The Less Formal DBS Check
What with Dragon Ball being a la mode right now with the release of FighterZ and the announcement that Super is coming to a close, albeit maybe only for now, it’s a great excuse for me to write up my annual piece on the series (gentleman's agreement prevents me from writing more frequently on the subject).
I wanted to have a review over the cast of the show and say my piece as to how the series has allowed them to grow.
In summary, I'll be looking at the characters who were present in Dragon Ball and/or Z and giving my opinion as a fan whether they've received the recognition or growth they've deserved. With a cast this size I am breaking this into two going firstly over the contenders in the Tournament of Power;
More power doesn’t necessarily make for more character. Goku’s personality has always been simple and sat on the surface so they appear to have taken the safe route and rather than upset the balance allowing him to carry on regardless. What Super has done differently than Z is to avoid the repeated scenario where for some reason he’d become incapacitated before arriving at the last minute to save the day. Whilst similar themes did occur during the Battle of Gods and Resurrection F arc’s, his absence was due to his own choosing and some would argue the Universe Survival arc wouldn’t be happening without his actions (although this is somewhat justified by the fact that the universes may have all been erased without prejudice were it not for the entertainment the Tournament of Power would bring, Goku didn’t know this upon instigating).
All this extra screen time has served to emphasize that whilst kind, he’s often pretty selfish. It’s something often parodied but his behaviour clearly shows that he puts his own interests above the livelihood of his own family. We’ve seen a growth in the amount of joy he gets from finding stronger and stronger opponents too. In Z he’d not shy from any fight but in Super he seems to actively seek them out. The turn in the Cell Saga whereby he urges Gohan to fight in his place doesn’t seem like something he’d do anymore. Whether it’s the fact that his rivalry with Vegeta has ignited his Saiyan heritage or a midlife crisis has kicked in, he’s not as relateable as he used to appear.
Goku achieved Ultra Instinct in the Tournament of Power arc which is an interesting twist in as much that he becomes very serious with an intense face in battle (compared to much of Super where he visibly enjoys fighting), not unlike during his battle with Frieza in Z. His fighting style also appears very different from before which is a nice touch, it gives me a bit of hope that more surprises are to come should the story continue in its present form.
It was teased in the finale of Z that he’d be making the transition to Master or Mentor rather than warrior which could have provided some much needed depth to his character. He currently shows no signs of doing this and for this reason I can’t help but feel a little disappointed.
I’m going to start with a confession and that is that I’m a big Vegeta fan (like many out there), so possible bias here but I’ll do my best to justify it. Vegeta has managed to strike that balance whereby he’s changed but he’s the same. The events that took place in Z appear to have changed Vegeta’s attitude towards others but not himself. He’s still self-righteous and overconfident but he's now willing to make sacrifices towards his loved ones which he wouldn’t before. He now has something worth fighting for in the shape of his family (which is reinforced by Bulma being a large support structure) and this has also served as a new source of strength on several occasions (the infamous Bulma slap and fighting alongside his adult son).
The familiar theme of Vegeta having to work harder to earn his power over them being gifted to Goku continues, and his bitterness of this fact remains as well. Despite this he is considered much more Goku’s equal than before by the others and for the first time we see that he’s able to ascend to a level Goku hasn’t reach in the Universe Survival arc (at time of writing). Whereas most the dangers faced in Z can be traced back to Vegeta’s actions, in Super he actively tries to prevent battles on occasion, even at the cost of his own hubris.
He has also been given further hope in the form of discovering that the Saiyan race carries on in Universe 6 and this makes room for so much more development into the future (assuming he survives the tournament and gets his wish). Tales of redemption are always endearing, especially those which take place over such a span of time. I'll be disappointed if we don't get to see him visit the Saiyans in universe 6 as I think he deserves a bit of reward. In addition he has his new baby daughter to attend to which will allow us to see an even more maternal side to him (given that he was still too bitter when Trunks was born).
I don’t think anyone has rubber-banded their fighting prowess in the series as much as Gohan. He’s always been the one with the highest latent ability which was finally actualized in Z but then left to go stale in lieu of study (rinse, repeat ad nausem).
For the first half of Super (to date), We actually see a decline in Gohan’s power as his focus shifts to his work and family. Whilst there are a couple of occasions where he’s drawn in to fight, he’s only able to hold his own to a point. It’s not until the Universal Survival arc that we finally see him back to form in his full Mystic level. Whilst it’s probably a realistic take on his experience, it’s his in consistence and the fact that he hasn’t excelled himself further in the fighting arena that disappoints.
