After getting into Dragonball Fighter Z, my little brother decided to buy all of Dragonball Z Kai. Unfortunately for him, he doesn’t have a blu-ray player at the moment – my parents are borrowing it – so I wound up borrowing the discs from him and found myself way into Dragonball Z. I have finished all 167 episodes of Kai and I have opinions.
It’s Still Pretty Good, You Guys
Dragonball Z is a whole hell of a lot of fun to watch! Even after all these years, watching the larger-than-life story of Goku and Co. hasn’t become any less enjoyable. It’s a ridiculous story, packed with characters that can blow up mountains at a whim and sense “power levels” from the other side of the universe. If that sounds cool to you, then Dragonball Z will probably be your jam. If the idea of two beings of immeasurable power fighting to the death underneath a darkening sky among geysers of lava sounds like a bunch of cheesy, overdramatic bullshit... well, you’re not wrong¸ and you also probably won’t really like DBZ.
But it’s not just the crazy fights that make Dragonball Z so much fun. DBZ wouldn’t be anything without equally larger-than-life characters and the inherent comedy they bring about when on-screen. There’s a character named “Mr. Satan” who has become a world-famous martial artist in a world that loves fighting. Normally, the name “Mr. Satan” would be understandably offensive to some people, until you see crowds chanting his name as he steps into public view to give a rousing speech – the sheer audacity and absurdity of that makes it something special. The show in general brushes up against, for lack of a better term, “normal life” just often enough to make the contrast between Krillin cutting off space lizard Hitler’s tail and Krillin hanging around watching TV at Master Roshi’s funny and interesting. That sort of absurdity contrasted with something familiar is what makes this show for me, although the moments where the show goes full 100% absurd are also pure golden.
It’s worth noting that in the original version of this show, there’s an episode where Goku and Piccolo try to get driver’s licenses at Chi-Chi’s behest. Kai is the best version of this show as far as I’m concerned, but once you’ve finished the Frieza saga, it is well-worth taking the time to go track down that episode.
Can I Talk About Something First?
I do want to talk about each individual arc a bit, but I don’t want this blog to end on a completely sour note so I need to interject this bit somewhere.
Dragonball Z has two problems that really don’t fly in 2018. You’ve probably already guessed what I’m talking about just by reading that sentence. Please don’t make the comments section a mess.
I need to bring up Mr. Popo’s appearance and Master Roshi’s perviness.
It doesn’t really matter what Mr. Popo was meant to be. What matters is what we’ve got. What we’ve got is a drawing that looks like a racist caricature. What we’ve got is a racist caricature stuck in eternal servitude, forever fated to cater to the whims of whatever being currently serves as Earth’s “guardian”. What we’ve got is a fat black character with giant lips who appears behind a window and scares the ever-living shit out of Bulma. And there’s really no way around it by the time of DBZ – the Lookout serves as a sort of home-base for the heroes and Mr Popo is known and loved by all the characters. He doesn’t actually appear all that much in Kai, but he is a key part of a handful of plot points and thus needs to exist. If you go back in and re-color him, as 4Kids attempted to do, it just looks absolutely terrible.
That said, outside of his appearance Mr. Popo isn’t actually all that bad. He is presented as pretty damn strong, able to hold two Super Saiyan kids back at once. He also shows signs of intelligence that most other characters don’t – he’s got a long and excellent memory and he brings up a few solutions to a few different problems for the protagonists. This doesn’t make his appearance OK, but I wasn’t personally bothered by Mr. Popo all that much.
The other thing I want to talk about doesn’t get brought up quite so much, but Master Roshi’s actions towards women didn’t sit well with me. I wish they had been removed from Kai entirely – they should have been, and it seems the Japanese agree with me.
And unlike Mr. Popo, every last one of these scenes could have been removed with zero impact to the story, or the animation, or anything.
The most audacious scene in the entire show comes in when a plane crashes and Master Roshi falls into Android 18’s lap, with 18’s outstretched arm catching her five or six year old daughter. Master Roshi pushes his head up, apologizes, and then proceeds to motorboat Android 18 and fondles her boob with the child watching. 18 throws him into the side of the plane. Five minutes later, he touches a sixteen year old girl’s breast.
