Tentacle-Free Anime: "Dragon Ball Z: Season 1" (1989)
- by Kazekun, 11 April 2017
We all have those shows that essentially shaped us as a kid, and endure to this day as a leading staple in your life that never gets old and (hopefully) is still good even when you're older. I watched a lot of TV growing up, so I actually have tons of shows I consider in that regard, some still great, some not so much, but always there's one that I was more than obsessed with as a kid.
It was a long time coming, but now we finally get into Dragon Ball Z proper. Ah, my childhood. I don't think you could have found a bigger series than this at the time, except, of course, Pokemon. And there were other huge shows, but in kid's entertainment these were the big two all across the globe.
Now, with a proper time skip making everyone older, Shueisha really wanted Toriyama to focus more on the action than the humor. This was the perfect time.
The divide in tone within the Dragon Ball universe is deep cutting when you're old enough to know it. Long gone were the days of Krillin getting beat up by a man who smelled of a charred burning trash heap, and now are the days of Krillin getting beat up by a group of science-grown brussel sprout-looking abominations. Well, I guess in some cases the more things change the more they stay the same.
However, with this half of the series things began to focus more on power level structures and how powerful of a Super Saiyan you could become in order to defeat your enemy, rather than delivering milk while carrying massive turtle shells on your back in order to even become the tiniest bit stronger. The Super Saiyan stuff is still a ways off though, let's focus on the early days.
The arrival of Raditz formally introduces us to lore of the Saiyans, a powerful race which Goku, along with the viewer, discovers he's a part of. To add to this retcon-inducing twist, Raditz is Goku's long lost evil older brother! It's all pretty standard soap opera fare. However, with a show like DBZ, it's hard to get eye rolling with it. The revelation is admittedly a fun one and also adds an extra layer onto this wild, crazy world these characters find themselves living in.
Overall, the Raditz story is a fun introduction to the new status quo. The Saiyans are coming, Goku is dead (Piccolo kills him, it's a whole thing), Earth is defenseless, and Piccolo decides to take Gohan – Goku's son – under his wing. If all of that sounds confusing as hell to you, then I don't know what you're doing with your life. Raditz as a character is a lot of fun and I would love for Toriyama to bring him back so we could get a rematch of the two brothers. However, all these decades later and this still seems to be nothing but a pipe dream; this all being said, I have not seen very far into Dragon Ball Super yet, so I'm not sure if he makes a return in that series or not.
This follows into the first filler arc of the series. Gohan's training! Well, that's entirely true, some of Gohan's training arc is from the manga, but a good ol' portion of it isn't. This arc shows how much Piccolo sucks at being a teacher. But it's a technique that isn't exactly novel nor unique to him. Placing Gohan in a hostile environment with only a few survival tools and then have him fend for himself for a year. It makes for a good way to draw out the story until the Saiyans arrive.
There is one part of the training arc that I do want to bring up: How legitimately funny it is to me that Toriyama would have Piccolo destroy the Moon after Gohan goes full Oozaru (that's the giant ape Saiyans can turn into). This is one of those blatant oversights of logic that this series does actually have in spades that I'm more impressed with how Toriyama is able to work it in later as a plot device, rather than noticing that the destruction of the Moon should have caused tidal waves all over the Earth.
I digress, though. I wish Toriyama would have taken more care in the logic of little things like the Moon being destroyed as it would have created a more cohesive narrative for the thinking fan, but I'm not necessarily sure it would have created a better story. Well, unless you think the Saiyans arriving on Earth only to find it completely decimated by water is better – in which case, I do believe there's a fair argument there.
Toriyama is really good at working previous logical issues in the story later on, as actual plot devices that drive the narrative and this is one of the things that make him a sort of accidental genius. But they're still logical issues nonetheless, so something as trivial as the Moon is something I should take points off for, even if there's something to be said of complaining about a show that features muscular men screaming into each others lungs while flexing said muscles in order to make awesome looking super spiky blonde hair pop out of their head.
