Last time, on Animated Anarchy! Scott Johnson prepares himself for the impeding stampede of angry comments heading is way over his controversial opinion regarding the comeback of Dragon Ball Z!
To someone immersed in the world of pop culture nostalgia, the announcement of Dragon Ball Super doesn’t come off as much as a shock. The stream of Dragon Ball material over its 30-year lifespan always been at a decent trickle thanks to the sheer amount of merchandise, games, and animated products released. No matter how many times the games re-introduce the various sagas or big, destructive fights, most fans of Dragon Ball have never really lost the love of what the series brought to the United States during it’s initial release.
Like fellow OneOfUs writer John Eckes, I watched Dragon Ball Z when I was around 11, coming home to watch it after school with the rest of Toonami’s Afternoon Block. I believe all of us who grew up around the cusp of the millennium were aware of the Dragon Ball Z’s influence. There was nothing else like it at the time, not even in the scope of watching “monster of the week” anime such as Sailor Moon or Pokemon. Dragon Ball Z kicks off with the protagonist we just met dying to save his son, just for his son to be kidnapped by his rival and train to fight an incoming alien invasion. When has any other after-school show done something like that?
Undoubtedly, the series had a really good run from 1996 to 2003, staying in the hearts of so many American children. For myself, I loved the beginning from the Sayians expanding all the way into space with the Frieza Saga. The plot was so unique and cool, watching many of peripheral characters fight against all the bad guys while Goku has to go on his on journey to prepare for his cataclysmic battle against the main villain. There was no other type of dramatic show for children at its time with a continuous story.
Around the time of the Clone/Cell Saga, I started to notice the formula of Dragon Ball Z. The Z fighters got demoted to cheerleaders and the fights became all about power rather than tactical prowess. By the time the Buu saga rolled around, I was pretty exhausted with Dragon Ball Z. After watching more shows with nonstop storylines on Toonami; I felt Dragon Ball Z was extrodinarily wore out with episode after episode where barely anything happened. Every cliché and judgment made by outsiders of the series came true as so many episodes centered on new, absurd ways to develop power ups.
I can suspend my disbelief over the planet Namek exploding in 5 minutes over the course of 8 episodes. Buu took out the last remnants of my investment in the series by performing the same mistakes ad nauseam.
What kept me interested in the universe was when Toonami began to air the original Dragon Ball series. In my eyes, Dragon Ball is possibly better than the sequel because the world is fleshed out and the adventures of the heroes are genuinely compelling. We watched Goku and Krillian grow while non-fighter characters like Bulma and Oolong had really neat involvements to the plot. If you go back to rewatch Dragon Ball, there’s a simple, infectious charm watching Goku grow up into the person we know him as today before he transitioned into a literal god. But as John encountered, the series was about to kick off a new arc after ending on a dramatic note and…the show mysterious vanished from Toonami.
Where Dragon Ball Z gets really interesting amongst the fans is the reaction to the various movies. There are a total of 14 (soon to be 15), most of which have the same kind of plot where a new form of evil comes down to destroy the Z-Fighters in order to show off a new way to power up. I watched a few of them when they aired on Cartoon Network: Dead Zone, The World’s Strongest, The Tree of Might. I even own Cooler’s Revenge on VHS. But the movie that single-handedly destroyed all interest I could have in the franchise was Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods.
Battle of Gods is frustratingly bad. Rather than repeating the tried-and-true formula of the previous movies, this film takes a silly, self-deprecating attitude to the larger-than-life battles the series is commonly known for. As much as you want to praise the series for trying something new, the entire film comes off as a terribly told joke at the expense of Dragon Ball fans. All my issues with the movie were amplified from seeing an exclusive, big-screen showing at an Alamo Drafthouse. When you pay money to watch a DVD-Quality copy of a film in a theater, the mistakes made from the writing and animation come to much harder scrutiny. Toei’s already subpar animation comes off as dreadfully incompetent when they can’t fully incorporate CGI or draw background character with all of their features.
To simplify Battle of Gods, the alien Beerus prematurely awakens to fight the strongest being in the universe. But after swiftly defeating Goku, he descends to Earth to see if the planet is capable of delivering a more competent fighter. To keep the Beerus and his associate Whis from destroying the Earth out of sheer apathy, the Z-Fighters must entertain the aliens at Bulma’s Birthday Party as Goku finds a new way to defeat the villain. So instead of watching our heroes struggle against a new villain and the dangers they present to the universe, we are forced to watch broad, cringe-inducing comedy and one penguin-blowjob of a fight at the very end.
