All right! So, after my review of the original Dragon Ball series I promised I’ll make one (well, two, actually, otherwise this post would’ve been waaaay to long) for Dragon Ball Z. And here it is! 😀
It was a delightful ride, and I loved every minute of it (eeh, maybe not every minute of the Androids/Cell arc, but whatever ;)). While Toriyama’s manga was my first foray into the genre, after reading a few more shonen titles (such as Naruto, One Punch Man [bleeeh!], Fullmetal Alchemist) and other non-shonen mangas like Yotsuba&! I can say with certainty that the whole 42-volume run of original Dragon Ball (i.e. containing both Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z) will forever remain one of my absolute favorites.
What can I say that I haven’t already said in my previous review? Only two things: one, Dragon Ball opened up for me a whole new cultural experience, and I jumped into it with willful, joyous abandon. I traced the origins of the Monkey King to Hindu Hanuman, linked his exploits to other tricksters around the world, and generally immersed myself in the Japanese culture and history. And I’m far from finished ;). And the second, that DB rekindled my interest in martial arts and its philosophy, and that i’s also a thoroughly fascinating topic.
Now, ad rem.
Below, you can read the first part of my highly emotional, whimsical reviews of Dragon Ball Z, as they appeared on GR. Beware, lots of exclamation marks! 😉
Dragon Ball Z, Vol. 1: The World’s Greatest Team
Ok, so this gets a very Superman-y feel now. From Monkey King to a race of incredibly powerful aliens sent to other planets before their own was destroyed? I liked the mythological vibes more, sigh.
That aside, though, I really enjoyed this volume. Son Gohan is pretty adorable, too, in his little gown and cap, and with impeccable manners. The threat is nasty, and the contrast between Goku and Raditz couldn’t be any sharper. I loved the tough choices and sacrifices here, and the new streamlined look is not bad, either.
…Though I still prefer the original Dragon Ball 😉
Dragon Ball Z, Vol. 2: The Lord of Worlds
Piccolo’s training of Gohan was definitely the high point of this volume. The rest was mostly a setup for the future fighting with Saiyans, and while it was smoothly done, and pretty funny in places, it still had the feel of a necessary preparation. Still enjoyable, though! Now can’t wait to see how the big fight with Saiyans plays out!
Dragon Ball Z, Vol. 3: Earth vs. the Saiyans
All right, that was epic! The stakes are extremely high, the suspense was killing me, and I flew through this one with speed almost matching Goku’s flight from Underworld. I was really glad to have the next installment on hand, though! This volume was incredibly tense, with many dramatic and heartwarming/breaking scenes. I love Piccolo’s development arc throughout the series and I really admire Toriyama’s devotion to the concept of finding good in (almost) everyone.
Dragon Ball Z, Vol. 4: Goku vs. Vegeta
Let me catch my breath… I never imagined I’d be glued to pages of a shonen manga. Just fights, right? But having read all Dragon Ball volumes and seen Goku and co. grow and change, I learned to see the fights as a manifestation of who they are and what they represent. Somehow, all the potential cheesiness is disarmed with humor. Plus, the fights are simply amazing! I still don’t seem to get any kind of battle fatigue, even with all those surprise world-ending moves – it’s a testament to Toriyama’s skill as a manga-ka that he can keep the tension so consistently high through a fight that basically lasts for a whole volume.
Dragon Ball Z, Vol. 5: Dragon Ball in Space
A very apt title, even if Goku spends most of the time in a hospital bed, allowing Kame Sen’nin a little bit of his usual pervy behaviour, but this time very self-aware and ironic. Yajirobe plays a part, too, and it’s nice to see there are some constants in Dragon Ball – he’s his usual grumpy self ;).
It’s a very sweet volume, comparatively slow-paced compared to the previous ones, but revealing a bit more about the motivations and characters of the secondary (or not so secondary) protagonists such as Bulma, Gohan, and Kuririn – and Vegeta. We also get to see Namek for the first time, and meet Freeza, who’s a villain we all love to hate.
The game is afoot!
Dragon Ball Z, Vol. 6: Battlefield Namek
Namekians are being decimated by Freeza and his cohorts, and Gohan and Kuririn only watch in horror – but do they?
It’s certainly interesting to learn more about Vegeta and his unquenchable thirst for vengeance. Seems like this guy is more than meets the eye (which admittedly isn’t much ;)) and has depths beyond the perpetual huff of his. I like how his arrogance and constant scheming to get what he wants is juxtaposed with Goku’s humility and willingness to sacrifice himself for the people and things he believes in.
Goku is still flying toward Namek and training for all he’s worth, and I’m very much looking forward to the final confrontation!
