Sunday, May 25, 2008

A Review of Dragon Ball Z, GT and Certain Games Based off Them.

This anime is based on the later part of the Dragon Ball manga written by the insanely talented Akira Toriyama (For more of his work read the Dr Slump manga or look at the character designs of the Dragon Quest series of games). It is the follow on from the incredible Dragon Ball anime. (see review.) Set 5 years after the battle against Piccolo, Son Goku is living peacefully. But in the Dragon Ball universe peace is never lasting. Pretty soon the past he didn't even know he had escaped from catches up from him leading to a series of epic battles.

The series goes across four main sagas- Saiya-jin (or Saiyan), Freeza, Cell and Majin Boo. It takes place over a time span of about 27 years, which is pretty cool, and something you rarely get to see in a show like this. You get to see the characters grow up and change. Some character you will like a lot more by the time the series is finished. It contains some of the most likable characters of all time. I don't see how anyone could not like Son Goku. Or Son Gohan. Of course almost all of the old characters return in this series, although most have smaller roles. But most of them still get a chance at some action in at least one part. Piccolo and Kuririn still have fairly large roles, in the first half of the series at least. Yamucha and Tenshinhan have a lot less to do in the series, and Chaozu doesn't play much of a role at all. The villains are awesome. Vegeta is an awesome and well rounded character, Freeza may be one of the most memorable villains around, Cell is awesome just because of the basis of his character, and Boo.... well Boo is just the ultimate killing machine.

Dragon Ball Z is very different from the first series. Dragon Ball focused more on humour and martial arts, this focuses more on powerful ki blasts, hardcore action and ridiculously powerful characters. There are many cool transformations that a lot of the characters go through, for example Freeza's transformations, and the awesome Super Saiya-jin. It will never be the most challenging series around, but it is still a whole lot of fun. Great action scenes, really cool transformations, and a bunch of alien races. What more can you really ask for? The show spans for 291 Episodes, 13 movies and 2 TV specials. And you will still be sad when it ends.
The Dragon Ball Z movies can be seen as separate stories, as most do not fit into the timeline of the series well. Also, you will find some of the material in the anime doesn't fit in very well. For the most part, this is because it is filler material that wasn't in the original manga. An example of filler is the Garlic Jr. Saga, which was put in after the Freeza saga and is a sequel of sorts to the first movie. The movies and filler are sometimes not as good as the stuff taken from the original manga, but that's not to say it isn't enjoyable. Some of the movies are pretty cool with villains like Brolli and Cooler. So I would recommend you check them out.

As with Dragon Ball, there is not much to say about the animation, although by the end it had improved a fair bit. It is drawn well, and is nice to watch. The characters all have their charms in terms of the way they are designed.

This is the show that, along with Evangelion: Neon Genesis, helped me get into anime, way back when I was just a dumb kid. Now I've grown up and become a dumb adult and I still love it. I watch it differently now than I did all those years ago. I grew up with the edited and dubbed version, which is great for kids, but if you are looking for the true series, try and get your hands on some DVDs with Japanese language options. I find them much better. But that's just me. No matter how you want to watch it, I would just advise you to sit down, switch off, and enjoy.

With the upcoming Dragon Ball live action movie, I can only hope that it is successful enough to warrant a few sequels, as a Dragon Ball Z movie would be awesome. I would not expect it to quality cinema, just a whole lot of fun.
Okay, moving on now. We finally get to Dragon Ball GT, the apparent sequel to Dragon Ball Z. It was made after Akira Toriyama did not want to keep writing the manga and ended Dragon Ball Z after years of writing. But Toei Animation was not ready to give up on the franchise and decided to create an anime only sequel to the series. The result was Dragon Ball GT. Now most fans that I have met absolutely hate this series. I did not hate it. I would not consider it part of the true series. But I don't hate it. I take it as what it is. An alright, albeit a little lazy, attempt at recapturing the humour the first series had, and later making an attempt at the action that Dragon Ball Z had. I was really dissapointed with parts of it after first seeing it, but have since gotten over my problems and can still enjoy watching this from time to time.

The general idea of the series seemed good on paper, but the premise seemed to wear thin very fast. Son Goku is training in the Heavenly Realm with his new apprentice Oob. After the end of their training session Pilaf (Who fans will remember from the original series) and his henchmen somehow reach the Heavenly Realm and proceed to summon the Black Star Dragon Ball's Shenlong, who somehow nobody else seemed to know about except him. Goku catches them and after Pilaf makes a slip of the tongue, he accidentally wishes Goku back into a child. The Black Star Dragon Balls are them scattered across the universe. Why in all good logic they would do that I may never know. Then Goku finds out that if the Dragon Balls aren't gathered back together again within 365 days, then the world will blow up into space dust. Of course our hero does not like this idea, so decides to set off into space with Bulma's son Trunks, and his own son Goten. Unfourtunately his hot tempered grandaughter Pan has other ideas, and takes off in the spaceship with only Trunks and Goku on board, leaving Goten behind. Soon after taking off, the ship crash lands on a strange planet due to a missing piece in the ship. On the planet they come across a little robot who swallows their Dragon Radar, and absorbs the functions of it. They take him along for the search to use as a radar, and name him Gill. They then proceed to have several adventures in search of the Dragon Balls.

