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Ah, Dragonball Z. Once an innocent retelling of Journey To The West, then the Ur-Shonen fighter. Really, what is there to say about the series?
Obviously, it's a requirement of every anime fan, young or old, to at least be familiar with the show. If you were born in the 90s like me, you remember fondly watching in anticipation as Goku was ready to battle the all-powerful Freiza, only to have to rewatch the entire series on Cartoon Network just before it occurred. And who could forget spending ten minutes on a dial-up computer, all so you could see a ten-second clip of Goku turning Super Saiyan? That was childhood, man. Every single character in the series, from the anti-hero Vegeta to the tough-but-fatherly Piccolo, were relatable to any kid. And of course, the fights were amazing at the time.
Of course, even the Ur-fighter has its faults. The filler used in the series is legendary; lest we forget, the entire Majin Buu saga, which took place within one day, took 78 episodes and two years to complete. Character development was filled out with some characters (Vegeta's struggle with not being the universe's greatest fighter), but not with others (During the Buu saga, Gohan, once the world's most ultimate fighter, was defeated after his first powerup). As the series dragged on, more of the characters seemed unnecessary (seriously, who gave a fuck about Puar and Chaotzu?), only there because Akira Toriyama couldn't kill them off. Speaking of killing people off, the series relied too much on the reviving nature of the Dragonballs. Someone could possibly die? Who the fuck cares? We've got Dragonballs! In fact, the one thing I liked about Dragonball GT, as "blasphemous" as it was to the series, was that it actually understood this Deus Ex Machina and made it into a viable plot point. Also, many actually interesting characters, villains included, were often left out of the limelight; Raditz, Goku's brother, was killed within three episodes of his introduction.
When you think about it, Dragonball is just like any other show of its day: there are problems with it, but nostalgia makes it a staple for all anime fans. Watch a few episodes to get you familiar with the characters, then read the plot summaries on Wikipedia and read Dragonball Multiverse or Dragonball Abridged.
DBZ has plenty of jokes as it's expense, and many of them warranted. But I can definitely see why it was so impactful.
The Dragon Ball world is quite an intricate and intriguing world, made up of concepts from seemingly every genre. At it's core it's a Classic Martial Arts tale, blown up to scale and thus supplemented by Science-Fiction and Superhero Fiction. I will give this to Toriyama-San, he is very good at keeping everything feeling like a single tight whole despite how scatter-brained as a whole. The series is very inventive with these, combined concepts from these different genres in a way that feels whole.
One other thing that is very good about Dragon Ball (Z) is the characters. The characters are very good at being archetypal without being just archetypes. Goku and Vegeta are both clear iconic personalities but still develop and grow over the series, something that is hard to balance. My personal favorite character is Gohan.
That said, the series is not without it's obvious faults. Particularly with the anime, much of is stretched out in the way only Shonen can expect to get away with these days. Likewise the series had a bad habit of just introducing plot elements in without foreshadowing in order to reach a proper conclusion, which I suppose is what happens if you write in the way Toriyama-sama does.
DBZ is the father of the Modern Shonen Genre, with all it's good and bad points. I would suggest most action fans give it a try, in particular the shorter manga or the shortened Anime Dragon Ball Kai.
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*
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