Last November, I had the bright idea to go back and rewatch Dragon Ball GT. Dragon Ball Super: Broly was on the cusp of release and it seemed like a new series of Super would shortly follow that. So I was all revved up to go back and revisit a series I’d never actually watched properly.
As you might have guessed from the extended gap in time between now and last November when I wrote about the Black Star Dragon Balls Saga; this turned out to be a bit of a slog than I’d expected.
The “Baby Saga” as Wikipedia describes it consists of the 24 episodes between 17 and 40, following directly on from the events of the previous story arc. It’s the biggest piece of story in the series and brings a number of iconic villains and transformations to the franchise, whose popularity end up transcending the actual quality of pretty much everything else about the show. Oops, guess I’m already tipping my hand.
A story of building pressure
If there is one thing I have to give GT credit for, it’s how they slowly built up to the eventual reveal of Baby as the first major antagonist of the series. The story started out as a grand romp through space, reclaiming the Dragon Balls before they destroyed the Earth. Little by little, the show slowly started to reveal grander machinations at play.
Starting with the Para Brothers, we slowly climbed our way up the hierarchy, revealing that each villain was not, in fact, top of the food chain. Eventually leading to Rildo, Myuu and Baby in this arc. It’s a effective tactic that allows the characters to have their jolly adventure while also slowly building up to the major villain in both their power and their prescience.
In this respect, it hints that Baby has been the major villain the show has been building to since the first episode, the problem comes with the episodes that happen after the dismantling of Dr. Myuu’s plans and Baby’s emergence out into the world.
Baby’s reveal as the grand mastermind at the top comes across as somewhat anticlimactic after the fact. While Myuu had an entire planet and army at his disposal, Baby has none of this, having to disguise himself and skulk around to avoid the heroes, despite claims that he was said to be supremely powerful before his awakening.
It’s such a sharp turn from the story that had been building up that the events that follow come across completely inconsistent, like the halves to two different stories stitched together.
From Dragon Ball to Z
I’ve previously made a point of how the first story arc of GT felt like a show taking a lot of influence from the original Dragon Ball. The battle on the machine planet, Myuu’s objectives and how it eventually shakes out, everything about it is reminiscent of the Red Ribbon Army story line from the original series.
But after this is taken care of and we’re left with Baby as our only antagonist, the approach takes a drastic turn compared to how you’d think things would go when he had a machine mutant army at his disposal. The tone changes and takes on style of storytelling much more reminiscent of Z. Reintroducing the wider cast after being majorly absent for the first 24 episodes.
It’s a darker style and tone more in line with the Android/Cell Sagas which seem to become the main inspiration. Which carries right up until the end of the story’s arc.
And honestly, I can’t tell if it was intentional or not. The idea of creating GT as a show that freely transitions between the tones of both previous shows is a great idea. Only, It doesn’t end up working that way. At a certain point the story makes a very hard permanent turn from one to the other that really fails to capitalise on what could have been a great idea.
Had there been more back and forths, showing parts of the grand adventure one episode, before showing the desperate battle happening on Earth next. It could have given the show a more positive and unique identity that I feel it eventually got lumped with as time wore on.
Nothing feels intentional
But this is just one of many great ideas GT has but fails to truly capitalise on. It’s not just that they fail to make the most of what they have they though. They go one further by taking what they do have and then proceed to execute it poorly.
At an increasing pace, the series wants to build to a final battle between Goku and Baby. After Baby arrives on Earth it feels like everything becomes a mad dash to get all the pieces in place for the final confrontation between the two, which comes at the expense of any genuine buildup, suspense, drama or even a satisfying payoff.
For me, this starts with the revelation that Giru had apparently never betrayed the gang to Dr. Myuu at all, in fact the betrayal was a plan concocted by him and Trunks in order to get inside Myuu’s base and shut down whatever he had going on.
This reveal in itself isn’t awful. But there’s no real hint that Giru is having a hard time betraying his friends, from either a character or a story standpoint. From an audience perspective, Giru is fully on the bad guy’s side, until he suddenly isn’t.
Now, this wouldn’t be a terrible twist from an objective standpoint, if I believed that the writers had planned it out in advance at all. But given how the rest of the arc is riddled with exposition, twists and surprises; none of which are foreshadowed or teased in the slightest, I have to side on the law of averages and claim that the writers were simply making it up as they went along.
It seems like they just got bored
What makes me think there was a “seat of the pants” approach to writing this arc comes from the fact that, after the gang deal with Dr. Myuu and Rildo, they still only have three of the seven Dragon Balls in their possession. After 24 episodes.
They collect the remaining four Dragon Balls in the following four episodes in a series of mostly uneventful montages. The whole premise that kicked off the series suddenly gets brushed under the rug for the sake of focusing on this new villain and telling a much more action orientated story.
Then, as the series ends and the Earth is destroyed by the balls anyway. Which is treated in a typically matter a fact fashion as everyone simply uses the Dragon Balls on Namek to restore the Earth in a two minute sequence at the end of the final episode in the arc. Utterly rendering the drama and point of the entire series a bit of a joke in retrospect.
There was so much promise
Like aspects of the Goku Black arc in Dragon Ball Super, it really felt like the writers were floundering around for large portions of this arc, not seeming to know where they want to end up themselves. But unlike Super, they didn’t the talent nor the charm of Toriyama to carry them through.
In so many ways, the GT seems to be actively hindering its own success. Despite its very existence coming about as an exercise in fan service, the show itself seems strangely adverse to it. With fan favourite charters like Vegeta and Piccolo getting next to no screen time, and going as far to tease an adult Gotenks and then never actually showing him.
Despite the franchise being deeply ingrained in the fan service business these days, there is something strangely reserved and withheld about this entire arc in terms of its writing, its animation and it story telling.
Needless to say, it was a messy ride. And I’m only just getting started talking about it.
This is a part of a week long series in which I complain about Dragon Ball GT, if you want to read the other parts, the links are below:
Black Star Dragon Ball Saga:
Day 1: Story Arc Structure (This is this)