Manga Mondays: Dragon Ball Z

Dragon Ball Z probably doesn’t need much explanation as to what it is, since just about everyone’s already heard about it, but for those of you who haven’t, here you go: Dragon Ball Z, written by Toriyama Akira, is actually a sequel series to the much less popular Dragon Ball and focuses on a hero named Goku. The original show centers heavily on Chinese mythology, Son Goku being the name of the monkey god, and a good number of its characters are from mythology, such as Chichi’s dad, the Ox King. On top of all this, the series has a strong emphasis on martial arts and the use of ki to do ridiculously implausible feats, such as flying or being physically strong enough to topple mountains with a head butt.

Head butting seems to be the weapon of choice for everyone in the Son family.

Dragon Ball Z stretches the suspension of disbelief much farther than Dragon Ball in this regard, but despite this, it did remarkably well. It’s over twenty years old and is one of the most successful anime ever. In fact, without the success Dragon Ball Z had in America, there would probably be nowhere near the amount of anime over here that we now have today.

The story itself is relatively simple. Within the manga, the Dragon Balls are seven mystical balls that summon forth a dragon who can grant a person any one wish once a year, including bringing the dead back to life.

I personally never really got into Dragon Ball, only the sequel, and instead watched Saiyuki when it came out some years later; however, both Saiyuki and Dragon Ball are essentially two very different interpretations of the same story. From what I have seen of Dragon Ball, I can say that it definitely has much clearer character arcs than its sequel. I don’t mean that Dragon Ball Z has poorer character development, but it introduced a lot of newer characters and focused on them, leaving everyone else not essential to the plot trailing along in their wake with nothing to do.

This is particularly seen in characters such as Yamcha and Tien. Remember those Dragon Balls I mentioned? Well, here’s the reoccurring plot of the series. Some ridiculously powerful evil dude comes and kills a bunch of people and is then defeated by Goku. Side characters like Yamcha seem to exist solely for the purpose of getting killed before Goku’s victory just to show us how bad the big bad truly is. There’s nothing wrong in killing a minor character to make a point, but there’s so little emotion to it in this anymore. No one cares if Yamcha dies because Goku’s going to wish him back to life just in time to be killed by the next villain.

Other characters, the ones who neither fight nor have an important relationship to the main characters, slowly just leave the series and become all but nonexistent pieces in the background. Tien, who does fight, goes this route, only to show up on occasion as a deus ex machina to keep the bad guy busy for a while.

And in case you haven’t noticed by now, all the characters’ names are purposefully stupid. Yamcha, for instance, is a play on for ‘drinking tea.’ Almost all the characters are named after some kind of food or some random object. We even have characters like the Ginyu Force, who were designed to make fun of things like Sailor Moon and Power Rangers.

There is a limit on the Dragon Balls that I should mention before we go any further. They cannot be used to make the same wish twice. So in theory, someone can die once, be wished back, and then have to remain dead the next time he or she gets killed. This limit doesn’t stick around for very long, and after the characters go off world for the first time and come back, this aforementioned rule sort of vanishes.

As bad as I’m making this series out to be, it’s really not that bad. Sure, characters like Yamcha and Puar don’t do much, but they’re not really needed anymore. But as someone who started the series in Dragon Ball Z and not in Dragon Ball, I couldn’t help but wonder why there were so many useless characters that had no purpose outside of dying over and over again.

Both the original and the sequel are two very different stories, and other than the aforementioned Dragon Balls, they don’t really have much to do with each other, which easily explains why Yamcha and a few others have no place in the sequel. Dragon Ball Z could very easily be a standalone series, and in many ways it is. The whole feel of the show changed in DBZ. Everyone got ridiculously stronger, aliens now exist—okay, they existed before, but nowhere near as prominent a plot point—and the characters travel to different planets in the course of only a few days. At a couple points they time travel.

I would quickly run through the story for you guys, but despite how simple all the arcs are and despite how they’re essentially the same thing with different villains over and over again, I don’t feel as though I’d have enough time to mention everything in one post. Instead, I’m going to focus on the first few arcs, since they sort of tie into each other.

Our story begins with Goku discovering he’s from an alien race called the Saiyans, and that he was sent to Earth as a baby to eradicate all life here to prepare the planet for selling. Fortunately, Goku hit his head as a baby and turned into a lovable, food-obsessed moron who doesn’t kill people and instead defends the innocent. Sometime after Goku was sent to Earth, an evil galactic emperor named Frieza destroyed the Saiyan home world. Surviving the destruction is also Goku’s older brother Raditz, a Saiyan elite named Nappa, and the Prince Vegeta. (In some of the movies we learn of a few more Saiyans who survived, but they don’t really fit into canon, so we’ll forgo talking about them.)

Don’t get too attached to Raditz, because even though he’s Goku’s brother, he’s only in about two episodes. A shame, really, since excluding Vegeta and Frieza, he seemed one of the more intelligent bad guys, and being Goku’s brother gave him a different dynamic than all the other evil dudes who have no personality outside being evil. Nappa eventually gets killed off as well. Nappa is also a complete dumbass, so it’s not really a big loss. Vegeta is by far the most interesting character to me. He’s the typical redeemed villain, but as the series is really long and his redemption happens over numerous episodes, it’s very believable. He first teams up with Goku’s eldest son Gohan and his best friend Krillin to fight Frieza’s lackeys out of a need of self-preservation, and he sort of falls in with the good guys from there. Overall, Akira did a very good job writing Vegeta’s character.

