I don’t know where to start with this season if I’m being honest. It’s the weakest season so far, the weirdest too, but not because it is bad. Just in that it is so different. It’s the harshest of handbrake turns in terms of the shift in tone; I think it might have given me enough whiplash to make an insurance claim. The previous six seasons have been serious affairs, the world has been on the line countless times, many people have died – including some of our main characters. They have been tales of struggle, of survival and of perseverance in the face of evil. In Season One the Earth is nearly obliterated and saving it comes at a terrible cost. In Season Two we have a terrifying game of cat and mouse play out with what is essentially a genocide as its backdrop. In Season Four we’re warned that only a few years into the future our entire cast of characters are killed and there isn’t much time to prevent it from happening. Then of course, there’s the tumultuous events of the last season, Season Six, where our heroes stared down the barrel of a defeat that would quite literally cost them the world on several occasions. So, to go from that to what we get in this season is… a little jarring to say the least.
There are a lot of very good reasons for why this is such a departure from what came before. While the anime is split into two series Dragon Ball (1986-1989) and Dragon Ball Z (1989-1996), the manga from which they are adapted is one continuous series. The manga is 519 chapters long, running from 1984 to 1995. Dragon Ball adapts the first 194 Chapters of the manga, into 153 episodes over 5 seasons, while Dragon Ball Z adapts the remaining 325 Chapters, into 291 episodes over 9 seasons. That’s long running by anyone’s standards so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Akira Toriyama, the author, decided that it was time to change things up a bit when he decided to continue the series past the events that unfolded in Season Six.
Dragon Ball started out as a very comedic series and while it maintains some of that leaning throughout its run, as I mentioned previously, it becomes much more serious as things progress. The entirety of DBZ, starting as it does quite far into the broader narrative, is pretty serious. Injecting a lighter, goofier nature into the show and going in a new direction isn’t necessarily a bad idea. The other big change for the series is the fact that its main protagonist up until this point is dead. Sure, Goku has been dead before and the titular wish granters sorted that out but at the end of the previous season Goku made clear he intended to stay dead this time. Akira Toriyama chose to replace him with Gohan as the main protagonist of the story going forward. Again, not a bad idea in itself. The trouble is that the transition isn’t handled well, it isn’t smooth and ultimately it doesn’t work out.
Why? Is a difficult question to answer. The anime starts with 5 filler episodes that show Goku getting settled into his new “life” in Other World and taking part in a tournament. I think the intent of this filler, other than just filling time, is to show that Goku is happy, at peace and has no real desire to come back. It’s a chance to say goodbye to him as an audience but, because it’s filler, means absolutely nothing. I think if this was a genuine opening to the story and was threaded into the actual goings on that would then continue it would work much better. When the season gets going properly, we discover that several years have passed, Gohan is now a young adult and his only concern is going to high school. We then get several episodes of high-school drama and the cringey, at best, “Great” Saiyaman superhero shenanigans. It’s the first time Dragon Ball Z feels genuinely directionless and lost with no idea where to go. Which is ironic given that Akira Toriyama famously didn’t plan anything ahead of time and just went where the story took him; including a few dead ends that proved difficult to write out of by his own admission. It isn’t until the World Martial Arts Tournament is revealed and the prospect of Goku returning, for a single day, that some impetus returns to the series.
The opening of this season, filler aside, feels like it should have been the start of a new series. I think it would’ve been much less jarring tonally if it had arrived under a new title; As a sequel to DBZ just as DBZ was to Dragon Ball. As it was it seems like it was a venture set up to fail from the very beginning. Dragon Ball is the second best selling manga ever, it’s sold 100’s of millions of copies, is popular all around the world and most importantly is a huge money spinner for several businesses. There’s a huge merchandising machine spinning away from the series itself. It’s only interest is selling figures, card games, etc and guess who the poster boy and main money maker is… Goku. Getting rid of him permanently was never going to fly because whether you like it or not, artists don’t exist in a vacuum. The money men, fans and other considerations influence the artist too. Only Akira Toriyama knows how much of an influence that external pressure was in his decision to bring Goku back as the main man and how much of it was simply the fact he couldn’t quite get things to work with Gohan in the hot seat. I suspect it was a bit of both but only Akira Toriyama knows the truth.
Whatever the reasons, it didn’t quite work out but that doesn’t mean there isn’t some good stuff in the season because there sure is. In fact, my stand out moment is one such thing for this season; Gohan teaching Videl how to fly. I’ve talked before about how the show does a brilliant job of contextualising its fights by giving the audience some characters watching the events to give perspective. Here we see a really great addition which is just giving the audience a real look at how something as seemingly basic as flying works. Videl starts off as a pretty strong human but she has no idea at all about ki (energy) or how to control it just like most people. Seeing the process of her learning to control her ki and how it is used to make characters fly is a really interesting look into how it all works. Showing us the basic level again really hammers home just how impressive all the energy waves and other stuff from the Z fighters really is. I only wish it were real so that I could fly too.
So, Season Seven was a bit of a tricky ride, will things get better next time? (Spoiler alert, they do) Find out in the next exciting article for Dragon Ball Z. And don’t forget that you can purchase the beautifully remastered Blu-Ray’s as individual seasons from Manga UK.