Akira Toriyama, Dragon Ball Z (1989-1995)

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! ๐Ÿ˜€

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! ๐Ÿ˜‰

Dragon Ball Z, Vol. 1: The World’s Greatest Team

8/10 stars

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 ๐Ÿ˜‰

Dragon Ball Z, Vol. 2: The Lord of Worlds

7/10 stars

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 stars!!!

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

All stars!!!

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

8/10 stars

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

8/10 stars

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

5/10 stars

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

10/10 stars

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

10/10 stars

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 manโ€ฆ 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

8/10 stars

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 ๐Ÿ˜‰

Dragon Ball Z, Vol. 11: The Super Saiyan

All stars!!!

WAAAH!!!
I mean, that ending! I cannot get over that ending! (shakes fist in the vague direction of Toriyama)


But.

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 ๐Ÿ˜‰

20 thoughts on “Akira Toriyama, Dragon Ball Z (1989-1995)

  1. Thanks for this. It’s fun seeing you be so enthusiastic about a series ๐Ÿ™‚

    And good luck picking up the box set. I’m sure your eyes are just fine now, but at some point you might want to think about investing in the digital versions so you can read them on your computer when you can’t read the books themselves.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Dragon Ball certainly brings my inner child to the fore! ๐Ÿคฃ๐Ÿคฃ๐Ÿคฃ
      There’s something special about physical copies of books, and particularly graphic novels/mangas, for me. While I can appreciate the digital versions and I have read a fair share of comics this way, it’s not my preference – even though all the graphics can be so easily magnified/enlarged in the digital versions. I guess I’ll be one of those old grannies with a magnifying glass in their hand and a huge library of comic books! ๐Ÿคฃ๐Ÿคฃ๐Ÿคฃ

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I’ve had my DBZ periods ๐Ÿ™‚ I understand it. But I’ve never read the mangas. I don’t think I will, honestly, I’m sort of done with it. But manga is a different art form than animated cartoons, of course. The story sounds to be the same, but with manga there is composition and all those specific elements of drawing a page. Anyway, I’m glad you like it.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Man, I’m so into manga right now… I always liked graphic novels, but became tired/disillusioned with most Western comics – maybe I’ve read too many of them already or maybe they have nothing more to say. Whereas manga is still fresh and stylistically/thematically different for me, though I must say I do choose my titles very carefully and definitely don’t like all of them even then ;). DB is something special for me also because of the martial arts/drive for excellence philosophy it represents – it something that speaks to me in every medium ๐Ÿ˜‰

          Liked by 1 person

          1. I don’t know much about manga. Or American comics. I’ve read Ghost in the Shell and that was good! And I am hearing things about Berserk, Vinland, One Piece and Deathnote. Those seem to be popular. Bookstooge seems to read lots of manga. Please keep posting manga reviews, I might pick one up one day!

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Deal! ๐Ÿ˜
              I’m reading Fullmetal Alchemist now and enjoying it quite a bit! There’ll be a similar review to this at some point, certainly. Also one for Yotsuba&! which I finished recently. Berserk and Vagabond are on my TBR ๐Ÿ˜‰

              Liked by 1 person

  2. Hell yes to all that enthusiasm you showed throughout these mini-reviews! I love that you were able to spot all the cultural influences on these characters and that the volumes heavily focused on fights turned out much more fun and exciting to you than anything could’ve imagined! ๐Ÿ˜€ This makes me want to revisit the whole saga again. I’ll probably look to squeeze in a couple of volumes here and there in the upcoming months. Dragon Ball Super’s Moro arc didn’t leave a good aftertaste for me, after all, hahaha Thanks for sharing, Ola! ๐Ÿ˜€

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dragon Ball will remain my favorite manga, I think – whatever else may come along the way! ๐Ÿ˜€ And believe me, nobody is more surprised than I am at my sudden fascination with those impeccably drawn fights! ๐Ÿคฃ๐Ÿคฃ๐Ÿคฃ

      Aargh, DB Super is just horrible I really can’t believe Toriyama actually condones it and actively helps in creating it… I’ll probably keep reading it just to lambast it ever more in my mini reviews! ๐Ÿ˜†

      Have you read Attack on Titan or JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, or Jujutsu Kaisen, Lashaan? I intend to pick up some classics, like Vagabond, but I’m also interested in some of the newer shonen mangas beyond Naruto or Demon Slayer – do you have any recommendations? ๐Ÿ˜€

