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Dragonball Z. Oh, does that bring up memories. To this day it still has some of the best choreographed fights in any medium, not just anime. There were a string of great arcs with memorable villains, and it seemed to get better and better.
But it just went on too long.
The first problem that came up was the redundancy of characters. In the android/Cell saga Tien and Piccolo had what to do and everyone fought, but with the Buu saga if you weren't a Sayain you had no business being on the show.
Another problem was the way the show dealt with death, or rather didn't. Someone died, and the dragonball brought them back. That worked for a while, but it could not go on forever without the show losing its tension and death its meaning. That was why the end of the Cell games was so effective. Goku chose to stay dead and there was no way to bring Android 16 back at all. Gohan had to live with the guilt of both of those deaths for the rest of his life and use them to make himself stronger as a person and not just as a warrior.
But when we got to the Buu saga Goku came back for a day, then had his rematch with Vegeta. I know many people like that fight, but to me it was simply too late. What Gohan did in the Cell games rendered their rivalry meaningless, and the fact that they weakened Gohan to rekindle the rivalry just made it worse. Not to mention the fact that Vegeta was so obsessed with fighting a dead man.
The real kicker was when Goku was brought back to life for real. The whole point of him choosing to stay dead was that his part in the story was over. But no; he's the main character and hero again, so we can throw out all the development of the younger generation.
I was rather pleased with Kai, however, both for improving the english dialogue, the pacing,and for ending right after the Cell games and not including the Buu saga. That is certainly a case of 'less is more' and actually felt more complete than the original Z.
The less said about GT the better. *shudders*
This review contains a lot of my thoughts on the series. I really like the Buu Saga personally because of how wacky it was. It felt more fun and outlandish. But all of the cool things (fusion, Z Sword, Elder Kai, and Potara fusion) got undermined by something we'd seen in the series plenty of times before, and that's what you said.
Having Gohan take up his father's mantle at the end of the Cell Saga was a fitting end to the series, but the end of the Buu Saga erased that in favor of Goku, despite there still being plenty of viable options for heroes. Vegeta's character flaw largely gets resolved by the end, making him a good choice. While Gohan appears to have eschewed the life of a warrior (and good for him making his own way in life), we could have called him a Decoy Protagonist to Goten and Trunks, who could have mirrored him and beaten Buu as Gotenks. I think an ending that didn't focus on Goku would have been excellent to balance out the Goku-heavy Frieza saga. Thus the series would have been about Goku showing the next generation what it takes, fading from focus in the Cell Saga, to having only a minor role while that next generation fights for themselves in the Buu Saga.
I think there's definitely a worthy story in the Buu Saga, it just got off track somewhere down the line. And yes, the series was marred by filler in places, but otherwise it has a pretty solid story.
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