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  • Fans of the 1986 Dragon Ball anime forget that the flaws they often attack in Dragon Ball Z (using the titular Dragon Balls as a Reset Button to undo the villains' murderous rampage, lots of filler and padding to the fights and stories to keep from catching up to the manga, storylines taking way too long to resolve themselves, etc.) were all present, to one degree or another, from the start. They just hadn't yet been done to death.
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  • One criticism fans of the original series level at Z/the Z era manga is that the series abandoned its original premise of being an adventure through a fantasy world where anything could seemingly happen. Instead Z became a sci-fi fighting series focused on long protracted fights with villains and largely linear engagements fighting their way up the Sorting Algorithm of Evil. However you could argue that Dragon Ball "abandoned its premise" (and started focusing more on fights), as soon as its second arc. The tournament saga didn't have the heroes explore new locations and all of the antagonists are now linked together by the tournament, unlike the previous random enemies. And a lot more emphasis was placed on the fights. While the follow up arc kind of attempts to return to the "find the dragon balls, explore the world idea," all of the villains in the arc work for the Red Ribbon army, somewhat limiting the scope of what can happen throughout the arc. The next two sagas are almost straight up Z material focused on tournaments and bringing down a single super powered antagonist and their henchman. However not only was it fresh at the time, but for viewers of the anime who were treated to plenty of one shot filler episodes and mini arcs the series did explore a world where anything could seemingly happen.
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  • The cruel treatment of Yamcha is seen as one of the biggest gripes fans have with franchise, Z and beyond. Thing is, however, he was hardly a serious threat when he started out as an antagonist (beating Goku only because he was half-passed-out from hunger, and the subsequent rematch leading to Yamcha being trounced), and he went down to several humiliating defeats throughout the original Dragon Ball. However, the original Dragon Ball was quite heavy on comedic elements as a whole, making his defeats not sting as much since everyone was subject to slapstick, and he was still a main character and contributor to the events with some cool scenes (such as his match againt Tien, where despite losing, he did so in a way that showed him as a fairly capable fighter, considering even Goku had troubles against Tien) . Meanwhile, in the Z era, Yamcha's still portrayed as a weaker fighter who isn't given much respect by his allies or the narrative—but the more serious storytelling of Z meant that the outcome of this was less likely to be "Yamcha is defeated in a silly pratfall" and more likely to be "Yamcha is brutally impaled and nearly bleeds to death," causing his treatment to come across as more cruel than funny. This also coincided with Bulma breaking up with him, supposedly due to offscreen infidelity (meaning that he Took a Level in Jerkass and even the other characters could freely disrespect him), and him being largely sidelined as a character, meaning that now, showing up to get his ass kicked was all Yamcha could really do.
  • As pointed out by Team Four Star, the Saiyan Saga of Dragon Ball Z, despite setting the tone for the remainder of the series, also introduced many staples the franchise would be criticized for: Power Levels inflating to illogical extremes (this is the first arc where the Big Bad can outright destroy the planet, and even his Elite Mook starts the arc nearly four times stronger than the strongest heroes), Beam-O-Wars as a symbol of extremely over-the-top and drawn-out fights, and everybody getting killed while waiting for Goku and his new power-up to save the day. This was all excusable in that it was new, but it got old as each new saga came out.
    • Related to this, Dragon Ball became far more about fighting threats through direct combat, resulting in characters whose abilities aren't related to martial arts or a Ki Blast getting increasingly sidelined. While the Saiyan Saga essentially set this tone, some argue it went back to the original Dragon Ball wherein Bulma, Oolong, and Puar became increasingly less able to contribute to any problems the cast would face, and unfortunately also less relevant. (Also mocked by Team Four Star when Bulma asks "Remember when we used to do stuff?" to a room filled with such characters) Later on, the sidelining expanded to other characters whose skillsets did include martial expertise such as Yajirobe, Yamcha, Tien, Chiaotzu, Krillin, and 18, as every problem the cast would face would essentially become "Sit back and let the Saiyans handle it."
  • Dragon Ball Super has been criticized a fair bit in the fandom for its tendency to introduce inexplicably overpowered characters, give characters inexplicably giant power boosts, or make rather dubious judgments in terms of Power Levels. This was more or less true of the original, too; it's just that by the time Super came out, the fandom had managed to Fan Wank out ways for the the bizarre treatment of power levels to make sense, and Super just made it even more obvious that, no, power levels in the franchise really were completely arbitrary nonsense. note 
    • Compounding the problem further was just how stupidly high the powerscale in Super had become by the time of Beerus' introduction and Goku getting a new power-up just to fight at the same level as him, making it bizarre that the characters were still managing to encounter foes able to battle literal universe-smashing gods.