I feel Gohan was always more interesting whilst under Piccolo’s tutelage and whilst using adapted versions of his moveset. Despite the fact he trains with Piccolo in order to get his groove back in Super, he uses attacks in line with Goku and is all the more nondescript as a result.
Toriyama has previously shown on numerous occasions that his intention with the Dragon Ball story was to pass the torch to a new, younger warrior at some point. Originally that was to be Gohan, then potentially Goten and still potentially Ubb. Due to several renewals and editorial decisions this changed and the series continued (several times) and we've been left with Gohan in his current form, an inconsistent, potentially capped out (or is he) character who doesn't even seem to want to be there were he not too nice to turn the offer down.
The Golden Raspberry without a doubt in Super goes to Piccolo. Once the Demon God and then Gohan's Mentor (and arguably primary father figure) has been reduced to a babysitter for the latter. I don't think I'd be so frustrated with what has been done to Piccolo were it not for the fact that Toriyama insists on still including him in battles before shamelessly either killing him off or substituting him for one of the others. In the Resurrection F arc you'd be forgiven for forgetting that he dies again, albeit for the same reasons as before in saving Gohan's life.
His appearance in the Universe 6 Tournament was a muted one which eventually led to his retirement from the competition just because someone else wanted a go.
I think I was amongst many in wanting to see the Tournament of Power to be his big moment. He spent his time shadowing Gohan, catching him as he fell out of the arena and growing back his own arms on several occasions. His departure felt like they'd forgot to get rid of him sooner and in a more meaningful way and they just needed to slim down universe 7's numbers.
I wanted to see new attacks, maybe a new fusion with other Nameks (the universe 6 ones upon their defeat would have been something and made his later exit from the competition all the more meaningful as that would have also led to the erasure of their universe) but what we were left with was a string of disappointments and missed opportunities.
You would think they've done all they can with this Dragon Ball veteran. The comic relief in the more tense and filler parts of the show with an insatiable lust for all things perverted. And it carried on that way true to form for the first few episodes but during the Resurrect of F arc he was drafted back into the front lines after a hefty leave of absence. Whilst understandably unable to measure up to the strongest of protagonists and antagonists, he showed himself able to hold his own and actually looked like the most capable human fighter on the show. Like certain others he stood out in the Universe Survival arc and showed us what the title Master actually means by eliminating several strong fighters using a variety of mystical techniques from the early days of the show including the Evil Containment Wave. Despite living over 300 years he is still willing to put his life on the line to support his comrades.
In an interesting run up to the tournament we also saw him put Goku and Krillin through some training which resulted in them retrieving "paradise grass" which he exclaimed will extend his lifespan 1,000 years and gave some rare insight into how he's managed to stay around as long as he has at the age he appears (over 300 years).
It was a surprise and a treat to see one of the original cast remain so useful in a time when human fighters are so obsolete against everyone else.
I enjoyed Tien's contributions in Z. In Super however it's clear he's essentially the weakest of the main cast with absolutely no hope of catching up.
Whereas Krillin is a weak fighter (relatively speaking), his connection to Goku & 18 make him an essential part in any continuing Dragon Ball story whereas Tien sadly doesn't have as much reason to demand his presence.
It was actually good to see that he was moving on and running his own dojo. That side story even introduced us to a new female warrior who could have been an interesting subplot for some inevitable filler someways down the line (maybe that was the plan). In my eyes Tien peaked during his confrontation with Cell and clearly his abilities haven't drastically improved since.
Truth be told it was good to see him and to see he's doing well, but his spot in the tournament could have been filled by someone much more useful (Future Trunks somehow? I appreciate technically cheating and probably frowned upon due to time travel element). His appearance in the series would have been much better had it been a side story, filler or just a send off to a former hero (or becoming a new mentor?). Go out with a bang...rather than a wet fart.
As mentioned above, whether still a fighter or not, Krillin's place in Super was all but guaranteed. His ties to the others was always too strong and he serves as a solid piece of comic relief when the moment demands it.
Sadly we do not see much progression in him as a fighter. Much like Gohan, his family life has gotten in the way and he seems perfectly happy with that.
