Whether due to its visual flair, mature levels of violence or addicting long-form storytelling, Dragon Ball Z struck a chord with western audiences when it debuted in North America on the hugely popular Toonami program in 1999. The audience on Cartoon Network was full of impressionable teens, and Dragon Ball Z was one of the first Japanese anime series to gain traction outside of the Land of the Rising Sun. Re-runs and all, DBZ ran on the network for over ten years before a brief hiatus. The show was so popular, however, that soon a re-dubbed, re-edited version of the anime known as Dragon Ball Z Kai debuted in 2010, and has been running ever since.
Finally, the somewhat shocking international success of the 2013 theatrical film Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods and the buzz surrounding the upcoming Resurrection F has apparently convinced Toei Animation, the original production company behind the series, to dive back in and bring us something entirely new: Dragon Ball Super, which debuts in Japan this month. While fans of the original series don’t want a retread (DBZ Kai), we also don’t want something that tries to reinvent the wheel – I’m looking at you, GT; in that vein, here are six DBZisms the new show should run with and six we want to see buried in the Namekian wastes in favor of a new era of Super Saiyan mayhem.
1. Sagas (Do Want)
Many shows have seasons; Dragon Ball Z has sagas, and that’s the perfect word for these space-spanning, continent-shattering collisions between the Z fighters and whichever baddie or group of baddies they come up against in their latest adventure.
Everyone has a favorite Dragon Ball Z character, and everyone has a favorite villain – shout out to Cell – which makes choosing a favorite saga pretty easy for the majority of DBZ fans. Many of the sagas can arguably be split into smaller sub-sagas, and there was no dearth of filler along the way, but, at its basic, there were four main chapters to the story of Goku and company: the Saiyan Saga, the Frieza Saga, the Cell Saga and the Buu Saga.
We want this concept carried over into Dragon Ball Super, giving each story arc a specific mission, a big bad, and its own iconic moments; rather than following in the footsteps of some anime and western animation, many of which feature a villain-of-the-week structure, DBZ features a villain-of-the-year format. This allows us to get fully absorbed in the conflict and see everyone on the team prove their mettle and do their part before the eventual and inevitable win for the good guys.
2. Irrelevant Fighters (Do NOT Want)
Like the stories that came before it, the Buu Saga featured some pretty great moments: Vegeta sacrificed himself to save the planet; the two most powerful Saiyans combined their powers to form a whole new class of warrior; and Gohan returned to relevance, holding off Buu in one of the pink bad’s most powerful forms by himself.
There are two main arguments put forth as to what made the Buu Saga end the series on something of a low note: a silly villain and the total irrelevance of virtually everyone not named Goku or Vegeta. Personally, I’m entrenched firmly in the camp of the latter, even excepting that Vegeta is my favorite character.
Sure, Gohan had his chance to shine, and that was fantastic, but what about Piccolo? What about Krillin and Tien? How about Goten and Trunks? Couldn’t the legacies of the two most powerful warriors the universe had ever seen amount to more than a few bumbling, ghost-pooping cameos before the final cell was drawn?
The Saiyans always have been and always should be the focus of anything with Dragon Ball in the title, but taking away the importance of the rest of the Z fighters relegated them to being literal spectators by the end, and we really don’t need that.
The Dragon Ball series is not known for its deep storytelling or logical consistencies; as such, it would be pretty easy to invent some plot device to narrow the gap between the weaker Z fighters and the two primo, spikey-haired badasses; that’s something we can get behind.
(None of this applies to Yamcha; he sucks and he can stay irrelevant.)
3. Story of the Saiyans (Do Want)
At first glance, this may seem like a bit of a contradiction based on what was just said, but hold your Dragon Balls for just a tick and chill.
Dragon Ball Z has always been at its best when its focus is put squarely on the story of the Saiyans. Now, that does not mean we focus on the Saiyans at the exclusion of everyone else in the narrative – far from it – but we want the focus of Dragon Ball Super to go away from defending earth every month and focus on the legacy of the Saiyan race. Give Goku and Vegeta a reason to venture out into the unknown and bring the rest of the team along for the ride.
