The Title of Dragon Ball Z Movie 1
What is the title of the first theatrical Dragon Ball Z film? If you live anywhere outside of Japan, you may know it by a name like “Dead Zone” or “Die Todezone Des Garlic Jr.” or “La Vendetta Divina” or “Jakten på Garlic”.
But what about “Return My Gohan!”…? Isn’t that the film’s title in Japan?
The Original Release
All home video releases of the first Dragon Ball Z film — both contemporary with its original release and later with subsequent re-releases — call it just that: “Dragon Ball Z”.
That’s perhaps a little confusing, because there is the television series that is itself called “Dragon Ball Z”, and there are even video games that have exclusively been titled just “Dragon Ball Z”.
… but them’s the breaks, and that’s all there is to it! Later lists of films, including those packaged with physical releases like the “Dragon Box: The Movies” DVD box set in 2005 and the remastered Blu-ray releases in 2018, all refer to the film as simply “Dragon Ball Z”.
A possible title or sub-title of “Return My Gohan!!” (オラの悟飯をかえせッ!!; Ora no Gohan o Kaese!!) was never a question until a few years later after its release starting in the mid-1990s. So where did “Return My Gohan!” come from, and why specifically around that timeframe…?
Daizenshuu 6: Movies & TV Specials
Dragon Ball Daizenshuu 6: Movies & TV Specials was released in late-1995, the sixth in line of seven (later expanded to ten) encyclopedia/coffee-table-style books that documented and explored the rich history of the franchise. This particular volume covers all of the theatrical films and major television specials up to the point of its release… and, curiously, the text “Return My Gohan!!” appears alongside the section title page for the first Dragon Ball Z film, in the same place that other titles appear for subsequent films:
Casual readers wouldn’t give this a second-thought: it’s a big block of text that looks like a title, and it’s in the exact same place as the actual titles of the other films. Clearly that is this film’s title!
“Return My Gohan!!” as a “title” is not limited to just the section title page, however: it is used in place of an actual title within things like character biographies and descriptions, even in the following Daizenshuu, where it uses “Return My Gohan!!” as the film’s title the same way it uses “Extreme Battle!! The Three Great Super Saiyans” as the title for Dragon Ball Z movie 7.
Daizenshuu 7, “Human Racial Dictionary” (God):
Anime: The movie “Return My Gohan!” depicts his past where he contended with Garlic for the throne of God (Daizenshuu 6, p. 44). In the Garlic Jr. arc he went into the Divine Sage Realm to spread the Super God Water and remove the effects of the Aqua Mist, but things got to be a mess when he ended up fighting the gods of past generations, who blocked his way for some reason. (Daizenshuu 5, p. 42)
So the question still remains: where did “Return My Gohan!!” come from as a possible title or sub-title? If it were a Daizenshuu thing specifically, where did Shueisha and Caramel Mama — the research/production house behind this series of books — possibly take that text from?
“Back” to the Home Video Release
The very top of the Dragon Ball Z movie 1 VHS back cover happens to sport the text “Return My Gohan!!” (オラの悟飯をかえせッ!!; Ora no Gohan o Kaese!!). It is not on the front cover, and it is not on the spine, and so here it feels much more like a bit of splash text to grab your attention — it does, after all, come from a pretty key (and humorous!) moment in the film.
When placed in comparison with other films, one can start to understand why this particular text seems to stick out as a sort of “title”: it’s in the exact same place as the titles on other film releases.
A Direct Answer From the Source!
The 2006 “Dragon Box” release of the theatrical films included its own “Dragonbook” packed with information and resources, including a “Theatrical Story Q&A” with scenario writer Takao Koyama, where he is directly asked about the title of the first Dragon Ball Z film!
Why is there no sub-title for the fourth theatrical feature, Dragon Ball Z?
There’s no reason in particular. It’s simply because it was the first theatrical work as Dragon Ball Z, and it wasn’t decided at the time of production whether there would be sequels. So, with regards to this work, we (the production staff) didn’t even consider giving it a sub-title. None of us would have thought that we’d end up making a whole 13 after that. (laughs)
So What Do We Call It?
At this point, you can refer to Dragon Ball Z movie 1 by any combination of “Return My Gohan!!” or anything to do with “Garlic” or the “Dead Zone” or even just the number “1”, and so long as you get “DBZ” in there (so as not to confuse the Stephen King fans!), pretty much anyone should know what you’re talking about.
That all said, the film’s proper title is indeed just a straight-up, simple, no-nonsense “Dragon Ball Z”…!