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Before You Watch 'Dragon Ball Super': A Primer

Dragon Ball Super

Before You Watch ‘Dragon Ball Super’: A Primer

Were you aware that a new Dragon Ball series – Dragon Ball Super – is available for viewing in America? A lot of longtime and casual Dragon Ball fans might not have heard about this new series, so here’s a little background information to get you up to date on where Super takes place within the Dragon Ball mythos.

In the U.S., the Dragon Ball series was introduced via Dragon Ball Z (DBZ) back in 1996 when Funimation produced a dubbed and edited version of the Vegeta Arc for television. DBZ eventually moved to Cartoon Network, anchoring the Toonami block of shows and becoming the cult favorite of many people, myself included (I’ll let the picture below of a part of my collection speak for itself).DB_DVDsBut before all that, the original Dragon Ball anime series ran in Japan from 1984 through 1988, based on the manga series by Akira Toriyama. This series was about a mysterious, seriously strong kid named Goku, who happened to have a tail and transform into a giant ape (the Oozaru) by the light of the full moon. Goku was trained in the martial arts and grew up during the Dragon Ball series. Over the course of the 10 Dragon Ball sagas (episode arcs), the series would alternate between tournament style fighting and quests for the Dragon Balls. The Dragon Balls are a set of seven “magic” balls that when combined, allow someone to call upon the Eternal Dragon, Shenron, and make any wish that their heart desires (within some limits). The Dragon Ball series ran from when Goku was a little kid until he was roughly in his early 20s, over the course of 153 thirty-minute episodes.

Dragon Ball Z picks up five years later, when Goku is a young adult and now has a kid of his own, Gohan. The biggest changes to the Dragon Ball mythos in DBZ is the addition of aliens and intergalactic travel. Turns out Goku is a Saiyan from the planet Vegeta. At the beginning of DBZ the Saiyan Raditz, Goku’s apparent older brother, has just arrived to figure out why Goku (Kakarrot) has not finished his task of destroying the human race so the Saiyans to take over Earth. This kicks off the series which eventually takes us all across the galaxy.Goku_TransformationsThe main difference between Dragon Ball and DBZ is the reduced reliance on searching for the dragon balls and increased reliance on the fights. Over the course of 15 sagas, the heroes fought many villains, starting with Prince Vegeta (a Saiyan bad guy turned eventual reluctant good guy), Freeza (a bad guy with the ability to transform, increasing his power level each time), Cell (a bad guy who absorbed other bad guys to increase his power), and Buu (a villain that eventually splits himself into two people; a really, really bad guy and a fat cheerful goodish guy). The series is set up like a video game, with each primary villain, there are a series of lesser bad guys that the heroes must fight their way through to battle the main adversary. Throughout the series, the main character, Goku, increases in strength and transforms himself in the process. Initially changing into a “Super Saiyan” and eventually achieving what he calls a “Super Saiyan 3”. DBZ eventually ended up running for 291 thirty-minute episodes.

The stark differences between Dragon Ball and DBZ caused a division in fandom, where many fans would prefer one series over the other for various reasons. To counter the strong swing toward just fighting a series of bad guys, a new series was released Dragon Ball GT (GT stands for Grand Touring, but it is also just known as GT), taking place 10 more years after the end of DBZ. This is the first (and only) Dragon Ball series not based on a manga series by Toriyama. The creators of the series were trying to tie back into the Dragon Ball series many of the elements of the original Dragon Ball that people loved so much, angering fans of DBZ in the process.

GT started off with Goku being turned back into a kid (just like the Dragon Ball-age Goku) to reduce his exponentially growing powers that had caused DBZ to get rather unwieldy. The first arc of Dragon Ball GT has Goku traveling the galaxy searching for the Black Star Dragon Balls, another series of dragon balls that are spread throughout space, to turn Goku back into an adult. This first GT saga heavily echoed the original series Dragon Ball, and for that reason, was initially skipped for the dubbed U.S. release of the series.

Eventually, these were released for an American audience listed as “The Lost Episodes”. GT ended up being much shorter than both Dragon Ball and DBZ, only running for 64 episodes with four primary story arcs. After the Black Star Dragon Ball series, it went back to the DBZ style of fighting the biggest baddie starting with Baby, then Super Android 17, then wrapping the series up with the Shadow Dragon Saga. At the end of the series it was determined that the dragon balls and Goku caused so many of the Earth’s problems that they needed to basically go away. So Goku absorbs all of the dragon balls into himself and leaves Earth with Shenron, never to be seen again. However the spirit of Goku can be seen in a special (Dragon Ball GT: A Hero’s Legacy) released afterwards, which takes place 100 years after the end of GT. The special was mainly about how the descendants of Goku and Vegeta eventually become fighters as well.

Battle of Gods DVD cover

During the production of Dragon Ball and DBZ, several standalone movies were also produced. These movies often stood outside of the continuity of the series (neither impacting nor being impacted by events of the series) but used the situations of the series to influence the movie. For instance, Freeza came back in a couple of the movies and character power levels were appropriate for that time when he would have returned. Through 1996 (2006 for the dubbed U.S. releases) there were a total of 17 movies produced for Dragon Ball (4) and DBZ (13).

And that is how the Dragon Ball universe stood for 16 years. Dragon Ball Z Kai was released in the U.S. starting in 2009, however, that did not include any new material and was basically a “tightened up” version of Dragon Ball Z (removing the boring parts essentially). However, in 2013 a new DBZ movie was produced in Japan, and with an English dub released in 2014; Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods. This was the first new Dragon Ball project in 16 years (since the end of GT in 1997), and even better, was based on a screenplay by Toriyama himself. Battle of Gods takes place immediately following the end of DBZ and before GT, with the assumption that it does not overwrite anything in GT. The following year another movie, Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection ‘F’, was released, again with the supervision of Toriyama. This movie followed the Battle of Gods, set between DBZ and GT.

Resurrection F BluRay Cover

Now we come to the (relative) present. The new series, Dragon Ball Super, is announced and released in Japan starting at the beginning of 2015, and 2017 for the U.S. dubbed release. Dragon Ball Super takes place several months after the finale of DBZ, with the first two arcs (totaling 27 episodes) being retellings (and extensions) of the Battle of Gods and Resurrection ‘F’ movies.

Episode 28 starts all new adventures, specifically made for Super. As of this writing, there are 81 total episodes released in Japan, and available for view in the U.S. as subtitled on many different services, including Funimation’s own website. Nine episodes have currently been released in the U.S., all within the Battle of Gods story arc. It is interesting to note that based on the content of all the available subtitled episodes, it appears that the continuity for Dragon Ball GT it completely thrown out the window. The power levels currently in the series far surpass anything seen in GT and indicate that the series will likely just be forgotten, especially since Super has the guidance of series creator Toriyama, something GT never really had.

Have you had a chance to watch any of Dragon Ball Super yet? If so, share your thoughts on the series below!

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