Eventually, the events of the story culminate into a showdown between Goku and Frieza. After Frieza’s eventual demise, DBZ just throws villain after villain at us, each with less personality than the last.

The anime particularly got a lot of shit said about it for all the dumbass filler episodes. Not only that, but during all the fight scenes—and I do mean all of them, at least the important ones—the characters had a habit of just standing and staring at their opponent seriously. A couple years ago, Dragon Ball Z Kai came out, which was the exact same show, only without the filler episodes. Or the staring. And the show is so much better for it. I am pretty forgiving of the filler in the original show however. The anime first aired alongside the manga, and the filler was added so the show wouldn’t get ahead of the manga. Yes, this can be annoying in many cases. Think Naruto, where the manga is so far ahead that it wouldn’t be a problem and yet the filler doesn’t end. But at the same time, if the anime skipped ahead, we would probably get some disaster like the first Fullmetal Alchemist, which wasn’t really a bad show, but it seems worse when held up next to what is was supposed to become.

One thing that can be said about both DB and DBZ and the final installment series Dragon Ball GT is that there is a passing of time. Goku starts off as a kid in the first one, and he’s a grandparent by the last one. It’s a series that details his life and the lives of his kids. For those of you who don’t know what the ‘Z’ stands for, I don’t know either. Looking it up, I’m still confused, because what I found was ‘Zetto.’ I think it’s safe to conclude that it probably doesn’t mean anything. As for ‘GT,’ I don’t know that either, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it means something along the lines of ‘Generically Terrible.’ If you haven’t watched GT, don’t. But I would most assuredly recommend both Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z. For those of you who don’t want to watch all of the series but still want to know what happens, or for those of you who have already seen it and love it, TeamFourStar has abridged episodes.

Fanfiction Fridays: Point of no Return by niteryde

Remember DBZ in all its glory? Ah, there’s nothing like watching some good old classic anime. I can all too easily recall running home from the bus stop as a child and eagerly awaiting for Toonami to play the latest episode. But what did I do while impatiently wishing for five o’clock to roll around? Why, fanfiction, of course.

I love this show so much that the very first thing I ever wrote was DBZ fanfiction. But don’t worry. I’m not about to start gushing on how awesome my non-existent writing skills were back when I was twelve. But alas, there were certainly other fics to read. This one in particular didn’t make it to until 2010, and I only recently found it a couple days ago.

Point of no Return by niteryde captivated me so much I stayed awake until midnight to finish it the day before getting up early the next morning for surgery. So, yeah, I may be half asleep as I type this, but it was well worth it. And besides, I did get a bit of nap in on the operating table, so all’s well that ends well.

The summary for the story reads as:

Trunks was going back in time to warn the others about the androids, but instead ended up in a time when Vegeta was Frieza’s most ruthless soldier… can he keep his power and identity a secret when he sees the brutality of his father’s past?

Well, to answer the question presented to us by the author: no, he can’t.

Point of no Return is twenty-three chapters long, with almost two-hundred thousand words, and begins with Trunks headed back in time, but something goes horribly amiss when he doesn’t take Bulma’s words to heart when operating his time machine. He ends up on an alien planet in the process of being purged by his father and two companions, Nappa and Raditz. Seeing as they’re his only means off the planet, he convinces them to let him join them, and they in turn take him back to Frieza. All the while, Trunks searches desperately for a way to get to planet Earth, since his time machine broke upon his arrival, so he needs the Dragon Balls to get back home.

As the story wears on, Trunks’s mere presence alters the past so much that he begins to realize that his actions may mean his parents never getting together, or that Goku will never face Frieza when he’s supposed to, thus never reaching the Super Saiyan status. In horror, he knows that if things don’t go as planned, and that if he doesn’t get the medication to Goku in time, the Earth will not be prepared for the Androids of the future.

Not only does Trunks have this weighing over his head, he’s also dealing with Vegeta and the other two Saiyan’s and learning just what their lives were like in Frieza’s care. At first he is sickened by their actions and must put up with their racial slurs at only being half Saiyan, but he slowly learns what a harsh environment they’re in. On top of dealing with this new reality, he also learns that Vegeta never wanted children, which makes a good bit of violent Saiyan drama when Vegeta does discover the truth.

I also love his reaction when he hears Trunks’s name. He comments:

“I have a half-breed son named Trunks. My eternal humiliations truly have no bounds.”

I think my favorite thing about this story is the characterization. Niteryde does such a wonderful job of it. Finding stories that get the personalities of just about every character right is no easy feat. The strongest dynamic would obviously be between Vegeta and Trunks, but even Raditz and Nappa are spot on. Neteryde managed to keep them in character, while also giving them some likable traits. Nappa’s even the first one to figure out Trunks’s identity, and being loyal to the throne, he begrudgingly admits that his job is to protect it, even if it now includes a “half-breed”.

Obviously, Vegeta’s pretty pissed when he realizes that Nappa kept such a secret from him. Nappa’s subsequent death at Vegeta’s hands does relate back to canon and how time was supposed to flow. The likable characterization of Nappa and Raditz made his death upsetting, and it also makes the audience worry for Raditz when Vegeta finally sends him off to look for Goku.

I’ll stop the summary here, since I’ve given so much of the story away already. This is a fantastic fic, and it’s definitely worth a read. Check it out here.