Dragon Ball Season 2 review

Dragon Ball Season 2 (Cover)Welcome to the review of the Dragon Ball anime’s season 2 (episodes 29-57). You can find the review of Season 1 here, which is recommended reading if you’re entirely new to the Dragon Ball franchise as it covers the core characters. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend starting with this season if you’re someone who’s not seen any of the Dragon Ball franchise before, and even if you have the earlier episodes at least will lose some meaning as they tie up the previous season’s events.

Before we get into the plot, some aspects covered in the previous review need covering. In particular the series continues to have very questionable portrayals of race, black people in particular. It’s odd in that it doesn’t feel malicious as such – the bad guy goons are actually surprisingly racially diverse – but just representative of a particularly odd and (hopefully) time-specific world view that’s hard to understand nowadays.

Casual racism aside, the casual attitude to sex continues to crop up at various points in the series, mostly around Master Roshi as might be expected, but at least it managed to stray over the line from creepy to funny more often than not. One odd exception being the beginnings of an attempted sexual assault on a 16-year-old girl that is brought up and forgotten about almost instantaneously. As brief as it was it felt vastly darker than anything else in the show even while it was being treated in a very throwaway fashion by the following writing and never being mentioned again.

1So, to the story itself. We pick up at the tail end of the previous Tournament Saga and the first part concerns itself mainly with tying up the loose ends hanging from previous episodes and the passing of the bad-guy torch from the purely comic-relief Pilaf to the slightly more serious Red Ribbon army, who are initially represented by the trenchcoated Colonel Silver. Past the initial episodes we see more of Goku as a lone entity without his supporting cast which helps give a little variety from the series format thus far. As the series progresses we get to meet a variety of other Red Ribbon officers and it’s interesting to explore the idea of putting someone like Goku against a large, organised military force. A lot of effort is put in by the writing to make this unusual concept both credible and enjoyable – both sides feel like they have distinct strengths that gives the other the chance to seem impressive while still leaving a lot of space for interesting situations.

Notable highlights of the early series are Muscle Tower, which is just as odd as it sounds, particularly a sequence involving a character named Ninja Murasaki. To me, this personifies what the series does really well – a multi-episode sequence where it ranges from straight battle to mysterious techniques to complete farce, all without seeming to break immersion for the viewer. I think it’s to the whole series’ credit that the world has been set up in such a way that it can combine the absurd with the dramatic without missing a beat – though thus far Dragon Ball certainly leans more heavily on the absurd side.

Saying this, at times the morality of the series becomes complex, particularly in the case of an Android under the command of the Red Ribbon army who refuses to fight Goku. The time is taken to explore the character’s motivations and it feels like there’s a real point being made about the value of life. Unfortunately, this is somewhat undercut by Goku murdering a hungry monster shortly afterwards, but still it illustrates how even one facet can be the jumping off point for exploring a character. This is not to imply a deep level of characterisation throughout the series, but there’s usually at least one aspect of each character that makes them more than an archetypical villain.

A2fter Muscle Tower the story takes something of a break while Goku reconnects with his supporting cast and allows for comic interludes, mainly involving Master Roshi and Launch (a girl with a violent multiple personality) before meandering back onto the mutual pursuit of the Dragon Balls once again.

The Red Ribbon army dips in and out of the main story and their presence eventually becomes something of a running minor plot element rather than the focus. This does change later on, but it was at this stage that they start to feel just like part of the furniture. There’s a short and enjoyable side adventure involving a pirate base before leading into the last and strangest part of the series which involves a visit to a place called Penguin Village. The never-before-mentioned village is inhabited by curiously detailed and complex characters who upon further research appear to be from a previous series of Dragon Ball creator Akira Toriyama’s, Dr Slump. This whole sequence is very different than anything that came before and while enjoyable does feel like something of a filler, but is somewhat redeemed by the appearance of a character named Sourman. This Superman parody character draws power from the bite of a sour prune to become ‘incredibly strong… and regular’ which was the only thing to draw uncontrollable laughter in the series.

So that brings us to the end of the story overview. It’s worth mentioning that the series doesn’t bring an end to the overall storyline in progress though the story does creep along at its own pace. This can be frustrating if you’re hoping for a strong or complex story to follow but the series feels like it’s playing to its strengths when it devotes itself to being entertaining over any other consideration.

I would highly recommend this series and Dragon Ball as a whole, not only as a significant piece of animation history but also for the sheer enjoyment it provides. As mentioned the plot does not move quickly and has the occasional hiccup, but if you enjoy any of the episodes you’re likely to enjoy all of it as it’s very consistent throughout its run. As a Dragon Ball Z fan who’d only heard about the series before from friends I’d be very enthused to watch more of this series and see where a lot of it began.

Disc features:

There are good quality Japanese and English vocals along with English subtitles for both language versions, though there aren’t any further options for audio or visuals. Also on the disc are unrelated trailers for various different off-franchise anime as well as character profiles for most of the important characters. This is handy as a way to either remind yourself of the major characters if it’s been a while since watching Season 1, but be warned that some of the profiles contain minor spoilers for episodes on the same disc.

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