This is not funny. It is not OK. It’s played for laughs in the show, sure, but this is unacceptable. I’m not particularly uptight on this sort of thing, generally. In Fullmetal Alchemist, Edward Elric falls in such a way that his hand lays on the breast of a woman he’s fighting. This is fine, because a) it was an accident, b) Ed is clearly embarassed by it, and c) the woman he’s fighting thinks it’s funny right before kicking him off of her. Here, we’ve got a pervy old man – who is otherwise presented as wise and old – purposefully doing unwelcome things to a woman. If you want to portray him as a wise old man who is also a bit of a perv, there are plenty of ways to do that without scenes like the above. You’ve already established that he’s a perv by noting that he hangs around a small house, on the beach, reading porn magazines and watching TV with a turtle and an anthropomorphic pig. It’s the most embarrassing part of a show where the final boss is an evil sentient piece of Dubble-Bubble.
It must be stressed that, over 167 episodes, you can count on one hand how often Master Roshi does this to someone. This doesn’t make it any more acceptable by stretch of the imagination, but if this is something that bothers you and you still want to watch DBZ, you won’t have to worry about it happening often, and almost all of it happens in the Buu saga.
Now that this is out of the way – and please, guys, don’t let the comments section become a cesspit of stupid comments about this subject and only this subject – let’s move on to some other stuff.
The Cell Saga Is Not Number One
Or two, or three, for that matter. I’d place it dead last.
That isn’t to say that the Cell Saga doesn’t have its moments. I enjoyed it, just as much as I enjoyed every other saga. Vegeta’s pretty great here. He’s a sniveling, snarky bastard throughout, not even caring about his son, the future version of his son, or the woman he had a son with. He’s there to, in short, fuck somebody up, and fortunately there are a few characters that Vegeta’s desire to fight can be directed towards. He’s still a bad guy here. Sure, this is where he starts moving towards being a good guy, but he’s nowhere near there yet. And his pride gets Vegeta in trouble several times here – Android 18 breaks his arms when he tries and fails to fight her, and Cell knocks him completely out after he let Cell transform.
And you can’t really talk about cool moments in the Cell saga without talking about Trunks’s introduction. I remember seeing the last of the fight with Frieza and the first of the Cell Saga as a kid and everything that happens when he shows up is awesome. He just shows up and mops the floor with Frieza and King Cold in the most badass way possible. Future Trunks doesn’t really get to do a whole lot after that, other than be completely frustrated at all of the other Saiyans in the show. He, along with everyone else, gets totally outclassed way too quickly, as happens far too often in Dragonball Z.
But large parts of this saga were either baffling or boring. I don’t have a problem with Vegeta letting Cell power up, that’s fine, that’s a good fit for where his character was at. But I found myself wondering why everyone can’t just stop and think about the Androids for a second. Sure, 17 and 18 won in a fight against everybody at once, but the Androids didn’t attack first. Trunks attacked first. Fine, that doesn’t prove they aren’t bad guys, just that they were ignoring you until you tried to fight them. But then the Androids let everyone live, they even ensure that one guy can still walk so he can get senzu beans to all the others. Wait, what? Unrepentantly evil psychopaths generally do not ensure that their enemies are going to be OK! Future Trunks, what’s going on, why are the Androids in your time murderous dicks and the Androids in our time nothing more than super-powered joy-riding car-stealing shoplifting teenagers? They don’t kill or even harm anybody besides Dr. Gero and the heroes that attacked them. Kami even points this out and Piccolo doesn’t want to hear any of it, he just gets a power boost and gets into a fight with them. Again. Even after fighting Cell first. You’d think that an apology and a discussion about Cell over a few beers would go a long way towards keeping Cell from his full power, but nobody thinks of that.
Also, Vegeta probably wouldn’t have any of that.
Much later in the same saga, we have Goku. Goku’s got a plan, right? Everyone seems to think he does and he kind of acts like he does, but he doesn’t tell anybody. His grand plan is to... send his nine year old son, who is apparently for some reason THE STRONGEST FIGHTER IN THE UNIVERSE, to fight the greatest threat in the entire universe.
Er... OK? Maybe tell your kid that this is the big plan before enacting it on him? Maybe that would have made the whole thing easier on him, especially when he’s getting stomped on by Cell and Piccolo rightly points out that he’s just a scared kid, despite all of the stuff he went through on Namek. And right before this, Goku even threw Cell a senzu bean because “he wants to see Gohan pushed to his limit”.
