Toriyama Akira’s Dragonball franchise is one I’ve looked at before. I’ve also looked at two films associated with it: Fusion Reborn & Battle of Gods. This time, we’re going to kick off film festival week with a look at one of the Dragonball era films, Legend of Shenron. It originally aired in late 1986. Yes, the same year that Dragonball itself started airing. So, let’s see how it compares to the others we’ve looked at.
We open with soldiers destroying buildings and fields while terrorising the citizens in order to mine rich stones. Clearly, the most creative name for valuable stones ever. We then cut to a pair of the soldiers meeting with the king. He stays in the shadows, but still manages to look grotesque. He orders them to find the rest of the dragon balls. We then cut to the beginning of Dragonball. Yeah, the whole scene where Goku goes out to catch a fish and then bumps into Bulma, mistaking her vehicle for a monster. There is, however, a difference. In this one, his dragon ball is stolen by the king’s stooges, forcing him to go with Bulma and give chase.
Therein lies the biggest issue with this film. About half the running time is devoted to reiterating different scenes from the series proper with only minor differences. Except that the series proper took its time with them and gave you time to acclimate to the major characters they had before introducing you to more whereas this film throws one encounter after another at you. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that the idea was to bring in new viewers to the anime. The problem is they don’t give you enough about these characters to make them worth your time. If, on the other hand, this is for fans of the series then it shouldn’t be repeating all this information. Sure, there are differences but it’s also a lot of wasted time that could be better devoted to fleshing out the film’s narrative. Which gets pretty rushed when you factor out the repetitive scenes. The humour in this is also pretty mediocre. You get some funny scenes, but you also get comedic moments that represent the worst of Dragonball’s jokes. IE: Muten Roshi and Oolong are perverts and a urine joke.
Honestly, the characters are recognisable. You aren’t going to look at Goku, Roshi, Yamch, Bulma or Oolong and think that they’re out of character. That being said, the film doesn’t do a good job of conveying the charm that the cast had, overall, in the series proper. Most of these characters get a quick introduction and hen don’t do all that much. There’s almost no reason for Yamcha & Pu’ar to be in this at all. It’s very much focused on Goku & Bulma. The main antagonists are pretty dull. They’re basically equivalent, in terms of characterisation, to the villains who show up for one episode of the show and get beaten with ease.
The artwork is pretty much on par with the artwork in the series proper. The backgrounds can be sparse but the character designs are nicely done and distinctive. The action scenes are well done. Actually, the best action sequence in the film might be an aerial dogfight with actual planes. Which is odd for something Dragonball related. The climactic sequence, in contrast, is kind of weak.
The vocal cast is just as strong as they were in the series proper. Tsuru Hiromi, Nozawa Masako and Furuya Toru all deliver fine performances. Koyama Mami is also in this, although she’s playing the villainous pasta rather than Lunch. Suzuki Tomoko takes a break from voicing random young girls in supporting roles to voice Pansy, a young girl who needs help. The music is also the same type you get in the main series. It’s pretty good.
There really isn’t any.
So, that’s Legend of Shenron, the first film in the Dragonball franchise. It’s not very good. It suffers a lot from its need to reintroduce characters, presumably for new audiences, at the expense of the film’s narrative. If you’re a big Dragonball fan, you might enjoy it regardless but, for myself, I give it a 4/10. It’s weak, but not bad. Tomorrow I’ll continue film festival week with a look at Futari wa PreCure: Max Heart film 1.