      You can see inexplicably powerful characters coming out of the woodwork as early as Dragon Ball's third arc, the Red Ribbon Army arc. The titular army has several members that outclass most of the World Martial Arts Tournament contestants. They're apparently The Dreaded and have been for some time, and they're now looking for the Dragon Balls, but they didn't show up, nor were they mentioned, during the previous two arcs, and it's never explained where they were during the last hunt for them. It's also never explained how General Blue has Psychic Powers, or how Mercenary Tao can be so much tougher than anyone. However, the original series firmly took place in a giant world where anything could happen, and the fact the series explicitly focused on Goku worked in its favor. It made sense that Goku wouldn't know about things like the Red Ribbon Army. But by the time Z started, the world didn't seem so big anymore; they'd already beaten the toughest people in it. When Z was over, they'd beaten the strongest guys in the universe (hell, Frieza was supposed to be the strongest guy in the universe, and he dies about halfway through). The franchise since has been in a bit of a constant scramble to justify how any villain is supposed to challenge the current cast. This isn't helped by the fact that it has developed a fondness for writing itself into a corner on that issue: Super introduced an entire multiverse, and then in a single arc, showed off the strongest characters of almost every universe, all of whom were defeated over the course of the arc.

      Plague of Gripes traces the problems with Power Levels all the way back to the Mercenary Tao arc of the original Dragon Ball. Prior to that time, Goku generally defeated people who could match him in a fight by learning new techniques, finding weaknesses in their fighting style, or getting help - but in the Tao arc, when Goku faces Tao again after going through Training from Hell, he doesn't demonstrate any new techniques or noticeably change up his fighting style; he just does everything he did before, looking exactly the same as before, but now it's arbitrarily enough to win because it's "stronger" now. It was a formula that worked out alright in that arc, partly because it was fresh and satisfying, but also because the power scale was low enough that physical improvements actually mattered and hadn't become pushed into the ridiculous heights that would be seen later. But over the course of the franchise, the problem of Power Levels being used to arbitrarily raise the stakes or resolve the conflict became overused to the point of comedy, and unlike the Tao arc, they would often be obtained through plot devices such as the zenkai boost or Super Saiyan rather than actual effort. In addition, the scale and feats of these Power Levels became indistinguishable from each other aside from getting slightly different results, leading to the situation where fighters are intended to be trillions of times stronger, but seem to be on the same scale as King Piccolo most of the time and are still affected by things like weighted clothing or having rocks and boulders thrown at them.
  • One of the biggest complaints about later arcs, particularly the films, Dragon Ball GT, and Super, is how much they focus on Goku and make him too overpowered. This was, if anything, more obvious as far back as the original Dragon Ball, where Goku was a Comically Invincible Hero for the first few arcs, and by far the strongest of the protagonists at every point (bar maybe Roshi, but not for long). This worked better then because the series was still an action-comedy, meaning they could still contribute, and Goku himself went through a fair bit of Character Development as he grew up: the story actively followed him throughout his adventures. The Saiyan, Namek and Android Sagas, widely regarded as the most popular parts of the series, had Goku largely Out of Focus and most of the story was told with the other characters, who quickly grew into their own. By the Buu Saga, Goku's arc was over, and the supporting cast had more than proven they could carry the story without him - but if anything, he only became more central from that point on. He, alongside Vegeta for the most part, would steal the spotlight from other characters despite having too much power and nowhere to go as a character from the Buu saga on. After that's all said and done, most fans resigned themselves to Goku showing up to flatten the villain after they're done with killing all the more interesting people.
    • Given the influence that Dragon Ball had, some even view this as a Genre Original Sin in which only The Hero and maybe The Lancer were able to defeat or even stand up to any powerful opponents, even when an ensemble cast that was shown to be capable was also present.