That was basically the layout for the start of the series. Soon after that we got the Baby Saga, which revolved around a parasite being which took over the bodies of many of the heroes. This saga wasn't bad, yet it didn't have much going for it. It was the point where they stopped with most of the humour they were going for in the earlier episodes... and tried to be more action oriented. The main problem was that the action really wasn't that great. A big gripe for me was the fact that Oob, who was meant to become the next hero of the earth, was basically given a three minute fight in this saga. I did like the fact that this saga introduced the final Saiya-jin form, Super Saiya-jin 4, which I really like the design of. It's probably one of the best designs of Dragon Ball that wasn't done by Akira Toriyama. Next came the Super 17 Saga, which involved all the villains of the past coming back to life and causing problems on earth, while Goku is trapped in Hell fighting Cell and Freeza. Meanwhile Artificial Human #17 has been turned evil again and is trying to fuse with a duplicate of himself. This was a saga that really dissapointed me. I was hyped for some awesome battle between the heroes and the villains of the past. Unfortunately there were none. Most villains got defeated off screen and almost all the ones who didn't were simply killed with one blow or ki blast. I was especially upset with the battle between Cell, Freeza and Son Goku. All I really got was a child Goku playing around with these guys who should have been able to handle the form Goku was in easily. It basically turned two awesome villains into a pair of wimps.

Then we come to the fight against Super #17. It wasn't very good, I'm sorry to say. There was really next to none of the hand to hand combat that Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z had. It was all essentially big blasts and characters getting knocked out all too quickly. When Goku got into the action things only got worse. And the climax of the fight just really didn't work for me.

Now I come to the last saga of the entire anime legacy. The shadow dragon saga was an excellent idea and was actually perfect on paper. When the dragon balls have been there to help from the start, you turn them against the world and it makes for a bloody good idea. It just seems that they didn't work as well as they could have with it. Most of the 7 evil dragons weren't very cool or well designed, and didn't seem like anything you'd see in a Dragon Ball saga. That said Si Xing Long was still a pretty cool character and Yi Xing Long made for a pretty good final villain. The fights against Yi Xing Long were a pretty big improvement over the ones I made complaints about earlier, yet still fell a little short. The saga also has good points in the fact that we get to see a Super Saiyajin 4 fusion, which is pretty damn cool. But again, the climax of the saga didn't work for me.

I would like to make some comments now, about the animation. It wasn't what I'd call bad... it just didn't have the same charm as Dragon Ball Z. It was really different, and just had a sort of blandness in the colouring and such.

In closing I would like to say that when you watch this you shouldn't expect Dragon Ball Z... just expect some light entertainment. The series wasn't bad, just lacked a lot of the adrenaline and charm the other series' had. And it was plagued with plot holes, like why Son Gohan, the most powerful hero in Dragon Ball Z, was suddenly only slightly more powerful than Goten, and able to transform into a Super Saiya-jin again. Too many of the characters are minimized, and the only ones who really get proper screen time are Goku and Vegeta. Many of the characters from the other series barely appear, save for a few non-speaking appearences. Over time, all the problems I've mentioned don't bother me anymore, and I have grown to like the series in its own little way. It's also good that the series still kept the proper cast of voice actors. I would advise that fans check it out.
Now to talk about the video games. Dozens of games have been made based on series, yet only the more recent ones have been sent overseas and translated. I have only gotten the chance to play a few. Right now, I will be talking about the Budokai and Sparking! (Budokai Tenkaichi) games.

The Budokai games played like typical fighting games for the most, 2d style fighting yet with the ability to side step and such. The game series started off at a fairly low point, with blocky graphics, and difficult controls. There was not many characters to choose from either. It wasn't an awful game, it just left a lot of room for improvement. Luckily they made use of that room over the next two games in the series. The second game improved the graphics by a massive degree, by using cell-shading, the controls were easier to use, a few more characters were included (Yet some were removed) and the gameplay was basically a lot more fun. I don't think many people liked the board game style of the gameplay, yet I did. The third one changed a lot, with free romaing gameplay, better fighting graphics, and a few more characters, including child Oob, Brolli, and new transformations for some characters. Hyper mode made the game a little more difficult, as it was needed for ultimate attacks, yet it drains your ki to be in.

The gamelplay in the Sparking! series is completely different, it plays in first person view. I really enjoyed this format, and would gladly welsome it back for more games. This is a review of the PS2 versions, as that is the only version I've played of both games. I've only played the second and third games in the series, so those are the ones I'm reviewing. The second game was the first Dragon Ball Z game I played for the PS2... I was hooked. The length of the game was awesome, and it's just endless fun. I liked the leveling up system and though the controls take some getting used to, the basics will become intuitive after only a short time. The character roster is awesome, with over a hundred characters and tranformations. Another feature I am sure glad they added, was the option to change the language to the original Japanese dialog.

The third game, Sparking! METEOR/Budokai Tenkaichi 3, is very good aswell. This is one of the few games that I bought full price. After playing Dragon Ball Z: Sparking NEO I was hanging out for this one. The character roster is even better than the one in the last game. With even more characters added, including ones that had only small roles in the series, such as Future Gohan, King Vegeta, King Cold and many characters from the first series, Dragon Ball. The 1 player mode is designed to play like the series, with cut scenes in the middle of the fights and and often the choice of whether to change characters, finish the opponent of with an ultimate finishing attack, or defeating them on your own. Although the game is a little shorter than the previous one, A lot more detail has gone into it, with heaps of new characters and battlefields. And in my opinion nothing beats playing 2 player team battle. A small problem I had was the leveling up system, and the inability to increase your health. like you were able to in the second game. This often makes the fights a little too short for my taste.

In short, Dragon Ball Z: Sparking! NEO and METEOR are the games I dreamed of when I was a kid. The only reason I'm not recommending the first game in the Sparking! series is that I haven't played it. You'll have to find out about that one on your own.

Of course what makes the games worth the time and money in itself is- KAMEHAMEHA!

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