Do I even need to introduce a Dragonball Z article of mine anymore? I’ve talked about all manner of DBZ topics, but I haven’t gone out of my way to really defend the greatness that is Dragonball Z. Therefore, it’s time I stepped up and showed what I’m made of. A lot of people thing they understand Dragonball Z but clearly don’t, either by choice or by accident. A lot of things they think they understand are generally way off. I may have had my qualms in the past, but I’m ready to show that I know what I’m talking about when it comes to defending the Big Z. Here are Five Aspects of DBZ Everyone Gets Wrong.
5. Endless Staring:
Probably the first image a lot of people conjure up in their heads when someone mentions Dragonball Z is a scene of two fighters just standing motionless, their eyes locked in a never-ending staring contest. And you’d be correct in assuming this. DBZ indeed has a lot of staring going on between characters. But there’s a pretty simple reason behind this necessity: The fighting goes by quickly. Characters are capable of moving faster than the human eye can track them, meaning that an entire fight can conceivably happen in the blink of an eye. The problem with animating this is it’d be impossible for us to see since we’re only human ourselves. The solution is to create the illusion of speed by juxtaposing these intense action sequences with dramatic pauses. The books have the luxury of taking a page or two to just give one large detailed panel, forcing the reader to slow down and soak in the detail of the image, therefore making the fighting seem faster, but the anime can’t use the same tactic as every image is the same size (the TV screen). Detail can get better, but the most effective way to emphasize the speed is to slow things down between scuffles. It’s just how things work.
4. Constant Yelling:
During the course of any story arc of the series, you’re pretty much promised at least one blatant instance where a character starts powering up, causing him to clench his fists and begin screaming. When looked at from a position of someone with little or no interest in what’s going on, by which I mean “Not a DBZ Fan,” it can look rather silly. But in order to show a character getting stronger, there really isn’t any other way to convey the idea of them pushing themselves further past their limitations than audibly screaming. Yelling is a very primal aspect of human nature, able to get an emotion across without any words whatsoever. It’s universal. It’s simple, but it’s universal. What these characters are essentially doing is flexing, but just showing them stare slightly more angrily isn’t the best way to understand what they’re doing, hence the yelling and screaming at varying degrees of intensity. As a longtime viewer, I can tell when a character is pushing themselves hard or hardly at all, and this difference is critical to understanding the show.
3. Bad Animation:
DBZ is one of the poster children for the anime style of animation, i.e. recycled frames of animation and simple shading techniques. Much of this is a necessity for a property with more than 500 total episodes across three individual series, but then there’s the second thing people don’t seem to understand: Dragonball started its run in 1986. A lot of people forget that Dragonball Z wasn’t airing in the US immediately after it aired in Japan. In fact, Dragonball Z began airing in the US in September of 1996, nearly nine months after the 291 series concluded in Japan. The techniques and resources available to the original animators were vastly different than what we see now with computers, but a lot of people look at Dragonball and Dragonball Z and think, “Man, were they even trying?” Go back and watch the first episode of The Simpsons. Things are quite a bit different between then and now, and the Simpsons began right around the same time, using some of the same concepts such as recycled animations and simplistic shading techniques. And in 20 years, the Simpsons still hasn’t reached the sheer number of episodes DB/DBZ has produced. If you watch from the beginning of even just Z, you’ll see the animation improve over time, become cleaner, and even grow more detailed. But if you just start from the beginning and judge the rest of the series off the first few episodes, I’m sorry, that’s just foolish.
2. Poor Voice Acting:
One of the last straws when it comes to any anime series is the voice acting. When searching through to find an anime that appeals to you at an older age, DBZ’s English dubbing can instantly turn you away. I mean, none of the characters talk like adults, even in the uncut versions. But there’s a definite reason behind all this: Dragonball Z showed up in the US before anime was really popular. Those not there at the time may not remember that DBZ was one of the reasons anime got a foothold in the US at all, pushing it from a strange little obscure thing to a real powerhouse as a side culture. The downside to this is that since DBZ was the forefather to the anime boom, it didn’t get to partake in the glory that was dubbing meant for adults. DBZ was brought over to be aired for children, and US children are very different than Japanese children, meaning we had to sensor blood, gore, nudity, and every single swear word we could find. This results in characters saying “Darn it,” “Shoot,” and “Heck” a lot more than makes sense for adults witnessing the deaths of their loved ones or the entire planet. But there’s no way around it. The dubbing was done for children and by the time there was a large enough adult following, there was no reason to go back through and re-dub every episode to include adult language. Why bother when there were adults willing to pay for just the uncut blood and gore? If the language really bugs you, watch the Japanese version with subtitles. Suddenly you’ll start to see a huge difference with all your vulgarities safe and intact.
1. Doesn’t Make Sense:
Of everything that can plague Dragonball Z, the plot not making sense to people is a huge issue that simply can’t be hurtled. People are flying around, blowing things up with their mind, battling aliens and demons and androids and all manner of nonsense. Once again, looking from the outside in, it appears unbelievably silly and can push out new fans pretty easily. But what’s important to consider, besides the animations, besides the dubbing, besides anything else, is that Dragonball Z comes from Japan and Japan plays by a whole different set of rules. They wrote the book in anime, so they know the rules and how to break them. Plots can take dozens of episodes to get anywhere, or have a fight that lasts mere scenes. The characters are tropes that the average Japanese viewer will see and instantly recognize, allowing them to understand the most important aspect of DBZ: It’s parody. It was never meant to be taken seriously, even when it moves from lighthearted adventures to full-blown action. It is spoofing the classic myths and stories that Japanese kids grew up with, something that gets lost in translation between languages and cultures. Pretty much any time someone takes a look at Dragonball Z and says, “Yeah, this is pretty stupid,” chances are they just weren’t meant to understand it in the first place.
So there you go, the five most prevalent aspects of DBZ most people get wrong. It’s not necessarily their fault either; it’s just a tough nut to crack if you don’t give it a chance, much like pretty much any TV show ever. Anyone else have a few examples of things people keep getting wrong? I’d love to see your comments on the subject, but do be careful that something doesn’t get lost in translation.
Want more DBZ lists? Check these out: