Akira Toriyama, Dragon Ball Z (1989 – 1995), part 2

Here we go, as promised months ago, in the first part of the review ;). My enthusiasm for Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z hasn’t changed a bit, even though since then I’ve read loads of other shonen titles: Fullmetal Alchemist, Naruto, Kaijuu no. 8, My Hero Academia, Bleach, One Piece, Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba… I still consider Toriyama’s opus magnum the best ;). Though that doesn’t include the most recent run, Dragon Ball Super, which is so bad I refuse to acknowledge it as canon ;).

So, without further ado, here’s my second part of the highly emotional journey through Toriyama’s famous manga. There are tears, and fist pumps, and everything in between ;).

Dragon Ball Z, vol. 12: Enter Trunks!

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5.5/10 stars

The first third, concluding the fight between Goku and Freeza, is simply amazing. Loved every bit of it! All stars!!! And it’s actually the only reason this got five stars instead of one.

Because after that first part… well, to be fair, it was probably impossible to top the Goku-Freeza showdown with anything, really. But the rest of the volume is a disappointment, a major slump in terms of both emotional and martial content, with the coincidental return of Freeza and Goku, over a year later, to Earth, just as a setup for the appearance of a mysterious warrior from the future. Trunks must save the day in the absence of Goku, and while the reveal of Trunk’s parentage was a really fun part, the ease with which he dispatched Freeza and his nasty dad was rather jarring. And then we get the forewarning about evil androids soon to be made by a mad scientist, and the decision to wait for them and train hard just doesn’t make any sense. Aargh. That’s just so lazy.

Honestly, I hoped we had seen the last of the Red Ribbon Army a long time ago. Not to mention that the new Terminator vibes are somehow way less alluring than the old Superman vibes πŸ˜‰

One of the weakest volumes to date, I’m afraid. Still moderately enjoyable, but nowhere near the usual levels I came to expect from Toriyama’s DB and DBZ.

Dragon Ball Z, Vol. 13: The Red Ribbon Androids

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4/10 stars

Okay, this one was just boring. I know, even Toriyama can’t be a constant fount of wisdom and creativity in such a long-running manga, especially considering how he managed it brilliantly so far. These androids though are simply boring, and Yamcha becoming the butt of all jokes because of his lameness is a bit depressing. I feel sorry for that guy, it seems he serves only as a comparison to all the Saiyan characters to show how far beyond regular human abilities they have transcended.

The only really cool thing this time around is the twist Toriyama supplies at the end – “these aren’t the droids you’re looking for” πŸ˜‰ I’m glad I have the next volume at hand so I can see how this pans out!

Dragon Ball Z, Vol. 14: Rise of the Machines

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7/10 stars

Oh, me of little faith! So it’s not really Terminator, but rather Blade Runner! πŸ˜‰ Okay, that’s better.


The new androids are insanely powerful, which takes out most of enjoyment from the fights, and Toriyama’s decision to remove Goku from the picture for the whole volume with his foretold sickness Goku conveniently forgot all about was very contrived. I get why, though – this was the only way to create even a little bit of suspense regarding the androids’ motivations. And because Goku is the one character everybody turns to when things get bad, by having him out Toriyama ceded the field to the supporting cast – especially Vegeta. He’s one I love to despise πŸ˜‰ Judging by Vegeta’s behaviour, the Saiyan world must’ve been a very sad and angry place.

To be honest though, with Vegeta’s attitude I’m quite surprised he managed to have any child at all, especially with Bulma – unless it was through a long-distance cross-pollination.

There are some highlights in this volume, especially with Piccolo and Kami, and the leisurely sightseeing trip of the androids was whimsical and quirky, and slightly reminiscent of road movies (Thelma and Louise, anyone?) All in all, a decent entry, which gives me hope for the future volumes!

The new villain looks formidable and creepy.

Dragon Ball Z, Vol. 15: The Terror of Cell

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6/10 stars

So, this volume was ok. Poor Piccolo, even after merging with Kami and becoming whole once again he’s no match for Cell as the genetically engineered being goes through his transformations. Still, it’s a better fate than that of Android #17, whose only plot point was to ramble about aimlessly and enjoy life before serving as fodder for Cell…

So, this volume was ok. Poor Piccolo, even after merging with Kami and becoming whole once again he’s no match for Cell as the genetically engineered being goes through his transformations. Still, it’s a better fate than that of Android #17, whose only plot point was to ramble about aimlessly and enjoy life before serving as fodder for Cell…

What I love in this volume, though, is Gohan’s and Piccolo’s relationship. Toriyama is able to emphasize it even through tiny details, and showcase the depth of loyalty, devotion and care that lies there.

