"Dragon Ball Z" is the cartoon equivalent of a gateway drug: One of the most popular franchises in animation history, the TV series and related films have introduced millions of children to the pleasures of anime adventures. The first "Dragon Ball" feature in 17 years, "Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods," scored a huge hit in Japan, selling more than 1 million tickets in six days.
The story by Akira Toriyama, the creator of the original manga, brings together all the familiar cast members but focuses on the redoubtable Goku (voiced by Sean Schemmel, re-creating his TV role), the martial artist of the Saiyan race from the planet Vegeta. When he awakens from a decades-long nap, Beerus, the feline God of Destruction (Jason Douglas), decides to investigate the prophecy of a "super-Saiyan god" whose fighting power rivals his own.
The search brings him to Earth and Goku, who draws on the powers of his friends and family to attain a god's strength. Although their fight will decide the fate of the Earth, Goku's unsatisfied: That staggering power was a gift, not the product of training and inner strength. Beerus recognizes a fellow warrior, and the battle ends with the planet intact and the combatants honoring each other's noble spirits.
Although there are a few flashy CG special effects, the animation is generally flat, limited and hand-drawn, like the TV show. "Battle of Gods" delivers not only the familiar look but also the slapstick comedy, character interaction and over-the-top martial arts fights that "Dragon Ball" fans want and expect.
"Dragon Ball Z: Battle of the Gods."
MPAA rating: None (cartoon violence).
Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes.
Playing: Limited release.