Before we get started I’m going to give you a little background info on me and Dragon Ball Z. (Also, check out my prior article explaining how I’m watching DBZ in fantastic 4:3 HD Blu-Ray goodness.) I was born in 1994. So I was the right age for the “Golden Age of Anime (on broadcast TV)” that swept the UK from approximately 1998 to 2005. During that golden age anime wasn’t simply on TV, it was regularly prime time viewing on Cartoon Network & Toonami or a variation of both. It was a different time, a better time (2020 sucked, I’m sure we can all agree). Anything animated was considered kids TV regardless of the actual content of the show in question; though many were edited and censored in some capacity. So, not only did I watch Pokémon, which is definitely a kid friendly anime, I watched Gundam Wing and Dragon Ball Z which weren’t necessarily. They were violent, had death and covered some complex themes and topics. Regardless of whether I should have been doing so, I spent many weekday nights watching these shows. Along with Spider-Man: The Animated Series, Power Rangers, etc watching anime, and in particular Dragon Ball Z, is one of the many ways I spent my formative years.
In the years since, I’ve rewatched DBZ a handful of times and found a new appreciation for it each time I’ve done so. Like most kids, who don’t control their schedules and can’t keep track of TV programme changes and so on, I dropped off these shows somewhere along the way. Like many teenagers do, I’m assuming, I went back and rewatched several series I remembered enjoying as a kid. Finally, I was able to watch them from start to finish, in order without missing an episode – for the very first time in most cases – which was great. I spent a summer holiday off school rewatching Dragon Ball Z, and playing video games, which is probably one of the best summers of my life. The joy of finally experiencing it in full without missing key plot details or exciting scenes was immense. I was finally able to appreciate it fully and, as I was getting older, I started to understand the nuances of the characters and the story in depth and detail I hadn’t before. I’m sure I’ll have plenty of opportunity to express how my opinion has shifted on certain aspects over the years as this series of reviews progresses.
I am just a fan, I’m not an expert nor am I as qualified as some others who have already done reviews of Dragon Ball Z. If you are looking for someone who can tell you who animated certain scenes or supervised episodes or analyse, in-depth, the construction of the various character types then I’m not your guy. Totally Not Mark is your man for that. His YouTube channel is chock full of videos dissecting various aspects of Dragon Ball as a series. Animators, the original manga, focused looks at particular characters. He’s got you covered. I’ve watched most of his Dragon Ball videos, if not all of them, they are all well researched, well put together and fascinating. I’ve learned a lot from his videos and you will too. What, then, do I have to add, I hear you wondering. My experience of and my love for the show as I rewatch it. That’s it and that’s what you’ll get in this series of articles. I’ve got criticisms to share too but as a whole this will be a positive read.
*BEWARE SPOILERS IN THE VIDEO IF YOU HAVEN’T WATCHED THE WHOLE SEIRIES BEFORE*
Season One aka The Saiyan Saga, kicks things off and bridges the gap from the rather comic and jovial tone of Dragon Ball to the more serious, high stakes tone that Dragon Ball Z increasingly takes. DBZ maintains a sense of humour throughout and there is plenty of silliness in places but the overarching narratives are serious with higher stakes than ever. It manages this transition really well, it also serves well enough as an introduction to the series for newcomers. Many, myself included, saw DBZ first despite it being a sequel due to it being on Cartoon Network/Toonami while the original series was not. The first 6 episodes or so serve as a mini-arc that introduces the world, characters and sets the course for the rest of the season. It does so very well and leaves us with plenty to look forward to.
The middle chunk of the season deals with the preparation for the arrival of “The Saiyans”. The warriors of Earth, the Z fighters, spend a year training in the hopes of being strong enough to send Vegeta and Nappa packing. Goku, in Other World, travels along the 10,000 mile Snakeway to train with King Kai. Piccolo trains the young Gohan – by throwing him into the wilderness – while the others train with Kami & Mr Popo on the lookout. With the final third of the season showing the titanic struggle that ensues when the Saiyans arrive. I’m being light on actual details here so as not to spoil it entirely for anyone unfamiliar with the show.
I love this opening season, it’s a masterclass in setting and subverting expectations. When we get to the final battle, each time you think you know where it’s going to go, it throws a curveball at you. Each time it raises the stakes, you see the characters react in ways that are believable and totally fitting to their established traits. With some fine animation and excellent choreography during the fight scenes that really capture and hold my attention. This season sets a high benchmark for the entire show, setting the standard for what’s to come.
It also has one of my favourite abilities in the show, the Kaioken. Pronounced “K-ai-o-ken” not “Kay-o-ken” as it is in the original English dub. It’s an energy multiplier ability that comes complete with a red aura and distinctive movement sound that I adore but can’t adequately describe in words. I love the way it’s presented visually, it is not only distinct but you see the toll it’s taking on the body, the risk/reward, as it is used throughout the fight with increasing desperation. The standout scene of the season, for me, is the beam struggle between the Galick Gun and Kamehameha. With the planet on the line, it’s a mesmerising visual battle. It’s an iconic scene for a reason. Though, I strongly suspect, the white light effects are not photosensitive epilepsy friendly so watch with caution if that is a concern.
It’s a strong start for Dragon Ball Z, can Season Two keep up the pace? Find out in my next article for Dragon Ball Z. And don’t forget that you too can buy the same Blu-Ray’s I’m watching as individual seasons from Manga UK.