Season Four is a bit like watching the start of a brand new series. The end of Season Three might have been intended to be the end of the series. So it takes a little time to reset the board for things to continue on. In fact, it mirrors Season One of DBZ somewhat in its structure with a few key differences. For one, the opening 10 episodes are anime specific filler, however this filler is a bit less problematic than what I mentioned in the Season Three article. It isn’t ad-hoc changes and additions, on this occasion it’s a self-contained little arc that, while it has no bearing on the actual story, is still a decent watch. It isn’t written by the creator Akira Toriyama so, like the filler elsewhere, it has a slightly different tone and feel to it but not egregiously so. It does enough to keep itself relevant without really altering anything that would upset the status quo.
The “real” story doesn’t get going until after the Garlic Jr. Saga; which is when the mirroring of Season One comes into things. A few episodes act as an introductory mini-arc, reintroducing the characters, establishing the state of the world & dealing with the return of a certain villain; plus, a mysterious new addition makes his presence well and truly felt. This new character, from the future, lays out the coming threat for our heroes, setting a clear path forward for us, as an audience, to look forward to. For the characters that can only mean one thing; it’s training time! Our heroes spend some time getting prepared before the Androids arrive; they now know what horror awaits if they aren’t ready. From here things get more and more interesting. Each step the narrative takes adds another layer to the intrigue. Another reason to be gripped and ensuring you’re desperate to find out what happens next.
I’ve always maintained that Dragon Ball Z is a mastery in building and maintaining suspense. It has a bit of a reputation for being long and for taking forever, a reputation that Season Three is definitely responsible for in a lot of ways. As well, I suspect, as the syndication/dubbing issues which meant it took years longer to actually release in the West than it would’ve done. When looked at as a whole it does look massive, there’s 291 episodes in the anime, there’s a lot of build up to, and powering up in, the fights but that’s part of what makes them so compelling. Trust me on this, filler aside, it’s all absolutely worth it for the payoffs. The delivery is all the more satisfying for the wait that preceded it. We tend to think about the physical action and the visually spectacular techniques but DBZ battles are as much about psychology as they are strength. Sure, the strongest fighter tends to win but if they aren’t switched on the tables can turn on them very quickly. Hubris has been, and will be, the undoing of many characters in DBZ. The believability in the execution of those twists, the strength of the characterisation that underlies them and the unpredictability of outcomes, even the ones that seem slam dunks, help make this the compelling watch that it is.
One thing I haven’t mentioned as much as I should have at this point is how good the show looks. It’s incredible. Shows like DBZ are the ones that show 2D animation at its most beautiful with a distinct art style. The animators do a fantastic job of building upon the original illustration style in the manga by Akira Toriyama and bringing it to life in motion. A scene that makes this case is one of my favourites in the whole series and is my stand out moment for Season Four. It’s Vegeta vs Android 19. In addition to the narrative context – which I won’t spoil here – it just looks incredible. Vegeta has this amazing glowing aura that looks like his outline has been run over with a highlighter. I love how it looks. I also love how it looks like the big bang attack he unleashes, at one point, appears to absorb his powering up aura; as if he balled it up and fired it at Android 19. That isn’t quite what happens but it looks incredible all the same.
An honourable mention goes to Dr Briefs for having the funniest line in the show so far “The only thing he hasn’t bruised is his eyebrows” which had me howling with laughter. It couldn’t displace Vegeta vs Android 19 as my stand out moment but I had to mention it as it is a worthy runner up.
Will Season Five start as strongly as this one ends? 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.