I’ve been acquiring DBZ on bluray recently and rewatching the whole series from start to finish. It has been over a decade since I last watched some of these episodes and arcs, and I was too young then to appreciate the set up and segue that is Raditz’s trip to earth.
Dragon Ball Z starts with the familiar and then escalates the narrative and stakes so fast that it sets the hook like a pro angler. From the opening narration right on through to Raditz’s last breath, the stage is masterfully set for what would prove to be one of the greatest fighting anime of all time.
In Defense of Raditz: The Opening Narration
Five years have passed since Goku and his friends thwarted the evil King Piccolo’s plans for global conquest. Thanks to their heroic efforts, the shadow of doom was lifted from the world and a new day of hope has dawned.
For in the years since Piccolo’s defeat, it has been a time of rebuilding, healing, prosperity, and peace for the citizens of earth.
But, unknown to them, at this very moment a new threat to humankind is hurtling through the solar system. And as the mysterious invader makes his final approach to earth, one thing is certain…the peaceful era the human race has enjoyed for the past five years is about to come crashing to an end.
Right off the bat we’re given the setting and what little bit of history you might need to establish Raditz’s visit to earth as the most effective show opener of all time. What’s important:
- The connection to Dragon Ball. The continuity is super important here because these first six episodes all but force you to make comparisons between the happenings of Dragon Ball and what you’re seeing in Z. The comparisons are what make this the perfect set up.
- Goku and Piccolo’s names are dropped, quickly establishing them as the strongest fighters of the previous series. They were the cream of the crop last time we saw them, which makes their encounter with Raditz and his (Raditz’s) final words all the scarier.
In Defense of Raditz: It Just Got Real
The episodes are absolutely rife with information that forces the comparison of the present with the past and ups the ante substantially.
I’m largely going to skip over the stuff that actually explains more of Dragon Ball than Dragon Ball Z; stuff like Goku’s origins on Planet Vegeta and his job on planet Earth. Instead I’m going to focus on the content that screams, “Hey! You remember how high the stakes were in Dragon Ball? Child’s play compared to what lies ahead!”
Let’s get started!
- When Raditz lands, a farmer fires a rifle at his face. Raditz catches the bullet and flicks it back at the farmer which passes through him and the truck behind him. If you watched Dragon Ball, this won’t be too shocking since the first thing Bulma does when she meets Goku is shoot him in the head to nearly no effect. But if you’re unfamiliar with the series, this effectively establishes that Raditz is some sort of crazy super being.
- We get a couple of glimpses of Gohan’s secret powers in these first few episodes. First he falls of the cliff and somehow manages to arrest his fall with his tail by snagging a branch. A similar thing happens when he falls over the waterfall – much to the confusion and curiosity of Goku. Raditz’s scouter reads Gohan’s power as 710 (compared to the 300s that Goku and Piccolo initially present). He figures the scouter is faulty. Then of course you’ve got Gohan’s power level spike and the headbutt heard ’round the world. All of this stuff pays off spectacularly in future sagas as his power is slowly coaxed out.
- When Raditz encounters Piccolo, Piccolo freaks out. He says he’s never felt such a power and hits Raditz point blank with a blast that Raditz jokes “actually managed to singe some of [his] leg hair.” The second strongest character to date hit the new bad guy on the scene with full force and didn’t even scratch him. The earth is in some serious trouble.
- Raditz then incapacitates Goku with a single knee to the gut – so much so that Goku can’t even rise to prevent Raditz from abducting his son. So now the single strongest fighter is shown to be an absolute weakling next to the new face of evil.
- Piccolo and Goku then team up and are still aren’t any match for the saiyan Raditz – who completely and easily dominates them physically for the vast majority of the melee. And when Goku goes head to head with Raditz by himself, he gets completely and utterly owned. It takes some trickery (and more than a little help from Gohan) to turn the tide of the battle.
- Raditz then neutralizes a kamehameha – the strongest attack from the previous series – with his bare hands. Immediately afterwards, he blasts Goku once and pretty much takes him out of the fight.
- Piccolo and Goku manage to kill Raditz…at the cost of Goku himself. Goku manages to get Raditz in a full nelson and Piccolo blasts his Special Beam Cannon which pierces through both Goku and Raditz. For those of you keeping up at home: The hero/protagonist of the previous series lies dead by the end of the sixth episode…and things are about to go from bad to worse!
- With his dying breath, Raditz explains that the scouter he wears does more than read power levels. It is a two way communicator. Now two more saiyans, both much, much stronger than Raditz, are on their way to Earth.
With Goku dead and two stronger saiyans on their way, what chance do our heroes (or the Earth) have? Time to cue the words that left us in the lurch but had us coming back faithfully week after week:
Stay tuned for the next exciting episode of Dragon Ball Z!
Well that escalated quickly.
If you watched Dragon Ball, these first few episodes were intentionally engineered to shock you to the core. The strong are made weak and there is no light at the end of the tunnel. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200.
Raditz was easily the weakest foe our heroes face in Dragon Ball Z, but his arc’s role in establishing the show’s trajectory is absolutely essential. It perfectly sets up the series by comparison in such a way that fans of Dragon Ball could not help but tune in. This was their show, but all grown up and powered up.
And it was Raditz who set the stage.
The perfect introduction to a series.