Knowing how popular Dragon Ball was, Akira Toriyama decided that there could be no better way to continue where things left off than by giving it a quick 5 year break or so (via story time, not real time) and then picking up with the reintroduction of Goku… and his four year old son Gohan. Our young protagonist has aged very little from last we saw him as we find that of all the people, Bulma and Krillin are the only ones who’ve aged any.
Goku, riding his trademark Flying Nimbus takes his son to his old master's house for a relaxing day of catching up with friends and enjoying snacks. It's just another day of going to hang out and enjoy friends' company, right? Haha, no. Not this time.
The peace doesn’t last long as a mysterious stranger clad in armour and a tail (akin to Goku’s when he was a child) claims to be his brother who’s come from outer space, devastated to see that all of its inhabitants are still alive. Raditz then goes and abducts Goku’s son and threatens him by saying if he doesn’t get his dead body pile, then he would never see his son again.
Fearing for Gohan’s survival, he teams up with the Demon King Piccolo and, at the cost of his own life, defeats him. This in turn kicks off the start for the next few sagas as it flows through a domino effect mechanic: Raditz is killed, Nappa and Vegeta are called to planet Earth. The two Saiyans are defeated, Frieza gets wind of the Dragon Balls and heads to Namek and the Z-Fighters head there to get their wishes granted and to stop him.
In fact, everything through the Cell Saga follows through as a reaction to something that happened prior and it feels COMFORTABLE at that. Nearing the end of the Cell Saga, Goku even mentions that his death may very well be necessary since he feels like trouble is just attracted to him and he wants his son and the others to live a comfortable, peaceful life; even at the cost of his own. With that in mind, he asks everyone to live their lives without him… furthering the notion that he is a bad father with good intentions.
To be fair, DBZ could have ended at that point with everything having concluded, and to many Americans, the sentiments were exactly that. Games only went through the end of the Cell Saga and when aired on Cartoon Network’s Toonami (back when we HAD a Toonami), episodes were halted at the conclusion of aforementioned Saga. It took a couple years before the show started back up again in the United States, picking up where it left off a couple years before at the beginning of the Otherworld-Buu Sagas.
Seven years pass, Gohan’s finally made it into school, he now has a little brother named Goten (who looks like the spitting image of Goku, only with a whinier voice), Chi-Chi’s calmed her ass down and Vegeta, now without a rival continues to better himself, but also dedicates his time to doing what Goku seemingly couldn’t get a grasp of; being a supportive (albeit rough around the edges) father. Hearing that the World Martial Arts Tournament is holding their competition once again, the Z fighters participate (after hearing word from Gohan, now grown up, from his father Goku), given the large sum of prize money awarded to the victors. Sure enough, Goku uses his one free day of coming back from the Otherworld to visit his family and friends and to engage in sporting fun with those fighting in the tournament.
Goku’s assumption that trouble seems to follow him rings true yet again as Gohan goes up to fight in his match against Kibito… only to get stabbed in the kidney and have his energy stolen. The remainder of the Sagas follow after Buu’s revival, earth is destroyed, Vegeta teams up with Goku to kill Buu, middle middle middle, and then the series ends.
The final episode however shows that if you can somehow save literally every single galaxy from imminent destruction, then you can have your strongest opponent revived in the form of a young Indian child. That’s it. That’s how it ends. To make matters worse, at the end of it all, Goku flies off with aforementioned child in order to train him. Actually being a father and grandfather? Nawwww. Leave everything behind and be a teacher to some kid you met not too long ago? Sure!
While contentwise, Dragon Ball Z can be nonetheless entertaining, if not memetic as well, it also goes to show that the character that we watched as a kid… continues to act like a kid. Only to further the line, “you can be young once, but immature forever” is only heightened as Goku pretty much spends all of his time either training or slacking off in some way. Gohan (whom the story was initially designed to be focused around) grows up to be the polar opposite of his father. Feared nemeses Vegeta and Piccolo become warm hearted defenders of Earth (albeit Vegeta rough around the edges and still displaying coarser character due to pride). Basically, it all ends with everyone but Goku wanting to live a simple, domesticated life on Earth.
Plotwise, it has an overall smooth flowing storyline that rarely pulls the “I have a hidden move I just remembered” trope other than in the case of Gotenks whose character is made primarily through cockiness and parodies. The storylines that make up DBZ piece together with very few seams; as the arc on Earth is a tidy course of events that takes the course of roughly two years, the arc on Namek follows near immediately afterwards and covers the next year’s timespan, followed with the wait for Goku’s return. It’s reassumed at Goku’s arrival three years afterwards as everything that happens through the end of the Cell arc takes place (including the time spent in the Hyperbolic Time Chamber) in roughly a year and a half. It’s capped off with the seven year gap until Goku’s return, the events of the Buu saga and then an additional seven years until we FINALLY reach the end.
In terms of villains, they seemingly decrease in their levels of threatening appearance as Frieza comes off as a complete, irredeemable monster. Cell is a collection of all that has been shown in the series and comes off threatening and yet dashingly refined. Buu on the other hand warps from a childlike design to a complete, sadistic beast… and yet even after his change, he seems much more two dimensional than those who came before him. It's almost sad to see the declination of threat in each of the villains; but then again, there are the NUMEROUS movies to provide breaks in a drawn out series and to continue captivating the viewer's interests.
Characterwise, Goku, while great as a person, is a horrible father and literally seems to draw fights and destruction to him. While that’s fantastic for a shonen series, if you were to think practically, you’d think that all he does is cause trouble for others; however it is applaudable that he faces everything with a smile instead of huddling in a corner like some emo kid. Vegeta (the initial big bad) ends up becoming one of the best characters due to character development, actually becomes a good father to his son Trunks and overall has a character that starts from being centered around pride and vanity to a well rounded and dependable figure. As for the others: Gohan remains a pansy who will only fight when he has to, the Earthlings get pushed into the background as the story progresses, Piccolo becomes a teacher/sage after his merging with kinder souls and nearly every other character gets whitewashed as the story loses focus around them.
If it isn't made evident enough over the course of the series, a good deal of the plot is focused around redemption, with former big bads hopefully converting to the side of good. Hell, Goku even asks Kid Buu, the most powerful being in the universe, to try and repent for his atrocities so he can be reborn as a good person. And it happens.
All in all, it’s not bad, but it’s not terrific either. It's not the best show to have ever graced the screen as there are better titles out there, but it's impossible to deny that even after its conception nearly three decades ago and its end just half that (in Japan) that it has set the norm for shounen titles and is a powerhouse of a title. Even though I’m a HUGE fan of the series and will continue purchasing games until they cease all production, it doesn’t mean that this series is without its faults. Faults aside, it still a series that's worth its salt and if you need something to kill an hour or so each day, then by all means, Dragon Ball Z is a recommended pick.
Reviewed by Kris "Kaz" Sturm
Reviewer Rating: 4/5