It has all led to this. The events of Season One and Season Two build towards what happens here in Season Three. 825~ minutes of screen time – including the longest 5 minutes of all time – over 33 episodes, 20 of which contain one of, if not the longest single fight in anime history. This season truly defines the highs and lows of the series. The highs are truly stunning but there are some problems too.
The problems are entirely down to the nature of producing anime and not to do with the story. Like a lot of anime, Dragon Ball Z is an adaptation of a manga. The trouble arrives when the show’s production catches up to the manga. Animation is a tough gig, episodes have a long lead up time because they take a long time to make. So catching up becomes a serious problem because then the animators don’t know what happens next. You can’t adapt something that isn’t out yet. Back in 1991, when this season was originally airing in Japan, the TV schedule was king. So, when you had a prime time slot you wanted to keep it. That means you can’t just skip a few weeks here and a few weeks there to let the manga get ahead again. You couldn’t stop for a year hiatus either. You need to release something every week or another show will take your prime time spot and once it’s gone you might never get it back. So, you need to fill and that’s where the problem arrives.
Filler throws the pacing off because it’s superfluous and not written by the author of the manga being adapted. It’s often quite obvious and easy to spot for that reason. It can sometimes throw up continuity errors or create discrepancies to the true story of the manga. A prime example of this is a point during the Goku vs Frieza fight where it looks like Goku is killed in the anime. Frieza punches him into a hole and lava explodes out, Goku is then missing for a long time before reappearing after a wish is granted. So it appears like he was killed and brought back by the wish but in the manga, that isn’t what happens at all. In the manga he’s punched into the ocean and bounces back immediately. Incidents like this are why Toei animation later created Dragon Ball Z Kai which is basically a remake of the series that cuts all the filler and has consistent production throughout. DBZ Kai is often recommended to newcomers as the best way to watch the series because it cuts the filler and is a truer representation of the manga. That said, I still can’t bring myself to watch it. Some of the voices are different and it uses the Japanese score instead of my beloved Faulconer one.
It’s often been said that Akira Toriyama, the creator of the series, originally planned to end the series here. Though that is said about several points in the story where it could have ended over the years. It certainly has an air of finality to it. Many plot threads that have been bubbling away come to fruition, there’s even a prophecy fulfilled. You really see this in the latter half of the season in the dialogue and actions of certain characters; particularly Goku. Frieza has been built up as a truly evil and despicable character, the greatest evil in the Universe. In this season we see that not only is that true, but that he has the power to back it up. Ruthlessly dismantling the fighters in the first 10 episodes or so. The evil ruler pulling the puppet strings of his minions in Season Two is replaced by a brutal, overwhelmingly powerful and vindictive fighter.
Goku vs Frieza is the battle to end all battles. It’s one of the longest in anime but it delivers, minor filler issues aside, in spades. It’s an incredible fight with numerous twists and turns. Again we see the characterisation come through in the fights, informing their outcomes in interesting ways. Frieza spends so long toying with Goku, despite being more than capable of killing him easily during the first half of the fight, that it’s too late by the time he takes things seriously. While outmatched and being pummelled Goku keeps digging deeper and deeper, pushing himself to win. Eventually, events push Goku so far he snaps and transforms into a Super Saiyan. Just like Vegeta had prophesied; Just as Frieza feared all along.
I could pick Goku transforming into a Super Saiyan as my stand out moment from this season but that is too obvious. Besides, there are so many other good ones to pick from. My stand out moment from this series is the x20 Kaioken attack. It’s a short sequence but everything about it encapsulates why I love Dragon Ball Z. The circumstances that lead up to it, the audio & visual execution, the significance narratively and character wise. All of it is superb. It’s a fleeting moment but it delivers so much at the same time.
Season Three is an incredible journey. It’s a little bloated from filler which is a shame but overall it still holds up as an impressive creative work.
Will Season Four be able to keep it up? Find out in my next article on Dragon Ball Z. And don’t forget that you can purchase the beautifully remastered Blu-Ray’s as individual seasons from Manga UK.