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Dragonball Z - Tree of Might / Lord Slug Print E-mail
Thursday, 16 October 2008
ImageThe explosive success of the megahit Japanese animated series “Dragonball Z” inspired Toei to release theatrical films based on the series, and timed their release to coincide with Japanese school holidays.  Funimation has been rapidly releasing the theatrical features on Blu-ray in 2-film sets.  This release is of “Tree of Might” and “Lord Slug” which are the third and fourth films in the series.

“Tree of Might” (originally titled “Dragon Ball Z: Super Decisive Battle for Planet Earth”) tells of the potentially apocalyptic destruction of the earth when the villainois Pullece (Tulles in the dub) and his gang plant a single seed of the Shinseiju tree on Earth.  This tree, meant to supply food for the gods, infiltrates the roots systems of all plants and invades all water sources, which will drain the Earth of its life, eventually turning the planet into a desert.  Superpowered Goku, his little son Gohan, and his band of powerful friends join together to defeat Pullece and destroy the trees, a goal they are told is unachievable, as their mystical advisors claim that once the tree has taken root, nothing can stop it.

“Tree of Might” was the third theatrical feature derived from the “DragonBall Z” animated series, and offers no explanation of the characters or the situations to audiences not already steeped in the series’ complex mythos.  As a theatrical film, it’s purely a cash-in.  With a running time of only 61 minutes, it’s not of substantial length (or complex enough in its story) to warrant a big-screen release and the animation is crude and simplistic, with very little detail and a bright, but limited palette.  The story itself is a little more epic than a TV  episode, since the events affect the entire planet, but the rest of the world isn’t brought into the story, except for brief establishing shots to show that river beds are drying up and that a metropolitan city is in vine-ravaged ruins.  We’re never shown how this effects the rest of humanity, and the story solely focuses on our superpowered protagonists.  As with a formulaicTV series episode, there’s never any sense that our heroes will lose, leaving the villains and their earth-destroying plant as ineffective as any of the plans concocted by Batman’s bungling nemeses in the 60s TV series, despite the greater stakes.
As “Lord Slug” (originally "Dragon Ball Z: Son Goku the Super Saiyan") begins, scientists detect an unknown planet that’s on a collision course with the Earth, and at a velocity so great, it appears impossible to stop.  Goku and Krillin use their powers to drive the planet off-course and are able to avert disaster, but only just barely.  As the dust clears, the world discovers that a large alien spacecraft has landed in the out-of-control planet’s wake.  Soon, a large platoon of alien soldiers emerge, demanding allegiance to Lord Slug, who they announce will be taking control of the Earth.  The elderly (and green) Lord Slug uses his advanced technology to pilot planets around as spacecraft and he intends to do the same with the Earth.  Goku’s son Gohan and his wife attempt to stop them but are defeated by his henchmen, and as a result Slug learns about the mystical seven Dragonballs.  Using our heroes’ equipment to track, them all down, Slug gathers the Dragonballs together, and is able to have a wish granted from the dragon Shenron.  Slug asks for the return of his youth, so Shenron restores him to the peak of his powers, rendering him virtually indestructible to Goku’s superpowered allies.

“Lord Slug” is even slimmer than “Tree of Might,” running under 52 minutes.  The animation is a notch better than the previous film, with more detail visible in backgrounds and sequences featuring events which don’t feature characters.  Character animation is still heavily lined and simplistic but there’s a slight improvement with image movement and fluidty.  While the story is on a large-scale as in “Tree of Might” it at least includes scenes of Earth destruction that features average human characters reacting to events, which helps give it a greater sense of impact.  The film is almost nonstop combat and yelling after the intial setup, and the constant hyperbolic physical destruction and clobbering becomes a bit repetitive and tiring. 

Funimation’s Blu-ray release presents the film in fine form.  Colors are vivid and crisply delineated.  The painted backdrops evince a greater level of detail, but the majority of the animation is crude and simplistic, so there’s not much more that HD can for it, other than offer a more stable image and cleaner compression.  An insert breaks down the restoration that the film elements went through, especially dirt removal.  While the image source is predominantly clean, there are the occasional bits of cell dirt and hair visible.  Reel change markers are also visible every 15 minutes or so.   

The Japanese track is a Dolby Digital encode of a flat mono mix, with a very limited, TV-level sound design with little dynamic range.  It’s clean but unengaging.  The subtitles are a tad too small for easy readability.  The English TrueHD track is available in two variants: one with the original Japanese songs and music, and the second with new English music and songs.  The English music is a bit cheesy and dated, comprised of electric guitar riffs and rock-style songs, and while there’s less incidental music in the Japanese dub, the Japanese songs are quirkier and more fun.  The TrueHD tracks sound much more vibrant and expansive than the Japanese dialogue track.  Bass is used effectively and it’s a much more involving sounds effects mix.  Personally, I prefer the Japanese language track for creative reasons, but the increased vibrance of the English dub will be a much more satisfying experience to those who prefer to watch it in that tongue.

Other than a handful of video trailers/promos for other Funimation releases, there’s no other bonus material.  Both films were expanded and shown as three-part TV series episodes, and that footage would have been a welcome bonus.  Overall, both films are certainly far from ideal as jumping-on points for newbies, but their presentation here is of very high quality.

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