After opening the series with a three volume mega-saga, the fourth volume of Dragon Ball Z offers some variety.
Things kick off with the extended filler tale that is Garlic Jr. In Japan, DBZ saw yearly movies which reworked the current plot elements into standalone original stories. The first of these, inspired by Goku and Piccolo uniting against Raditz at the start of the series, saw them unite to save Gohan from the sinister Garlic Jr, eventually knocking him into a pocket dimension.
A stellar alignment has allowed the malevolent midget to escape his prison and he sets his sights once again on claiming the planet. One of the stronger elements of this arc is that Goku is still missing in action, leaving it up to Gohan, Krillin and Piccolo to save the day. Garlic is also one of the best challenges as in his previous appearance he gained the DBZ villain holy grail of immortality. The show has never shied away from the ‘kill or be killed’ nature of its battles, so what do you do when the big bad literally can’t be killed?
Regrettably the rest of the arc isn’t as inspired. Kami and Mr Popo undertake a quest in the second half to undo a key part of Garlic Jr’s plan which sees them facing off with the ghostly spirits of the past Earth guardians. This results in long stretches of them running away and oddly being attacked for doing what these men swore their lives to. There’s also a subplot in which Krillin dates a beautiful but brainless girl named Marron, who was apparently animated by the most sexually frustrated animators in the studio.
Speaking of, the dub still seems to smoulder with oddly homo erotic tension including the infamous moment where our pumped up villain bellows “Come to big daddy Garlic!”….ok then.
Following this adventure which takes up about a disc and a half, the set moves onto building up the next big arc when a revived Frieza arrives on Earth. Even stronger than before and with Goku still nowhere in sight, the day is saved by a mysterious teenager who somehow also has the power of a Super Saiyan.
Although Frieza met a fitting end last time his brief return works well. His patched up cyborg body is a cool twist on his familiar form and bringing him back creates an effective comparison for the power of newcomer Trunks.
Having previously tackled alien invasion and space travel, DBZ now takes a plunge into one of my favourite fictional devices- time travel. A pastiche of the Terminator franchise, Trunks is from a ruined future where all the heroes and most of the planet have crumbled before a pair of sinister cyborgs. The evolution of a robotics project Goku defeated in the original series, Trunks has traveled back to give the legends he admires advanced warning in hopes of changing history. With a three year advance, everyone resolves to train for the prophesied day.
This really is one of my favourite arcs. Not just for the time travel aspect but for the way it feels like the correct follow on from previous events: a more involved and nuanced story. Trunks himself is a big part of this. A cross between Kyle Reese and John Connor, he’s a less bombastic character than any we’ve seen before and that really helps to sell the idea he’s from a future where the comfort and luxury the cast enjoy is non-existent. There’s also the issue of his parentage. At this point it’s widely known, so I won’t hold back from mentioning he’s the son of Bulma and Vegeta. That in of itself creates a fair bit of drama, both for the questionable idea of a union between those two characters and how Trunks himself feels about it. The former isn’t really addressed too well and comes off as a case of the series inconsistent writing, especially since a big motivation for Bulma in the previous volumes had been reviving her boyfriend Yamcha. ‘This happened, deal with it’ is all we really get.
For Trunks, it’s a difficult look at the father he only ever heard stories of. There’s a sense he was never told the real truth and is angry and disappointed to find out what a selfish and self-involved man his father was. It’s a relatable emotional response in a fantastical storyline, an important anchor for investing in such things.
Get your game cards out as the set brings us another volume of Goku Incapacitation Bingo. If you had ‘Bed Ridden With A Deadly Virus’, be sure to cross it off! Honestly, the further I go with reviewing DBZ I’m amazed how every arc goes out of its way to find some way to keep Goku out of the way for a long stretch. Although already limited by the virus in his single battle, it ties into one of the wider complaints I have with this arc that already the Super Saiyan form is losing its merit. When Goku achieved it and battled Frieza it was treated as a legendary titan form, a mind blowing power only matched by another being from across the stars. But with Trunks and Vegeta both also assuming the form, it’s shown to struggle against humans with cybernetic enhancements. The first pair of androids we see find a creative way around by way of their energy absorption ability, draining blasts and characters for sustenance. But later the once almighty form is shown as meaningless in the face of what amounts to two human teenagers with robot parts shoved in them…I guess someone should have read the small print on that ancient legend.
As characters, however, said robo-teens are surprisingly chilling. Although the dub makes the mistake of referring to them as completely artificial, the sibling pair of Androids 17 and 18 carry a menace that even Frieza can’t match. Monkey Klingons and space bogey men is one thing but a pair of humans showing little emotion or concern beyond finding fun in the most destructive way possible feels eerily similar to real life psychopaths. It helps that opposed to energy blasts they’re using punches and kicks in addition to ever day items.
18 herself stands slightly above her brother due to the lack of female fighters in the show. We’ve had two prominent females for a while now but 18 is quite different from Chichi and Bulma, being more proactive and snarky. It’s no wonder Krillin quickly develops a crush on her.
Extras consist yet again of the opening and ending animations. By this point I’ve given up on expecting this will change but this set really could have benefited from including the special extra episode that explains Trunks’ backstory in far more detail.
A welcome difference though is the Marathon feature, which plays all the episodes on the disc sandwiched between the first opening and last ending. This quite familiar to DBZ fans across the Atlantic but it’s very welcome to see it debut here, especially since I admit to skipping the OPs and EDs.
Four volumes in Dragon Ball Z finds the right elements to add zest to a formula that was in need of it. Whilst generally more of the same there’s a lot more taxing the brain rather than the eyeballs this time around. A solid set of episodes that ends on a very tantalising lead in for what’s yet to come.