Dragon Ball Z, Vol. 7: The Ginyu Force
There’s a constant dragon balls shell game going on, between Freeza, Vegeta, Kuririn and Gohan, and I enjoyed how difficult it was to gather all seven with so many players invested in getting them all/not allowing others to collect them – that was delightful.
But the Ginyu Force was a major letdown for me, even if I shoul’ve expected a twist from Toriyama; they are so over the top like the worst wrestler figures you’ve ever seen – put Hulk Hogan in their armor and you wouldn’t know the difference. I wish there was less of them and more of Goku, but that’s in the next volume – so no time to waste!
Dragon Ball Z, Vol. 8: Goku vs. Ginyu
Now we’re talking!
I do love Goku being an embodiment of martial arts’ ideal – you see attempts at it everywhere, from Star Wars to wuxia movies, but Goku’s approach might be the closest to my heart. Constant improvement and humility – but without all that drivel about not enjoying life, because Goku enjoys all aspects of life with unending delight and eagerness for more.
Ginyu is a nasty opponent, that’s for certain. Even with various weird superpowers Dragon Ball introduced before I didn’t expect that twist! Toriyama ends this volume on such a cliffhanger I really feel the pressure to get the next one asap!
Dragon Ball Z, Vol. 9: The Wrath of Freeza
Seriously, this manga pushes up my general book rating for this year – a lot.
This is my totally not-guilty pleasure, and I dearly hope the next arcs will be as good as this one – though my experience tells me great things cannot last forever ;).
Ginyu is a man… err, creature of one trick, it seems, and it’s absolutely delightful to see Goku utilize it against him. I was reminded of Throg from Marvel, and I think that similarity is intentional.
Namekian dragon balls are finally gathered, Namekian dragon is evoked – and it grants three wishes. Seeing Piccolo fight for his home planet, firmly and irrevocably on the side of the good guys, was very rewarding. I mean, we knew his relationship with Gohan changed him more than the kid, but it was lovely to see this confirmation here.
Freeza continues to surprise everyone but himself; after all, he is called the most powerful warrior in the universe not for nothing. With Goku still regenerating after his stunt with Ginyu, Freeza faces against Gohan and Kuririn and Vegeta, and the three of them are clearly no match for him, even after going through several of the Saiyan “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” cycles.
Dragon Ball Z, Vol. 10: Goku vs. Freeza
I’m torn between wanting to see the final fight between Goku and Freeza and between wanting to read more about Piccolo, Vegeta, Kuririn and Gohan. I really loved the glimpses of Vegeta/Sayians backstory that we get here, but with Freeza’s four transformations the volume somewhat loses its previous suspense and momentum – we know Goku will be needed to even match up to Freeza, let alone defeat him, and the panels showcasing the beating our protagonists take from him (especially Vegeta) are quite painful to watch.
Also, xenomorph? Really?
The art is still impeccable, though, and Vegeta’s story is really moving. So (and I can’t believe I’m saying this), this volume’s rating gets bumped up by a star – for Vegeta the non-reformed, tragic villain 😉
Dragon Ball Z, Vol. 11: The Super Saiyan
I mean, that ending! I cannot get over that ending! (shakes fist in the vague direction of Toriyama)
This was awesome. I loved every part of it. The art is amazing (admittedly, with Goku’s colorless hair a much greater focus is needed to discern what’s happening in the panels, but it’s worth it!) and it really comes to life in the gripping, fabulously detailed panels depicting the one enormous fight that fills this volume from the first page to the last. The plot is deliciously twisted and broad, with so many things happening at once in many different locations – I love how Toriyama managed to bring together all main characters of the series in this arc, and how he compellingly braided the disparate strands into a cohesive whole.
(…I couldn’t get over that cliffhanger. I had to peek into the next volume to see how it ends!)
Let’s conclude this review here. There will be a second part, I promise, but this is a good place to finish, with one story arc almost ending and another beginning in the middle of the next volume ;). Dragon Ball series (but not DB Super, which is a sad example of spreading oneself too thin in too many directions, with animes, manga, video games, mobile games etc. all pulling every each way, at the expense of the characters and the story) remains my pick-me-up with its quirky, lovable characters, a full dose of unabashed optimism and crazy humor. It’s still the best-drawn manga I have encountered, with amazing, clear lines packing an incredibly dynamic punch. The deceptively simple designs are really matchless, conveying both emotion and movement equally well. Toriyama’s ideas remain a fascinating blend of East and West, merging ancient Oriental mythologies with modern Occidental ones, Monkey King and Superman and Alien in one. It’s really hard to believe this manga is over 30 years old!
So yeah, Dragon Ball Z actually lives up to its predecessor’s quality, which is not all that surprising, considering it’s simply a seamless continuation of the previous volumes. It’s an absolute joy to read, and once the complete box set becomes available again, guess what I’m gonna be buying 😉