lot better. Likely a combination of better technology and overall higher budget, there are some really great shots in this movie that I wanted to document even if they’re not important to the plot.
I really like all of the movies that take place in civilization or large events, because even Toriyama’s background characters always look very good and expressive. For a shonen movie in 1995, I think this one is really nice to look at.
Now that we’ve finished the very last DBZ movie, some final thoughts on the movies as a whole…
When I started this series I had a few goals in mind. I mostly just wanted to see the only parts of the DBZ world that I’d missed when I was younger, and also to get some valuable practice writing. What seemed like a relatively simple task stretched out pretty far, and I took a few breaks over the course of the series. But at completion, I am very glad that I did it, and I think that it might’ve just gone uncompleted after a six month pause if I didn’t have a friend reminding me.
I really enjoyed most of the movies. There were a few that were forgettable but generally the quality was up to par with the series. Anime movies (especially those that are a part of a larger series) can vary a lot in quality because a lot of times in production the only thing that is important is pumping out another piece of media with a lucrative title attached to it. I think that all of the DBZ movies deserved being made even if only a few of them really manage to stand out among the larger DBZ universe.
There is a little bit of creative freedom one is afforded in a movie that a serialized moneymaker like Dragon Ball Z might not have been able to obtain in the original canon run. Toriyama, for better or for worse, has always been able to do his own thing with his creative process, but with the incredible success of DBZ as a series it is hard not to believe that somewhere there were powers fighting for some of the reins. The movies really feel like some of those stories that weren’t able to be fit into the original series. Even though they aren’t canon, the way they’re done makes it really easily believable that these events could’ve happened in the DBZ timeline alongside the events of the main story that they’re placed in. I really, really enjoyed the ideas that these movies were supplementary to the series rather than unique one-offs.
I think the highlights of this series for me were Super 13, Bojack, Fusion Reborn, and Wrath of the Dragon. These rivaled even some of the best moments in the original series for me, and I think they’re must watches for any fan of the series. Even the clunkier older ones are valuable for long-time fans, but most people would enjoy the scale of the later ones (aside from the Broly sequels…)
Overall, I think undergoing this really reignited my love for Dragon Ball Z. It was the first anime I ever watched as a kid. When I was 6 years old, me and my friends at church would try and practice going Super Saiyan in the bathroom between Sunday School and the main service. It is indescribable how much of a hold it had on the youth during the late 90s-early 2000’s. To be able to watch new material for the first time in over a decade was a treat in of itself, but to have it take place alongside the events of canon made even the original story seem beefier somehow, littered with fights that happened in the crevices of the arcs.
I will likely attempt another series at some point in the future, but for now I will continue to focus on my own writing after this incredibly long practice exercise. This was a lot of fun though, and I hope if you followed along that you might watch the movies for yourself! Thanks for reading. :)