Monday, July 11, 2016

Geek TV: Watching Dragon Ball Z!

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Once I caught up with all the current TV shows I've been watching (yes, I know, I still haven't posted my thoughts on Agents of SHIELD yet, I'll try to get to it tomorrow), I decided my summer viewing was going to be Dragon Ball Z.

This show has been around for a very long time, and is probably the most popular anime among American anime fans, if for no other reason than its ubiquitousness... for a very long time, it was part of Cartoon Network's "Toonami" programming block, and it had been in five-day-a-week syndication long before then.

I'd seen a few episodes of DBZ and its predecessor, Dragon Ball, in the past, but had not been a regular viewer until after my first wife, Barbara, passed away. After her passing, I found myself with lots of hours to occupy, and one of the ways I filled them was watching more TV shows, especially on Cartoon Network (which had a much more viewable line-up then compared to now, at least so far as my tastes are concerned). For the first time, I was watching the show on a daily basis, but at that time, it had been running one of the final sagas.

Oh, I should probably explain that, for the uninitiated. Whereas most TV shows have seasons, DBZ has what are referred to as "sagas," a single long-running story that can run 40 episodes or longer. Many of the sagas run from one story directly into another, with events being set up in a previous saga. But before I can give you an example of this, I have to tell you a bit more about the characters and the setup of the show (wow, this is going to be complicated for those who haven't watched it before).

The main character of DBZ is Goku, who was introduced in Dragon Ball as a child. In DBZ, Goku is an adult now, married and with a son of his own, named Gohan. I've referred to Goku with fellow DBZ fans as being the Japanese Superman, and in a lot of ways, it's true. He comes from the planet Vegeta, which used to be the home of two races. I forget the one, but the other is the Saiyans, who are a warlike race, bred for battle, with amazing strength and powers. As a baby, Goku was sent to Earth by the Saiyans, with the intent being that he would grow up and kill everyone on Earth, making it free to be sold to the highest bidder.

That plan went awry when Goku was found and raised by humans, and taught to protect the planet. For a long time, Goku had no idea he was an alien (this despite the fact that as a child, he had a tail like a monkey... until this tail was removed, when he saw the full moon, he would turn into a giant ape whose powers were a combination of King Kong and Godzilla, and would run amok... this is an ability all Saiyans have, although as an adult they can learn to control the form). As a child, Goku started training with Master Roshi, and made a number of friends during his training, especially his best friend, Krillin (who is rather short, bald, with four dots on his forehead for some reason, and doesn't appear to have a nose, although nobody ever says anything about that, and he acts like he does have a nose). All of Master Roshi's students develop their abilities in the martial arts far beyond those of normal humans, so they can all generate energy blasts, and eventually learn to fly as well.

Goku's wife is Chi-Chi, who used to be a warrior herself, but apparently after she and Goku were married, she gave up fighting and become domesticated (with Gohan, she's sort of a super mom, insisting that Gohan is not going to be a fighter like his dad, but instead will be a scientist of some kind, although she can't decide what kind). She can easily go from one extreme to another, being prone to fits of anger that make others fearful (even Goku, Krillin, and the others), and then going to the other extreme where she panics and is prone to fainting (women don't tend to be very positive role models on this show, I'm afraid).

Another of Goku's friends is Bulma, whom he met as a child, although she was pretty much an adult when they met. Bulma is a scientific genius, especially when it comes to technology. Her father founded Capsule Corp., makers of these metal capsules that have a button on them. To use these capsules, you press the button on them and toss them to the ground. A puff of smoke appears, and then you've got a car, a house, or whatever the capsule has been programmed to create. These capsules don't weigh much (given that Bulma carries several of them with her at all times), so the best I can figure is that the capsules don't actually contain the item, but rather open a dimensional door to swap places with what it's programmed to be, but I could be way off there.