The android-philosopher version of Rutger Hauer is quite likeable here, I must admit. I’m warming up to him.

Dragon Ball Z, Vol. 16: The Room of Spirit and Time

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6.5/10 stars

This one is a tough one to rate. Vegeta surpasses his own records of stupidity when, after breaking through the Super Saiyan form in the Chamber of Spirit and Time he defeats Cell easily and in a burst of Saiyan insanity he decides to spare Cell to let him attain his final form – just for the fun of fighting the Perfect Cell. As much as this decision conforms to Vegeta’s character, I can’t help but notice how it neatly sets up the final confrontation. Similarly, poor lovestruck Kuririn seems to be making only bad decisions here, just like Vegeta – all just to make Cell unbeatable. As such, this volume clearly prepares ground for the subsequent showdown.

Tenshinhan gets his moment to shine here, though, and it’s great; and then Goku saves the day for both him and Piccolo, and does it without throwing even one punch – perfect. Plus, Goku and Gohan’s quality time is very sweet!

And let’s say it, both fights between Vegeta and Cell are actually really enjoyable. The only detraction is that we know they’re not final.

Dragon Ball Z, Vol. 17: The Cell Game

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8/10 stars

I like this one a lot, for totally not usual reasons. No fights, slow pace, lots of seemingly arbitrary, inconsequential decisions – but they all make sense. It’s again a setup volume, but with a lot of breadth and depth.

Okay then, Cell has enough Saiyan blood in him that he also becomes entirely mad and spares his enemies left and right just to organize great games. Tenka’ichi Budokai, anyone? Only this time with Cell. And the grand prize is Earth not being destroyed by a mad bio-construct ;).

Confession time: whenever I see Mr Satan, or Hercule, I get irrationally angry. This guy! I know this is exactly what Toriyama envisioned, his readers foaming at the mouth at the loud, dumb, egotistic cluelessness of this clearly satirical character, and yet I still do that. Gaah!

Seeing Dende becoming Kami-sama was very rewarding indeed. I love how Toriyama deftly weaves the narrative from the separate strands, bringing back unforgettable characters from the past. I also adore Gohan’s decision to wear Namekian clothes in deference to Piccolo – such a simple gesture with so much meaning!

Goku’s happy-go-lucky attitude never gets tiring! And at the same time it’s now a conscious decision on his part – he knows what he can do and what he cannot do, and decides accordingly, never losing sight from the most important things for him. His decision to just relax and have fun before the showdown with Cell is not made lightly, nor is it thoughtless – on the contrary. This state of awareness, of being in-the-world, in the present, is one of Zen tenets, and it’s striking how Toriyama can naturally channel it through Goku.

Dragon Ball Z, Vol. 18: Gohan vs. Cell

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8/10 stars

This volume’s structure was predictable, with Goku coming as the first to fight Cell it was obvious he wouldn’t be able to win. The tension was somewhat lower, but the fight was still awesome – as was Gohan’s. Yet what I loved the most here was the true extent of Piccolo’s love for Gohan – not knowing Gohan’s true power he was willing to get himself killed without a moment’s hesitation, just to save Gohan whom he still viewed as a small kid.

I also really appreciate Toriyama’s take on growing up within the relationship between parents and kids – at some point, you need to let the kids take the responsibility and make their own decisions. Goku believes in Gohan so much he’s willing to risk it all – so it’s very good that Gohan’s actually up to the task ;).

Gohan the timid would-be scholar has enough of Saiyan blood to get into the battle rage state – but he doesn’t want to kill anyone, nor does he really want to fight. What finally prompts him is not his own pain but the pain of others. I really liked how Toriyama incorporated Android #16 here – a final Blade Runner touch ;). Also, seeing the dilemma between dreams and duty playing out in Gohan’s mind was very satisfying, indeed.

Lastly, can’t believe I’m actually writing this, but I’m warming up to Hercule a little bit πŸ˜‰

I’d just get rid of the little Cells – they were boring :P.

Dragon Ball Z, Vol. 19: Death of a Warrior

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8.5/10 stars

Ahh, whatever. Call me sentimental πŸ˜‰ The first half is great, and I’d happily give it more stars if it ended there and then. The mistakes of the children, payed for by the parents – don’t we know it ;). Thankfully, our mistakes don’t mean the end of life on Earth and the destruction of the planet. Well, this one’s squarely on Gohan and his blasted Saiyan blood reveling in fight. Goku once again turns out to be the only hope, but at least Gohan learns something from this experience. I’d love this volume so much more if Toriyama hadn’t decided to redeem Gohan there and then, bringing Cell back to life once again and giving an altogether weak ending to what could’ve been a very powerful volume.