I didn’t expect the newest Dragon Ball Z movie to blow my socks off with a totally new idea, but I didn’t expect to be thoroughly bored. So much time is spent on the inherent wackiness that an all-powerful god can be satiated with cake rather than developing plot or tension. The film is nothing but fanservicey nods to the audience taking at jabs what you expect in the series. We were just watching the heroes lose, Vegeta make an ass out of himself, and Akira Toriyama trying to rewrite his original canon. That tone worked great for the original Dragon Ball, but it feels really forced at the expense of the much longer, straight-faced nature of Dragon Ball Z
As it’s one of the earliest shows to have die-hard Internet audience who demand the series to be taken seriously, I’m genuinely baffled by Battle of God’s positive reaction. So many Dragon Ball Z fans came out saying they loved the subversive, parody-heavy nature of this movie at the expense what the series stood for. Does that retroactively make the entire series a gag of popular shōnen anime as a whole? If the humor and animation made up for these new ideas had actually worked, I wouldn’t have been so critical on the film.
We live in a world where we idolize what fictional heroes represent and get furious at any possible change for new interpretation. Just look at the staggering amount of scrutiny we give to DC’s cinematic universe alone. How is everyone suddenly okay when Goku, the Superman of Japan, gets knocked down a couple of pegs at the expense of all the viewers? It does not make any sense to me at all.
What’s more irritating is that Battle of Gods has galvanized Toriyama to try and reinvent Dragon Ball Z to capitalize off of the obsession of nostalgia. The movie takes place at the end of the original series, but serves as a retcon to undo the events of the much-despised Dragonball: GT, which Toriyama had no hand in making. The success of this film inspired the plot for the upcoming DBZ film, Resurrection: F where Frieza is brought back to life once again and becomes a new threat for our heroes…by actually training before a fight.
And by the way, Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods gets my arbitrary rating of: 2 out of 10 Poorly Used Dragon Balls to hype the super special awesome new character.
The proof is out there for this desired comeback of Dragon Ball on Toriyama’s effort. In 2013, he created a short manga series called Jaco The Galactic Patrolman where a clumsy space officer goes to Earth to protect the planet from a mysterious invasion. And at the very end of the series, the invader turned out to be the baby Goku but no attention was given to it as Jaco was wrapped up in a plot involving time travel, spaceships, and Bulma’s inexplicably introduced older sister Tights.
Now there has been an upswing in Dragon Ball Z as of late, thanks to the new movie and Dragon Ball Xenoverse. What was sure to be a “make or break” turn for the video game side of the franchise really did succeed by being thoroughly enjoyable. There’s already a sequel announced because of the sales. But I can’t shake the feeling that this capitalizing on sudden, renewed interest feels like Toriyama is grasping at straws. For his influence creating this series and his creative, character design works for series like Dragon Quest, Chrono Trigger, and Blue Dragon, he can’t be desperate for money.
Because of these reasons along with the overall bad quality of Battle of Gods is why I’m not excited for Dragon Ball Super. We don’t have a clue on what the plot is going to be and it is already greenlit for over 100 episodes. The prototypical Shōnen series cannot rely on the old storytelling tropes to keep fans entertained. Just look at the reactions to the renewed Sailor Moon Crystal, which faded weeks after initial release due to the terrible animation work and lackadaisical writing.
I honestly hope I’m proven wrong with this. I still love what Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z represent at the core of their series as an action-packed adventure. But the self-deprecating nature of obsessing over power levels keeps the series from evolving to a deeper show. With saga after saga focusing on the importance of power turns every fight into a dull, passé brawl of flurries and ki blasts. Goku, Gohan, Piccolo, Vegeta, and Frieza meant a lot to me growing up, I would hate to see them fall into the trappings of so many other over-exposed characters of my past.
What are your thoughts on the announcement of Dragon Ball Super? Love it? Cautiously optimistic or realistically cynical? Do you enjoy Battle of Gods or were you disappointed with it like I was? Leave a comment below and I’ll see you guys next week with a brand new Animated Anarchy!