15 Annoying Tropes Dragon Ball Z Used More Than Any Other Anime

When it comes to cartoon classics that are obsessed with tropes, Dragon Ball Z is one of the worst offenders. The show checks them off one at a time, including classics like escalation, face turns, selfless sacrifice, and, of course, resurrection. Characters spend entire episodes posing as they fall into another trope trap: the build-up. You may remember DBZ fondly from your childhood, but it is not a show that has held up well.

The pervasiveness of often-embarrassing tropes is definitely part of that. The show looked a bit repetitive when it was brand new, but the analytically-minded modern fan now notices that it’s made up almost entirely of recurring, familiar themes and structures. In many ways, DBZ viewed from a contemporary perspective almost seems like a shrine to all the not-so-favourite shows from your childhood.

  1. Build-Up

The excessive build-up is the trope that Dragon Ball Z is mostly known for, and it’s not hard to see why. Things truly get ridiculous when DBZ surrenders entire episodes to a character charging up for an attack. In fact, when it comes to Spirit Bombs, DBZ has been known to devote multiple episodes to one attack.

It’s hard to feel like your time is being well spent when a single fight takes up four hours of television – especially when half of that time is just characters glowing and yelling at one another. Worst of all, most of the attacks that require all of this build-up end up failing, leading to the next character having a go.

2. Resurrection

Resurrection is a big part of most science fiction and is a particularly notable trope in the universe of superheroes. Some feel resurrection cheapens the effect of a character’s death, while others welcome the chance for more time with their favorite protagonists. Dragon Ball Z turns death into a revolving door with the titular Dragon Balls, which grant anyone who finds them a wish.

The heroes of DBZ frequently bring their friends back to life with this convenient plot device, and although there are some limitations to the wish-making, they later find loopholes around them to keep characters dying and coming back indefinitely.

3. “I Was Just Holding Back!”

Nothing says badass like revealing to your opponent that you were holding back the entire time you fought them. Nothing says poor writing like repeating the same acts everytime your characters battle. Every Dragon Ball Z fight is sure to feature at least one character smugly revealing that they had yet to power up, or remove their weighted clothing, or attained their final form and that they were merely toying with their foe up until then.

Sometimes, this trope gets played for a double when the rival then reveals that they, too, had been holding back, and thus the last hour of combat had been a big waste of everyone’s time.

4. Telegraphing Attacks

One of the most annoying aspects of any show that involves battling, whether it’s brawling superheroes or warring ninjas, is the tendency for characters to telegraph their attacks. Protagonists and villains alike just love to tell their opponents exactly what they’re about to do to them.

Nowhere is this more apparent than Dragon Ball Z, where characters yell the name of their attack before launching into a multi-minute preparation process, which includes a signature pose and plenty of mumbling. It’s easy to defend against an assault when you have a half-hour to prepare your rebuttal.

5. Dropped Plots

Nothing infuriates a dedicated fan base more than dropped plot threads. Fans invest themselves in the storylines of shows so much that anything that is unresolved gnaws at their gut and leaves them feeling utterly disappointed. Dragon Ball Z had a long run with countless dropped plots, including the idea that Saiyans had vulnerable tails, something that was integral to the first arc but dropped entirely by the second.

The Frieza arc introduced the tragic back story of Goku and Vegeta’s home planet, but it just never came up again. Piccolo merged with two different people over the course of the series, and continued to act like plain old Piccolo thereafter.

6. Not Dead Yet

Horror movies are famous for this trope, and it’s helped spawn dozens of Friday the 13th and Halloween sequels. How many times have you seen this act play out: a protagonist thinks they’ve finally won over a villain through lethal force and prepares to celebrate their victory, only to have the bad guy dramatically re-enter the scene, usually via a thrusting hand. Dragon Ball Z uses this trope about five times per fight, and Goku ends up having to “kill” his villains’ dozens of times before they finally stay down.

His fight against Frieza was especially pathetic, with Frieza fighting on even after he accidentally cut himself in half.

7. Escalation

Any show based around superpowers runs into the problem of escalation. Basically, once the power levels start shooting up, it’s hard for them to stop as the story progresses. Dragon Ball Z absolutely drowns in this problem. Its characters’ abilities skyrocket out of proportion, making their early encounters with villains embarrasing and hilarious by comparison. It takes both Goku and Piccolo to defeat Goku’s brother Raditz, but by the next story arc, the bad guys can literally plant and grow henchmen that are each as powerful as Raditz.

