The Dragon Ball series doesn’t quite make sense to me. On the one hand, Dragon Ball Z is a gritty reboot of a nostalgia property originally aimed at kids, but on the other hand it doesn’t suck. Maybe I was wrong about dark and edgy reboots; maybe Shadow the Hedgehog wasn’t actually that bad… Yeah, right. Though anime of all things probably has the best track record in this regard. The Ghost in the Shell film is a lot more serious than the source manga, but I would say it’s a much better story. Digimon Tamers is the best season of Digimon. Madoka Magica is great. But instead of focusing on something positive and good about Dragon Ball, let’s talk about what sucks about it. No, not The Great Saiyaman, even worse than that. Today on The Anime Harvest, we’re talking about Dragon Ball GT.
So what is it that people hate about Generation Two? Well, first off, the name. The three main characters of Dragon Ball GT are Goku, a full-blooded saiyan and a first generation saiyan immigrant to earth (geez that just feels weird to say); Trunks, a half-saiyan, second generation Earthian, and in an alternate future the most bad-ass bishi to ever live; and pan, who’s third generation, and one-quarter saiyan. So that’s first, second and third generation, but apparently only the least interesting one of the three mattered, because GT is named after Trunks’ generation. Apparently Trunks trumps Goku.
But I think the main thing that turns fans off of GT is the premise. Emperor Pilaf, a laughable villain from Dragon Ball, suddenly shows up again, trying to use the previously never mentioned black-star dragon balls to conquer the world. These powerful dragon balls were made before Kami separated from King Piccolo, were left hidden within The Lookout, and are known of only by The Namek and Mr. Popo. How does Pilaf know about them? In his own words, “I know this because I am a brilliant researcher and an unrivaled mastermind.” Less than four minutes into episode one, and you can already taste the bullshit. Also, Pilaf says that the black-stars “are twice as strong as the regular ones because they were made when Kami and Piccolo were still one…” Except when Kami and King Piccolo separated, they didn’t split their power in half. As one, they were allegedly roughly equal to a Super Saiyan and stronger than Freiza, but after separating neither one of them came within four orders of magnitude of that.
Because he’s such an unrivaled mastermind, Pilaf thinks to take the dragon balls out into the open to make his wish, and somehow Goku catches sight of the subtle massive red dragon that appears. He strolls in to see what’s going on, and Pilaf accidentally wishes for Goku to be a little kid again. Because magical wish-granting dragons are big on technicalities. After an animation glitch with Mr. Popo (can we all just agree that Toei kinda sucked for a long time), the wish is granted, Goku is a kid, and the contrived plot can begin.
That plot being, let’s try try try look high and low, search the sky and the sea below. Let’s try try try seize the day, and make new friends along the way. Find the dragon balls. Look out for them all.
It tries so hard to score nostalgia points. Though GT is perhaps the only thing that could ever make me miss Yamcha.
So there’s a lot to hate about GT, and a lot of other people have already beat me to all the punchlines; that’s the trouble when writing about a twenty year old show in a popular franchise. But the baby often gets thrown out with the bathwater, and while Baby should be, there are some things I’m thankful GT gave us. Things like…
Fixing Gohan: The worst thing in all of Dragon Ball Z, as far as I’m concerned, was The Great Saiyaman. It’s was Akira Toriyama’s “eff you” to everyone who demanded her keep making the series, like The End of Evangelion bundled into one character design. At the end of the Cell saga, every part of the show was in good standing, and Gohan was one of the coolest characters to bless this media. Making him into that didn’t sit well. He got some redemption before the series ended, but his final moments of importance were unceremonious and far too weak to fix the damage that red cape caused.
In GT this was finally addressed. Gohan had his brief moment of bad-assery fighting Vegeta in an even match, reminding everyone that he was the original sequel to super saiyan. Followed up by a character rounding moment with Piccolo’s goodbye, I finally liked Gohan again for the first time since that.
Super Saiyan 4: Gogu’s first Super Saiyan transformation was iconic, not just for DBZ, but for anime on the whole. We didn’t know what it was (at least, if you didn’t read the manga), and I remember as a kid thinking that maybe Vegeta really was a Super Saiyan and it just wasn’t as impressive as the hype made it seem. Then came the golden hair. Gohan’s Super Saiyan 2 didn’t have the same impact, but it was great in its own way. It was a new level that was foreshadowed ever since he head-butted Raditz, and completed him as a character. Then Super Sayian 3 came.
If the Great Saiyaman was the Buu Saga’s End of Evangelion, Super Saiyan 3 was its Death and Rebirth. It was just a rehashing with none of the appropriate build-up or payoff. It just came out of nowhere with no meaning to it. SSJ1 came about for Goku because of loss, Vegeta because of frustration, and Trunks (future) because of helplessness. Gohan reached SSJ2 rage. Every transformation was triggered by something changing in their character. But then Goku comes in and says, “I trained really hard off screen, and now I can do this!” It doesn’t help that Trunks and Goten’s unceremonious transformations were in the same season, or that the design didn’t carry the same weight as the first two levels.
But in comes Super Saiyan 4. A major departure from the previous transformations, but true to the Saiyan race, being a controlled form of the powered up Ogon Ozaru. You can always see some change in Goku’s character when he’s still getting used to a new form, but SSJ4 is the one that really pushed his mental limits, and he never seemed to get used to it. It’s not on the same level as the first two, but it’s way better than 3, and fixes more of the damage from the Buu Saga.
SSJ4 Vegeta: Hear me out! Vegeta’s character development has been from pride to compromise. His pride alone got him so far, without it he wouldn’t have made it to SSJ1. But he needed Babadi’s magic to reach super Saiyan 2, and you know what? Vegeta was one of the best parts of the Buu Saga. By the end of that saga, even Vegeta admitted that he couldn’t match Goku’s power, but that he was able to suppress Babadi’s mind control proved his mental strength. The SSJ4 transformation was a natural progression from that. He couldn’t match Goku through natural means, but even using flux waves to artificially reach SSJ4, Vegeta had to have the mental strength to control it, and he had an easier time with that than Goku did.
That’s it. I actually thought I’d be able to get a bit more out of this. As an honorable mention, I’ll throw in Vegeta driving up next to another car and ripping out the steering wheel because the drive hit on his daughter. That was fun.
Don’t Lose Your Way