Though the latter is still the more popular of the two, the original Dragon Ball anime does many things better than DBZ.
Many westerners grew up watching Dragon Ball Z, thanks largely to Cartoon Network and Toonami. The series’ success led viewers to check out its predecessor, Dragon Ball, with the general consensus at the time being that Z was the superior of the two due to its high-octane combat sequences and stronger aesthetics.
However, as time has passed and with further viewings, many Dragon Ball fans have begun to modify their thoughts, with many now claiming that Dragon Ball is superior to Dragon Ball Z. Of course, this is a highly subjective topic, so not everyone would agree, but there are a few things that the original Dragon Ball anime achieves far better than DBZ.
Martial Arts Mastery
Though it included supernatural aspects from the start, Dragon Ball began with a considerably larger emphasis on martial arts than its successor. Many of the earlier plots in the series concentrate around Goku’s training, with new techniques frequently playing a major role in his victories rather than the Saiyan just relying on physical might or flashy transformations, as he eventually does.
Dragon Ball anime is likely to be a lot more rewarding watch for people interested in Japanese martial arts than Dragon Ball Z. The regular World Martial Arts competitions offer a steady supply of well-structured one-on-one combat for viewers to enjoy, while also exposing them to a big and diverse cast of supporting characters.
Even though Goku’s fight with Frieza is memorable, many people remember it for the wrong reasons. The five-minute countdown to Namek’s destruction is likely the most famous, and it is frequently mocked due to the fact that this alleged five minutes spans numerous 20+ minute episodes. Dragon Ball Z Kai did improve the pacing of this sequence slightly, but this is a problem that affects most of Dragon Ball Z in some way or another.
In comparison, bouts in the original Dragon Ball series were far more fluid, with less filler employed to pad out the story. Of course, it still has flaws from time to time, but for the most part, Dragon Ball keeps things moving at a considerably faster pace than DBZ, guaranteeing that viewers spend far more time starring at their displays than glancing at their watches.
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A Focus on Adventure
Fighting has always been fundamental to Dragon Ball, but the original series made a point of delving into a few other topics and ideas as well. A number of episodes put a big emphasis on friendship and adventure, with these two motifs working exceptionally well together and wonderfully complimenting the series’ overarching martial arts plot. Unfortunately, all of this altered in the years that followed.
The changeover to Dragon Ball Z resulted in a major shift in ideas, with the franchise turning to a repetitious cycle that quickly became stale.
Each each saga introduced a more powerful foe, forcing Goku and his companions to rely on new Super Saiyan transformations to save the day. Although the series did send viewers to an alien world at one point, Toriyama and his team chose to focus on a steady stream of battles rather than fully explore planet Namek.
Humor and Fun-Filled Episodes
One of the significant repercussions of the aforementioned shift in focus was that Dragon Ball Z had a far more serious tone than Dragon Ball. As a result, there were significantly fewer opportunities for fun and humor in the former. To be honest, this isn’t a major issue when viewing Z as a solo series, especially given its intended audience, but it did create a very obvious mismatch between it and its predecessor.
This is owing to the importance of humor in Dragon Ball, with a young Goku frequently getting himself into trouble due to his juvenile antics. It might be claimed that the franchise aged with its viewers, with Dragon Ball being more age-appropriate for pre-teens and Z aimed for teenagers. Looking at both through older eyes, though, Dragon Ball has a certain charm that Dragon Ball Z lacks.
Better Character Development
Some of the humor in the early Dragon Ball episodes hasn’t aged all that well, but it might still work because Goku is a kid. This also makes for a lot of intense character growth, as Goku is forced to grow up quickly because he is always in dangerous situations. Goku from Dragon Ball Z, on the other hand, doesn’t change much over the course of the series, which makes him one of the least interesting main characters in shonen anime history.
In Dragon Ball, Goku isn’t the only character with an interesting storyline. Both Piccolo and Chien are very well-developed characters. Over the course of the classic anime series, they go from being enemies to becoming friends. Fans of Dragon Ball Z may point to Vegeta’s redemption arc as an example of how well the show explores its characters. However, when it comes down to it, Vegeta’s arc is very similar to Piccolo’s, it’s just much longer.
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