Goku going Super Saiyan was the most epic moment of the serious, but it was quickly cheapened by the advent of Super Saiyans 2 and 3. Everything in DBZ got progressively bigger and bigger, and it didn’t always mean better.

8. Convenient Plot Devices

The “convenient plot devices” trope introduced into Dragon Ball Z always served to break the rules of the universe and favor the already overpowered heroes. Senzu beans were a magical fruit that, instead of making you toot, restored an individual to perfect health despite the most grievous of injuries.

When the heroes found themselves pressed for time to get ready for an alien invasion, they discovered a hyperbolic time chamber that granted them years of training time in only a few real-world days. Whatever the plot demanded, DBZ had failed to explain the device to meet the need.

9. Expository Dialogue

The bane of the intelligent TV viewer is overwrought expository dialogue, where TV writers feel the need to hit you over the head with detailed back story. Characters forget where they are and what they’re doing, drop everything to deliver this dialogue in stilted fashion, while everyone else stops to listen and dramatic music plays. Dragon Ball Z plays this trope to ridiculous extremes, as its stars take breaks from earth-shattering combat to breathe heavily and tell each other where they come from and how they learned to shoot lasers from their hands.

Characters can fight to the death one moment and calmly discuss the merits of a planet exploding the next.

10. Chekhov’s Special Move

Chekhov’s Gun is a famous trope that is brilliant when done correctly, but painful when not. It essentially consists of a story element that is introduced early on to help build anticipation – it will always have an obvious and foreseeable consequence later in the plot. Usually, the trick is to delay the gratification of seeing the metaphorical gun go off, but Dragon Ball Z always pulls the trigger right away.

Characters are constantly learning new techniques and special moves, only for the next important battle to hinge on the deployment of said new trick. Goku’s kaio-ken, spirit bomb, and instant transmission are all examples of this.

11. Selfless Sacrifice

A good, selfless sacrifice can be one of the most emotionally devastating moments in the run of a successful TV show. However, it’s something that definitely shouldn’t be overdone. It feels like nobody told that to the Dragon Ball Z show runners. There are so many heroic sacrifices in DBZ that characters practically line up to throw their life away in dramatic fashion for their friends and family.

Of course, this is a universe with magical balls that can restore a person’s life, so the whole sacrifice thing is less a meaningful act of heroism and more like a way to get a quick vacation.

12. No Serious Injuries

Fans hate when protagonists go through seemingly savage fights without suffering any serious injury. Fighting doesn’t get more intense than the bouts featured in Dragon Ball Z, and yet it’s also a victim of the “consequence-free” trope. Characters get blown up, thrown down the mountains, and shot with beams, but rarely do they ever suffer anything requiring hospitalization.

When they do, the show has plenty of convenient plot devices to minimize the risk and keep all of their characters fighting fit.

13. Old=Wacky

Being a creation of Japan and their traditionally respectful culture, one might expect Dragon Ball Z to provide a dignified portrayal of the elderly. They pretty much go in the opposite direction, where every old character is either completely insane, deeply perverted, or both. Goku’s Master Roshi teaches him the Kamehameha attack, but his nose sprays blood whenever an attractive woman walks by.

The ancient and wise King Kai lives on a planet with a talking cricket and a regular monkey. Even Bulma’s father, founder of the Capsule Corp. and supposed brilliant inventor, is portrayed as an absent-minded clown.

14. Superpowered Kids

Nothing takes away from the drama and realism of a series like annoying overpowered child characters. Seeing plucky kids take on their elders is always cartoonish, and Dragon Ball Z again takes things to their utmost extreme. Goku’s son, Gohan, is almost immediately established as potentially the strongest fighter in the show, and he and Vegeta’s later sons, Goten and Trunks, are born with the ability to go Super Saiyan.

By the time Goten and Trunks hit the age of 10, they’re more than capable of taking on Frieza, Cell, and all of the other difficult villains from the show’s previous seasons.

15. Traditional Female Roles

Cartoons from the ’90s were not exactly known for empowering female characters, and while that’s partly a product of the time period, it’s something that really stands out in the 20th century. Dragon Ball, the precursor to Dragon Ball Z, sort of bucked this trend with some strong female characters, but DBZ put all of them right back into traditional roles.

Adventurous Chi Chi and Bulma soon become dutiful mothers, and all of their competence and desire to do anything suddenly disappears. This wouldn’t be rectified until Gohan’s girlfriend, Videl, began joining him on his quests, and the less said about that, the better.

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