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m halfway through Attack on Titan. It took time to really get used to the artwork and the premise and I feel like most fans were born from the anime where the animation and score played a huge role in making it all so exciting and mysterious. I’ll probably still finish the series since the mystery gets better as you progress. I haven’t tried the 2 others although I have friends who vouch for them. One of my favourite super new (as in, you can only follow the manga through chapter releases on the Shonen Jump app) is Kaiju No 8. I’m convinced that once it hits international shelves and finally comes out as an anime, it’ll be the next big thing in the market. I’d maybe also direct you towards My Hero Academia, since you have no superhero fatigue and would love to see what a school of superpowered (known as having quirks) teenagers is like as they learn to become heroes. ๐Ÿ˜‰

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I”l check if Kaiju No. 8 is in Manga+, thanks for the rec! ๐Ÿ˜€ In lockdown all libraries are closed and my three Naruto omnibuses are waiting there for me, and I can’t get them ๐Ÿ˜ญ
          I still have half of Fullmetal Alchemist to go, but I’d like to branch out. Fullmetal is pretty cool but I need breaks or I’ll get bored with some of the drama pretty quickly ๐Ÿ˜‰ I really like Demon Slayer anime, but haven’t had a chance to check the manga yet (see above, lockdown).

          Have you tried any of the classics like Vagabond or Berserk?

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Really glad that the first volume of Kaiju No. 8 impressed you. It’s like an achievement in itself! ๐Ÿ˜› I’m maybe 3/4th of the way for FMA. I do understand what you mean about getting bored hahaha I’m mostly hanging on that mystery thread regarding the “who’s the missing deadly sins” and the whole big plot around it. Things should start getting interesting closer to the end now hahah

            I mostly got intrigued by Demon Slayer because of the recent movie. It looks really good.

            I haven’t tried Vagabond because I keep telling myself that I want a physical copy of it. And Berserk is on my physical TBR. Don’t be surprised if that one suddenly appears on my blog later down the line hahaha

            Hard to not add a bunch of manga to read at the same time, huh? I have to restrain myself if I want to dose that consumption right with all the comics/books/movies too hahahah

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Hehe you should be proud, Lashaan! ๐Ÿ˜›

              I’m currently on the ninth omnibus of FMA, my interest flagged a bit lately,like you I just think it could speed up a bit – hopefully it will as it gets closer to the conclusion ๐Ÿ˜‰

              Have you seen the Demon Slayer anime? It’s really good; the same style as the movie (which I haven’t seen yet), clearly inspired by Hokusai who’s my favorite Japanese artist ๐Ÿคฉ

              Aargh for me that’s the worst part of lockdown, actually – that I can’t get physical copies of books ๐Ÿ˜‰ I heard Berserk gets better with time and should not be judged by the first volume, so I guess it will be a journey ๐Ÿ˜‰

              Yeah! Man, I could just read and read them like Buu eats candies ๐Ÿคฃ๐Ÿคฃ๐Ÿคฃ I blame you and Bookstooge, though that’s only partly accurate – I’ve got a bigger and more insistent pressure at home, hahaha ๐Ÿคฃ

              Liked by 1 person

              1. I haven’t tried the DS anime. I can’t dare integrate anime back into my life with how much I need to disperse myself to indulge all the other mediums! I only make the exception for anime movies (because I’m a cinephile). ๐Ÿ˜› I do note your comment on the artstyle though. Hopefully I can observe that influence through the manga artwork!

                Liked by 1 person

                1. Heh, DS anime is thankfully short (for now) as there only is one season available ๐Ÿ˜‰ but I do get your meaning! This was the only anime I decided to watch, seeing all those unending episodes of other titles just makes me take a step back! ๐Ÿ˜…

                  Any good anime movies you can recommend? Besides Ghibli, that’s done and dusted, mostly ๐Ÿ˜‰

                  Liked by 1 person

                  1. I recently watched A Silent Voice, which was pretty good. You could also test out movies by Makoto Shinkai, e.g., Your Name. and Weathering With You. You can’t go wrong with his stuff if you’re looking for a visually stunning experience. I also had a blast with Promare! The visuals is psychedelic! ๐Ÿ˜€

                    Liked by 1 person

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