Now, the Saiyans have arrived! Vegeta and Nappa, the “last two true” Saiyans that exist, are on Earth. And Earth's Mightiest Warriors are surely not ready to defend it. Piccolo, Gohan, Krillin, Yamcha, Tien and Chiaotzu. All against these two deadly soldiers from another planet along with their oddly adorable and killer brussel sprout monsters: Saibamen. This is what it's all been leading up to so far. And honestly, this part of the series, much like with Raditz, is a lot of fun.
A lot of that has to do with the actual fighting, as those are the money shots this series is known for, but it's also just great to see the gang back together and about to take on some charismatic bad guys. We all know what befalls Yamcha, so there's your obligatory reference to that. But as our heroes fall one by one, it's hard not to get a little weepy eyed. Especially when Chiaotzu sacrifices himself for everyone.
The fighting goes on, but one thing I have not discussed yet (and we're only going to briefly touch on it) is Goku's journey through Snake Way, his time in HELL, and his training on King Kai's planet. Snake Way is fun, his time in HELL is honestly pretty great to watch, I love Goz and Mez, and I love the trio of King Kai, Bubbles and Gegory. Even if Gregory was made for the anime.
The lore introduced with King Kai is a fantastic addition and opens up an incredible scope of Kai's later on in the series. But for right now, we're just focused on him. The man is a hoot to watch and its sadly funny to see his property get repeatedly damaged by Goku. I will admit, watching this show as an adult, Goku's training on King Kai's planet is actually far shorter than I thought it was as a kid. Especially after all the build up for it, he doesn't really do much to learn Kaoi-Ken or the Spirit Bomb.
After Goku is wished back to life once his training on King Kai's planet is done, it's a whole sub arc, then the best part of this entire first season can finally take place. Goku vs. Vegeta. Nappa is dead, almost all of Goku's friends are dead. Both sides have something to complain about. This is where the show really shines during this season, as we get a lot of great animated shots of the two fighting and posing, as well as we get more great additions to the lore with this fight.
Like the inconsequential destruction of the Moon earlier in this review, the subplot rears its ugly head by showing us that while on a planet with no Moon, Saiyans are able to create false Moons that give off something called Blutz Waves, manufactured energy that can cause a Saiyan to turn into Oozaru. This time it's Vegeta who becomes the third Saiyan in this series to become a great ape, not counting King Kai's flashback on the history of the Saiyans. Which I haven't mentioned because I plan to discuss it later.
Overall, the fight with Vegeta is one of those epic scale fights that truly sets the tone for what's to come down the Dragon Ball Z pipeline. Of the “big bads” for this series, Vegeta is really the first and even he's still a small fry for who's to come. For a primarily gag artist, with which I mean he prefers to draw comedic stories rather than action ones, Toriyama genuinely shines during these fights. Utilizing choreography that has ruined real martial arts for me and is a style that many creators have been attempting to copy for decades now.
There's no secret as to why this series is so massively popular still to this day. Though Dragon Ball is widely considered to be the better for its charm and world building, there's no understating the significance and impact that Dragon Ball Z has had on the human subconscious all around the world. And the Goku vs. Vegeta fight is an incredible example as to why.
Finally, the season drops off with the first four episodes of the incoming Namek Saga in which Bulma, Krillin and Gohan travel to the planet Namek, Piccolo's home planet, in order to find that planet's version of the Dragon Balls and wish their friends back to life. Of course, we all know what's coming from here. These four episodes are good breathing episodes after such a big fight, but do no service in acting like a proper season finale. Especially when episode 39 acts as the first part of a small filler arc. I.E. something that never happened in the original manga.
The season is long, but pretty damn fun and filled with great fights that have endured in the collective conscious to this day. There's obvious issues, like the filler stories, and the faults in story logic, but ultimately those don't take away from the overall experience. If you don't want the filler stories, you can always watch Dragon Ball Z Kai which is this same series, just edited to take out all of the filler. However, I enjoy some of those stories and there's nothing wrong with that.
Final Score: 4.5 Enduring Pop Culture Rivalries out of 5
Are you a fellow DBZ fan? Do you have the balls to disagree with Kazekun?!? Let us know below!