I think out of all everyone in the show Krillin is actually the one who has progressed exactly as I thought he would. It probably took him longer than I would have imagined to begin fighting again by choice (on the basis he was thrust back into fighting in Resurrection of F) but that would only be because of how fast the show moves otherwise.
There was a surprising subplot around his fear of those who had previously killed him which is visited on a couple of occasions. Again, I was surprised that much attention was being given to the issue but it was understandable and not unwelcome.
His early departure from The Tournament of Power wasn't too surprising and was probably a smart move overall. Due to the amount of legacy he holds in the series he was quickly forgiven in my eyes, whereas had Tien or Roshi been the first to go they would have likely been exiled from any future fandom.
Dragon Ball has few examples of strong female characters. 18 is one of only a couple of exceptions and carry's the flag for the fairer sex in the moments of Bulma's absence.
She doesn't waste words making it difficult to find her too relate-able but that's always made sense given her origins. We saw a bit more of her relationship with Krillin and Marron than Z allowed us to in Super and it was good to see her fighting and holding her own again with several memorable moments in the Universe Survival arc.
She broke little new ground elsewhere but can be seen to be developing more of a sense of humour, albeit a tactless one when joking about her alternate self to Future Trunks.
There are a few instances where you can see the love she has for her family, especially Marron who is the only other who seems to always raise her smile. Her co-ordination previously seen with 17 returns but she also shares this with Krillin and makes efforts (although possibly only considered filler) to get a wish from the Dragon Balls to give him the perfect gift. She didn't really need to change much and she at least gets some air time which is more than you can say for some of the others mentioned here!
A surprise return here, although not an unwelcome one. It's been the punchline of many a joke that he became a park ranger following the events of the Android Saga in Z, a fact that remains true we discover!
In any case it is definitely good to see someone using a different fighting style and techniques to the other strongest in the show and managing to hold his own.
Whilst his personality is relatively two dimensional (as with 18 this is understandable) I can't help but feel he didn't really get to show his full potential in the short time he was active in Z, so I,m glad that he gets another chance in Super.
In honesty I'm a bit confused as to how an android could actually become even stronger (guess I always figured their power was capped to a point) and I am surprised that he's survived as long as he has done in the Tournament of Power considering that he's been absent from the story for so long. That is not to say that he hasn't deserved it or not been entertaining, just that it would have probably been easier to use him as a tool to demonstrate how much stronger other fighters have become.
Arguably his presence could be seen as taking the place of other fighters for whom I'd have liked to have seen more development (Piccolo being an obvious choice), but I can't help but be endeared by his performance.
We learn that he has a family and even children which we are not introduced to. I'm intrigued on this basis how much more we were planning on seeing him in the show following the Tournament of Power had the end/hiatus not been announced.
Without doubt Frieza is the best antagonist to come out of the Dragon Ball franchise (there I said it).
Given the fact that the move Resurrection F was announced and released (in Japan at least) prior to Super beginning, it was little surprise that he'd continue to be a part in the series.
As is his tradition, he broke the Power Level system once again by proving he could become stronger than the heroes with only 4 months of training (compared to Vegeta and Goku's circa 35 years!). It would be easy to argue that his presence was unnecessary and they could have used a new, possibly god like enemy in his place. But he is so good at what he does. Infinitely confident, constantly belittling and eloquent to a T.
I've really enjoyed seeing Frieza put into situations he's unfamiliar with, the main one being that he is fighting as part of a team with other equally powered fighters. Despite this he takes no shame in taking every opportunity to try to deal or double cross his own Universe to his own benefit. There have been moments where he uses his deception to help the heroes however but this is normally swiftly rectified by focusing his menace at the next nearest target.
Should the series continue I would hazard a bet that his actions take a swift turn back to form and we'll be seeing him wreak some havoc in the realm of the gods in near future. And I'd welcome that. It's the unpredictability which keeps him fresh.
The funniest thing I've read which sums him up best is his current description on Urban Dictionary;
"Frieza is one of the main villains in DBZ. Can blow shit up with one finger, but gets his ass kicked by a saiyan monkey. Also cannot tell time."
and neither apparently can gods.
Based on what I have read in numerous forums and comments pages I'm sure I've offended a few of you but this is very much my opinion of the treatment of these members of the cast. I would love to hear your feelings on what I've written here and whether you agree or otherwise. Also stay tuned as I will continue to cover further characters in another piece soon.