  • A common gripe about the Buu Saga and Super was the complete devaluing of the Super Saiyan transformation, turning it from a destined unique affair only obtained after the peak of the race goes through emotional hell, that even Goku feared would push him beyond the pale, into a generic powerup that seemingly every Saiyan has at least one form of. In point of fact, this started all the way back at the very second Super Saiyan in the series - Trunks, who, in the manga, learned the transformation entirely offscreen. Similarly, Vegeta and Gohan just come back from offscreen Training from Hell having already mastered the form. Indeed, every Super Saiyan bar Goku learned it offscreen in the manga. And the idea that being a Super Saiyan makes the user more bloodthirsty didn't even last the length of the fight it was first used, with Goku sparing Frieza twice in that same fight (with a brief revival for Gohan and Cell). It wasn't as recognized then because of two factors: first, the anime added Filler or flashback episodes that showed those first transformations, and generally at least tried to give them some emotional weight (Trunks in particular), and second, all three characters were already great warriors (and Gohan and Vegeta were well-established characters, while Trunks knowing it was basically a plot twist), which made them learning the form a comparatively easy pill to swallow. When the Buu Saga introduced Goten and Kid Trunks, literal children who had never fought seriously but still turned Super Saiyan note , and Super introduced the Universe 6 crew (who, though noted to be skilled, had nowhere near as much material establishing them as such), who basically figure it out minutes after showing up and seconds after realizing it exists (though, oddly, not at any point in their supposedly extensive fighting careers), then it became impossible to ignore that, in fact, the Super Saiyan transformation actually is that easy.
  • A common complaint in regards to later appearances of Bardock tend to lament the ludicrous increases of power and importance he's received, such as attaining Super Saiyan and killing Frieza's ancestor in Dragon Ball – Episode of Bardock and being abducted by Towa and achieving Super Saiyan 3 in Dragon Ball Xenoverse 2, seeing it as diminishing Bardock's original character as a nobody whose efforts were Doomed by Canon. But really, the process started in the original special, where Bardock is given a rather high power level of 10,000 (making him stronger than elites like Nappa and on par with King Vegeta) and, in one scene, fights a large number of grunts solo and comes out on top long enough to confront Frieza personally. Later on, the manga added on the idea that Frieza does, in fact, remember Bardock, albeit only as a Saiyan who confronted him in space. What made it much more acceptable there is that Bardock was still shown as a mere Elite Mook (being easily curbstomped by Dodoria and pathetically outclassed by Frieza), his efforts are ultimately pointless, and his Nominal Hero characterization remained intact. Later versions tended to combine much bigger power boosts with much bigger victories, along with sanding off Bardock's more unsavory characteristics, making him much more generic and undoing a lot of the original tragedy.
  • One of the most common critiques of the Buu Saga is that, despite the buildup given to their new power boosts, both Gotenks and Gohan end up being kind of irrelevant in the defeat of Buu; they inflict no permanent damage and their only impact is causing his transformation into new forms—something he constantly did anyway. But you could say much the same thing about powerups in earlier arcs, such as Piccolo fusing with Nail (and later Kami) or Vegeta's improvement of Super Saiyan—both of which only led to the villain advancing in power. The difference was that in those prior cases, you never really got the impression that Piccolo or Vegeta would succeed. On the other hand, Goten, Trunks, and Gohan were given far more Character Focus in the process of obtaining those abilities, to the point that you could be forgiven for thinking of them as the protagonists, with entire mini-arcs being dedicated to them developing techniques. And while Goku's return was still very much in the cards in those earlier arcs, he was dead for much of the Buu Saga, even explicitly passing the torch right before Goten and Trunks got to work. It gave some readers a lot of anticipation for Gotenks and Ultimate Gohan, as Goku had already played his trump card. Instead, Goku is merely given a last-second plot device which could have easily defeated Buu (Potara earrings), but even discards that to ultimately kill him with a very old ability that had failed to kill two Big Bads in the past: the Spirit Bomb.
