Rock The Dragon: A Look Back on Dragonball Z

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As Toonami once said, "61 million fans can't be wrong."

No need to preface this one since you know all too well that I’m a DragonBall Z fiend. I’ve watched the whole series, read the whole series, played the whole series, and generally attempted to live my life as if any moment I could turn into a Super Saiyan and need to defend the Earth (and by all that I mean I’ve practiced how to scream real loud for extended periods of time). Just a few days ago I finished rewatching the end of the series since I bought all nine volumes of Z on DVD in their remastered and “definitive” forms.

Now, however, they’ve released yet another box set, this one called “The Dragon Box.” What is in it you may ask? I’ll get to that in due time. I thought there is no better time than now to go over the entire series and give my thoughts (since you wanted to know them). I’m only covering Z, the more popular of the two series (GT doesn’t count in my eyes because it sucked). Also, I’m not discussing the video games or the toys this time, though expect those articles another time. So let’s jump right in and get some backstory out of the way.

The Short Story of The Longest Series

For those unaware of what Dragonball Z is, you probably won’t care about the rest of this article. The story revolves around Goku, a boy in the series Dragonball and later an adult in Dragonball Z. He has powers that allow him to fly, shoot energy beams, and have super strength. Just about every character in the series can do all of these things with few exceptions, though we discover at the very beginning of Dragonball Z that Goku is an alien called a “Saiyan” and that’s why he’s so powerful. Typically the plot goes as follows: Villain shows up, heroes fight and lose against villain, heroes train or formulate plans to fight the villain, heroes fight villain again and lose, heroes attempt all plans and fail, one of the heroes becomes even more powerful and beats up villain, villain gets strongerer, main hero punches harderest. That’s basically everything in a nutshell.

Our hero and savior: A guy that can fly, blow stuff up with him mind, and eat ten times his weight JUST BECAUSE.

There are four main plot arcs in the series with the first being the Saiyan Saga where we learn about the last few Saiyans in the universe and get acquainted with all the main characters we’ll be following for a while. Goku inevitably fights with a guy named Vegeta in one of the quintessential fights of the series. After that there is the Frieza plot arc where the main characters go to planet Namek in order to wish everyone who died in the previous plot arc back to life. By the way, the whole reason the show is called “Dragonball” is because there are these things called “Dragonballs” that when collected together summon a dragon that grants any wish, though usually the wish is to “bring back everyone that just died.” Anyway, the second plot arc has Goku fight Frieza, the evil ruler of the universe. Once that’s done there is a bunch of filler before the Cell Saga where androids pop up and everything gets nuts. The series finally ends with the Buu Saga, a plot arc where no one accomplishes anything until the final few episodes of the series.

DVD’s and You: What To Know

Phew, that’s a lot of ground to cover. All together there are 291 episodes in the Z series spread over nine DVD volumes, though for some reason the volumes are called “seasons” despite the fact that the series didn’t air in the seasons it mentions. Maybe in Japan, but not in the States. Personally, I’d say you get the most for your money with volume one as it’s the only complete story from start to finish contained in the volumes. You get ripped off entirely with volume seven as nothing happens until the very last episode of the volume. And my personal favorite is volume six, because my favorite fight is Goku vs. Cell and my favorite episode is “No More Rules” in which Goku utterly owns Cell in the face with the single coolest moment in the entire series…that ultimately does nothing.

But this Dragon Box thing. What is it? It’s the series being released yet again but broken up into a slightly different grouping of episodes. The first volume has episodes 1-42 and retails at around $60, though you can find it cheaper on Amazon. However, I bought “Season One” of DBZ a few years back when they were releasing the remastered editions that had all the uncut episodes with original Japanese music and audio, and it had episodes 1-39 on it.

So what’s the big difference between the two box sets besides three episodes? Not a danged thing!

It really ticks me off that after all these years of loyal DBZ fanboyism and buying every box set, they release yet another box set and try and get me to buy it because it is supposedly remastered harder or something. Enough is enough with that. It’s up to you whether you want to buy the current sets in the orange boxes or buy the new Dragon Box in the yellow boxes. You get basically the same thing, but don’t buy both.

Those Saiyans Grow Up So Fast

I'm not even going to try and explain Super Saiayns to the layman here. Suffice to say, they're awesome.


What was it that really got me interested in the first place? After watching the series again now that I’m a bit older (not mentally, but I can grow facial hair now), I realize that it doesn’t come down to the story or the characters. Duh, it’s all about the action. Dragonball Z has been hailed as the “greatest action cartoon of all time” by someone I can’t remember who it was. And I’ll go ahead and say they’re right because the show was extremely good when it was good. But it was also extremely bad when it was bad. The characters are likable enough, but you’ll find that you either have to like Goku or Vegeta and stick with them since no other character is given enough respect by the end of the series as those two. And those characters aren’t entirely too deep to get either as Goku just enjoys challenging himself while Vegeta is driven by his pride as the Prince of all Saiyans (despite the fact that his father was killed before the series even began, so he really should be a king by now). Oh, and Vegeta wants to fight Goku again after their first fight, a rematch that doesn’t come for over 200 episodes later and then doesn’t really get any resolution because something more important happens.

And you know what? The fans don’t care. There are dozens of excellent fights between really cool characters and despite the flaws of the series, flaws mostly attributed to the English translation, it really is something worth being respected. Also, the more you look at the plot, the more you’ll find that there is actually a lot of more mature features than you’d expect. The show deals with race, heritage and birthright, death and the afterlife, unwritten or predestined future, marriage, illegitimate children, heart disease, and tyranny and oppression. Oh yeah, and it also has robots, demons, monsters, aliens, flying, explosions, clones, time travel, and all sorts of general nonsense with talking animals.

