The second, epically long story line of Dragon Ball Z has finally come to a close; And before moving onto new ground, our tradition here at DBlog is to have a sweeping review! So let's do it! My previous "Saga" reviews are posted thusly: Dragon Ball, the Goku era (DB episodes 1 - 81), Tenshinhan Saga/22nd Tenka-ichi Budokai (DB episodes 82 - 101), Piccolo Daimao Saga (DB episodes 102 - 123), Piccolo Junior/23rd Tenka-ichi Budokai (DB episodes 124 - 153), and Saiyan Saga (DBZ episodes 1 - 36). If you're curious about how my rating system works, check out the beginning of the Goku era review. Now hitch a ride with me before Namek explodes!
Rating: Great (3 out of 3)
Piccolo and Kami-sama are dead, which means so is Shen Long; So in order to revive those fallen in the battle against the Saiyans, survivors Kuririn and Gohan, with Bulma as their pilot, take off into space to find the home world of Kami, and possible source of the original Dragon Balls. Along the way, our heroes stop off and have some fun yet ultimately innocuous filler adventures. Then they land on Planet Namek, home of the Namekians... and find they're not the only ones seeking Dragon Balls.
Kuririn, Gohan, Bulma, and their new Namekian friend Dende, quickly find themselves in over their head. Not only is the Saiyan Vegeta on Namek, looking to clinch immortality from the Dragon Balls - but so is Vegeta's former boss, the deadly Freeza. Freeza is a foe so powerful, that Kaio-sama warns Goku that he mustn't face, under any circumstances. Which provides the effect of making Goku want to fight him even more. So with Freeza and his cartel seeking out the Dragon Balls, along with Vegeta, our heroes have their work cut out for them, until Goku arrives.
This is a really strong part of the story. Freeza and his men track down Dragon Balls as best they can, without their Scouters, without a radar, and without the ability to sense ki; Vegeta uses his new ki sensing abilities to sneak up and take out Freeza's men one-by-one, while stealthily collecting the Dragon Balls; And Gohan and Kuririn use their own skill to cloak their ki, and Dragon Radar, doing all they can to hold onto even a single Dragon Ball until Goku arrives to help. It all comes to a head when Freeza becomes sick of Vegeta's meddling, and sends for his elite fighting force: The Ginyu Tokusentai.
Now the drama takes a (heh) dramatic turn, and the Ginyu Tokusentai introduce a comedic element into the story. Though, despite their being a Super Sentai parody, the Ginyu Tokusentai easily defeat Vegeta, Gohan, and Kuririn, (who are forced to team up) and steal their Dragon Balls to take all 7 to Freeza. Freeza flies to the Grand Elder to get the password and fights his guardian Nail, while Goku lands on Planet Namek and defeats the Ginyu Tokusentai. While Goku recovers from his injures, Gohan, Kuririn, and Dende steal the Dragon Balls back and wish Piccolo and Kami back to life. Vegeta isn't happy, and neither is Freeza...
The final act of the story becomes an all-out brawl. Freeza vs Vegeta, Gohan, Kuririn, Piccolo, and Goku, with Dende supporting. Freeza manages to pick off Dende first, then Vegeta, nearly kills Piccolo, and finally makes his ultimate mistake in killing Kuririn. Freeza goes through a long series of transformations, and Goku bursts into the Legendary Super Saiyan. An epic final conclusion is reached when the last Saiyan faces off against the tyrant who did his best to kill them all, and wins. But Planet Namek is lost in the conflict, destroyed by Freeza, which leaves Son Goku stranded in space. Back on Earth, all the heroes are revived by the Namekian Dragon Balls, and peace is restored.
If this story can be split into three acts - "Namek", "Ginyu", and "Freeza", as they are often subdivided - then I must say that every act has its own strength. Act 1 is the strongest story-wise. There's a lot of interesting tension and despair, Kuririn taking the lead, Freeza as a force of nature, and Vegeta as a wild card. Plus, they're all hunting for Dragon Balls, which is an awesome return to form after two story arcs away from them. Act 2 is strong because it lightens the mood by having both comedy, and giving our heroes some incredible villains to conquer, while still building up Freeza for the conclusion. Act 3 could be argued to be the weakest, because admittedly the story stops - but if the Freeza Saga is a kung fu movie (where DB story lines often take their tropes from), then this is the epic final battle everything has been building toward.
Throw in the most well-placed retcon in history (the Bardock TV special), and you have the greatest final battle in the history of the genre; Goku's entire life, and the entire length of the story up til this point, has led him to face the monster Freeza.
There are some incredible brawls in this Saga. Dragon Ball style of fighting has given way to the Dragon Ball Z signature. Which means lots of explosions, ki attacks, flying around, and throwing motherfuckers into mountains. But you know the drill, so let's just go over the fights I liked the best!
7. Goku vs Butta and Jheese
6. Goku and Piccolo vs Freeza
5. Vegeta vs Zarbon 1
4. Nail vs Freeza
3. Piccolo vs Freeza (second form)
2. Reacoom vs Vegeta, Kuririn, and Gohan
1. Goku vs Freeza
Honorable Mention: Bardock vs Dodoria's Elite
Dragon Ball's best animation is already behind us, but that doesn't mean that this Saga has bad animation. On the whole, this is a good looking block of episodes. Certain episodes, like Dragon Ball Z ep 64 - The Savage Reacoom!! He's Bad, He's Strong, He's Outrageous and Dragon Ball Z ep 103 - Pathos of Freeza! Once He Starts Shaking, He's Unstoppable!! look so good, you feel like Akira Toriyama's manga has come to life in front of your eyes. Yet this Saga is also the beginning of a bad habit Dragon Ball Z will never quite leave; Episodes that look like this. But it's a minor gripe in this Saga which, more times than not, gets the job done, and done well... for a weekly cartoon serial from the late 1980s.
There doesn't seem to be a lot of new, original music in this block of episodes. Indeed, the only insert song, from DBZ 107, is a song originally from Dragon Ball Z Movie 4; "Kuchibue no Kimochi". And that's the pattern of this Saga. All the great, "new" music in this block are from the movies and TV special. Soundtracks like "Kono Yo De Ichi-Ban Tsuyoi Yatsu" (DBZ Movie 2), "Suupa Saiya-jin Son Gokuu" (DBZ Movie 4), and especially "Chikyuu Marugoto Chou-Kessen" (DBZ Movie 3) are the real music backbone of the Freeza Saga. And let us not forget the Bardock TV special, which is possibly the strongest musical offering DB/Z/GT/Kai has for us - featuring music cues from the above soundtracks, plus original insert songs "Hikari no Tabi", and motherfucking "Solid State Scouter".
Let's sum it up: Dragon Ball Z started off a bit awkward, coming off of the hot streak the second half of Dragon Ball was having. Yet space aliens being introduced paid off fully when our heroes actually went into space. The history of the Dragon Balls, of Kami and Piccolo, of Vegeta, and of course, of our hero Son Goku, all weave together gloriously under the dark ambitions of the intergalactic gangster, Freeza. The series is still as engaging as ever, even when bogged down by the animation, musical, and filler restraints of a Japanese weekly serial.
But if you didn't know this already, why are you on this blog?