  • Complaints about the Ultimate Gohan powerup (aside from its ineffectual nature) tend to center on the fact that Gohan... didn't really work for it. There was no long training arc, no history of battle, no genius breakthrough in technique, no grand sacrifice; instead, the Elder Kai appeared with almost no foreshadowing and proceeded to do a silly dance that turned Gohan from a rusty washout to arguably the strongest fighter in existence. But this was, in many respects, a repeat of a plot point from the Namek Saga, where Gohan had his power unlocked by Guru and got a zenkai boost, and saw a similarly excessive spike: he went from weaker than an Elite Mook like Nappa to being able to give the third form of the World's Strongest Man a bloody nose. The difference was more or less the way it was treated by the plot; the first potential-unlock served only to keep Gohan out of Can't Catch Up territory, and for most of the arc, he was treated as similar in power to Krillin, his brief battle with Frieza looking more like a freak outlier brought on by Unstoppable Rage. On the other hand, the Elder Kai's powerup was treated as a clinching moment for the whole saga, and pushed Gohan up above Vegeta and Goku, which meant that it felt like it deserved some kind of weight, as opposed to being basically an accident. note 
  • In general, Gohan's Buu Saga-and-onward writing is fairly infamous in the fandom for how Akira Toriyama seemed to have no real idea of what to do with the guy, leading to him falling out of relevance almost completely. But really, go back to the Cell Saga, Gohan's inarguable high point as a character, and you find that Gohan (barring Future Gohan, anyway, who is a very different character) plays almost no role in the arc until his bout with Cell. He doesn't have a real fight with any of the Androids, he doesn't make any big plans or new techniques, and he doesn't even meet Cell until the Cell Games themselves. Gohan being the one to kill Cell was, essentially, a plot twist, and throughout the arc up to that point, he had almost no meaningful agency, being practically browbeaten into the fight itself. However, fans forgave Gohan's poor utilization because the payoff—Gohan's transformation to Super Saiyan 2 and the resulting beatdown, beam struggle, and passing of the torch—was such an iconic moment. Later arcs, though, featured Gohan being similarly Out of Focus and free of agency, but lacked the big defining payoff moment. It didn't help that the end of the Cell Saga uplifted Gohan in the eyes of the fandom from one of the crowd to a possible protagonist, which made it all the more evident when he started stumbling back to the background.
  • Akira Toriyama has mentioned multiple times in interviews that he preferred defying reader expectations and writing as he went to keep the story unpredictable. This worked early on, when the story was still largely a humorous action-comedy manga, but fatigue after 13 consecutive years of writing and drawing and a gradual slide into seriousness through Serial Escalation led to several of the problems that fans would gripe about for decades. For the sake of brevity, the two most obvious examples that point this out are the long-awaited rematch of Goku and Vegeta, and the incredible potential of Gohan. Both of these plot points were set up very early, foreshadowed, and given tons of build-up but then ultimately amounted to nothing. The Goku/Vegeta fight lasted only a few panels, had no conclusion, and was rendered moot by the later reveal that Goku was holding back the whole time. The anime adaptation attempted to fix some of this by making the fight last longer, and Super has had multiple battles where the two spar for fun. Meanwhile, Gohan's potential was simply lost when he stopped training, leading to him being considered a major disappointment both in-universe and out, and no matter how many times he reawakens it, it disappears right after the next Time Skip. Both of these examples are cases where Toriyama's habit of defying expectations didn't really work to the story's credit, because they've been sore spots for many fans even after all this time, and the franchise has made multiple attempts to address both problems, extending all the way into Super.
  • As noted by MistareFusion in Dragon Ball Dissection, the actions of the main characters, at moments where every action determines the fate of the universe, reaches far beyond Idiot Plot territory. This was a problem that hit its absolute low point during the Android and Buu Sagas, where the characters are warned about apocalyptic-level threats, but actively decide to allow said villains to arrive for the sake of testing their abilities. These decisions result in the deaths of thousands of people and entire planets getting blown up.note  While the selfish whims and poor decisions of the characters were charming in early Dragon Ball where the stakes were mostly personal, by the time we're into the Android Saga, the fate of the world hinges on every battle. Whether or not this leads to a more interesting story has been hotly debated for decades at this point, but the real problem is the lack of Internal Consistency. While again, characters could change from moment to moment in Dragon Ball, at that point, it had been largely a gag manga. In DBZ, readers had been spoiled by the actions of the protagonists during the Saiyan & Frieza Sagas, where (a few blunders aside) everyone (including Vegeta) respected the immense stakes of the arc and acted with extreme cunning and foresight. The king of this inconsistency was Goku himself: in the fight with Frieza, Goku refuses to let Frieza power up to 100% and later tries to defeat Frieza by cutting him with his own Death Saucers... and then suddenly reverses his opinion on both points one chapter later. Furthermore, he sometimes spared opponents intent on conquest and genocide because they were Not Worth Killing or because they were a Worthy Opponent, but he would also kill opponents regardless because they were so evil that they didn't deserve to live.
  • The Dragon Ball Super manga's take on the Tournament of Power arc has been criticized for the pacing and way the characters have been handled, due to it coming across as Toyotarō rushing the arc as fast as possible to get to the big Goku versus Jiren fight.
