Dragon Ball follows the journey of Goku (or Son Goku, his full name but more commonly he is known as just Goku) from his early days as a naïve boy to a fully fledged adult, who by the the end of the anime series defeats his archrival Piccolo Junior and marries a tough and fierce woman called Chi-Chi (her name literally means ‘dad’ in Japanese). Dragon Ball was light, comedic and mostly inspired by the Chinese story, Journey to the West. However, for most Western fans of the series, their first foray with the Dragon Ball franchise started with Dragon Ball Z which introduced several interesting elements like the Saiyan race, power levels and the evil galactic emperor Frieza. Without a doubt, Dragon Ball Z helped dramatically increase the Dragon Ball series’ fanbase to extraordinary proportions in the late 90s and early 2000s, some might say the series’ power level exceeded over 9000!
Dragon Ball Z is a cult classic and should be watched by any fan of shonen anime (shonen just means boy in Japanese). So if you are a fan of One Piece, My Hero Academia, Boruto, etc, you should watch the thing that started it all. While I think the original incarnation is worth a watch, if you hate filler episodes, then stick to the Dragon Ball Z Kai set which cuts the number of episodes in half and has some nice updated visuals and fixes to the original scenes.
The origins: Toriyama Akira, the man behind the series of Dragon Ball
Like most manga and anime, there is usually a talented mangaka behind it all. Both Dragon Ball and its sequel Dragon Ball Z were written and drawn by its mangaka, creator, Toriyama Akira. Toriyama wrote an incredible action packed manga, which was equally known for his humor, e.g. naming Goku’s wife Chi-Chi and giving the the very first wish in the Dragon Ball series to a humanoid pig called Oolong (who makes a silly wish for a pair of panties).
Thanks to its popularity, Dragon Ball has spawned so much media, including:
- two additional anime that aren’t direct adaptions of Toriyama’s work: Dragon Ball GT and Dragon Ball Super
- several video games like the Budokai series, Raging Blast, FighterZ and the most recent Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot
There is a lot of Dragon Ball Z out there and heaps of fan-made creations that are beyond incredible.
Dragon Ball Z, the series to watch and the reason for the huge fanbase
Dragon Ball Z starts with the arrival of a Saiyan named Raditz. He comes to Earth to recruit his younger brother Kakarot (the birth name for Son Goku) to bring him back into the fold to help subjugate and eliminate lifeforms on various planets. Dismayed to find a kind hearted warrior in Goku instead of a savage Saiyan warrior, Raditz kidnaps Goku’s infant son Gohan and issues a ransom that Kakarot kill as many people as he can to prove his loyalty to him.
This seemingly innocuous encounter with Raditz starts a much larger chain of events that culminate with the arrival of more Saiyans, Nappa and Vegeta. Each successive event brings bigger and bigger stakes for Goku and his friends. Interestingly, each successive saga brings new allies to the found, some of whom he befriends like the fan favorite Vegeta. Also, from the Dragon Ball days, he befriended former enemies in Piccolo, Tenshinhan and Yamcha.
Dragon Ball Z introduces a whole host of super villians, iconic villians to the series, including the diabolical emperor Frieza, the cunning artificial android Cell and the mindless menace Kid Buu. By the end of the series, you will feel like Goku and his friends have come a long way since the start of the series. From struggling to take on Raditz, one of Dragon Ball Z’s weakest foes, to defeating one of the strongest beings in the universe, Kid Buu. Each saga shows the heroes getting stronger and stronger. Unfortunately the only explanation to all this is that their ‘power levels’ increase with the passage of time and the convenient Saiyan ability to power up after a near death experience to compensate for the damage they incur.
Despite some valid flaws, what Dragon Ball Z does right so many things. The story of growth for certain characters in the show is excellent. Gohan’s evolution from scared infant to the strongest person on Earth is a captivating story. The change that Vegeta goes through from prideful Saiyan to one who develops a fondness for his family and companions. Even Krillin’s changes from determined fighter to a more humble father figure. Toriyama does a great job building a excellent cast of characters. Though, he would admit that he is prone to forget things, e.g. the existence of Launch and about Super Saiyan 2 when Gotenks went straight to Super Saiyan 3.
The main show is worth a watch.
How about the other content? Dragon Ball Z movies, how do they fit into the storyline?
