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Thirty Years Later: Dragon Ball Z: Bojack Unbound Anime Feature Film

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The infamous millionaire X.S. Cash is funding the most amazing martial arts tournament the Universe has ever seen!

The quasi-alternate worlds and side stories of the Dragon Ball Z movies are pretty fun in general because it’s a chance to just enjoy things without taking it too seriously We saw one of those releases in 1993 with the debut of Bojack Unbound. For most of the home video releases in North America, that film was often paired with the Super Android 13 release since these kinds of films are just about 45 minutes in length. Part of the appeal was that you could pair two projects together, extend the life of the property, and try to introduce disparate properties to fans and draw them in. Originally, I had seen a lot of these early films before I saw any of the original series and before seeing more than a handful of episodes of the Dragon Ball Z series. The release of them on home video was kind of all over the map and it just made me disconnect from trying to associate them to the larger work. Which I think is still the best way to view them as just something of a fun escape without taking them too seriously.

This film saw Yoshihiro Ueda direct it and that comes amid working on the storyboard and episode direction for episodes of the original show and directing almost sixty episodes of the sequel series. They also directed a couple of other Dragon Ball movies, specials, and OVAs, making them quite familiar with the property and that means a lot of familiarity here. Ueda also directed over a hundred episodes of One Piece so they’ve definitely made an impact on an anime fan’s life in general. Takao Koyama wrote the screenplay for this and they too did a lot of work on the franchise over the years and wrote the bulk of the films and numerous other shows over the 80s and 90s with hundreds of scripts.

Bojack Unbound brings us back to the Tenkaichi Tournament which is actually amusing. It’s being set up by a man with a whole lot of money and he’s doing it to show his son that money can accomplish anything. Mainly the kid wants to see big badass fighters and aliens duking it out so it works out for everyone involved, though it’s not in the same league or feeling as the previous tournaments. Everyone is back into it though because a tournament is a tournament. And the tournament is a good bit of fun for the first half as the usual regulars show up and move through the preliminaries. The one figure missing from all of this is Goku as he’s dead and playing cards with Kaio in the afterlife. He’s still keeping tabs on the tournament as he watches his friends and his son make him proud as they battle.

When the tournament shifts to Battle Island II for the main fight, everything goes out the window as an ancient evil has shown up named Bojack. Bojack’s got his little entourage and the whole thing turns out to be Goku’s fault. When he threw Cell to King Kai’s planet some time back, that broke a seal that has kept Bojack under wraps for quite a long time. But now Bojack is free and he’s come to Earth in order to destroy everything there.

The first half of the feature is fun as it has everyone enjoying themselves in the tournament, but the second half drops the bouncy and upbeat dialogue and the joking aspects of it as it gets serious. The fights occur across the special tournament area where it’s all mock-ups of cities so it has a big feel to it, but it lacks something simply because you have Goku watching from the afterlife. This is a big moment for Gohan as he’s rising to the top and coming to grips with his place in the world since his father isn’t there, but it’s a tough baptism by fire for him and even harder for Goku to watch from beyond. The second half really lacks a strong narrative to it though as Bojack isn’t given much of a personality and he’s the essence of a cardboard cutout villain. The fun of the first half isn’t apparent in the second half at all.

For me, it’s hard to disassociate this film from the Super Android 13 project because I’ve always ended up watching them together and writing about them together. And even after all these years, through the nostalgia lens a bit as well, I keep finding that it’s not a bad work but it’s not a great work either. It’s just another piece of simple fun that delivers overall but could have been better and carried parts of the first half into the second. What really helped years ago, and does so still, is that the Dragon Balls themselves are never brought in to play here so there isn’t a quick fix in the offing to be had. That does give it all a little more impact since they’re not racing to find those again or can have characters killed off easily because we know the Dragon Balls are practically in hand. Unfortunately, in the end, a lot of these small films and specials have been kind of lost over the years because for some fans they simply “don’t count” or fit in easily with the show itself. I like smaller standalone projects like this from this era and the 80s because of how they just do whatever they want without overthinking it. It’s got a certain charm that still holds up for me but your mileage will definitely vary.