I spent the year 2012 going through all the seasons of Dragon Ball Z and watching all the DBZ movies. I had seen between three and four seasons in my teens, but never caught the whole thing, so a lot of it I was watching for the first time last year. I got into a rhythm of watching a season a month, so when the idea came to me of doing a review of the series, I figured I might as well review a season each month. So that’s one of my goals for blogging this year.
If you’ve seen some of my other reviews then you may have spotted that I usually review things from two angles: first – I review the quality of the product, and in addition I look at the material from a Christian perspective and discuss anything I find that might be a moral or spiritual concern to Christian audiences and parents. On the surface, as with most animes, Dragon Ball will appear to be designed for children, but a good look at the right episodes will reveal that it’s written for an older audience. It might help though to understand that in Japanese culture the children are exposed to mature content at an earlier average age, and so the line between “Child” and “Adult” content is often blurred. One key difference is how comfortable the Japanese are with nudity. In Dragon Ball Z you will not see more than the bare behind of an adult character, but child characters are sometimes full-frontal. As parents, it will be up to you to determine what your children are okay with, I’m just here to give you a heads up of the content.
It should also be noted that I’m reviewing the unedited versions. There is a compressed version of the series, called Dragon Ball Z Kai, which cuts out a lot of the details, mashes episodes together, and censors a lot of the graphic material that bothers American audiences. If you choose to watch that version instead then the episode numbers that I mention here will not line up.
I am also going to look at the individual DBZ movies and provide a suggested time to view them. I had this idea when I first started this that the movies were all written to fit neatly between specific episodes. I have since come to the conclusion that that is not the case. The movies are more like individual what-ifs, not necessarily on anything that’s actually happened in the show, nor meant to be a part of what happens later in the show. And even the timelines for certain events get quite wonky, so all I can provide are suggestions.
A brief introduction to the world might be necessary. To my best guess, Dragon Ball Z is set some time in the future. The world is referred to as Earth, but the characters make little to no specific references to actual locations or events in our history. Don’t be alarmed when you see dog people and other kinds of animals wearing suits and glasses and walking around in public. This is normal. This appears to be how far Animal Rights have gotten by this point in the future. All great martial artists can fly, but you knew that already.
When the previous series left off, the main villain was a green guy named Piccolo, who is the evil other half of an older green guy named Kami who is the Guardian of Earth.
A word for the first season might be tedious. The first episode is not a good example of what to expect from the rest of the series. There are a few episodes of action, and then a lot of waiting for stuff to happen. The Z series does have a balance to it, switching between times of combat and times of peace, which provides a sense of realism. If you’ve read through The Fellowship of the Ring then the boring segments of Dragon Ball Z will be nothing. It’s just a matter of knowing that the good stuff is on the way. When it finally gets to it, Season 1 has probably the second-most memorable battle in the entire series, and certainly the most memed quote. It is classic, and worth the wait.
The initial fight with Raditz contains just about all of the fight cliches you can expect to recur over the serious, in particular “I can’t see my enemy for all the smoke so he must be dead. I find that hilarious.”
It will become evident early on that this show does not shy away from beating the tar out of little kids. People who are sensitive to violence against the innocent (like myself) will find parts of it hard to watch. Any consolation to the sensitive might come from the way that Gohan often looks at his suffering in hindsight with a sense of grace, and excitement for what’s ahead. He’s being forged as a warrior, and he knows it, and he knows what he can accomplish as a warrior. In a more humourous way, there is some encouragement at the halfway point of each episode where Goku appears on screen with Gohan as if to say, “No. Look. It’s okay. See? Gohan’s right here.”
There are quite a few episodes in this first season in particular that have to do with the pain of loss, specifically around Gohan’s own experiences. The fact that there are so many is a bit rough. It’s like watching Bambi (I mean the whole way through) several times over. But halfway through each episode Gohan is still hiding out behind his dad and totally fine. These episodes may have been put in as an answer to complaints over the previous series and it’s “Don’t worry, we can wish them back with the Dragon Balls” mentality. Death is of little consequence in this show.
