01/12/2017 – What’s Eating You?on January 12, 2017 at 12:00 am
You know, it’s weird; I’ve brought up Dragon Ball Z what feels like a million times, and yet I have never expanded my scope beyond that series’ incarnation. Goku and friends’ expansive adventures span multiple television incarnations; Dragon Ball, Dragon Ball Z, Dragon Ball GT, and most recently, Dragon Ball Super (and Dragon Ball Kai, I guess – it’s just Dragon Ball Z streamlined and re-edited, but its contribution for re-engaging the kid audience shouldn’t be understated). But I never bring up the alternatives, and it’s because they never really resonated with me. And I didn’t mind; they were padding that gave the legend more structure and “legacy”, I suppose, beyond what I believe is the franchise’s greatest chapter. But I never really engaged myself because, tonally, everything apart from Z is very different. However, with Dragon Ball Super’s first English dub episode premiering last weekend, I thought I’d expand my horizons a bit.
Dragon Ball Super takes place about one year after the end of Dragon Ball Z, before the events of Dragon Ball GT (potentially writing the latter out of existence, to the celebration of most fans). It revolves around the Saiyan warrior Goku and his bestest bud and all-time greatest character ever, Vegeta, as they continue their adventures, defying impossible odds as they bring their legend to a galaxy where everything is solved through a vague understanding of the martial arts. There’s not really much here for new fans of the show, as much of it relies on the foundation laid in Z. Not to say that the plot is deep or nuanced. In fact, it’s paper thin, a tenuous structure to hang adventures on. The fun of Super is in watching the characters we already love and having fun with them. The show is about 74 episodes deep in Japan, but the English version only just premiered the other day. The first few episodes are loosely based on the recent movies Battle of Gods and Resurrection F, but from there the show has split off in its own unique direction involving parallel time periods, inter-dimensional martial arts tournaments, and the only game of baseball I’ve ever enjoyed (fans of the infamous DMV filler episode should not miss this one). Before the dub was released, I saw a few scenes and read some descriptions of what happened, not unlike how I went into DBZ with the knowledge of what had already aired in Japan all those years ago, but I still never felt too much urge to watch it without dialogue to follow. Audio, it turns out, is the real deal breaker for me.
Though I am one of the ADD generation that enjoys working while listening to a show, Dragon Ball Z was never that for me, drawing me in with long takes and protracted action. And I associate a lot of that with the sound of the show. Of fire exploding from one’s body. Of the earth trembling as it tears asunder from a massive power level. And really, the dub. Those voices of Goku, Krillin, Piccolo, King Kai and Vegeta (both original actor Brian Drummond and Chris Sabat) have a special place in my heart – they are how I got to know these characters. It’s always difficult to invest fully in the show without their participation, which is arguably what kept me from getting more involved with Super until now. But now that I’m here…
Oh jeez. Wow. Oh man, this is fucking goofy.
The plot isn’t even really worth getting into for more than a paragraph, again, a flimsy wire hanger to hang a shirt that is super old, but still holds emotional significance. Goku is getting by, working as the worst field-plower on the planet. New character Beerus is having a destructive food tour across the galaxy. And Mr. Satan is in a Bert-and-Ernie relationship with Majin Buu. Seriously, are they a couple? Can they please be a couple? At least they’d have a stronger relationship than, say Gohan and Videl. She’s taken on what was formerly Chi-Chi’s role, back when Gohan’s mother tried to keep him focused on studying instead of fighting. Not to say that Gohan needs to be a fighter, considering that he did a lifetime’s worth of fighting with Cell when he was only 12, but the poor kid looks like he’s been bullied into becoming a nerd and it’s just sad. It really says something when Vegeta has some of the healthiest relationships in this universe, both romantic and paternal (related: Jesus Christ is Goku a bad parent). Sitcom filler tropes get a workout, with Goten and Trunks searching for the “perfect wedding present”, eventually settling on “toilet water” after a comical misunderstanding. Dragon Ball Z this is not. And while none of this is offensive to my sensibilities, unlike a certain movie about a deity of dubious mortality, it’s just silly and, other than dicking around with these characters, doesn’t seem to have a reason to exist.
There is one scene I’d like to talk about in a bit more detail though, and that’s the end. Goku has a garbage job plowing fields, because keeping the planet from being blown up by aliens is apparently not all that lucrative. Sure, he’d rather return to the training he enjoys, but food and housing and tutoring to turn Goten into a wet noodle like his brother aren’t free. Suddenly, a car rolls up, and an old friend drops him a shitton of money to go do more of the thing we all want him to do, which Goku “reluctantly” accepts.
My point is that nothing is written in a vacuum, even something trying to be goofy. It all means something. Goten’s adventure, for example, was a proven formula that the show’s writers could make fun of in an attempt to fill time and demonstrate the characters’ caring in a world that is super goofy. And given that the moneybags scene is one of the few that overlaps with the companion manga, which is far more streamlined than the show, it hints that it’s an important one. And it just feels oddly meta, to bring this guy out of retirement and do his old thing for a bajillion dollars. It makes you wonder how Akira Toriyama was approached about this. Not to save the world, but to just flex his muscles and let others do the heavy lifting. To quote Chi-Chi when he brought the money home, “Yeah, sure, whatever, just make sure to drop by from time to time.” Classic Toriyama women…
I guess Dragon Ball Z is Dragon Ball Z, and Dragon Ball Super is… different. The Z characters are back, but tonally, it’s far goofier and jokey (some of which lands, and some of which is just cringe-worthy). Dragon Ball Z was always a goofy show, but on a much grander scale, with stakes that always felt dire. In all the episodes I’ve seen of Super, but especially episode one, the vibe seems to be more “chill out, we’re only here to have fun”. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it explains why I never got into the original show or later attempts. Because it wasn’t why I related to or liked the show. For me, the heart of Dragon Ball Z has always been one message: never give up, no matter the odds. Super retains aspects of that message, but the show feels… brighter. More optimistic. Even the literal color palette is less washed out than Z’s, more saturated like a coloring book. And with the advent of colorful new transformations like Super Saiyan God, Super Saiyan God Super Saiyan (wut?), and Super Saiyan Rosé (somehow not a Super Saiyan with a yacht that vacations in the Hamptons), it’s hard not to see this as something, literally, more colorful than its predecessors. And though I don’t think Super can or ever will resonate with me like Z did, I don’t think it wanted to to begin with. And if that means more episodes like this one…
That’s fine with me.