    • The Super manga has had some pacing issues in the past, with the Universe 6 vs. Universe 7 arc having the fights with Botamo and Magetta deal with quickly in favor of the fight against Frost, Cabba, and Hit, with the fights themselves being notably smaller in scale than in the anime. In the Future Trunks arc, the fighting was much quicker than the anime also, only having the group fight Goku Black once before Zamasu appeared, and having Kibito Info Dump all of the information on Zamasu without any build up. While this meant Zamasu was seen as less interesting to many in the manga, for many, the quicker pacing wasn't an issue since the manga was cutting away what some saw as padding to focus more on what they wanted. However, the Tournament Of Power arc in the anime gave every member of team Universe 7 at least one moment, with many other fights getting the chance to shine, and while it was a long arc, it had some of the best moments in the series for characters like Android 18, Piccolo, and Roshi. In the manga, the Tournament is so quick that many more fighters get knocked off with no fanfare or acknowledgement and many fun fights, be they already in the anime or completely new possibilities, never occur in favor of quickly knocking out as many people as possible. This rushed pacing makes it seem as though Toyotaro just wanted to get rid of everyone but the final five, and just wants to show off the big fighting moments without any build up. It's to the point now where the manga's take on the arc has reached what was over fifty episodes in the anime to lead up the big final battle with Universe 11, in only about 6 chapters.
    • The power-scaling has been thoroughly inconsistent, with things such as a Berserker Kale being able to trump Golden Frieza and Aniraza, two beings who were extremely more powerful than Kale in the anime, but only being equal to Gohan as Kefla, who is the Potara fusion of Kale and Caulifla. Chapter 38 made this worse for fans, as Toyotaro used Berserker Kale to knock out nearly everyone left that wasn't from Universe 7 or 11, and chapter 39 has Master Roshi use a variant of Ultra Instinct to battle Jiren, with Goku getting the form from watching it instead of how he got it in the anime. The Super manga's power scaling has always been questionable though. In the previous arc Goku was measuring the returning Future Trunks against Cell Games Gohan, which would be like Goku measuring Saiyan saga Piccolo against Red Ribbon saga Krillin! Also, right from the start of the Super manga it was interpreting things in vastly different ways from the Super anime or even the Battle of Gods movie, where Goku notably doesn't get to gain the power of his god ritual in his "plain" Super Saiyan form and then stack a ritual independent god transformation on top of it, despite said sequence making up the entire climax of his climactic rematch with Beerus. It's just that prior, whatever deviations the manga made at least preserved the same plot points. The manga's tournament of power made it impossible to reconcile several characters and concepts across the two versions of Dragon Ball Super. Especially since it seemed like the anime was gradually trying to give nods to the manga.
  • Goku's obsession with challenging every strong fighter he meets grates on some people in Super, but in fact, he's always been like that. Due to the series being themed around fighting, and Goku's Hot-Blooded Idiot Hero tendencies, he has been like this since as far back as both the original series and Z. An example was when King Kai was explicitly telling him that Frieza was mondo bad news and to stay away, and Goku kept complaining that he wanted to "see what he's like". What made it less obvious then was that Goku was effectively out of the story for the most part; sure, Goku challenging Frieza seconds after landing on Namek would have been a terrible idea, and that's exactly why it never happened. But from then on, Goku continually made bad decisions for the sake of a good fight, such as allowing Gero to build the Androids, giving Cell a Senzu before fighting Gohan, half-assing the fight against Babidi and Majin Vegeta, and not killing Buu when he claims he could have done so just so that the kids would have something to do. This leads into the time of Super, where his desire to challenge strong fighters leads to idiotic decisions which endanger MULTIPLE worlds.
  • Likewise for Goku, people often complain about his character is Super saying that he has undergone Flanderization and become a complete idiot. While Goku does act like dumb in Super, he was always kind of an uneducated idiot. He has always acted impulsively and has been known to be over enthusiastic and disrespectful. One of the first things he did when meeting Old Kai in Z was shoot the Supreme Kai in the face with an energy blast "to test him". Goku, himself, is barely educated and, despite being a genius fighter, has been known to over estimate and under estimate opponents before. He also always had issues thinking things through. For example, he didn't plan how he was going to get off of Namek after he beat Frieza. He also didn't consider that, while Gohan was capable of Cell, that he might not be willing to beat him. He just assumed that Gohan shared his love for a good fight despite having raised the boy.