I thought the whole Gohan thing was pretty great as a kid, too, and a defining moment of the whole series for me back then. But these days, I didn’t think so highly of it. Even if I accept the above as a plot point, I’d be disappointed in the fact that little actually seems to happen in this fight. Gohan gets tossed around, gets angry, becomes a Super Saiyan 2, and tosses Cell around. Cell pukes up Android 18 and blows himself up at some point. The whole thing ends in a great big Kamehameha beam struggle and then done. Wrap it up and go home, let’s wish back everyone that Cell killed. It just all feels rather bland and boring, and Gohan’s “ooh, I’m so angry and can barely contain it, you better watch out!” thing doesn’t come across as badass anymore, it just comes across as an attitude that fits squarely into a bad nu-metal song.
Again, I overall enjoyed the Cell saga. Mr. Satan comes into play here and he’s pretty great most of the time. Vegeta’s character arc works really well here. Piccolo finally becomes a good guy without a doubt. But overall? I just wasn’t as entertained here.
The Majin Buu Saga Is At Once The Best And Worst That Dragonball Z Has To Offer
This might be the most difficult one to write about because I have such mixed feelings on it. There are parts of the Buu saga that I think are some of the best parts of Dragonball Z. The stretch of episodes from Gohan starting high school to Majin Buu getting freed is great. It’s probably one of my favorite stretches of Dragonball Z, so let’s talk about that for a bit, OK?
So seven years have passed since Gohan killed Cell. Gohan’s now a sixteen year old and his mother thinks he’ll be better off if he actually participates in society a little before going out into the real world. Which is understandable – after all, his only companions are his mother and his seven year old little brother, Goten, who remarkably acts like a seven year old instead of like an adult – I kept forgetting that Gohan’s supposed to be five years old on Namek. Anyway, this whole arc starts off with Gohan flying to school in Satan City on the Nimbus – he’s not flying himself because that might freak people out. Let that sit for a minute and then move on.
Gohan’s adventures in high school don’t last long. We get a setup where he and a super-strong crime fighting girl named Videl, Satan’s daughter, have both taken a great-power-comes-great-responsibility attitude towards crime in Satan City and started fighting it. Only, Videl doesn’t know who Gohan is because he’s in his Great Saiyaman costume – a costume which everyone except Gohan finds lame as hell. And it’s great! Videl eventually figures out his identity and blackmails Gohan into teaching her how to fly and into participating in the upcoming World Martial Arts Tournament. But Videl has no idea what she’s in for and she winds up witnessing Goten, a seven year old, blow up a boulder with nothing but an outstretched palm and a thought. Things only get weirder for her as she learns more and more about Gohan and his friends, and she’s in constant bewilderment. This is what happens when you throw a relatively normal person into the cast of Dragonball Z and it’s all great stuff! We get precious little of it before things go off the rails, however.
And go off the rails things do. In the World Martial Arts Tournament, a guy named Spopovich gets put into the ring with Videl and she gets savagely beaten in one of the most one-sided fights of the entire show. Spopovich won’t ring her out, either, he keeps her in the ring and standing so that he can continue wailing on her. By the end, she’s covered in bruises, blood, and broken bones, and it’s actually kind of unsettling. The only other time this show gets this unsettling is when Frieza does largely the same thing to Vegeta. The beginning of this fight marks the end of any hope I had for exploring Videl’s character some more, because after this she gets relegated to the same place that everyone else is – helpless side character. Shame, I really liked Videl. A few episodes after this, Android 18 gets her last time to shine as well, in a fight between her and a disguised Goten and Trunks, and later in a fight between her and Mr. Satan. And that’s where the brief glimmer of hope that female characters would be relevant went – down the drain, with Android 18 extorting money out of Mr. Satan and Videl in a hospital bed (she gets better soon, thanks senzu beans!).
Dragonball Z’s action ramps up again at a great pace. Vegeta, Goku, Gohan, and a new guy named Supreme Kai purposefully walk into a trap set up by the evil space wizard Babidi. Things spiral out of control and Babidi winds up bringing out Vegeta’s evil side again, pushing Goku and Vegeta into a fight that releases enough energy to awaken Majin Buu. I think this stretch of episodes is also some pretty great Dragonball – Dabura is a threatening enough villain, Babidi is an entertaining cackling madman, and the fights are better-animated than ever before. But there’s not a ton to really say about them. It’s well-paced shonen, with good fights, good villains, good character dynamics, and some nice plot twists to keep your attention.
