This is a follow-up to last week’s ‘Watch This Anime!’. Click the link below to check out the first part.
Now that we’re through the riffraff, we can talk about the good Dragon Ball arcs! These are the stories that I think of when I’m talking about the series. In them are all the moments that made me fall in love with this series.
The same criteria from last time apply here. I judge them by how good the pacing is, the quality of the characters (both old and new), and how good the action is. This is all entirely subjective, of course. With that in mind, let’s get started with my next favorite arc:
The Buu Saga: A Poorly Paced, Lovable Mess
It’s time to talk about the problem child of Z. The saga that, while good, is incredibly flawed. Mainly in that most of it, all the bits people like, are pointless to the narrative as a whole.
Let me list off the things that this arc introduces. These are the best things in this arc, and I love them to death! These are:
- Videl, one of my favorite characters and one of the best female characters in the whole series (plus a great Fighterz character)
- Fusion, both the Potara and Dance methods
- Gohan’s ultimate form; it’s fun seeing Gohan take the stage back, even though it doesn’t feel earned
- Super Saiyan 3, which looks amazing and has one of my favorite introductory scenes in the series
- Goten and Kid Trunks, who are decently fun characters (though their likability varies from fun to annoying)
Let me list all the things that contribute absolutely nothing to the story as a whole. They are:
- Refer to the list above.
The pacing in this arc is an absolute disaster. Buu keeps getting new form after new form, and the story just keeps dragging. By the time Goku throws the Spirit Bomb, we’re not rooting for him to save the universe. We’re rooting for him to finish the fucking story!
Now, to be fair, I do love the characters here. Mr. Satan has some of the best moments in the whole series here! Vegeta has his strongest emotional moments! Buu’s initial form and final form, Kid Buu, are incredibly fun and interesting villains! Videl, while pointless, is incredibly lovable, and a perfect match for Gohan! Speaking of which, I enjoy this version of Gohan much more than most people do.
Though he’s still got nothing on the Gohan of old.
The action is decent. Some fights are pretty meh, and others are absolutely incredible! This varying quality makes watching the saga pretty rough.
It’s still good and fun, don’t get me wrong. But it is a mess. Moving on.
The Pilaf Saga: The Charming Beginning
Out of all the story arcs in Dragon Ball, this one is the strangest.
It can’t really be judged by quality of action, as it was written before Dragon Ball became an action oriented series. Rather, it was focused on gag comedy based on the characters. So instead, I’ll be judging it on that. That said: the gag writing is pretty solid. Its Dragon Ball comedy at its best.
There are few jokes that I remember as strongly as these ones, as they’re intrinsically tied with the character writing, which is just as excellent. From Goku’s first interactions with Bulma, Roshi and Oolong’s perverted antics, the Ox King’s rapid changing personality and the Pilaf gang’s constant failings, everything in this arc is charming and fun, with equally charming characters to go along with them. Plus, the story is perfectly paced.
It isn’t my favorite saga of the show. But its the one that started it all. For that alone, it gets respect. Better yet, it is still incredibly fun to watch to this day.
The same which can be said for the next arc:
The First World Tournament: More Comedy Than Fighting
Literally everything that I said about the last arc can be said about this one. The only reason it’s higher is because the action is slightly better. Plus, Roshi’s motivation for fighting and winning is absolutely priceless.
The Red Ribbon Saga: So Many Fun Characters That We’ll Never See Again
The Red Ribbon Saga served as a nice transition period for Dragon Ball. This was the arc that transformed it from a comedy adventure into the action packed serial epic that we all know and love today. Unfortunately, it can be a little rough around the edges.
Before we get into the bad, let’s discuss the good. First, the action here is great! Goku’s fight with Toa and his assault on the Red Ribbon HQ are both stand outs, and I remember them fondly to this day. The story is paced perfectly, never dragging for too long and always giving everything the necessary breathing room to have impact and weight.
Unfortunately, the characters have some serious issues. None of the recurring cast undergo much development in this arc, nor do they really contribute in any meaningful way aside from participating. Worse yet, none of the new characters, aside from Toa, return at any point in the series! Hell, they rarely return in the arc! They’re used, then tossed aside and never brought up again. Which is a real shame, because they could have added a lot to the series going forward, if used properly.
Still, this is a great arc more than it isn’t. This was where my personal investment in the series shot from ‘I’m bored, so lets watch this weird Japanese cartoon’ to ‘I absolutely love this, let’s go!’ when I first watched it. It may not be the best critically, but I’d still watch it all again in a heartbeat.