The US Botches Yet Another Japanese Thing

I'd be terrified too if I saw what the US was doing to me.


Here’s where the real problems came: The US has really strict rules about what can be shown to kids and what can’t. Dragonball Z came from Japan and they have a whole different set of rules. When the US got the show it had to be censored heavily just to pass snuff. That meant that blood and gore was cut out, violence towards children was removed, cursing was replaced with less impactful words, alcohol and references to other adult things were cut, the location in the afterlife designated Hell had to be renamed the “Home For Infinite Losers,” pants were digitally added to cover nudity of some characters (don’t freak out, we’re talking little kids losing their pants after turning into giant apes), and a whole mess of things that seem utterly baffling to look back on. Also, no reference to “death,” “dying,” “killing,” or “murder.”

All this in a show where the entire planet is eventually blown up, leaving only one character never killed in the entire series (save for a few in the “ten years later” episodes at the very end).

Due to these censorships, the show’s dialogue had to be entirely ripped to shreds. Characters are nearly ripped in half and they shout “Darn it!” Someone is killed and a character will yell “You hurt my friend!” And even worse, for sake of time a bunch of dialogue is entirely stripped away or dumbed down to a point that’s downright insulting. There’s a scene where a character is having a loving flashback of his best friend, a character that just killed himself in a failed attempt to stop one of the bad guys. The character has been pushing himself past his limits and even lost an arm at this point. After remembering all these moments between him and his lost friend, he decides to honor his friend with one final attack that ultimately kills himself in the process. It’s a touching scene. The US version, the one we originally got, is cut down to almost nothing and ends with the character saying, “Looks like this one-armed cowboy is going for one last ride.” What the heck is that? I think it’s worse to protect kids from emotion than just let them know that “That character is heartbroken and going to die because of it.”

Another example of things being just a bit too high on the stupid meter is anytime the villains destroy cities, helicopters, or anything where there’d be no way for anyone to survive. A line of dialogue will be written like, “Oh good, I see their parachutes,” or, “Looks like this part of town was just empty buildings.” Seconds before a character blows up a city we see civilians only a few feet away. There is NO WAY these people got out of an explosion that levels an ENTIRE CITY. There’s just no way. Don’t infect kids with stupid.

Some Slight Salvation

It really wasn't all bad, and Gohan's character arc can prove that (until he becomes an adult).

Luckily the DVD releases have most of the original dialogue intact instead of the sugarcoated mess from the televised stuff. And the first 56 episodes got redubbed with the voice actors that took over after the original US run when the localization company shifted from Pioneer to Funimation. This was great for me because I think that Goku has the perfect guy doing his voice (his name is Sean Schemmel). The same goes for Gohan, Krillin, and a handful of other characters. Oddly enough, in Japan, heroes are usually voiced by women since purity or innocence is important for these characters and women are the best way for the Japanese to convey this. I don’t prefer the Japanese voices of Goku, though Gohan is played by a woman in both versions. But then we in the US get Chris Sabat, the guy who voices Vegeta, Piccolo, Yamcha, the dragon, and just about every character in the series that they didn’t want to pay someone else to voice. And it entirely shows since Chris Sabat has an incredibly distinct voice. He can make perfectly normal sounding dialogue sound completely out of place coming from the characters and that’s a big ol’ oops in my book.

Something that was broken from the original Japanese are a few massive plotholes that, hey, you know what? I’ll do a top 10 list for the biggest DBZ plotholes next week. Stay tuned for that.

This scene will appear again in that article.

Anyway, despite the many, many flaws the series had, such as pacing (good Lord is it tough to slog through some of the filler episodes), the show is worth a watch if you’ve never seen it before. I’m not saying it’s for everyone, and a lot of people will seriously hate it, but consider that it ended its Japanese run in ’96 and it’s US run in ’03, but we’re still getting the DVD’s released over and over and more video games every year, plus action figures and a gob of other things. Oh, and did I mention that Japan decided to reedit the entire series from 291 episodes down to 100? Yeah, they’re currently doing that in an attempt to make the series even better than it ever was. That’s insane.

So in closing, I will never stop loving Dragonball Z. The first volume of the Dragon Box is out now so if you don’t have any episodes yet, you’ll get some of the best. However, if you already own the Season One DVD box set, like I said before, you don’t need the Dragon Box. Honestly though, I’d just wait until they released Dragon Ball Kai (the 100 perfect reedit), someday in a few years.

Need more DBZ articles? Check these out:

Top Ten Biggest Plotholes of DBZ

Ten More Big Plotholes From DBZ

Ten Most Awesome Moments of DBZ

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About Author

Chris was the former Head Writer/Editor of Toy-TMA. He did a great job overseeing the site and getting new content published regularly. Always more than willing to respond to a comment or two, but pitiless with trolls! He has since moved on from TMA, and we wish him the best.

5 Comments

  1. I really enjoyed reading your article, and agree on many of the points you mentioned. Since you’re a serious Dragon Ball fan, I think you may get a lot out of reading The Dao of Dragon Ball, the new book about the Dragon Ball series coming out shortly.

  2. I agree there, though I’d take it a step further and say Cartoon Network needs to bring Toonami back and plunk it in the center of the afternoons, just like the glory days. That was as good as Cartoon Network ever was.

  3. they need to bring dragonball z back to the air because i used to watch it 5 time a week i would have watch it 7 but it did not come on 7 time a week and i would watch it every day if it would still come on so please put it but on the air because it was the best cartoon every and it will allways will and cartoonetwork suck now sence you toke it all the air so please put it on the air not just for me but for the whold planet so i hope you do the right thing

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