You either love it or hate it, but you've heard of it. It is one of the most successful franchises in the world, spanning over a decade on television, more than fifteen films and a host of games that continue to be published today. There is even a feature-length Hollywood production based on the first saga in the works, casting Justin Chatwin as Goku and action star Chow Yun-Fat as Master Roshi. It has been mimicked, parodied, and ingrained in American nerddom as well as popular culture. Even with the series over and long off the air, syndication and Atari have helped ensure that Akira Toriyama's work is here to stay.
All of us fanboys have our favorite moments in the series; mine came at the beginning of the Trunks saga. After watching Goku's long, hard-fought battle against the nearly-invincible Frieza, I was amazed that even after Goku achieve the legendary Super Saiyan status, Frieza was cut down with his own attack. Goku was then forced to destroy him—after he restored some of his energy.
So I was surprised to see Frieza, now mechanized, on his way to Earth to exact revenge on the amnesiac Saiyan. Vegeta (always second-best) had been decimated by Frieza the first time around, and with Goku not yet on Earth, I was bracing for Frieza's revenge spree when he, and his father, returned to Earth. Instead, when Frieza dispatched his foot soldiers to find Goku's friends, most of them were cut down, literally, in mid-air. This gray-haired young boy slowly descended from the sky. He bore the insignia of Capsule Corporation, presumably the world's largest conglomerate. He branded a sword he easily dropped into the sheath on his back. With no fear and firm resolve, he stared the greatest threat in the universe down and said; "Ah, so…you must be Frieza."
I captured that audio clip and made it a ringtone. The boy, Trunks, who I refer to as the "Ninja Saiyan", went on to annihilate the foot soldiers, Frieza, and his father without taking a single hit.
I've been getting back into the series lately and from a writer's point of view, I'm still greatly impressed with the series, and I think I've figured out why it's been able to withstand the test of time. In the brutal, yet lighthearted world of DragonBall Z, evil is a forgivable choice, no one is beyond redemption, great power can be achieved through hard work, and maybe most noteworthy, DBZ offers us a chance most of us dare to dream of in real-life; to "wish back" those who have died. In DragonBall Z, death is not the end, and there are ways of contacting those who're loved and missed.
The character array is probably the vastest in any anime, going so far as to even fuse characters together to create new ones. Some of us thought this was a little ridiculous…but hey, it worked. Central to the series was Goku, aka Kakarot; the Saiyan boy who was sent to Earth as a baby to destroy the planet, but after a head injury, became the universe's greatest fighter. Goku was arguably the most powerful of the series, but certainly not the most popular; Goku's lightheartedness, infallible goodhearted nature turned a lot of people off. Enter Vegeta, the "Prince of all Saiyans" who was arguably a shade weaker than Goku, but not prone to mercy or honor in battle. Vegeta could be called downright evil when he first appeared on the show, but his character is a testament to the fact that all things can be forgiven, and anyone can change. Although the rivalry between Goku and Vegeta was paramount through the series, Vegeta eventually became one of Earth's defenders, even as he retained his cranky, sadistic nature. Vegeta was always motivated by his goal of surpassing Goku, which eventually led him to surrender his will to a wizard in order to raise his power level to match Goku's. Towards the end of the series, having settled down with a human being and raised a family, Vegeta at last comes to accept that it is his anger that has held him back, and that it is Goku's good nature that makes him the better fighter. While Goku represented that goodness that (I hope) is in every human being, Vegeta represents humanity's dark nature and the desire for power at almost all costs. He comes to represent a not-so-desired look in the mirror, and acceptance of our own faults. I think it is the remarkable human change that Vegeta goes through that has made him a fan favorite.
Also central to the series was the martial-arts, which really didn't need a name or a set style. These people were blowing away mountains just by thinking about it; who cares how they did it. The fights may have been a little repetitious and drawn-out, but they were still a blast to watch. Everyone has their favorite match-up (my personal favorite is Goku versus Maijin Vegeta). These people flew as easily as normal people walked and achieved powers great enough to detonate whole planets, just by pushing themselves to the breaking point. There were a number of children (and those a little older, admit it) who wondered how powerful they might become if they trained in intensified gravity…the dream of turning into a Super Saiyan, with outrageous powers and hair to match, is still popular enough to spawn a ton of fan-made videos on YouTube.
Ultimately…I believe that DragonBall Z tells a very simple story of good versus evil, and it's always been simplicity that has earned the most success. It has shown that things aren't always as black and white as we'd like them to be, that everything is a result of the choices we make, and that no one is beyond redemption. It has shown what can be achieved if one is willing to work hard, it has given us a lovable cast of characters and endless sagas to debate. It has managed to successfully merge very Disney-inspired, lighthearted humor (Bibbidi, Babidi, Buu) with bloody, brutal violence and even a little morality.
And I need to get back into the Fusion saga. Thanks for reading!