Core Anime: Dragonball Z (“KAAAAAA! MEEEEEE! HAAAAA! MEEEEE–!”)
A core series, is a series that influenced the very core of who I am as an anime. It doesn’t have to be a favorite series of mine (though that does help). It doesn’t have to be a great series, either. So what does it need? It needs to be a series that has influenced how I think and feel about any and all anime that is to follow it. It must set some sort of precedent. And when it comes to influence and precedence, there’s nothing that comes close to Dragonball Z to me. Welcome to ground zero of me as an anime fan. As Toonami once said, “the greatest action cartoon ever made!”
It’s a story I’ve told over and over again. In highschool, a friend of mine who had once lived in Japan asked me to check out an anime movie.
I was hesitant at first because the only thing I’d really heard of were the really violent 80’s anime OVA’s and movies that had found their way into our house or on the TV back then (the kind of stuff Predederva would have loved). There was also the hentai which I never really cared for either. So I was hesitant. He showed me what ended up being a RAW video of what turned out to be Dragonball Z’s 12th movie. I hated it! Seriously, I couldn’t figure out what the hell was going on. I couldn’t stand all the high pitched squeaky voices and screaming. Why the hell was that one buff guy’s voice so high? Why did he almost sound like a chick? Why the hell did his hair change color and grow?! And how should that make a difference? What a disaster!
I wasn’t very receptive to anime when I was younger, despite what many people may think. I remember we had a guy in our band who LOVED Macross (whatever that was) and talked about listening to the soundtrack before going to bed. He even talked about some Minmay chick. “Fag” is what I thought. There were all sorts of perfectly good American songs to listen to, why bother with something in a language you don’t even know? I didn’t realize the upcoming 180 I would make.
I was just flipping through channels when I came across the episode that would make me an anime fan from then on. It was the episode where Piccolo was killed trying to save Gohan, Goku‘s son. The sadness and desperation of that scene caught me, even though I had no grasp of the significance of the relationship at the time. I had no real idea what was going on, I didn’t care too much either. I was just happy to see these guys, these monsters fight.
For years I was obsessed with Dragonball Z, and when that subsided I always had a new anime to latch onto. Learning more about DBZ was how I got started checking out websites (not blogs) back in the day that talked about the differences between the stateside versions and the original Japanese ones. DBZ fueled my desire to learn not only about the show, but anything it even remotely compared to. It fueled my whole obsession with anime, and that continues almost 15 years later. It is THE gateway anime
DBZ doesn’t have much of a plot to speak of, the show is basically about the dragon balls bringing the most powerful beings in the universe together. If you want anymore than that go home.
What I loved about the show (at the time anyway), were the battles that broke my expectations of what a fight in animation should be. It was like an uncensored version of what I thought fights in DC and Marvel comics should have been. I didn’t get to see that stuff in fluid animation back then. The whole concept of special techniques used to punctuate and end a battle were completely foreign to me (I had yet to be truly exposed to giant robot anime of course, and I’m not gonna count Power Rangers). The concept of characters dying in battle was just something I hadn’t dealt with either. If Spider-Man or Batman died, they didn’t come back (ha ha, how naive I was). At least that stuff didn’t happen in the animation I watched on TV. Everything was foreign to me, or off the scale in …well, scale. I loved the training arcs (mostly) and the tension, anticipation and often the comedy that came with them. When it came to the actual action, I was in heaven.
This show even influenced how I viewed many character archetypes. Whenever I see a rival character, I usually draw a comparison to Vegeta. Especially with shounen series. Hiei from Yu Yu Hakusho, Sesshoumaru from InuYasha, Sasuke from Naruto, Ryuho from s-CRY-ed, Renji (or Byakuya, depending) from Bleach, Ichiro Miyata from Hajime no Ippo, and probably Gajeel from Fairy Tail; a character who enters the series generally as a heartless bad ass, usually is arrogant as hell, eventually joins the the good guys side, and usually is jealous of the main protagonist for being so much more naturally gifted and fortunate than them despite the rival character’s unparalleled drive, lineage or intelligence. All of those traits don’t have to line up exactly, but you generally get enough of them to line up and you’ll find your rival character. You’ll get your Vegeta. He may not be the first character of his type, but he’s the first one for me.
He also introduced me to a trope that I didn’t know existed, but was exposed to for years. The Red Oni, Blue Oni trope. You’ll see it almost any fighting game, and many anime regardless of genre.
Now, I’m not blinded. Dragonball Z had quite a few things that I can’t or won’t defend. First and foremost, the pacing of the anime. Too often money and time were saved just having characters statically stand around and stare at each other for what felt like an entire minute. Successful attempts at tension would be ruined by those dragged out moments. Other annoyances included the cut aways to comedic side characters. A technique that succeeded less and less as the series moved forward and the fights were supposed to grow even more grand in scale. This wasn’t very bad during the Saiyan arc, but got a bit annoying during the Namek arc, and became just intolerable during the Cell Games arc of the series. Wonderfully choreographed battles ruined by the shenanigans of the buffoons on the sidelines. Yes! I get it! Mr. Satan is a fraud who doesn’t get what’s goin on! Stop cutting away from the action! Please!
Second, the animation for the show could be sloppy to downright atrocious at times. Because of Dragonball Z, I will always be aware of when the “B-team” comes in to do animation. It felt like that was done for every other episode. And the difference in quality could not be ignored. It reminded me of when you had a separate comics for the same character, drawn by different artists. The less talented animators always looked like they had made less than stellar copies of the better animators’ works.
And third, some of the characters were downright intolerable, especially the females. Despite the show’s attempts to give females a fair shake, they really do come off as annoying bitches (yeah, I said it). Bulma being incredibly smart is also ridiculously selfish, bossy and unreasonable. I think she was at her worst during the Namek arc. And Chi Chi, Goku’s wife is a smothering, unreasonable female stereotype of a bossy mother and wife. I don’t know if I saw strong, tolerable female characters in a shounen battle anime until One Piece and Fairy Tail.
And if I’m being perfectly honest about influence, it’s the original Dragonball manga and anime that the most positive influence on the shounen genre as a whole. Sure the show lasted almost twice as long as its predecessor, and was generally more popular, but Dragonball has arguably had the most critical success through its successors. A testament to that is the quality of the shows that have used Dragonball as a template and those that used Dragonball Z. Bleach, and Naruto clearly follow the Dragonball Z template of focusing more on combat than adventure. But the best shounen battle series focus on Dragonball‘s focus on adventure over combat. Those series are Hunter X Hunter (the younger sibling to Dragonball Z’s chief rival, Yu Yu Hakusho) and One Piece. But despite those flaws, shortcomings and the fact that the show’s influence can at times be overestimated because of its insane popularity and success, I still had a lot of fun going back over the show and just picking a fight to watch. I enjoyed the music (mostly), both Japanese and American. I’ve learned to love almost all of the voice acting cast, especially for the dub. And I’m very grateful for their efforts and the gall they showed in bringing this series over to America, starting a revolution. I still love the show like someone would love their first girlfriend. It was a bumpy ride, some parts were rather embarrassing and both of you were terribly naive. But there is nothing that can replace your first.
Anime Influences: (Major) Yu Yu Hakusho, Naruto, Bleach, One Piece, Fairy Tail, D. Grayman, (minor) all anime viewed after.
- Favorite Character: Vegeta
- Favorite Arc: Saiyan Arc
- Favorite Episode: 28
- Favorite Moment: SSJ2 Gohan unleashed eps 184 & 185