When the series begins, it's been some time since the last major threat to Earth, which was a green-skinned alien named Piccolo, who had been defeated by Goku. The Z-Fighters (as Master Roshi's students are referred to) are having a reunion at Kame House, which is Roshi's home on a tiny little island out in the middle of an ocean (presumably the Pacific, but I don't think it's specified at all). Goku takes Gohan with him, and is met there by Krillin as well as Bulma. The reunion is interrupted by the arrival of Raditz, a Saiyan wearing battle armor. He recognizes Goku, calling him "Kakarrot", and saying that they are brothers, and that Goku has failed in his mission to prepare Earth for its sale. Goku is shaken by this, but when Raditz demands that Goku team up with him to clear the planet of people, he refuses, naturally.

Raditz then grabs Gohan and gives Goku one day to kill a human, or he will kill Gohan instead. He takes Gohan away, and Goku decides to pursue him. He's about to leave when Piccolo, who sensed Raditz, arrives. Since Piccolo still hopes to take over the world himself, he has decided that he and Goku have a common enemy, and suggests they join forces. Goku agrees, and they leave.

The two approach where Raditz is keeping Gohan (locked in the space pod Raditz used to get to Earth), but their arrival is detected by Raditz' Scouter, a device that detects and measures power levels. Goku and Piccolo attack, but it is apparent that they're outclassed. The two decide to use the strategy of having Goku grab Raditz' tail (which causes Saiyans extreme pain, making them immobile for a moment) while Piccolo uses his new Special Beam Cannon attack to kill Raditz, but when Raditz is helpless, he convinces Goku that he'll leave the planet, and Goku believes him. Of course, the guy is lying, and double-crosses Goku, attacking Goku and injuring him severely.

The space pod explodes, and Gohan bursts out of it, his Saiyan abilities increasing his power level amazingly, and he attacks Raditz, damaging his armor. However, Gohan's rage subsides quickly, and he's back to his old self immediately (which is being a whiny crybaby, to be honest). Raditz knocks Gohan aside, but Goku gets Raditz in a full nelson, and he tells Piccolo to launch his Special Beam Cannon again while he holds Raditz, knowing it will kill him in the process. Piccolo fires away, and Goku dies.

Is this the end of Goku? Of course not! Characters in DBZ die and come back to life as often as any character at DC or Marvel. The Dragon Balls referred to in the title are the creation of the Earth Guardian, Kami (who looks like Piccolo, but is much older). These seven Dragon Balls, when collected, can be used to summon the mystic dragon Shenron, and the summoner can ask any wish that's within Kami's power, so it's a matter of using the Dragon Balls to wish Goku back to life again. Unfortunately, this fact has been mentioned while Raditz was still alive, and it turns out Raditz' scouter is also a communications device, and all this has been relayed to two other Saiyans, Vegeta and Nappa, who are on another planet far away. Vegeta and Nappa get into their space pods and start towards Earth, due to arrive in one year.

Since these two Saiyans are even more powerful than Raditz, everyone on Earth has to be prepared for their arrival. Piccolo takes Gohan with him to receive special training, while Goku, in the Other World (being dead and all) must make his way down Snake Way to receive his own special training from King Kai (you may recall my writing about this in an "Ape of the Geek" article about Bubbles), with him getting word back to Earth to not wish him back for a year so he can complete this training.

Now, all this happens over the first five episodes. Episodes six through 21 all involves the various training that goes on. Goku spends a long time traveling down Snake Way (which is several thousand miles long) before getting to King Kai's planet, and then has to undergo all his training there. Meanwhile, Piccolo starts out Gohan's training by leaving him in the middle of nowhere armed with a sword and tells him to survive on his own for six months before he'll start actually training him (after a long time of Gohan continuing to be a crybaby about this, he finally wises up and starts learning how to deal with his situation, although he still tends to lose it when things get tough for a while).

While all that's going on, Kami summons Krillin and two other Z Fighters, Tien (another bald guy who doesn't tend to wear shirts, and has a third eye), Yamcha (who looks a little like Goku, except he has some visible scars on his face, and since the battle with Piccolo has become a baseball player), Chiaotzu (a little man with white skin and pink cheeks, resembling a china doll in many ways) and Yajirobe (who's honestly little more than comic relief... he insists he's a great fighter, but is usually useless because of his cowardice) to Kami's Lookout (at the top of an incredibly tall tower that has to be climbed up; you aren't allowed to fly up there) for their own special training.