If you have any hesitance about this on account of Planet Vegeta having been destroyed as one of the backdrops of the original story, don’t worry about it. You really think Goku, Vegeta, Nappa and Raditz were the only members of their race to survive the explosion?
The relative quality of the inordinate (15, to be precise) number of DBZ movies can be debated, as can their inclusion or exclusion from the series’ canon, but some of the best moments in the theatrical history of the franchise have come about when writers and directors brought new Saiyans in to give the Z fighters a worthy foe – and up the narrative stakes in the process. Think Turles from Tree of Might or Broly from any of his three movie appearances.
If any other Saiyans did survive the extinction event of their race, doesn’t it stand to reason that they’d have just as much potential as Goku and Vegeta? Imagine if there were more Kryptonians than General Zod, Faora and Non for Kal-El to tangle or team up with.
The Saiyans have a rich and storied culture; ironically, Goku knows very little about it, including the role his father, Bardock, played in attempting to stop Lord Frieza at the height of his powers. They’re like Kryptonian Spartans, and we want to see more of their history.
4. Old Enemies Returning (Do NOT Want, with one exception)
As we’ll explore in further detail ahead, Dragon Ball Z is all about progression, both in terms of personality (Vegeta), fighting ability (mainly Goku, but everyone else as well) and challenges. That is why we absolutely do not want to see Dragon Ball Super retread old narrative territory by bringing back the original DBZ villains. Sure, it’s fun in movie form (by all accounts, Resurrection F is a good time) but we’ve been there, done that. It’s time for something new.
Speaking of movies, one concept that the fun – if overly comedic – Battle of Gods introduced could be a narrative goldmine for Dragon Ball Super: the exploration of the multiverse and the 12 Gods of Destruction therein. Beerus, the chief antagonist of that film, revealed to Goku at the end of their clash that there are 12 universes in Akira Toriyama’s work, each of which has a supremely powerful being charged with maintaining balance through wholesale destruction.
It wouldn’t be hard to come up with a reason for the Gods of Destruction – at least some of them – to be drawn into a conflict. Maybe a universe-spanning war kicks off between them, or perhaps Goku and Vegeta venture out to test their mettle against beings seemingly out of their league, only to be drawn into a conflict they didn’t see coming.
Either way, it’s hard to imagine alien life forms that can challenge the modern Z fighters. But Gods? Toriyama may be onto something there.
Of course, there is one glaring exception to this rule, and that concerns the Legendary Super Saiyan, Broly. He’s come back twice in movie form, and we have a feeling he could be poised for a comeback in the proper canon of the series. Since he’s a Saiyan, you don’t have to do much explaining in terms of how he got so powerful, and in terms of a challenging foe, it doesn’t get much more worthy than that dude.
5. New Forms (Do Want)
If you’ve followed Dragon Ball Z in any capacity, you’ll know that powering up is what it’s all about. In this writer’s opinion, there is no way the series would have taken on the following it has without the majesty that is the Super Saiyan.
With its golden hair, electric sheen and overall badassery, the Super Saiyan has emerged in pop culture as being synonymous with ridiculous levels of power, and anyone who honestly believes Superman could challenge Goku at the height of his Super Saiyan abilities needs to check themselves.
Like all things in DBZ, however, even that majestic and fiery form soon became rote, so Toriyama introduced levels. Usually, going up a “level” in Super Saiyan terms equates to getting slightly longer, more ridiculous hair and maybe adding a few lightning bolts to the shimmering auro around you, but we have a feeling (and by feeling, we know for certain) that there will be further permutations of the Super Saiyan form in the new series, and we can’t wait to see what they are.
But why stop there?
In addition to the Saiyans, one of the most fun DBZisms around was watching the aforementioned big bads of the series reveal new forms little by little as they tangled with an increasingly powerful array of Z fighters. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Oh, and can we please find another Namekian for Piccolo to fuse with? It’s been too long since his last evolution. And for Supreme Kai’s sake, give some of the humans those nifty mystic level upgrades that were handed to Gohan in the Buu saga rather than relegating them to glorified bean counters (senzu, of course).
