Original Airdate: March 12th, 1994 on Fuji TV
Dragon Ball Z, along with Sailor Moon, might be one of those shows that the average uninitiated Westerner calls to mind when the subject of anime is brought up. It also fuels a lot of prejudice about the overall low quality of anime. This is a shame, because there’s a good deal of excellent anime out there—but it would seem Dragon’s reputation is well deserved.
Like Lupin the Third or Gundam it’s also part of a massive, decade-spanning ultra-franchise. It’s the second of four series about the collection and curation of dragon balls, and under review tonight we have the 10th of 15 “films” centered around Dragon Ball Z alone. I put that in quotation marks because like the so-called “films” of Danny Phantom, Angelina Ballerina and Teen Titans, it’s simply an hour-long version of a cartoon that is normally half an hour long.
- The empowerment of children. This is a pretty common trait for kids’ entertainment. In the real world, kids are constantly at the mercy of adults and have little control of the major aspects of their lives. This is even more true today than when this episode aired thanks to modern trends of helicopter parenting and nosy neighbors calling the cops if they see a ten-year-old at the park on her own. In the world of Dragon, though, tiny children can fly and fight gigantic supervillains. For reasons too dumb to explain, our normal Dragon-tagonist Goku (Sean Schemmel) is dead at this point in the series and the main characters in this outing are his son Goten (Kara Edwards) and Goten’s pal Trunks (Takeshi Kusao.) They’re ultimately outclassed in the climactic brawl against demigod Broly (Vic Mignogna, Fullmetal Alchemist) but not before they single-handedly win a fight against a gigantic fucking dinosaur. This doesn’t hold true for every episode of Dragon, but “Second Coming” offers kids the pleasure of a) seeing themselves as the protagonists and b) seeing those protagonists kick ass and keep the big bad on his toes.
- Witless, childish banter. This is the downside of having kids as protagonists–at least when your show is badly written sludge. Accompanying the kids is the teenager Videl (Yuko Minaguchi) and the little kids constantly bicker with her. At one point Goten demands to eat some of the bait in the trap they’ve set for the dinosaur by screaming and crying like a shitty-diaper baby for what seems like an eternity (which, by the way, is what wakes Broly up in the first place, so thanks, Goten.) Later, he tells the dinosaur that it needs a manicure. By defeating the dinosaur they win a dragon ball that a local charlatan (Robert McCollum, Sengoku Basara: Samurai Kings) wears as a necklace; Trunks quips that if they had a second monster he could win the guy’s jacket, too. High-larious.
- Bathroom humor. Again, maybe this is supposed to seem charming because the protagonists are little kids, but it really ain’t. When Broly shows up, Trunks urges Goten to summon the aid of the dragon with their newly complete set of dragon balls—but first Goten has to take a leak. Later, Trunks manages to wriggle out of Broly’s clutches by covering him in some manner of liquid bodily waste, and based on the color it looks like it’s the less savory of the two options. And nothing can help me unsee Trunks taunting Broly with his bare ass.
- Endless, pointless battles. Look, I realize these are a central part of the Dragon brand. That doesn’t make them any more watchable. It’s all the more frustrating because at first it looks like this episode is actually going to be about something. You see, that charlatan I mentioned has convinced his village to sacrifice children to the gods in order to protect the villagers from the dinosaur. Videl challenges them on the ignorant barbarism of this practice and our heroes set off to prove the charlatan wrong. But they do this really quickly and it’s all over and done in the first 20 minutes, complete with a feast of glistening red dinosaur meat. The rest of the show is spent in an interminable fight with Broly. Instead of wanting to achieve power by preying on people’s fears and forming violent religious practices to bolster that power and create psychological barriers to rebellion, Broly’s just your garden variety evil asshole. The only thing worse than a show wasting your time with inane action sequences is the show teasing you with an actual story before burying you under inane action sequences.
- Videl/Yuko Minaguchi. Minaguchi’s voice acting is just awful. She struggles with line readings as simple as “No thanks! I can’t wait to see what you screw up next.” She gets the cadences wrong. She emphasizes the wrong words. She runs it all together into what sounds like one word. She can’t even make “My name is Videl” sound natural. The show’s writing doesn’t do Videl any favors, either. She’s the only female character here and she’s constantly shat on. Goten and Trunks treat her like a nagging mom. She’s got superpowers of her own, but apparently they’re not as strong as those of the kiddies, because Broly almost instantly throws her into the water and leaves her to drown, taking her out of the action for the entire second half of the show. At the end of the episode, Goku’s other son and Videl’s love interest Gohan (Kyle Hebert) shows up to help fight Broly. The comic denouement has Videl henpecking him and chasing him around for leaving her to die—which is an entirely legitimate grievance, but the show acts like she might as well have curlers and a rolling pin. Yuck.
Motivation: Survival. After Broly mistakes Goten for Goku, who had defeated him in a previous hour-length episode, it’s all that Goten can do to hold his own. Only the intervention of a dragon ex machina saves the day.
Final Episode Judgment: 1/10. This was real bad, folks. Hopefully your kids never find out about it, because I could feel my brain cells dying the entire time.
NEXT TIME: It’ll be a gear-grinding transition from this to Masterpiece Theatre as I review The Six Wives of Henry VIII.