Dragon Ball GT Rewatch Week: The Black Star Dragon Ball Saga – Day 4: Animation & Fight Choreography

The more time passes since Dragon Ball Super ended, the more I realise what a flawed show it actually was. A deep and ingrained fandom goes a long way, blinding you to things you would have criticised in any other show, or sometimes to the good aspects that don’t align with your preconceptions. My preconception about Dragon Ball GT was that it sucked. But when it comes to the look of this show, so far I have been impressed.

While I have been giving GT a hard time for the most part, one positive thing I can say is that the show looks great, especially for the time it came out. While it does have some good and some bad looking episodes, as all shows of this kind are victim to, on average, Dragon Ball GT is much better looking than Dragon Ball Super.

It’s a matter of give and take. While the base art and characters can look a little less detailed, they’re more consistently on model. The first episode is a great indicator of this. The fight between Goku and Uub as a part of his starts off strongly right away with Uub’s graduation exam. Graduating from what? I could not, for the life of me, tell you. The fight is cool, dynamic and interesting. One of my biggest annoyances with Dragon Ball Super was how most fights ended up being pretty unmemorable.

Fights back in Z were unique, surprising and different. Super had a bad habit of showing the same blurry punching animation cycles without the highs and lows, sways in momentum or memorable crescendos that made Vegeta vs. Recoome or Piccolo vs. Android #17 so good. When Yuya Takahashi started animating fights towards the end of Super, we got some truly stunning battles. But that was a mere handful in well over 100 episodes.

Right away, fights in GT feel like they were made with all this in mind. They wanted you to remember the story of the fight, not whatever monologue was given when things got tied up. For the story of the battle, the journey needs to be as exciting as the destination.

Although, this just might be because there is comparatively little fighting in these first few episodes of GT, especially in comparison to Super which couldn’t go 20 minutes without someone blasting something. It shows that Super leaned more into the battle aspects that came with Z while GT goes much further into the adventure of original Dragon Ball. At least in this first saga.

We don’t get another battle for a few episodes, which is the encounter with Ledgic I mentioned yesterday. This one, is a little more of a mixed bag. The fight itself is very cool, taking place in and around a old looking castle atop a plateau. It’s the first time we actually see Super Saiyan in the entire series. The fight itself is interesting, varied and creative. It even gives itself a unique spin with Ledgic’s ability to pull bladed weapons out of his body.

It still suffers though, because despite looking great and having good choreography, the whole battle feels slow paced and sluggish. Goku’s moves are delivered at a lazy pace, not that I think this was the intention of the animators. It just lacks the gravity and weight of impact that some of the blows in Z and Super had. It’s fluid looking sure, but it flows like syrup.

Sadly, as the series goes on, I started to notice corners being cut in terms of animation. It’s to be expected though. A perpetually releasing anime such as this is on a much more rushed production cycle, it’s the downside of getting more episodes. While the fights generally look great, it’s in other aspects where I notice the issues.

In Episode 9, the gang are chasing the Para Brothers through space as they have stolen a Dragon Ball from them. This chase takes up about five minutes of the episode and it is terrible. There is nothing dynamic or interesting about this chase. It’s mostly the same shots of the two ships accelerating faster and faster through emptiness. Visually, it’s deeply uninteresting. I know I’m dipping into an entirely different medium here, but look at Star Wars for starship chases done well.

The Falcon escaping the Empire in the Empire Strikes back is visually interesting, unique in the moment to moment and feels high stakes. Even better is the chase of Jango Fett by Obi Wan Kenobi in Attack of the Clones. As flawed a movie as that is, nobody could ever accuse it of being visually uninteresting.

This chase eventually culminates in the confrontation with the Lord Luud robot, while the animation receives a noticeable bump for these last few episodes, the execution feels questionable once again. Goku spends much of his time fighting larger, non-human enemies in these episodes. Giant space worms, Antlion-centipedes and now this giant baby robot. I’ll give GT praise for creating unique and interesting action sequences, something more than two humanoids of similar size duking it out.

This shot of a ship accelerating through empty space is used at least three times over a few minutes. It’s hardly the most gripping pursuit I’ve ever seen.

Where I lose some investment is that there doesn’t often feel like there is any genuine peril to events. Like I mentioned yesterday, it’s rare for Goku to transform, and when he does it’s only for a moment. The real issue comes during these action scenes though. Goku will be on the run from Luud’s laser vision, managed to get a pillar land on him, and the danger has suddenly passed. He finds the time to have a nice conversation with Pan and the Para’s while Luud is apparently on break just out of shot.

Again, it would be hypocritical of me criticise this for fights just coming to a screeching halt for no discernible reason. It’s something anime does all the time, never mind just Dragon Ball. The entire fight with Luud, it was animated well. The problem comes with the choreography in this instance. As powerful as Luud seems to be, it never feels like a dire situation because Goku can just turn away from him and he apparently doesn’t exist. While the action is fine on paper, the execution on screen leaves something to be desired.

Both GT and Super have different strengths and weaknesses when it comes to their animation and choreography. While GT seems to be taking a quality over quantity approach to its battle sequences, It style of animation lacks the pace and weight of action that makes stakes feel high. That, in addition to the feeling that Goku is never actually trying that hard makes it difficult to actually feel invested in any of the action sequences happening on screen. There are good ones sure, the battle against the space worm things did feel like the most perilous situation the gang has been in. Itjust doesn’t match up with the escalation of events in terms of the series’s storytelling.

The fact that Super is over 20 years older than GT probably has a massive hand in this, but when Super is good, it’s amazing. The Battles between Goku and Kelfa, and then the final battle with Jiren are some of my favourite of the entire franchise. The problem is that these moments are very few and far between. Plus, many fights have taken place in drab or blank environments, while the environment design in GT has been far more varied and interesting by comparison. It is a nice looking show.

Tomorrow is the last day of me talking about the Black Star Dragon Ball Saga, and I’ll be mopping up anything I haven’t really spoken about up until this point.

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