There are heaps of Dragon Ball Z films, starting with Dead Zone with Garlic Junior. Most of these early films, pre-2010, are standalone films that have little to do with the canon of Dragon Ball Z. As much as fans loved Broly in the eighth film: Broly: The Legendary Super Saiyan, he was non-canon and it is as if he never existed in the Dragon Ball Z universe (though Dragon Ball Super: Broly changes all that).
Most of the films are either a hit and miss, some are worth seeing like The Return of Cooler, Super Android 13!, Super 17, Broly: The Legendary Super Saiyan and Fusion Reborn (these are all their English titles), but I wouldn’t recommend watching them all the films. Though each film have an incredible budget meaning that the animation and art are incredible and detailed, pretty much all of them don’t even come close to 60 mins in length nor have intriguing storyboards. Most of the time, you are just watching the heroes beat up a powerful enemy and get the chance to see the heroes outside their usual setting.
The only two Dragon Ball Z films that are canon (remember that the Broly film is the first Dragon Ball Super film) are Battle of Gods and Resurrection F. Both films are fantastic and will pump you up. They are films aimed at the fans and are feature length films with a proper storyboard and all.
Dragon Ball Super, a worthy successor with a haphazard start
The last two films for Dragon Ball Z, Battle of Gods and Resurrection F, were reimagined and adapted in the television series Dragon Ball Super. They make up the first 26 episodes of the series with minor changes. Early in its run, Dragon Ball Super had glaring issues from poor animation and art to haphazard storytelling and writing. It was almost like a return to Dragon Ball GT, but fortunately there was some course correction during the Universe 9 and Goku Black saga and some bandages applied that helped Dragon Ball Super end on a relative high at episode 131.
I plan to dissect Dragon Ball Super in another post, but I can safely say that fans have accepted Dragon Ball Super as a worthy successor (though not quite equal) to Dragon Ball Z.
Do we need to talk about Dragon Ball GT?
Dragon Ball GT was created by Toei Animation to continue the hype of Dragon Ball Z immediately after its epic conclusion with the Kid Buu saga. Unfortunately, Dragon Ball GT made some poor decisions early in its set-up of story and characters. To name a few issues:
- the decision in the early episodes to revert to an adventure in the same vain as the original Dragon Ball with adult Goku in his kid body, Pan and Trunks searching for the Black Star Dragon Balls. Most of the episodes felt pointless in advancing or understanding the overall story until the party is introduced to Dr Myuu and the artificial Tuffle known as Baby.
- the stilted animation and overuse of the same animation over and over again. It’s like they ran out of money. (Some of the fights in Dragon Ball GT just pale in comparison to the animation in Dragon Ball Z, think Majin Vegeta versus Goku)
- poor build up of enemies and ineffective at building reasons why viewers should care about what happens if the main villian succeeds. Baby, Super 17 and Omega Shenron, while interesting, were all poorly built up villians that Goku (and only Goku) needed to beat up.
Although Dragon Ball GT had some good ideas, its creators and most of the fanbase have relegated it to being a non-canon property of the franchise. Though Dragon Ball GT’s ideas, like the Super Saiyan 4 transformation which was well received and was actually designed by Toriyama has made several appearances in videos games, including in the arcade game Dragon Ball Super Heroes. I don’t think Dragon Ball GT is treasured by the fanbase. To me, it is my least favorite and I always dread re-watching it.
Is there anything that make Dragon Ball Z fans cringe?
Please don’t talk about the live action film directed by James Wong, Dragonball Evolution. It was a disappointment to fans, because it barely paid any lip service to the source material. (The people behind Dragonball Evolution probably never watched Dragon Ball Z.) It turned Goku into a nervous teenager in a high school setting and made a mockery of both Master Roshi and Piccolo’s characters.
The only good thing to say about Dragonball Evolution is that after the Dragon Ball series long hiatus in Japan from the mid 1990s to 2013 (with Battle of Gods), Toriyama was incensed by the film and he wanted to do justice to the series. Battle of Gods was his screenplay and boy did the film receive acclaim within the fanbase.
Dragon Ball spawned so many other anime
If you pay attention to a lot of mangaka (manga artists), many of them point to Dragon Ball as inspiring their manga’s creation from One Piece, Naruto, Bleach, My Hero Academia, etc. If Dragon Ball isn’t your cup of tea, that’s fine, the first is not always the best. I honestly think that both One Piece and even Naruto do a better job of scaling the villian’s powers.
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