Plus, the time-travel in DB is so all over the place it’s actually as bad as the MCU – and that’s saying a lot.

But at least the Cell saga finally ended. I had higher hopes for this, and it turned out to be a much weaker Freeza copycat.

Dragon Ball Z, Vol. 20: The New Generation

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5/10 stars

This could have been better. A transitory volume between story arcs, it tries to lighten up the mood with showing Gohan’s antics in the real world. It is funny in places, breaking the fourth wall occasionally, but not as original or quirky as Toriyama got us accustomed to. Too much of a Superman/Spider-Man vibe, of being so different that even the attempts at not standing out make one stand out all the more ;). And poor Gohan, with his country ways and no sense of style, sigh. His Great Saiyaman costume looks like Ant-Man and Robocop got a little rowdy.

I like Videl’s storyline, though, and Goten and Trunks quickly become a necessary element of the whole – even if the mysterious appearance of Goten out of nowhere seems somewhat artificial, as if Toriyama just felt he needed some small kids around (and he’s right about that, he does! After all, the best DB is the original DB with kid Goku :D)

Dragon Ball Z, Vol. 21: Tournament of the Heavens

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8/10 stars

While Cell arc was ultimately boring, rehashing old tropes, this brings a breath of fresh air to DB franchise – even in the oldest trope of all, The Tournament of the Heavens. This volume was so much fun! A new Tenka’ichi Budokai, with its own Youth Division, where Goten and Trunks have a chance to shine and show their unique personalities. Goten’s Kamekameha must be one of the sweetest bungles I’ve seen in DB, and Goku had a fair share of his own ;). Their antics in the adult division as the Mighty Mask are pure fun!

Piccolo’s care for Gohan, breaking all the cameras so that Gohan can fight without fear for being recognized, is really sweet. That big green guy might not seem like that, but he has a heart of gold!

Also, Hercule. I’m still hating that guy, so I really loved to watch him sweat and wanted him to get what he deserved – well, looks like Toriyama likes him, though, so I’ll have to wait a bit longer for my sweet revenge ;).

The plot thickens with the appearance of mysterious powerful warriors, both good and bad, who make this Tournament very interesting indeed. Even without Goku and Vegeta fighting things get really intense and all the fights are impeccably drawn and written, as usual. And the best part is that once again, the Tournament is just the beginning to a much greater adventure!

Dragon Ball Z, Vol. 22: Mark of the Warlock

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10/10 stars

This was perfect! I wanted to shout “Vegeta, you moron!” and tear my hair out, and whatever book makes me care that much deserves all the stars! πŸ˜€

In a setup reminiscent of the All-seeing crone arc Kaio-shin, Vegeta and Goku on his one day off from afterlife need to defeat a dangerous warlock and prevent his horrific creation, the djinn Boo, from ever reawakening. But of course, nothing goes as planned. Their antics with choosing the sequence of fighting and their bickering as they watch each other’s turn are pure fun, and poor Kaio-shin is totally out of his depth around those knuckleheads.

And, “Oh, Vegeta!” His arc is absolutely riveting here, and very rewarding, after all the buildup of earlier volumes. Can’t believe I got there, but Vegeta became one of my favorite characters – he can be equally despicable and wonderful, and he’s very much his own person – you gotta respect that πŸ˜‰

The Tenka’ichi Budokai arc is absolutely thrilling even without any of the major players in the game, which in itself is testament to Toriyama’s skill. The final showdown between Hercule and android #18 is hilarious, and Goten and Trunks are being so wonderfully stupid throughout the whole volume that I couldn’t help but snort with laughter. Goten is so much like Goku!

Dragon Ball Z, Vol. 23: Boo Unleashed!

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9/10 stars

Boo shapes up to be my favorite villain of DB and DBZ – I mean, a sweet-looking, smiling fatty blob who turns his victims into various types of sweets and gobbles them up?? That must be the craziest, creepiest idea Toriyama’s ever had!


Also, Vegeta’s redemption arc is just too good to be true. Love it! Even while some of the suspense is lost as it’s too early to have Boo defeated, the emotional punch of Vegeta acknowledging his relationships and emotions is just perfect. Piccolo has grown into the role of eternal witness, a one-person Greek choir giving the commentary, and he’s ideal for this role. As are Trunks and Goten as the jesters of the piece – their brainless childish behavior is spot-on, adding much needed levity in this very sombre volume.

