While I knew what anime was thanks to classic Voltron, Speed Racer and what not from my dad, I wasn’t really into it as a kid. There was just something about old anime that didn’t click with me at all. It was probably due to the bad dubbing and lip sync issues or blocky animations. It just didn’t resonate well with me as a child, that is until I became a pre-teen and Toonami on the Cartoon Network was a daily thing for me.
Toonami was a wonderful block of hip and edgy cartoons both western and Japanese that aired usually from 4 pm to 7 pm each week day in the United States [eventually moving to Saturday’s later in it’s run]. It had an infusion of great western cartoons like Justice League, Beast Wars and Batman: The Animated Series but also introduced my generation to 90’s anime like Big-O, Gundam Wing, Outlaw Star, Tenchi Muyo!, Sailor Moon, Ronin Warriors and of course, Dragon Ball Z.
It’s that last anime I mentioned, that really left a memorable impression on pre-teen me and it’s the basis for the article you’ve stumbled upon reading. I will gush now in complete fandom as to why I love the entire Dragon Ball franchise.
Before Dragon Ball Z, I never knew nor expected anime to ever contain fast action scenes or have characters so captivating with multiple layers added to them over time. I was instantly hooked and made it a ritual every day at 5 pm to watch Dragon Ball Z — even when it was stuck in an endless loop of syndication from when Goku’s brother Raditz arrives on Earth all the way to where Goku finally shows up on Namek with the whole thing starting all over again!
I remember continuously hoping that the next episode after Goku’s arrival on Namek would premier but it never did until a few years later.
And yet, when the American dub finally went beyond that, it was glorious!
We were introduced to the rest of the Frieza saga, Goku going Super Saiyan, we got the Garlic Jr saga for a follow up, then went on into the Android saga and met Future Trunks, etc. The rest is pretty much well known for all of us and is a vital part of anime history. It put anime into the minds of the western audiences more so then any other and along with Toonami, anime was here to stay in the United States and the rest of the western world for a long time to come. Goku and co. became our Japanese Super Heroes just like Batman, Spiderman and Superman were our Western ones.
Dragon Ball Z was only the second series in the franchise, much to my surprise and was a follow up to Goku’s adventures as a kid and teenager in Dragon Ball where he befriended Bulma, Yamcha, Krillin and battled the Red Ribbon Army and then at the time, an evil Piccolo. While the universe wasn’t at stake in this series, there were still lives at stake and a coming of age tale to be told.
The follow up to Dragon Ball Z, called Dragon Ball GT — while not based on any official manga like Z and Ball was — introduced new universal villains in the form of Baby, Super 17 and Omega, while also giving Goku and friends new power ups in the form of Super Saiyan 4, etc to even the odds. It wasn’t a smash hit like Z was, but still for what it’s worth gave us more of the universe we loved and ended it all on a relatively positive note.
The entire Dragon Ball franchise, by the time the GT concluded, ended in the late 90’s with nothing new being made for it besides just numerous merchandises and video games. Some were good and great, others were pretty abysmal and forgettable.
It wasn’t until Bandai Namco released the very first Dragon Ball Z Budokai fighting game for Playstation 2, Xbox and Gamecube that we started to see great video games being made for the manga/anime, that actually captured the feel and tone of it all. Each Budokai, Tenkaichi, Burst Limit, Raging Blast and Battle Of Z game built onto the previous entries, upping the scope of what we could get for a Dragon Ball game until we finally got the Xenoverse series — were we can actually create our own custom characters and influence the events of the entire series — and also the soon to be released Fighters Z, which looks to capture the exact nature of the anime/manga in a flashy 2D fighter by the makers of Guilty Gear.
While the games were flourishing, the manga and anime series was in hibernation with only a HD remake/clean up of the Z called, Kai being made; until series creator Akira Toriyama revealed a new movie called Battle Of Gods was set to be released in March 2013 which introduced new characters to the lore — Beerus, Jaco and Whis — and even gave Goku a brand new “God” form. It led the internet into a frenzy since this is an actual continuation of the beloved anime/manga that many adults grew up enjoying. It was a revival of our childhood! Toriyama eventually followed this up with the Resurrection F movie which featured the return of series villain, Frieza with a new form along with Goku and Vegeta getting a power up form as well. It wasn’t until both Battle Of Gods and Resurrection F did well that Toriyama revealed he is continuing the Dragon Ball franchise in both manga and anime form with Dragon Ball Super!
Super is technically a direct sequel of Z but skips everything that happens in GT by stating that the events of Super and GT are happening in separate, parallel universes. Here it follows Goku, Vegeta, Gohan and the others as they collide with the god of destruction Beerus, the revitalized Freiza, Universe 6 and then their eventual conflict with Zamesu and Black. However, the series is still in production with new episodes being made for it regularly. The series also has made a return to Toonami with weekly dubbed episodes every Saturday night.
It’s weird to see a beloved series of my childhood return from the dead with new content being made for it, especially now at such a feverish pace. As a kid I always wanted this kind of support for the anime outside of a few poorly made video games [here’s looking at you, Final Bout] and action figures [cheap dollar store knockoffs]. Now, we have build-able model kits of Goku and co. similar to how high quality Gundam figures are made. The video games are fast and fluid just like the show and constantly have the absolute latest of content in them stopping only at the then finished Zamesu and Black saga. Even western pop culture is all in with the series, with the likes of Ronda Rosey constantly wearing something Dragon Ball related and Hot Topic, FunkoPop, LootCrate, etc. carrying things for the franchise. Even memes being made about the show from Vegata’s scouter reading being over 9000 and Frieza always having another form, you fools!
Sure other anime did go on to surpass Dragon Ball Z in terms of story telling, scope and depth. But without Dragon Ball Z as an entry point into the world of anime (and manga), all those other shows wouldn’t have been given a chance by the likes of me and others who grew up watching anime during the original Toonami era of the early 2000s. Dragon Ball Z was a stepping stone into understanding a different culture half a world away and to appreciate it growing up in a western world influenced by Disney and Nickelodeon shows. Dragon Ball as a franchise was different but still told the hero’s journey we all grew to love.
It’s the modern day Journey To The West for all of us and just something that doesn’t seem to have a final chapter any time soon.