Whether it be videos of excited fans pretending to shoot beams of energy or screaming like a certain character, most people recognize the DRAGON BALL franchise. It’s a show that sticks to its guns, preferring amazing fights over some kind of greater statement. Who really needs a deeper meaning when the show is 30 minutes of badass fighters? But even basic shows have their flaws.

Following the conclusion of DRAGON BALL Z in 1996, manga creator Akira Toriyama left fans waiting for more. In the absence of the standard manga for source material, Toei Animation created DRAGON BALL GT. This particular continuation did not draw from any of Toriyama’s original work, and he wasn’t largely involved in GT’s conception. As a result, DRAGON BALL GT is, at best, a side story, and lacked the vigor and essence that made DRAGON BALL Z great. Fans noticed that something was off, and the series wasn’t super popular.

But even poorly made continuations have some merit. While the story and basis of DRAGON BALL GT is almost universally accepted as trash, there are some concepts that were good in theory. DRAGON BALL SUPER is by no means an infallible anime either, and has plenty of aspects worthy of fan criticism. I’ll be talking about one aspect of GT that I think would work well in DRAGON BALL SUPER, or at the very least enhance the story.

Welcome to the Grand Tour

DRAGON BALL GT started off pretty jarringly. Five years following the end of DRAGON BALL Z, Goku had just returned after training Uub, the human reincarnation of Majin Buu. Emperor Pilaf, one of Goku’s first enemies, successfully turns Goku into a child again. He does this wishing on special Black Star Dragon Balls, which are more powerful than the standard ones. This sets off a series of episodes so hated that they weren’t aired in some dubs of the anime. This saga meant to recapture the humorous aspects of the original DRAGON BALL manga. Goku acts more childishly than usual, and has to travel the universe with his granddaughter, Pan, and Vegeta’s son, Trunks.

Goku as he appears in his new child form DRAGON BALL GT
Goku in his new child form | Image: Funimation

This has the effect of showing fans more of the universe, but it’s also super distracting and different than the typical DRAGON BALL Z story. The sagas and arc following this feature Goku in his rather diminutive state. This is essentially Toei’s attempt at getting back to standard stories after an arc of bad jokes and pointless exploration, but couldn’t just undo all of their initial mistakes. For those of you fortunate enough not to sit through those dreadful episodes, they failed for two main reasons.

Firstly, the action centered on Goku in a way it simply hadn’t before. Fans who’ve watched even a little bit of DRAGON BALL Z will know that while it might be Goku who defeats most enemies, he is never the only one to fight. This is partly due to the show contextualizing the five years after DRAGON BALL Z as years where no one but Goku was seriously training, meaning he was the person to turn to when things got rough.

Secondly, the strength of individual characters makes absolutely no sense. Power levels in GT are even more inconsistent than in SUPER, with characters losing to people who are explicitly stated to be at a level weaker than their opponents. Episodes later, those same characters will suddenly be super strong when it’s convenient for the plot.

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So What Was Good About it?

Nothing good in my opinion came until the very last arc of the series. Following the previous arc, a portal from Hell opened and many people died. It seemed like Earth was on the brink of total annihilation, but, as always, there was an easy solution. Goku and his friends once again gather the seven Dragon Balls, but there was something different about them this time. Cracks appeared on the orbs, something that had never happened before. Once Goku made the wish to revive the world, the sky instantly filled with thick smoke as a black, evil-looking version of an Eternal Dragon rose from the Dragon Balls.

The Eternal Dragon's evil, corrupted form in DRAGON BALL GT
The Eternal Dragon’s evil, corrupted form | Image: Funimation

Originally, the Dragon Balls were meant to be a source of magic used only once every few centuries. After each use they scatter across the planet and are extremely difficult to find. However, Bulma, as a genius inventor, created a radar that tracks the Dragon Balls. Rather than every few centuries, they can now be gathered within a matter of days. But, there turned out to be a reason behind the Dragon Balls being so hard to find. Every time a wish for good, like resurrection, is made, some negative energy is stored within the Dragon Balls to balance the positive energy used for the wish.

Normally, the centuries between use allowed for that negative energy to dissipate naturally before the next. Goku and friends’ repeated use of the Dragon Balls for resurrecting millions of people at a time had caused a massive buildup of negative energy. Hence, the appearance of this shadow dragon.

Why it didn’t Work for GT

Creating a balance of positive and negative energy is a great concept. For the first time, using the Dragon Balls to undo the harm of every fight had consequences. The crucial problem with this arc’s timing was that it was the last arc of the series. After the Shadow Dragon arc, DRAGON BALL GT ended completely. The arc itself attempted somewhat sloppily to wrap up the anime. Black Smoke Shenron summoned multiple dragons, and the dragons themselves were somewhat random. A lot were related to human flaws (pollution, etc.) but it was rather loose and vague. Most of the dragons died in ways that didn’t at all suit their strength, with someone as weak as Goku’s teenage granddaughter, Pan, able to defeat one of the last enemies of the series.

Pan arguing with her pint-sized grandfather
Pan arguing with her pint-sized grandfather | Image: Toei Animation

The issue is that GT ended before this change to the DragonBalls affected anything. There weren’t lasting consequences to their overuse, as defeating the dragons purified the Dragon Balls completely. Goku, after defeating the final dragon with a massive Spirit Bomb, just flies away (somewhat randomly). The anime never shows what a DRAGON BALL without constant use of the Dragon Balls actually looks like. There is no arc where the instant restoration of the entire world is no longer an option. Despite being a Hail Mary to close out the series, this basic premise of DRAGON BALL GT’s final arc added a layer of complexity that just wasn’t properly developed.