The Second World Tournament: Now Things Get Good
This is where this list becomes really fucking hard. Each of these arcs are so good that putting them into a list is nigh impossible. But I’m gonna do my best!
The pacing of this arc is perfect. The action is phenomenal, and the character writing is the strongest the series had seen up to this point. Watching this one is an absolute blast. Sure, the only narrative is ‘Tien was bad, now he’s good, let’s watch fights happen!’ But sometimes, that’s all you need. Plus, it does lead pretty nicely into the best OG Dragon Ball arc.
But we’ll get to that later.
The Namek/Freeza Saga: Speed Up, Please!
Holy fuck is the pacing in this arc bad! Sure, they fixed it in Kai. But you can’t deny that the original run became painful to watch! I mean, four hours for the climactic fight?! Freezus Icest!
Hats off to you if you understood that reference.
Aside from its awful pacing, this arc is absolutely perfect! All of the characters, new and old, are perfectly written! The action is the strongest in the whole series, or at least it would if it was paced better. Plus, it had the single strongest Dragon Ball moment of all time. You already know what I’m talking about:
Dende’s death! Oh, and I guess Goku’s first transformation into a Super Saiyan. That was good too, I guess.
The Android/Cell Saga: Not Quite Perfect
Fuck, this arc is tight! It isn’t quite perfect (sorry Cell), but it is damn close!
Cell as a villain is fantastic, though his personality does get weaker towards the end. His introduction was fantastic, easily the best in the whole series! He does a lot to make up for the lackluster but still effective Androids.
*Side note: Android 16 is the second best new character in this arc. He’d be the best, if not for the fantastic Future Trunks. Also, 18 is solid, but she is underused. The same can be said for 17, but I’m more biased towards 18. For likely obvious reasons.
Plus, we get some of the best character moments in the series for the old characters! Gohan’s Super Saiyan 2 transformation, Piccolo merging with Kami, Goku connecting with his son, Vegeta learning to work with others, and Tien’s suicide attack on Cell are just a few this arc had! They’re all so good that they fucking hurt me!
The action, however, is really up and down. Some of the fights are absolutely incredible. But there are plenty that are far from visually appealing. Worse yet, the final fight of the arc is just a beat down followed by a beam struggle.
Satisfying? Yes. Well choreographed and paced? No.
The Third World Tournament: The Best Fight in OG
This arc is great in a lot of ways. But there are a few issues that drag it down for me.
Piccolo Jr. served as a great villain in his time, easily the best pre-Z. However, his story was the only narrative weight in the whole saga. Everything else, and everyone else, may as well not even be there. Which is a shame.
Because Chi-Chi is the best character in this arc and I will fight you on that.
Still, I have to be fair. The story is perfectly paced, and the action within it is among the best in the whole series. I just wish the story wasn’t so focused on Piccolo and Goku and no one else. Because if it branched out a bit, I’d be far more interested in the goings on when Piccolo and Goku aren’t fighting anyone!
The King Piccolo Saga: Hail to the King!
The Red Ribbon saga was the arc that got me invested in this series. But it was the King Piccolo saga that transformed it into my favorite anime of all time. Or at least, my favorite four days of the week.
King Piccolo as a villain is simple and one-dimensional. But he’s still absolutely perfect! He is a perfect and intimidating bad ass, one that has some absolutely incredible action tied to him. Plus, his minions are pretty fun, though they are lacking in personality.
The story is perfectly paced, introduces the great character of Yajirobe, and develops the old cast brilliantly. Unfortunately, Goku’s power up is unearned and unsatisfying. That alone drags this arc down quite a bit.
Don’t get me wrong though. This is still a fantastic arc, easily the best pre-Z. Speaking of which:
The Saiyan Saga: Of Course It’d Be Here
Come on. You knew this would be #1.
Everything here is perfect. Each character is perfectly written. The story is perfectly paced. The action is the best in the whole series. It is perfect in basically every way.
When you think Dragon Ball, chances are that you’re thinking about this arc. And that’s fair. Because that’s what most fans do. Including myself.
There we go. Those were how I’d order the Dragon Ball arcs from worst to best. Feel free to let me know how you’d order them in the comments below. But feel free to bullet point them; I doubt you want to put a three-thousand word essay in anyone’s comments.
Just be aware: if you do, I will read it. I have more free time than you’d think.
No matter my gripes, I absolutely love Dragon Ball. From its worst to its best, there is always something to love in this series. I’ll be sticking with the series for years to come, regardless of how varying the quality may be. Because in the end, Dragon Ball is still Dragon Ball.
Though I’d definitely prefer for it to be good. That’d be nice.