There comes a point in every long-running franchise’s lifetime where it comes time to either wrap it up or reboot it back to a default, classic state. For He-Man it was the sci-fi flavored The New Adventures, intended as a shot in the arm for the aging line, that marked the time to call it quits for a generation. For Ninja Turtles, Saban’s live action TV series The Next Mutation and the darker, seedier Volume 3 comics from Image were a last hurrah for two separate markets until the 21st century. Transformers threw a variety of figures and storytelling against the wall in Europe, Japan, and the U.S. following 1990’s non-transforming Action Masters until Beast Wars began a short-lived renaissance that crashed again with the bizarre techno-organic stylings of Beast Machines. In all three cases, when the early 2000s rolled around these franchises shed their ’90s evolutions and tried to revert to their 1980s glories, with varying degrees of success.
Those weren’t the only franchises to take what many consider to be a wrong turn in the 1990s. In 1996, with Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Ball manga having concluded the year before, Toei Animation found themselves with a still-popular TV series, Dragon Ball Z, that had now run out of comics to adapt. With a spot of design assistance from the original author, Toei’s staff whipped up a sequel TV series called Dragon Ball GT, a further year-or-so’s worth of adventures for spiky-haired martial arts hero Goku and his friends. The new show started by magically reverting him back to a rambunctious child and sending him on a journey to the stars with his similarly spirited granddaughter and his best friends’ irresponsible son. A story that had turned into a series of fights against stronger and stronger foes was dialed back to its original quest-plus-jokes format — until, in a repeat of the original series’s cycle, a master plot concerning the lone survivors of the race that Goku’s people, the Saiyans, wiped out to lay claim to the planet we know as their home kicks in and the escalating series of fights format kicks in anew.
Dragon Ball GT ended in 1997, and for the longest time that was the end of the Dragon Ball story. But beginning with the 2013 film Battle of Gods, series creator Akira Toriyama and creators at Toei Animation began charting a new future for the franchise, one that seems increasingly unlikely to include the events of GT — while they’ve been busy stuffing events into a chronological gap near the end of the original comics, the scope of those adventures and the powers the cast have accumulated makes GT‘s planet-hopping, battles with the dead, and trouble with the magic Dragon Balls turning corrupt seem small-time by comparison.
And yet … here we are in 2020 and we continue to get action figures based on the apex powered-up form of Dragon Ball GT‘s monkey-tailed heroes. While pricy import action figures of Goku and rival Vegeta in their loud-colored furry forms, as part of Bandai’s S.H. Figuarts series, have been teased for years, the highly poseable 6″ figures we actually have received are part of Bandai U.S.’s twentyish dollar Dragon Stars series, positioned to compete with Hasbro’s similarly-priced boxed 6″ mass retail collector figure lines (Marvel Legends, Star Wars Black Series, etc.).
Of course, the reason we’re still getting Dragon Ball GT figures in 2020 is a mix of nostalgia and Bandai’s canny continuous reuse of the GT-specific characters and designs in games such as the ongoing Dragon Ball Heroes arcade trading card game and the Dragon Ball Xenoverse home console games, even as the show itself sits in the same box that Schrodinger’s cat may or may not be living in as far as official story continuity goes.
So, remember all that stuff I was saying about these iconic bits of storytelling veering wildly off-model up top? Fact of the matter is, I love it when this happens. (Seriously, the aforementioned New Adventures of He-Man fascinates the hell out of me, and I bought a lot of weird-ass Beast Machines toys at the turn of the century.) While I certainly like Saiyan Prince Vegeta from early Dragon Ball Z: short, cocky, and clad in a blue bodysuit and yellow and white flare-shouldered armor (I own the three-times-as-expensive import figure of him with that classic look) I really dig him here, with wilder & spikier hair, candy red ape fur on his body, and light lavender gloves and boots with — whaaaaa? — bright yellow accents on the boots. It’s a bizarre over-the-top design with an equally odd color scheme, and it makes for a fun action figure.
The earliest Dragon Stars figures featured ropey sculpts with off-puttingly off-model faces, but the figures for the last year or so have looked good enough to stand alongside the S.H. Figuarts figures in a display; their joints may be a bit more conspicuous, but the detailing and likenesses anymore are every bit as sharp. Some characters in that pricier import line have gone way out-of-print and command prices of two to three hundred dollars on the secondary market; I’m happy to see Bandai U.S. offering twenty-five dollar versions of, say, Android 17 & 18 that don’t look out-of-place next to my Figuarts Super Saiyan Son Gohan.
The primary factor where the Dragon Stars figures are a bit of a letdown by comparison is in terms of range of movement; while they feature elbows and knees with two points of articulation each, Vegeta’s knees don’t quite move 90 degrees back, and his elbows only reach a smidge beyond that point. It wouldn’t harm the sculpt too much to add the additional cut-out to increase the range, so I do wonder why they’re so limited. The other major limitation is his neck joint, but that’s mostly due to his utterly ridiculous hair; his Super Saiyan 4 hairdo spills down his back and flanks his neck, making it impossible for him to look up despite the ball joint in his neck, and tricky to get him to look from side to side. That said, that’s a limitation of the design, and not really the figure’s fault …
The only accessories Vegeta comes with are a pair of open hands to swap in place of his fists, useful for poses where he’s charging up an energy attack or gesturing dramatically. Dragon Stars figures used to also include parts to assemble another figure when you collected two three-figure waves, but they’ve not done that in a few waves. For your twenty or twenty-five bucks, this doesn’t look like as good a value proposition as a Hasbro Marvel Legends or Power Rangers Lightning Collection figure these days — the former guarantees a Build-A-Figure piece 90 percent of the time, while the latter will have a few more swappable hand options and some weapons — but then again, neither of those lines are offering the most goofy-awesome version of an internationally popular anime character, are they? Still, a couple more hand options, or maybe a swap-out differently-posed tail would have been nice.
Minor gripes aside, I’m super-glad Bandai is offering these wondrously daft designs from the mid-’90s in this line, and I’m happy to snap ’em all up — just as I’ll be more than happy to grab them all again if Bandai Japan finally decides to offer them in the Figuarts line. These are sturdy, solid figures that are fun to pose, even if some joints don’t go as far as I’d like, and the wacky color schemes of the era — a major departure for the franchise up to that point — make them stand out on a shelf. I grabbed Vegeta at GameStop a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve seen the line at Walgreens and at the collector-oriented figure corners, by the electronics, in both the Joplin, MO Target and Webb City, MO Walmart, by the Funko Pops.