Since GT ended before I was even born, I thought that DRAGON BALL was totally over. But now that we have DRAGON BALL SUPER, there’s ample opportunity to correct those old mistakes. Unlike the Black Star Dragon Balls, the corruption of the Dragon Balls follows logically from their overuse.

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Flaws in DRAGON BALL SUPER

What DRAGON BALL SUPER is suffering from now is inconsistent power scaling and scope. Seeing as the current Tournament arc involves the erasure of all but one universe, many have speculated that all of the universes won’t actually be erased. It wouldn’t make sense to put effort into developing all new characters, including more Super Saiyans, and then simply let them vanish.

On a more practical level, it makes no sense to simply undo all of the fighters that are at or above the power level of Goku and Vegeta. While I love to see them train as much as anyone, the anime needs ways to make fights have lasting consequences. The past two arcs nearly destroyed the world, but SUPER instantly undid them. Frieza blew up the planet, but the angel Whis just rewound time to stop him. Zamasu and Black Goku terrorized an entire separate timeline, but gods erased it in an instant.

Whis, as a powerful God of Destruction's attendant in DRAGON BALL SUPER, possesses odd powers like rewinding tim
Whis, as a powerful God of Destruction’s attendant, possesses odd powers like rewinding time | Image: Crunchyroll

During DRAGON BALL Z, arcs like The Cell Saga had semi-permanent deaths of larger characters, allowing other characters to develop. When Goku gave his life to save the Earth, it gave Gohan a chance to awaken his true potential. As it turned out, he was even stronger than Goku, and had an amazing fight against the android Cell. During the Majin Buu Saga, Goku allowed his son, Goten, and Vegeta’s son, Trunks to take center stage. Their training in preparation for challenging Buu required heavy stalling and odd strategies. Without their strongest two characters around, the rest of the Z fighters had to adjust. This principle is basically missing in DRAGON BALL SUPER. The strongest characters are always available, and random others are getting random power increases rather than the chance to actually develop.

Negative Energy Within Super

In future arcs, the idea of negative energy would prevent any major destruction from being undone every time. Sometimes, sure, the world could be restored, but the negative energy would need to be given time to disperse. DRAGON BALL SUPER has the chance to adjusts to GT’s mistakes. GT released every shadow dragon at once and only made them loosely linked to the wishes that created them. SUPER has the chance to improve that. The anime could actually create the dragons’ power directly from the wishes.

Alternatively, it could use them as an opportunity to force desperate choices onto Z fighters. Most importantly, it gives people the chance to actually die for significant periods of time. Old characters are great, but loss enhances a battle in anime. Having Krillin die knowing he’ll be back in three episodes is one thing. Having Krillin die knowing that he’ll be dead for a while due to limitations on wishes? Imagine the fearsome power of Goku’s rage if he was forced to revive other innocent people before his closest friend.

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This would mitigate SUPER’s longstanding struggle to develop lesser characters. The humans of Earth would finally matter if they can’t constantly come back to life. A human like Yamcha only gets some cool moments or new techniques if he has the opportunity to fight weaker enemies or save people. In just the same way that characters like Tien and Master Roshi were needed to fight Frieza’s minions before Goku and Vegeta arrived, side characters would be necessary to mitigate the damage from big fights.

Room for Improvement in DRAGON BALL SUPER

Adding this constraint to the Dragon Balls would allow DRAGON BALL SUPER to diversify the kinds of plot it puts forward. The current arcs have fights that lack the feelings of desperation present in earlier arcs. Rather than simply have fights dependent on the stronger combatant, SUPER could have fights focusing on survival of the many. Imagine an arc where the dragon balls need an extra year to disperse negative energy. The Z fighters would need to focus on protecting citizens and saving the landscape. The isn’t an entirely new concept either. Shonen anime like FAIRY TAIL and HUNTER X HUNTER often handicapped the destructive powers of fighters by forcing them to protect people.

In Cell's early forms, he constantly absorbed people, forcing Z fighters to track him down and save civilians
In Cell’s early forms, he absorbed people, forcing Z fighters to track him down and save civilians | Image: Funimation

This would account for the massive issues DRAGON BALL SUPER has with power scaling; by forcing characters to use their powers strategically rather than forcefully, weaker characters would need to assist in the background. Things like evacuating humans, distracting villains, and buying time to let people escape would become relevant again. This Tournament of Power arc tried to make things like strategy and teamwork essential to the tournament. But in the end, brute strength is still the name of the game. If DRAGON BALL SUPER wants to actually complicate its plot, things like the corruption of the Dragon Balls would help quite a bit.

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A Second Chance for a Great Concept

The concept of weaker Dragon Balls is entirely salvageable from DRAGON BALL GT, and totally improvable in DRAGON BALL SUPER. In the coming months, SUPER will need to stabilize itself lest it keep escalating the plot into something insane. Minor characters need a chance to be relevant, and younger characters need a chance to grow and get serious. Just like a dead Goku pushing Gohan to awaken, so can more permanent deaths improve the show as a whole.

There’s been plenty of talk over DRAGON BALL SUPER’s flaws, but fans are always quick to point out that GT is worse in comparison. Neither one of these anime is perfect, but DRAGON BALL SUPER needs to improve the good parts of GT and avoid repeating its mistakes. Let’s see if this anime learns from its predecessor, because right now it’s going in an unsustainable direction.

Featured Image from Toei Animation.

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2 Comments

  1. vishalvaish

    January 18, 2018 at 11:52 am

    you are doing very well for dragon ball fans https://saiyanislande.blogspot.in/

    Reply

  2. George Forchuk

    George Forchuk

    December 30, 2017 at 2:30 pm

    Great points! It feels like GT was a poor attempt at the original Dragonball while Super is a poor att… https://t.co/1veVjC7Nvd

    Reply

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