The third Dragonball movie is the last made during the lifespan of the original series (the extent of what I’ve seen so far), though there is one more to watch yet set during the run of the original series produced much later that had a proper nationwide theatrical release rather than screening at the Toei Manga Matsuri. Compared with the last two similar films, it is a whole lot more enjoyable, for while it has a similar unimaginative original plot, it is not a riff on a set-up from the original series but rather a whole new story with familiar characters in unfamiliar roles, which makes for a much more entertaining set-up and some strange scenes that bring together unlikely characters in a very entertaining way.
There are many familiar elements here – Goku and Krillin are training with Muten Roshi and enter a big martial arts tournament, while characters familiar from the Red Ribbon Army are after Dragonballs. Poor little Oopa loses his father to Tao Pai Pai, giving the heroes a noble motive to bring the Dragonballs together, and Tien Shin Han must question his loyalties. But nothing here is quite the same, and there is no Red Ribbon Army in sight.
Instead, Chaozu is now a little emperor in the country of Mifan. It seems his country is initially protected by this alternate universe’s Red Ribbon Army, with General Blue making an appearance early on, but the inner circle around Chaozu is the Crane Hermit and associates – Tien Shin Han, who the Emperor considers his friend, and the formidable Tao Pai Pai. After using and dispatching the unfortunate Pilaf Gang, these three locate six of the seven Dragonballs, but unfortunately for them, it is Oopa’s father Bora who has found the last of them. Travelling to Mifan to attempt to use it as leverage to stop the destruction of their land, they are almost captured, protected only by Muten Roshi and his disciples, who are in town for a martial arts tournament which in one of the film’s two big coincidences is the next day. As contestants are protected by law as guests of the emperor, Bora is safe as long as he says he is a competitor, and he enters intending to win – though gives the Dragonball to Goku for safe-keeping.
In the tournament, after poor Yamucha is knocked out when Muten Roshi uses some dirty tactics from the sidelines, Bora meets his fate at Tao’s hands and Goku, trying to defend him, is knocked away into the distance by a dodonpa. In the second great coincidence, he ends up landing in Karin’s tower, which in this universe apparently doesn’t have whatever enchantment is needed to stop people reaching it by means other than climbing. At this point, things get interesting as a number of things that you can’t see in the real Dragonball unfold: Chaozu is victim of a coup, and his heartbreak seeing his only friend deceive and overthrow him is adorable. Pu-erh and Oolong transform into Chaozu and the Crane Hermit to sneak into the palace with Bulma and Lunch, stealing the dragonballs. And who should help Goku in his fight against Tao but Arale from Dr. Slump? And though she is hit by a dodonpa, she is just as unphased as she was by anything General Blue could throw at her in the main series, and still thinking she’s playing, she helps Goku take care of Tao without all the powering-up he needed to do in the original. And, y’know, throws a huge boulder at him for a bit of fun.
Goku is then able to go to the rescue at the palace, where Sgt. Metallic holding Oopa shows the fun of characters on opposite ends of the teeny and large scales of Toriyama’s world without being particularly notable for their size being juxtaposed. By that I mean that Oopa is not remarked upon as being a tiny little spirit and Metallic is the size of a very huge man but not a giant monster like Goku under the full moon, which somehow brings them into the same general sphere of existence yet still has such variance in scale that Oopa is about the size of Metallic’s hand. It all adds to the fun of the early Dragonball, I think, that casual approach to very silly size differences.
Everything works out, of course, and Chaozu is left delighted by being rescued. Again, this seems overall rather inconsequential, but then, it only takes 45 minutes of the viewer’s time and has enough feel-good moments to be well worth it for any fan. This is what I want from a shounen movie adaptation – a chance to see characters doing things I can’t anywhere else. And if that means an alternate universe, so be it – after all, that’s tended to be how One Piece does its best movie adaptations.