And then Majin Buu himself is born. From here until Kid Buu shows up, you could convince me that Akira Toriyama was trying to just troll all of his fans, and when viewed from that angle, large parts of this are brilliant. Majin Buu starts off as a stupid being who can barely talk or think for himself, who is only interested in candy and can even turn people and things – including entire cities – into candy. It’s like Toriyama wanted this to be the most goofy and the most serious Dragonball arc, all at once. No episode passes without a gag or joke of some sort, and no episode passes without something awful happening to someone. It alternates between being really annoying and actually pretty funny, but by the time Fat Buu was taken out of the picture, I was more than ready to move on. Much like this blog post, the Majin Buu saga just feels like it takes forever to get through.
When Super Buu shows up, everything gets worse. We’re still getting a few jokes every episode, but more and more of them come from Gotenks, the fusion of Goten and Trunks. If Toriyama wasn’t trolling before, he has to be now, right? That’s the only way that Gotenks’s character is justifiable. I don’t like Gotenks, and a whole hell of a lot of time is spent on him while Gohan’s off getting a power boost that takes an insanely long time for no reason other than yet another over-long gag. Did I laugh sometimes at Gotenks? Yeah. But far more often, I found myself looking at my phone or ignoring the show because I was just ready for this bit to be over and for Vegetto to show up. When that eventually happens, I started paying attention again, but the fight between Vegetto and Super Buu also kinda isn’t great. The animation is fine, but not anywhere near what we saw between Goku and Vegeta earlier, and the fight lasts forever. And it gets dragged out even more than it should be.
Kid Buu shows up and saves all of that. Kid Buu saved the end of this show for me – the show finds a focus here that it didn’t have before and excises most of the gag stuff and the arrogance without getting rid of it completely. Here is where Goku and Vegeta finally start taking this fight seriously and finally start trying to figure out how to get rid of Buu. Plans get made, intense fights are had, entire planets are turned into rubble, the animation quality gets a bump again, and it all looks and feels great and intense. It doesn’t last very long, only a few episodes, but I’d say it lasted precisely as long as it needed to.
So what we’ve got are some of my favorite Dragonball Z episodes sandwiching the worst stretch of Dragonball Z out there, and in that “bad stretch” are a lot of actually-funny details and jokes surrounded by really annoying details and jokes. Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned the numerous plot inconsistencies in this arc, or how bad the Sumitomo score can be here, but this bit has gone on long enough and I want to talk about my favorite overall story arc.
The Frieza Saga Is Still One Hell Of A Thing
I’m going to just lump the Saiyan Saga and the Frieza Saga into one thing, because they kind of are (and I did the same things for the Android-Cell Sagas and the World Tournament-Buu Sagas).
This is my favorite stuff out of the whole show. There were no moments throughout where I was not entertained or engaged in some way, apart from Bulma and Chi-Chi being irritating characters that don’t actually appear all that often. This is Dragonball at its best, escalating from “this guy can blow up a mountain, he’s pretty strong” to “everyone can blow up mountains with ease, now we’re fighting a guy that can blow up a planet”. It’s chock full of humor and jokes and silliness and ridiculousness at just the right moments, and seriousness and emotion and anger and pride at just their right moments.
The Saiyan Saga is neither particularly long nor terribly complicated, even by Dragonball standards, but it does do a great job of setting up everything else in the series. If you’ve been listening to All Systems Goku, you’ll know that Kai pretty much skips introducing or explaining characters like Yamcha, Tien, Chiaotzu, Puar, Oolong, and Master Roshi, which is kind of a shame but they honestly play such little parts past the Saiyan saga that it doesn’t matter all that much. We’re given enough to know that these guys were once Goku’s rivals and are now his friends, and then we see them get wiped out with ease, establishing that things are going to get way crazier than they’ve ever been. And that promise is delivered, with the fight between Vegeta and Goku being one of the craziest up to that point in Dragonball.