6. Wishing Away Death (Do NOT Want)
If ever there were a property more guilty of calling in the resurrection card than the comic book superhero world, then it’s undoubtedly Dragon Ball Z. And that garbage has got to stop.
Listen, we all know this show is ridiculous, but it’s also awesome, and we sincerely hope Dragon Ball Super continues that tradition, which is why, as blasphemous as it is to say, the dragon balls should not be a premiere plot motivator of the new series.
Many of the best moments of Dragon Ball Z involve characters making heroic sacrifices to save whichever world they happen to be on at the time, but those sacrifices are cheapened considerably when the threat of death only lasts as long as it takes for Bulma and company to follow their blinking GPS en route to gathering the seven dragon balls and wishing everyone back to life.
Hell, even the afterlife of the Dragon Ball universe seems awesome, so why not leave some people there? The series creators have already demonstrated that they’re perfectly willing to write bizarre, time and space-bending plot threads to allow even dead heroes to contribute to the fight, but at least keep them dead, otherwise we lose all of the impact and feel none of the stakes that should be a given in these epic showdowns.
7. Boldly Go Beyond Earth (Do Want)
The Earth of Dragon Ball Z bears few similarities to our own. In their world, strange, animal-like people walk around in broad daylight to nobody’s chagrin, but when a Namekian touches down in the street, there’s an instant panic. Also, there seems to be a literally infinite number of small, easily destructible and mostly-featureless islands scattered throughout the land, making boring and fragile battlefields a common feature from the Cell Saga onward.
We’ve got no problem with the Z fighters defending Earth every once in a while, but one of the premiere reasons why the Frieza Saga still stands as the greatest in the minds of many is the fact that it brought our heroes to an alien world. Yes, destructible environments abounded, but we saw green oceans, giant native creatures and other races – the Namekians being the standout of the series – with capable warriors of their own.
The universe Akira Toriyama has crafted is a big one, and we want to see it explored more fully. We’ve seen battles on Pacific islands; we’ve seen skyscrapers crumble under the onslaught of the Androids. It’s time for new worlds with new threats, new friends and new vistas to be smashed under the beautiful blue rays of the Kamehameha wave.
8. Inconsistent Animation (Do NOT Want, obviously)
We, as consumers, always want something to look good, so this one sort of goes without saying, but inconsistent animation is the worst thing about sitting through the original run of Dragon Ball Z, especially when it comes to parts of the Android and Cell Sagas.
When Dragon Ball Z was first being produced in the late ’80s in Japan, Toei Animation frankly did not have the budget nor the time necessary to produce 291 episodes of jaw-droppingly animated Super Saiyan mayhem. There are incredible displays of artistry throughout the series, including Goku’s first clash with Vegeta, Goku’s acrobatic battle with Cell during the Cell Games and the entire ending battle with Kid Buu, but there are also some glaring shifts in animation quality that leaves some scenes looking like they belong in a parody of the show rather than in the midst of the series.
Kimitoshi Chioka is credited with directing the new Dragon Ball Super, and if his work on Precure, World Trigger and others are anything to go by, we’re in for some great action sequences. Still, the animation quality of the show will only be as good as its lead animators, so here’s to hoping we get something that generally keeps up the quality and consistency we’ve come to expect from modern anime series.
The new creative directors are bringing Dragon Ball Super to a more plugged-in – and by extension – much more cynical audience than the Toonami viewers of the late 90s and early 2000s, so now is not the time to cheap out.
9. The World Martial Arts Tournament, or Some Version of It (Do Want)
This may be a controversial choice, but as much as the Dragon Ball Z series is known for its badass fight scenes and incredible displays of power, it’s also a fun show where – up until the last few sagas – everyone got his or her chance to shine. No construct within the DBZ universe lends itself more to cool, fun action than the World Martial Arts Tournament (Tenkaichi Budokai, if it please you).
There were a handful of tournaments in the original Dragon Ball series, and they were the most enoyable parts of the show, combining old-school ’80s martial arts movie sensibilities with the loopy powers and abilities of superheroes.
