Sunday 26 December 2010

Anime REVIEW: Dragon Ball GT

First off, I'd like to wish a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to every reader of this blog. Hope Santa brought you everything you want and you have a great rest of the year.

Next, here I decided to review something that I'd never seen but was already close to my heart. I'm a long time fan of Dragon Ball/Dragon Ball Z - DBZ was pretty much what INTRODUCED me to anime. But Dragon Ball GT (which after much searching the internet I found stands for Grand Tour) was something I had never watched. I don't know whether it was because of the debated canonicity or the fact most fanboys seem to hate the series, but it had always escaped me. So now after playing Dragon Ball Z Budokai: Tenkaichi 2 on the wii (whose story mode featured the sagas from GT) I decided it was finally time to give this series a go. Set 5-10 years (depending on the version) after DBZ, GT sees Goku returning to life as a child after an accidental wish is made on the Black Star Dragon Balls, which are then scattered across the galaxy and must be returned in a year otherwise the Earth will explode.

Surely it couldn't be that bad could it?

Well sadly the answer was pretty much yes. However it did have a few redeeming points, so those are what I'll look at first (don't hold your breath, there really aren't many). First off I have to give my praise to the people who designed Super Saiyan 4 - it looks magnificent. I've never been the biggest fan of Super Saiyan 3, and so this feels like a vast improvement. The initial sinister edge Goku has in that form is also interesting, and would have been quite good to see played further (to make him almost power mad of sorts). Uub (who was briefly seen at the end of DBZ) is also a great character who I was happy to see developed further - it's nice to see a character who can hold their own in a fight that isn't a Saiyan. As far as villains (and the odd anti-hero) go - Nuova, Eis and Syn/Omega Shenron are also great characters.

But the biggest triumph of GT and possibly the sole reason anyone should watch it other than because of curiosity is Vegeta. GT continues the massive character development that began in DBZ and amplifies is greatly, which is surprising given that he's actually hardly in the series. His growth from the evil Saiyan prince to father and husband to eventual protector of the Earth is possibly the best writing Dragon Ball has period. Its just a shame that the majority of this development (and the most character development in the entire series) comes in a clip episode no less.

And now its time for its flaws, and there's more than a few. For a series only 64 episodes long (and seems to pride itself on having no filler) there are far too many episodes that feel like filler. Its no wonder FUNimation decided not to initially air the Black Star Dragon Ball Saga, because its horrible. Full of forgettable sagas and boring mini quests. The next saga (The Baby Saga) was the first to have a super powerful big-bad and was a step up, but despite having some good episodes it seemed to take the drawn-out fights-where-little-happen-for-episode-after-episode DBZ is infamous for to new heights. Which is hardly fair given that this saga is 23 episodes long (longer if you consider that the first saga ties into it) and the following Super 17 saga, the one with perhaps the most potential, is a mere seven episodes long.

Despite this potential though, all it really amounts to is a rushed train wreck with far too many inconsistencies (why suddenly use 17 again? Where has 17 been all this time? How did Gero/Myuu regain control?). Not only that, but it managed to turn my two favourite villains from Z, Frieza and Cell, into nothing but comic relief. On that topic, comic relief villains is something that GT really suffers from, as is further emphasised by the first 4 dragons in the final saga of the series - The Shadow Dragon Saga. The whole concept of the saga is fantastic - 7 evil dragons created through the over use of the Dragon Balls, but the whole thing felt it should have been a bit more apocalyptic given the power of the 7 dragons. Again fight sequences are drawn out where very little happens (Vegeta ascends to Super Saiyan 4 and literally does nothing, Super Saiyan 4 Gogeta is reduced to nothing but comic relief despite the epic fight sequences he potentially could have had).

But without a doubt my biggest complaint of the series is Goku. Every character is portrayed as a weakling compared to him, and the only thing Gohan, Goten and Trunks seem to be are walking batteries for him when he runs out of power. Vegeta doesn't have one fight sequence where he isn't completely trounced and nobody gets any decent fight time apart from Goku. Piccolo is brought back for the sole purpose of being killed off. I understand that Goku is the main character of the series, but with the diverse and interesting cast Dragon Ball has far more could have been done. There was also no need for Goku to remain a child for the entirety of the series, GT would have been exactly the same (arguably better) if his ascension to SS4 had broken the spell cast on him by Black Star Shenron.

But the worst thing of all is the ending. After Shenron decides to leave Earth due to overuse of the Dragon Balls, Goku decides to go with him when the possibility of training in a new place is offered. Goku leaves without a second though, giving his family a 2-second goodbye and leaving his responsibilities in the hands of others. The moral of the story - Goku may be the strongest fighter in the world, but he's a selfish person and a terrible father/husband who doesn't deserve the supportive family he has. All those family values in DBZ amount to nothing.

Ultimately, GT attempts to blend the light-hearted comedy side of Dragon Ball with the epic quests/fights of Dragon Ball Z and fails at it miserably. I'm surprised the makers of Budokai Tenkaichi 2 were able to make it look so good. If you don't like Vegeta, this isn't for you because your opinion of every other character will only be lowered.


Roih said...

Great review. True that many things about GT were pretty disappointing, but I just wanted to clarify something about the ending when Goku appears to leave his family for the sake of training yet again.

I watched the original Japanese version so I'm not sure whether there were any changes or lost nuances with the dub version, but in the original it's clearly implied that Goku actually died during the last fight. Nothing is made explicit, but the Goku probably died in the attack that created the massive crater in the Earth. The Goku we saw making the finishing blow (genkidama--spirit ball?) is most probably some sort of ressurected being. (Pan makes the comment that grandfather looks like a god--that was a hint).

After the fight is over, the first hint that something is not quite right is given when Shenron tells Goku that "his time is up" and they have to leave, and Goku acts as though he knows what Shenron is getting at. Goku tells Pan, Gohan etc. that he is leaving for training, but I think there's good reason to suspect that he's telling a kind lie.

The second--and huge--hint is Vegeta's reaction when Goku is just about to leave with Shenron. It seems as though Vegeta realizes some shocking truth ("*gasp*, wait, you...") but Goku cuts him off and motions for him to keep quiet. Then after Goku leaves with Shenron, Pan finds Goku's tattered blue dougi on the ground--although the Goku that left with Shenron had his blue dougi on. Vegeta, who saw through Goku's lie, tells her to keep the dougi as a precious item.

Like all Dragon Ball-ish things, weird things happen up till the end--but I thougth this was a very touching way to end the series. It helped to redeem GT a little bit for me from its flaws.

Alex said...

Oh, so he left because he had to, and it was more a case of everyone accepting his fate gracefully? That's interesting, and it certainly redeems the ending a bit as far as I'm concerned. The dub just made it sound like he was going off to train somewhere new.

Thanks for that info!