So then everyone shows up on Namek and we see people that even Vegeta fears. Frieza’s right and left hand men, Zarbon and Dodoria, are about equal to Vegeta and Frieza himself vastly outclasses everyone combined. Later, we get the Ginyu Force, and each of those guys are hammy enough to carry an entire 80’s cartoon on their own shoulders. And the only people representing the good guys are Gohan and Krillin. And Bulma, I guess, but she’s thankfully just hiding out somewhere, rarely appearing to complain about something. Vegeta has to figure out how to gather all of the dragonballs without alerting Frieza to his presence so he can get his wish for immortality, but he thinks he has all the time in the world. Krillin and Gohan have to dodge Frieza and Vegeta and they know that the dragonballs will stop working soon so they don’t actually have that much time. This makes for a great mixture where at least one character knows something that at least one other doesn’t, and where at least two things are happening at any given time. If somebody is starting to do something boring – like, say, just traveling, we can always cut to someone else doing something else. And it all works for making some fantastic tension. It’s not just awesome visuals, here, it’s really good storytelling, where everything balances on an extremely tight rope and one wrong move brings everything crashing down. And that does happen. Spectacularly. As soon as everything starts falling apart, the Ginyu Force arrives, forcing Vegeta to admit that he will need Krillin and Gohan’s help to even stand a chance of defeating them, without knowing that Goku will be there soon.
Much like most of the fights in Dragonball Z, there’s not tons to talk about once Goku shows up. There’s fighting, and it’s all good stuff. However, by the time Goku shows up, you’re so invested in what’s going on that it makes the outcome and plot developments that much more interesting. They even find ways to make sure that the fighting isn’t just ye olde Dragonball punches and kicks and energy blasts, too, and when it is just that, there’s still something else going on somewhere to keep the audience invested in the plot.
All of this culminates in the fight against Frieza, which is pretty much the most iconic thing in Dragonball Z. Some people might complain that this fight lasts too long, and they’re not totally wrong. A few episode’s worth of stuff could have been chopped out, sure, and I wouldn’t have complained too much. Still, I have no complaints as it is. The Frieza fight slowly but surely escalates to a point where the planet is about to blow up, there are geysers of lava all over the place, the sky has darkened, and it feels like the end of everything. If I didn’t know there were more to the show, I’d assume they couldn’t go any crazier than this (Kid Buu does, but that’s much later in the show).
I can’t give this part of the show enough praise. Thinking back to how much I enjoyed the first fifty or so episodes is what pulled me through some of the rougher patches later on. Does the show get this fun again? Sure! I’ve outlined above that I think this show goes to some great places even after this. But it’s never this consistently great again.
Wow, I Wrote A Lot More Than I Thought I Would
If you’ve read this far, thank you! Very much! I’ve spent the past month and some change thinking about this show when I wasn’t watching it, writing bits and pieces of this whole post down in different places, and just letting Dragonball Z churn around in my head whenever I could. I loved watching this show again, and I had to get something out. Turns out a lot to say. I think this might be the longest thing I have written out since college, actually!
I still don’t really know how to end all of this, so instead of continuing to ramble, I’ll cap this off with a spoiler-block’d bit on where you can watch Dragonball Z, because it’s actually kind of confusing.
The way I watched it, and the way I recommend watching it, is getting Seasons 1-4 of DBZ Kai and DBZ Kai: The Final Chapters Part 1-3 on DVD or Blu-Ray, total 167 episodes. If you didn’t know, the Kai version of the show cuts out all of the filler and the English version has a new and vastly superior dub. This is expensive and is a hell of a dive if you’ve never seen DBZ and don’t know if you like it, so I can understand if you don’t want to go this way.
The much cheaper method is to go to Funimation’s website and watch the original version there, complete with all of the filler, totaling 291 episodes. The English dub here isn’t complete garbage, but it’s definitely not as good as the Kai version. As a plus, it uses the original soundtrack, so you get Cha-La Head Cha-La as your opening! You can watch it ad-supported for free up through episode 10, but then you’ll have to pay for one of their subscriptions, which are around ten US bucks a month. I’m not sure of the exact price.
I haven’t seen any of the movies but I’m pretty sure most of them are non-canon. If you’re up for it, watch The History of Trunks after that character gets his introduction. You won’t be lost if you don’t watch it, but it does fill out some details about that character and it’s worthwhile if you just want to see more Future Trunks. Otherwise, I’d suggest not watching the movies until after watching the show.
There are other ways to watch this show. You could buy the orange box sets of the original version, for instance. You might come across arguments on the internet about the merits of the Ocean dub and the Faulconer soundtrack and so on and so forth. If you’re new to DBZ, just stick with one of the two things I’ve listed above.