Gohan gets his chance, too, training with the legendary sword at the Lord of Lords sanctuary. And Goku, Goku always has a trick up his sleeve – this time, it’s fusion. Thanks to ingenious suggestion of Mr. Popo, we’ll get to see Gotenks soon! πŸ˜‰

Dragon Ball Z, Vol. 24: Hercule to the Rescue

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10/10

That was an emotional roller-coaster! And I can’t believe Hercule gets his redemption arc! I actually started to like this guy! Okay, too many exclamation marks, I need to take a deep breath.

Boo, even after he had freed himself from Bobbidi, still has no concept of morality. So he continues to treat humanity like so much clay, sculpting from it whatever he needs – from food to construction materials. He builds his own little house, with all the comforts, and settles in. When the clueless Hercule comes to save the day and defeat him, he spares his life, seeing Hercule for what he really is – a bumbling idiot with a big heart. They live happily together, with a puppy, and the fate of Earth seems to hang in balance, with Boo’s boisterous destruction curbed by loyalty and friendship – until some despicable humans kill his dog (hmm… Have John Wick screenwriters read DBZ?) Boo distills the anger and hurt he can no longer contain into an evil Boo – and that one looks really freakishly nasty… With the sweet Boo consumed, nothing stands in the way of evil Boo’s galactic conquest!

There’s also so much fun in this volume: Goten and Trunks transformation attempts are just brilliant, and their brainlessness seems compounded in this form, too!
Gohan and Goku get some quality time in Lord of Lords sanctuary, and this part is just brilliant – especially the fabled sword. I couldn’t stop laughing!

Toriyama seems to have pulled all stops in this arc, and his writing and art are just insanely brilliant!

Dragon Ball Z, Vol. 25: Last Hero Standing!

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All stars!

This was freaking fantastic! I had so much fun with this volume, with its joyful craziness, imaginative abandon, and unending, uplifting optimism.

Boo is just such a wonderful villain, with split personality(ies), and bottomless evil lurking beneath the fluffy cat-like outer layer. Boo basically kills himself because the dominant personality wasn’t evil enough, and what emerges is just villainy personified: a lean, mean killing machine.

Gotenks here is just hilarious, and I laughed out loud at so many of the silly gags! His kamikaze ghosts are the best, and they clearly prove that the aggregated intelligence of a crowd equals the IQ of the stupidest member ;). Loved it!

Supercharged Gohan seems to have a chance against Boo – and he deserves it, after what he had to go through with the weird elder Lord of Lords; but Boo has some unheard-of superpowers at his disposal… I loved Tenshinhan cameo here, he always appears when he’s most needed. But at the end, once again it’s up to the main hero of DB to save the day (with some help, but the identity of that help would constitute a spoiler ;)). Go, Goku!

Dragon Ball Z, Vol. 26: Goodbye Dragon World!

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ALL STARS!!!

Goodbye Dragon World, indeed!
It’s a bitter-sweet goodbye, as I really wanted this adventure to continue. Toriyama’s world is absolutely amazing, and his DB/DBZ volumes serve as the best uplifting read I’ve had for years. And yet, the ending was just perfect.

This volume was filled with action and emotion, and I was laughing and gasping and shaking my fists like a madwoman – all testament to Toriyama’s skill and not signs of my imminent mental breakdown, I assure you. The whole Boo arc gets a great, wonderfully unpredictable and yet expected solution here, and I loved how everyone played a part in it, wrapping up 42 volumes in what felt like an entirely natural, nay, the only right and proper, way. There’s a lot of drama and a lot of humor, as usual, and Toriyama’s imagination and art skill seem to have no bounds. Of course, Goku will always remain my absolute uncontested favorite, but Vegeta’s grown so much over the series that I can’t help but like and respect him, too. Heck, I even started to like Hercule, and I never ever thought I’d say that ;).

Ending it all with a Strongest Under the Heavens Tournament was a masterstroke. I know that there’s the new DB Super, but until it gets waaay better than it currently is I’ll deny its existence and consider the 42 volumes of Dragon Ball a finished, complete work :D.

