Imagine, if you can, a world where the name Dragon Ball meant nothing more to the average Westerner than a crass euphemism for lizard testicles. A time when non-Japanese toon-viewers had only just met Goku and his gang of muscular world-saving colleagues. With the taste of sweet shounen nectar fresh on their lips–glutted, bellies stretched with ki-blasty, Super Saiyan joy nuggets–they longed for more. Then, like a whisper in the wind, came an acronym–GT. A series imprisoned in Japan, promising to continue the beloved Z-theatrics they’d come to obsess over. In the days before Crunchyroll, before fansubs filled hard-drives with the click of a mouse, they sat in muted awe, drooling over scant screenshots from this mysterious GT.
Funimation began its endless crusade to release and re-release everything remotely related to the Dragon Ball franchise and, at long last, the Western plebs raked their grimy paws over the hallowed GT VHS tapes. To the chagrin of many fans, the contents of said tapes stigmatized the series, forever emblazoning it as the black sheep of the Dragon Ball family–a failed attempt to reorient the series towards its pre-Z adventure roots, and a Hail Mary play to salvage the tanking side story by returning to shounen battles in the latter half. Too little, too late.
Indeed, fans grow red in the face arguing GT’s canon or lack thereof–“Toriyama never wrote any of it!”, “That doesn’t matter! GT takes place five years after the DBZ ending and Super hasn’t got that far yet!”, “How come none of the GT characters know about Beerus and can’t do any of the Super transformations?”, “W-well, they don’t care about that stuff!”–the debate rages on into eternity. Canon squabbles aside, a reviewer can only sit back and evaluate GT as a distinct entity–an island in the Dragon Ball Ocean, waiting to be explored and/or ravaged by The AniMessenger waves.
GT began as an attempt to rekindle Dragon Ball nostalgia by rebooting the original chibi-Goku stories–indeed, the OP barrels ahead with Field of View’s megaton single “Dan Dan Kokoro Hikareteku” coupled with whimsical vignettes–Goku, Trunks, and Pan grappling with monsters and knights, evading explosions, collecting mystical orbs, kicking, punching. Adventure with a capital A!
We propel into a world set five years after the end of DBZ, a world where Super Saiyan 3s reign supreme. No Super Saiyan God Super Saiyans or Mastered Ultra Instincts. No multiverse or Great Priests. A world changed yet unchanged– the Perennial Pals of Pointlessness (Pilaf, Mai, and Shuu) continue to demonstrate that, no matter what the timeline, Dragon Ball characters will reject any suggestion of securing the titular spheres in a locked vault. Dende, one might think, would place a twenty-four hour watch on his collection of black magic orbs capable of mass extinction.
Thanks to the Guardian of the Earth’s cavalier interpretation of his duties, Goku’s decision to turn off his sense-any-one’s-ki-within-a-five-million-mile-radius sensors, and Ultimate Shenron’s ability to exist in the material realm without making any noise whatsoever, The Pilaf Brigade “accidentally” wishes Goku back into a Golden Pillow-loving child (unfortunately, he left Bulma old). King Kai, the eternal voyeur, invades Goku’s mind to inform him that he can’t transform from child-man to man-child again unless he gets the Black Star Balls back. Too bad these puppies scatter across the galaxy when used (oh, and the Earth will explode if they don’t find ‘em within a year). Justice League, unite! Child-man! Weak Trunks! Child-man’s granddaughter! To the stars!
But, before the blast off, one must take stock of all the characters’ post-Buu lives: Trunks the Clinically Depressed, Gohan the Square, Goten the Man-whore, Pan the Bored Freak of Nature, Vegeta the Freddie Mercury Impersonator, and everyone else the same, but old and decrepit.