Goku is trained in the Kaio-ken attack as well as the Spirit Bomb, both more powerful attacks than Goku's signature attack, the Kamehameha (which is apparently learned from Roshi, as Krillin knows how to do it as well), while Piccolo develops some of his own new attacks.

Meanwhile, Master Roshi, Bulma, and others collect the remaining Dragon Balls (Goku already had a few of them gathered) so they can be ready to wish Goku back to life.

King Kai's training is successful, but he's made a fatal miscalculation, and realizes that although Goku is ready, even after he's wished back to life again, he still has to race all the way back down Snake Way before he can return to Earth, and that will take at least three days... and the Saiyans are arriving on Earth already!

Episodes 22 through 35 deal with the battle against Vegeta and Nappa. After destroying the city they land in, Vegeta uses his scouter to find the highest power level, assuming that's who killed Raditz, but it leads him to Piccolo and Gohan. It's when they arrive that Piccolo is told that he's a Namekian, from the planet Namek (he wasn't aware he was an alien, as if there are tall green-skinned people with antenna and big pointy ears running around Earth all the time... yes, there are animal people wearing clothes, walking around and talking as if that's perfectly normal, and dinosaurs in the wilderness, but no big green men). Krillin, Yamcha, Tien, and Chiaotzu arrive shortly, and the battle begins (where's Yajirobe? Well, he's at the rubble of the city, telling the media that he and his friends are part of a special super hero task force to defend the planet, and gets them to feed him while he tells his story).

The Z-Fighters have to hold off the Saiyans until Goku arrives, and their attempt to do so ends up killing Yamcha, Tien, and Chiaotzu, and leaves Gohan and Krillin severely injured. Piccolo gives up his own life to save Gohan just before Goku arrives.

Fortunately, Goku arrived on earth at Kami's Tower, where he's able to get a few Senzu Beans (which, when eaten, instantly heals you up and restores your energy). Back on Earth, he splits one to give to Krillin and Gohan so they can be well enough to get away while Goku fights the Saiyans (by the way, up to this point, Vegeta's done nothing, and Nappa's done all the fighting). Goku starts fighting Nappa, and eventually breaks Nappa's back (Vegeta, disgusted, finishes Nappa off himself), and then it's down to Vegeta vs. Goku.

Goku tries his Kaioken attack at several multiples, but just succeeds in making Vegeta angry enough that he decides to transform into a Great Ape... but the moon is missing! Yeah, back when Piccolo was training Gohan, Gohan transformed under the full moon, and Piccolo decided to destroy the moon to prevent it from happening again, as well as removing Gohan's tail afterwards (naturally, there's no effect on Earth with the moon gone, and Gohan's tail regrows when the space pod that Goku came to earth in activates an artificial moon... it seems that Goku's pod just happened to be left where Gohan was training, coincidentally). Vegeta uses a device to create an artificial moon to transform to a Great Ape. Meanwhile, Gohan and Krillin decide to turn back and help after all, but even Krillin's signature Destructo-Disc attack isn't able to cut off Vegeta's tail (because he dodged it), and it's up to Yajirobe (who finally showed up, but was hiding) to use his sword to cut off Vegeta's tail, causing him to revert back to normal.

Goku had prepared to use a Spirit Bomb against Vegeta, but Vegeta had crushed him badly before he could use it properly. Nearly helpless, he gives the remaining Spirit Bomb energy to Krillin, who uses it to beat Vegeta badly, but he's still not done! Goku tells Gohan to look at the sky, as he's noticed Gohan's tail has grown back again, and he sees the artificial moon and transforms into a Great Ape, attacking Vegeta, who takes a beating but is able to cut off Gohan's tail using Yajirobe's sword, but isn't able to avoid the falling giant body before Gohan's back to normal.

Vegeta's wounded badly, but is still alive and summons his space pod to take him away to heal. Krillin is about to finish him off with Yajirobe's sword (which is the only thing that can cut the Saiyan) but Goku convinces him to show mercy, and they let Vegeta get away.

The next saga is the Namek Saga, and I'll be more succinct in what happens there in the next installment of this post!

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