In Dragon Ball Z, the World Martial Arts Tournament was dominated for years by Hercule – one of the series’ most annoying characters – with the Z fighters being far too powerful to fight anyone meaningful other than one another in the brackets. There was, however, a pretty interesting tournament held in Other World, where Goku found a host of worthy foes from other races, which ties into the previous point regarding the importance of going beyond earth.
It would be great to toss the Z fighters – everyone from Tien Shinhan all the way up to Goku and Vegeta – into another Other World-style tournament, seeing them cross paths with each other or some new foes. How great would it be for someone unexpected – say, one of the humans – to win the whole thing if the Saiyans agreed not to use their powered-up forms?
10. Goofy Anime Comedy (Do NOT Want)
Perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of anime to translate to an unreceptive newbie is the goofy comedy associated with much of the art form. Granted, there are genuinely comedic shows out there, including many in the Slice of Life genre, but most of the comedy in the Dragon Ball Z series comes off as forced and completely at odds with the rest of the show.
We want levity in Dragon Ball Super, but we don’t want Krillin stumbling around the battlefield like an idiot or giant sweat bubbles cropping up behind characters’ heads during awkward scenes.
Battle of Gods had some cool moments, and plenty of people enjoyed the humor, but many DBZ fans found it cringe-worthy to watch Vegeta, the Prince of Saiyans, break into interpretive dance in an effort to cool the temper of Lord Beerus.
If there is to be comedy in the new series, it should come out of the story, and there are plenty of comedic characters to be found in the cast. Goku himself is something of a goofball, and Dragon Ball Super doesn’t need to cut that out, but when it comes time to face the music, he’d sure as hell better turn into Kakarot, the Saiyan badass we know and love.
11. Rivalries (Do Want)
If done in the wrong way – or if overdone – this could easily slide into the contrary category, but as it stands, rivalries are perhaps the greatest thing about the storied Dragon Ball series.
The great thing about the Saiyans is that, while they are the good guys, they very much enjoy a good fight; even Gohan, who turned into a bit of a good-natured hack following the events of the Cell Saga, can’t help but get his blood up when he gets into a good scrap, and the same could be said of almost every fighter in the series.
Although it was always about saving the world at the end of the day, Dragon Ball Z gave us plenty of fun and engaging rivalries between Goku and the villain of the moment. Additionally, DBZ gave us what is arguably the greatest rivalry in the history of anime, and one of the greatest in pop culture, when Toriyama made the genius decision to turn Vegeta into an antihero opposite his bitter rival.
The Goku-Vegeta rivalry has been done to death in Dragon Ball Z, so we absolutely do not want to see another heel turn for the displaced Prince of Saiyans in Dragon Ball Super; that said, there will always be a rivalry between the two when it comes to reaching new abilities, so let’s not lose sight of one of the main driving forces of the series going forward.
This rivalry should extend to Goten and Trunks, both of whom we expect to play fairly large roles in the new show, but why stop there? Maybe Tien and Krillin can get into it (again, sorry-not-sorry, Yamcha). And how about reviving the good old teacher-student rivalry between Piccolo and Gohan?
12. Goku Always Wins (Do NOT Want)
As was mentioned before, there are no real consequences in Dragon Ball. If a hero dies, he comes back; even when genocidal maniacs die, they go to an animated hell that actually looks sort of fun, red Jacuzzis and all. We’d like some of those aspects to change going forward, but the premiere change Dragon Ball Super needs to make from its predecessor is to have other heroes get more than their moments to shine; they need to get a chance to actually save the day.
Perhaps the reason the Cell Saga stands out as wholly unique among the likes of the Saiyans, Frieza and Buu is the fact that Goku does not win. In fact, Goku goes toe-to-toe with Cell in one of the best – screw it, the best – fight of the entire series and comes up short, giving his son Gohan the chance to rise to the occasion and do what no other could.
We want to see something like that again. Give Vegeta a chance to be the hero, or Piccolo. Goku is the best; he’s the Superman of that world, but what if every Justice League story arc ended with Superman saving the day? When you’ve got a team with as much power as the Z fighters, Toriyama and company need to share the love, and the spotlight.
Keep us guessing. There will always be another enemy for Goku to topple down the line.
Previously by Steven Kelliher
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