Goku, Trunks, and Pan oops their way into Bulma’s spaceship, setting the Black Star Dragon Ball Saga‘s precedent of laying the humor on thick. Fortunately, the writers hit the mark more often than not. With Goku’s happy-go-luckiness, Pan’s spunk, and Trunks’ brains, the Saiyan trio maintain decent chemistry throughout the arc. They bumble through myriad misadventures, saving villagers, infuriating aliens, and, once in a blue moon, rustling up a DBZ-esque battle, narrowly escaping death episode-by-episode (all the adventuring often makes them forget about useless stuff like bukujutsu and going Super Saiyan). Yet, after the third hopped planet, the shtick gets stale, and viewers begin to wonder “how many more planets will we have to sit through before they find these accursed balls?”
Wonder no more:
- Imegga–light-years from Earth, yet its population (swindlers under the thumb of Alien Ru Paul) still manages to appropriate Middle-Eastern Earth culture. The group finds a robot designed by the Red Ribbon Army for psychological torture named Haro, I mean, Giru. Dragon Balls Found: 0.
- Honey, I Shrunk the Saiyans Planet (Monmaasu)–a planet that exists to feature Pan in a bee costume. Dragon Balls Found: 1.
- Gelbo–backdrop for a retelling of “Oolong, the Kidnapping Monster” except a horny catfish monster plays Oolong and Trunks cross-dresses. Dragon Balls Found: 1–then the blue-skinned Magic Mike extras steal it, so: 0.
- Beehay–the worm asteroid from Empire Strikes Back, but with dancing! Dragon Balls Found: 0.
- Luud–home of doll-collecting pedophiles, sentient whips, robotic Stay Puft Marshmallow Men, and Dr. Gero, I mean, Dr. Myuu. Dragon Balls Found: 1 (the one that got stolen).
- Rudeeze–hot planet = Topless Trunk. Dragon Balls Found: 1.
- M-2–a factory planet dedicated to destroying human brain cells via mass production of Girus. Dragon Balls Found: TBD.
Toriyama himself crafted many of the character designs and, despite their truncated screen times, the animation team splashes villains and minor characters with eye-grabbing nuances. Unlike DBZ and Super (where a roll of the Director Dice determined an episode’s visual fidelity), GT’s art direction retains glossy richness throughout. The opening arc’s planet-hopping gimmick succeeds due to each location’s abundance of detail–varied flora and fauna, enlivened backgrounds, well-placed BGM flourishes. Despite the leisurely grind from heavenly body to heavenly body, the eyes and ears never want for–
The Para Para Brothers. Sanity’s Bane. Latex-wearing, Dragon Ball-swiping coneheads who say “para” at the end of every sentence. And they boogie. Para Para Boogie, in fact–the Pied Piper melody of the GT world, seducing our brain cells into the abyss–moves honed during their time in the Luud Cult, a gang of Satanists (led by the disgruntled Catholic known as Mutchy-Motchy) who pass their time fueling bloodthirsty robots (Luud) and collecting Black Star Dragon Balls.
Ironically, the narrator refers to the marshmallow menace as “The God of Destruction” in the intro to episode fourteen. This reviewer, through thorough research, managed to locate a photograph of the transitional form between Luud and Beerus:
Climbing the ladder of evil to its top wrung, we meet the the mastermind behind the chubby-cheeked murder machine–Dr. Myuu. The good doctor’s hobbies include staring at floating science diagrams, mutant making, and funding occult groups, but he mainly wants to fondle those shiny balls. Yet the gang only manages to secure three of said balls by the arc’s end. Will the nefarious practitioner crush our heroes’ spirits? Will Dr. Myuu science the remaining orbs into his clutches? Or will–
Despite some pacing issues, overstayed planet welcomes, and the Para Para Brothers, the Black Star Dragon Ball Saga’s sixteen episodes tickle the brain’s fun-wrinkles with aplomb–oozing with cheese, but for laughter’s sake–a charming re-imagining of those nascent fetch quest days. Less nose-bleedy Roshi antics, but more naked Goku! Pop the corn, snuggle the pets, guzzle the libations, and embark on the Grand Tour! But don’t blink or you might miss the battles.
Good For: Pilaf fanatics, up-and-coming cult leaders, chill folk.
Bad For: Robot sales, muscle-heads, Para Para Madness prevention.
And, please remember:
~ Don’t Shoot the Messenger