30 Day Television Challenge: Day Twenty-Four

First television obsession: Dragon Ball Z

dragon balls

When I was a kid, my friends and I were really into Dragon Ball Z. This was the late 90s/early 00s, before torrents, streaming, Netflix, and YouTube. In Canada, we had to watch it on YTV, and wait patiently for new episodes to trickle in. For whatever reason, the network would disseminate a season in chunks, blocks of new episodes every few months. They’d loop reruns, and once a week a new episode would air. It was torture. Like Zero Dark Thirty kinda stuff.

Oh the days of waiting three weeks for Goku to finally power up and deliver a spirit bomb. Oh the days of waiting several episodes for a “five minute” time limit to clock out.

Yet, despite being the most tedious series in the history of television, DBZ is addictively suspenseful. It’s long deferral of completing plot arcs creates a desire in the audience to see it through. And, unlike LOST, it actually delivers more often than not.

What’s interesting is that we all knew the general outline of the plot. As I said, this was before present day download cornucopias, but there were plenty of DBZ websites with plot outlines, analysis, images, and even short video clips of the original Japanese animation. A lot of the sites were bullshit speculation – Goku’s power level at Super Saiyan level 2 is actually six million! But, the general plot stuff was pretty accurate.

This sites were valuable because, in my nerdy circles, you could acquire social capital by demonstrating extensive knowledge of the DBZ universe. If you knew that a ghostly Goku helps his son Gohan destroy Cell, or that Frieza returns as a cyborg only to be sliced in half by a time-traveling Trunk, or that there’s actually Super Saiyan level 5, then you had major cred.

Still, despite knowing the inevitability of all this, it was still important to actually watch it all play out. The animation is, after all, pretty sweet.


Nonetheless, DBZ is painfully repetitive, with plots invariably revolving around a villain outrageously outclassing our heroes, leading the heroes to train for several episodes, finally leveling the playing field, only to have the villain transform into some new form, thus raising the stakes yet again, starting the cycle all over.

As an adolescent/teenage boy, I found this idea of metamorphosis fascinating. It was my destiny to reach a new plateau and transform into a radically new level of strength. As an athlete, I liked how Saiyans gained strength through pain. Whenever Goku sustained a wound, his power level rose upon healing. Indeed, this is basically how the body grows muscle mass. You tear and strain your muscle fibers through training, and then protein rebuilds them, becoming stronger in the process.

The problem with the series is that the seasons have too little content spread too thin. Plots are dragged out, mostly with excessive exposition. This is achieved by various interlopers who are watching the battles – Goku’s wife or King Kai, for example. For whatever reason, these characters watch the battle and summarize the action for the other ancillary characters. This is often a device used to relay important information to the viewer. However, in DBZ, the viewer has already seen the battle, so nothing new is learned. Sure, it shows the emotional reaction, thus increasing the drama, but surely there’s a more efficient way of achieving this? But that’s not the point; in DBZ, it serves as a time filler.

Then there’s the characterization of women. The women of DBZ are grotesque. They’re hysterical, their emotions overwhelming their rationality or sense of duty. The hero must overcome his domestic obligation to his wife before he can save the world. The wife is seen as negative because it ought to be her duty to support her husband fulfill his purpose of saving the world.

Then, there’s Mr. Popo. Sweet Jesus, Mr. Popo.


A few years ago, I tried re-watching DBZ. I started at the beginning and got as far as the ending of the Frieza saga. I couldn’t do it.  I experienced all the same emotions: frustration, unrequited anticipation, despair. As exciting as some of its moments could be, the damn thing just ain’t worth it. There’s far better TV out there.




~ by braddunne on February 13, 2013.

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