Language: I noticed one occurrence of D*mn. The English is generally pretty clean on this show, substituting stronger Japanese words for “Darn.” Characters say “Darn” a lot, when I’m pretty sure they’re annoyed enough to say something else.
Nudity: Goku’s butt. Gohan’s junk. Baby-Goku’s junk.
(SPOILER) Bulma’s outfit of choice in Episode 39 is underwear. The explanatory dialogue goes something like this – Bulma: “Oh great! I forgot to put pants on!” Krillin: “That’s too bad.” It’s not quite nudity. I think it falls under the category of Scantily Clad. And compared to the male nudity on the show it’s nothing. (SPOILER ENDED)
Sexuality: Roshi fondles Bulma’s can. FYI – most of the warnings regarding sexuality in future posts will be in reference to Roshi, and will involve him grabbing something.
It should be noted that, though married, Goku doesn’t understand how flirting works. There are parts where it looks like he’s making a pass at Princess Snake when, in fact, he is just being an idiot. He is also unaware that others are making a pass at him. How a grown man can be this oblivious to flirting is something you’ll come to understand once you’ve seen a few animes or mangas. Child-like innocence in the presence of overt sexuality is like a running gag in Japanese fiction.
Some combat sequences have a lot of blood, or what will seem like a lot of blood for a cartoon, and some even have dismemberment.
For the most part, the show doesn’t get involved in occult symbols, but there is one episode in particular – Episode 17 “Pendulum Room Peril” – which has a buttload of occult symbols all in one place. There are not any significant plot points in this episode, it is mostly there as additional information on the Saiyans. So it is skippable if you really want to avoid that stuff.
I’m not entirely sure how the afterlife works in Dragon Ball, and I’m not sure how much of it is based on actual Japanese religion/mythology and how much of it is simply made up on the spot. If you try relating it to any White Anglo-Saxon Protestant versions of the afterlife then you will probably give yourself a headache. First there’s Kami, whose name means “God” and who is the Guardian of Earth, then there is a stronger guy called “King Yamma” who is a giant, red, horned guy who is the one at the Check-in Station who determines whether you go “above” or “below” or take a walk among the clouds on a long snake, then there’s King Kai who is supposedly stronger than Yamma but doesn’t do much of anything. And then there are others still who are introduced later on. They don’t have angels but both the Check-in Station and Hell have ogres with horns.
Humour is a big part of King Kai’s character, and unfortunately, Japanese humour is notoriously difficult to translate to American audiences. As a result, a lot of the dialogue scenes with King Kai will be completely lost on people.
This may be one of the few animes I know of where the American voice casting actually fits the characters better than the original Japanese. Goku in particular sounds like a psychotic, old woman in Japanese. Watching the Japanese version is recommended though, at least once. The structure of the characters has a lot to do with how they perceive honour, and so the original intent of the writers, and drive of the characters, is much clearer in the Japanese subtitles. It’s not that the words don’t translate well to the American dialogue, it’s just that the priorities are different between the two cultures. The most notable difference for me is the reason why the heroes show mercy to a particular villain. The American version explains it as strategic, whereas the Japanese goes significantly deeper into the nature of the heroes.
As I watched this season from beginning to end it struck how much of Gohan’s story arch draws from the old, told tale of a young, reluctant man with potential being trained into a warrior because his strength is needed – with some significant twists to the traditional stories. His trainer has some strong quotes for young Warrior hearts. “You’ll laugh at your fears when you find out who you really are.” Deep stuff.
It always feels to me like Season 1 goes on two episodes longer than it should. Episode 38 essentially begins what becomes the story arc of Seasons 2 & 3. So, instead of finishing the arc of Season 1, laying down plans for Season 2, and stopping there, it goes on another couple of episodes and decides to end in a weird cliffhanger that has almost nothing to do with the developing story. Although, in Season 2 it is revealed that these people do in fact have some connection with the developing story, the significance ends up feeling forced.