***

It was a wild, immensely satisfying ride. I kid you not: Dragon Ball was my entry point to the amazingly rich and varied world of manga, but it’s also the highest standard to which I measure up all other manga titles. There are some that are more thoughtful, darker, slower and less silly, such as Fullmetal Alchemist (and once I’m done with this series, I’ll definitely post a review just like the above ;)). There are weak pastiches like One Punch Man, or straight-up tributes, whether the authors acknowledge it (like Naruto’s Kishimoto) or not (like Demon Slayer’s Koyoharu, who admits to being inspired by Naruto instead ;)), and there are totally different and quirky shonen titles, such as Kaijuu no. 8, but I’d wager that without Toriyama’s DB universe none of them would exist. I proudly profess my undying admiration for this title, and I am still hunting for the boxed edition because that’s the one manga I really want to have on my shelves ;).

14 thoughts on “Akira Toriyama, Dragon Ball Z (1989 – 1995), part 2

    1. Yup, Boo is something else, indeed! I love those crazy ideas of Toriyama, and how he was able to convey the amorality of Boo through Boo’s treatment of others as candy. It’s so funny and so creepy at the same time! Also, all those different Boos! πŸ˜„

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  1. The idea and picture of Cell is what destroyed Hunter X Hunter. The big bad in that turned out to be a Cell clone in all but name 😦 Probably a good thing the manga-ka had a breakdown and put the manga on hold, indefinitely.

    Is the box set prohibitively expensive or simply not available? I was looking at amazon and several of the reviews mention that the US boxset was censored? Were the versions you read censored?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Actually, can you tell me what the x in the title stands for? I get v, but x?

      My version was uncensored. There were a couple instances of boobs in the early volumes, then all traces of perviness disappeared, only to get resurrected in Naruto πŸ˜‰ The box is unavailable and has been for months. There was supposed to be a new edition, but probably because of Covid all those plans either got delayed or put on hold. The original manga also got prohibitively expensive in single volumes, because there’s no reprint. I’ll wait – I want it badly enough to bide my time πŸ˜‰

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I have NO idea what the X stands for. It is capitalized, so I always assumed it was some sort of “and” instead of “versus” I don’t try to delve too deeply into the japanese mind about why they pick the names they do. Too many of them have breakdowns and I don’t want to get tainted.

        I couldn’t take Naruto. The character was too immature for me to handle waiting until he got older.

        yeah, the box set of DBZ is almost 1000 for the 26 volumes. That’s outrageous….

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Heh, that was my thinking too. I thought maybe it’s a multiplication sign? πŸ˜‰

          I’m all right with Naruto as long as I set my expectations right πŸ˜‰ It’s okay for me, but I get what you mean by Naruto’s immaturity – at some point it became like a tic for the author, to put something silly/stupid that Naruto does, “because.” Still, I like Naruto character enough to continue ;).

          I’m sure they’ll make the reprint one day, especially with DB Super still going (that I refuse to acknowledge ;)). I think the pandemic wreaked havoc in most areas of life, so I shouldn’t really be surprised there are manga shortages πŸ˜‰

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Paper, of all things, was a real shortage here. We embargoed, or taxed, or something, all Canadian paper and that didn’t work because we couldn’t produce enough of our own. Sigh.

            I have to admit, I wish they’d do a hardcover oversized version of Death Note. Akira got the hardcover treatment and man, are they beautiful….

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Oh, maybe that’s the reason then πŸ™‚
              DB got a full color treatment in the hardcovers and it looks absolutely amazing in the large format. But also very expensive… πŸ˜‰

              Haven’t read Death Note yet. Do you recommend it?

              Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s so great to see how much you ended up adoring this classic series. A bit unfortunate that Super goes in all kinds of weird and unnecessary directions nowadays though. Hopefully, you’ll be able to read another relatively long but just as good series as you continue your foray into manga! πŸ˜€

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    1. I absolutely adore DB and nothing will change it! πŸ˜€
      What I can’t stand about Super is that it 1) actively changes the DB?DBZ legacy in making Goku into some kind of an astonishingly stupid egotist and 2) the art sucks. Really, there is no comparison between Toriyama’s art and Toyotaro’s weak imitation.

      I’m still reading Fullmetal Alchemist and Naruto, and I’m going to start Berserk soon, so my hopes are up πŸ˜€

      And big thanks to you, Lashaan, without you and Bookstooge I might’ve not made that first step into the world of manga! πŸ˜€

      Liked by 1 person

        1. LOL, looks like there’s no return for me – I even started playing Pokemon GO on my phone πŸ˜…
          Yeah, one can hope, right? πŸ˜€ Though from what I’ve seen till now, nothing really comes close. I must confess, Toriyama has an amazing clean line and incredible dynamic to his art, and I haven’t seen anybody coming close to this deceptive simplicity. I don’t appreciate all his designs, they are becoming increasingly campy or derivative, but man, when he’s good, he’s amazing.

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