As I said last time, the first half of the Namek arc was essentially build up for the events of this third volume. With even his most elite forces dispatched by Goku and his friends, Frieza has no choice but to take matters into his own hands. As Goku recuperates from Ginyu’s failed attempt to kill him, the others are quickly set upon by the tyrant. What follows is one of the most legendary fights in action animation.
Watching the whole series in this way, I’ve come to realise just how regularly absent Goku is. Although needing to heal from his nearly fatal wounds allows a justification for his forthcoming power boost by way of the previously established Saiyan ability where literally ‘what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger’, his role is once again one of being out of the way while his friends struggle. Indeed Vegeta’s own use of this genetic trait is what instigates the direct battle with Frieza, believing himself to be the foretold Super Saiyan that we heard about in the previous volume.
Unlike the fight against the Saiyans where nobody seemed to achieve much, the fight with Frieza allows all of the assembled characters to show just how far they’ve come as they work together to fight the villain. Helping structure this fight is the reveal that Frieza actually has to withhold his true power by using alternate forms. Villains powering up into a new form isn’t a new concept, but the idea that Frieza requires three separate forms to contain his true might is actually pretty impressive, and it’s entertaining to watch as each higher form proves more monstrous than the last, with his final form being a gentle ribbing of audience expectation.
It reminded me a bit of juggling your party in an RPG as the heroes each trade out to face him and gradually necessitate him revealing his true visage. Gohan in particular continues to display flashes of the deep power within him. This is really one of the most subtle developing threads in the show, as currently he can only tap into it when angry that someone has hurt his loved ones. He actually manages to briefly put the hurt on Frieza more than once, leading one to question just what he could be capable of if he could freely control it. Of course Goku is really the man of the hour here, and it’s down to him to face Frieza in his final form. This is a fitting situation, as Goku is left as the last surviving purebred Saiyan and is fighting not to just to protect his son and friends but to come to terms with the reality of his origins that his brother revealed in the first volume. Unfortunately, a production issue lets this angle down somewhat.
Up until late into the previous volume we were hearing brand new recordings from the English voice actors, as FUNimation’s American-based cast recorded the episodes originally done by the show’s initial Canadian cast. This meant a fairly accurate and enjoyable script. However, with the show now reaching the point where the in-house actors took over, the sets have opted to literally copy and paste the dialogue they recorded at that point. It’s most unwelcome. Nowadays FUNimation are rightfully held as the industry leader for anime releases. They get the titles people want, they do their best to keep the show close to its original presentation, they employ talented voice actors, etc. Depending on how you choose to view things, achieving all that is something of an atonement for how badly they handled Dragon Ball Z. These recordings are an archive of what FUNimation used to be known for: flat delivery, liberal scripts and skewed character interpretations. Alongside the constant puns and quips, it’s the presentation of Goku and Frieza that are the most annoying. Half of Frieza’s dialogue sounds like what you’d expect from a gay stereotype in a low brow comedy (“Alright, big boy, whatever turns you on!”) and Goku constantly prattles about being a champion of justice. Goku is essentially a good hearted hick, and his awakening as the legendary Super Saiyan is supposed to be about him accepting his origins as in fact a member of a space-faring warrior race, achieving his ascension by a harmony between where he came from and who he is. Hearing him go on and on about being ‘the light in the darkness’ and similar abandoned lines from a Darkwing Duck spiel quickly becomes tedious rather than inspiring.
The actual overall presentation of the fight is a mixed bag. On the one hand, this battle is the anchor of my nostalgia for the series, and when taken with Goku’s adventures in the original series it really feels like the culmination of a fight against a life long enemy he never knew he had. At the same time the battle is incredibly drawn out and often terribly drawn. There are entire episodes given to the two testing each other, and even when the fight starts there are long sequences of other characters commenting on it and repeating information episode after episode. Most infamous of course is the ‘5 minute deadline’, a nonsense timer Frieza provides for the planet’s destruction after destroying its core. Several episodes pass after this declaration and yet characters continue to discuss the ultimatum as if it means something. Animation quality varies episode to episode. There are some great moments when the fight really feels like a clash of the titans as the two land brutally comedic blows on one another in a fight that circles the entire planet. Unfortunately the vast majority of the action is uninspired as the pair launch easy to animate super fast strikes and teleport around. Goku’s Super Saiyan form is a simple but effective design tweak, yet the animators seem to consistently struggle with drawing it. Very rarely does it look like his hair is elevated by the pure power radiating from his body and more like he’s walking around with a bush on his head.
Dragon Ball Z Series Three offers one of the most iconic battles in Japanese animation history. It may be padded in parts but this is easily one of the show’s finest hours, the kind of super-charged battle that is its trademark. How many other series have two characters fighting as an entire planet explodes around them? Regrettably, the reuse of the pre-existing dubbed audio, messy video and uninspired extras are marks against it. But this is one release where I feel the feature presentation allows those factors to be generally overlooked.
Oh yeah, I almost forgot- KRILLIN’S IN DA HOOUUUUSSSSEEEE!!
Dragon Ball Z Series 3 (UK edition) is available from Amazon.co.uk.