Quote of the Season
“You’ll laugh at your fears when you find out who you really are.”
As the DBZ movies go, Dead Zone is not great, but not bad either. The action is high enough quality to stave off boredom. The story line is intriguing. It features one of the more entertaining villains in the franchise (who, in his introductory scene, follows up his explanation of his master plan with the most maniacal laugh ever). There are also some interesting messages in this story, particularly about the ultimate fate of evil, which Christian audiences might find interesting. Possible Bible study material.
Chronologically, it seems it would make the most sense to set this movie before the events of the Z series. So many things happen in the first few episodes that would make this story line unviable, plus Goku even still uses his staff. However, to watch this before starting the Z series would spoil some of the surprises, so I would suggest holding off on it for a few episodes at least, and then looking at it as a prequel. My recommendation would be between Episodes 5 and 6.
Nudity: Goku’s butt.
There is a scene where Gohan gets drunk on a special apple, which launches into a trippy music sequence. I don’t remember what the lyrics were in the Japanese version, but the American version lyrics are…a bit odd. Musical numbers like this are standard for the early DBZ movies, so you’ve got plenty more to look forward to.
Unlike all the other DBZ movies, this one actually sets up events in one of the future seasons, so definitely try to watch it before Season 4.
I find this to be one of the more boring DBZ films, story wise. The main villain is lame, a kind of HAL on steroids, although he has some interesting minions. Bulma seems to take on the role of a Bond Girl in this movie, which is entertaining in itself. That’s pretty much all I have to say, really.
People look funny when electrocuted.
Although it doesn’t fit perfectly, I think I would position this movie between Episodes 35 and 36. That way the main story arc of Season 1 is finished, but Season 2 hasn’t started yet. (Again it feels to me like Season 2 starts at Episode 38, but once you hit Episode 36 you get exhaustive dialogue of all the characters laying their plans down for Season 2. It picks up a separate momentum from the previous episodes and would be jarring to interrupt.)
Language: Occurrence of H*ll and D*mn.
It’s occurred to me that I use the word Hell without asterisk earlier in this review, but in that case I am referring to the place rather than the curse, so I think I’m okay as far as Christian Review etiquette.
Tree of Might
This one has an intriguing concept and a cooler villain with a diverse posse. It starts off with a new intro montaging the collection of Dragon Balls, and even has a new clip of Gohan being chased by a dinosaur, which made me laugh out loud. This movie introduces Gohan’s pet dragon “Icarus” who appears again in later films, and I think even appears or is referenced in a later season.
There are parts where the plot loses me. The logic of exactly how moonlight/bluntz waves affect saiyans, and what causes and cancels transformation, seems to change according to convenience. Also the cause of final victory (-or defeat…I’m not saying who wins) makes no sense to me. King Kai tries to explain it after a few minutes, and I still don’t buy it.
Of all the DBZ movies, I find this one to be the most frustratingly difficult to try and fit into the chronology of the show. All of the indicators I look for to identify a particular period send me in completely different directions. (SPOILERS) Gohan has his Season 2 haircut, but Goku still doesn’t know who “Kakarot” is. All of the friends who died in the fight with Nappa are still around and, though it could be argued that this is after they’ve all been wished back, we would then have to explain why Goku isn’t Super Saiyan. When I look at how high Goku is able to take his Kaioken, and the fact that he’s wearing a different shirt, I would guess that this movie was originally released sometime during Seasons 2 or 3, however (SPOILER ENDED) I have decided to place this movie between Episodes 38 and 39, because the movie plays off of themes and events that at that time would still be fresh in the audience’s mind. I know, a lot of these people are dead, you’re just going to have to get over that.
Nudity: Gohan’s butt & junk.