After the outer space shenanigans of previous box sets, the action in Season 3 of Dragon Ball Z relocates to planet Earth – a chance to hang out at the Kame House and catch up with such lovable supporting characters as Master Roshi and Puar. Erstwhile villain Vegeta comes along for the ride, too, and although he still mutters about world domination every now and then, he now ranks among the good guys.
What’s eating him up, of course, is his deep feeling of inferiority towards Goku. But in one respect at least he’s one up on his fellow Saiyan: he’s got the cuter kid. This we discover when his son, Trunks, descends on the team in a time machine with dire warnings of an apocalyptic future. Sweet-natured and fine-featured, Trunks makes Goku’s son Gohan look like a spud with a hunk of hair stuck to it. Not that Vegeta can take any credit, as he’s not exactly dad of the year.
Trunks’ appearance ushers in a storyline – quite complicated by Dragon Ball standards and shamelessly indebted to the Terminator movies – about a possible future in which mankind is crushed under the heel of homicidal androids. Creations of Doctor Gero’s hidden laboratory, the robots punctually attack, then bewilder the heroes with their brilliance at running away. But they are only the first of several android nemeses, culminating in Cell, a synthetic man bug from the future who drinks people dry with the sting in his tail.
Regular fans will know that the show creators always come up with some excuse to keep Goku out of the fray until the last moment. In this case, he’s laid up with a dicky ticker and spends almost the entire season flat on his back. Even by the usual standards of the show it’s a long time for him to be off the scene, and many viewers might feel that it leaves a gaping Goku-shaped hole at the centre of things. But then again, you might just as well argue that it provides a golden opportunity for the other characters to grab the centre stage. In particular, it becomes very much Vegeta’s show, and anyone who’s grown a bit fed up of Goku’s gentlemanly forbearance with foes will love how ruthlessly the big V crushes all opposition.
It’s also a season particularly rich in villains – the various androids are interesting and sometimes oddly touching characters in their own right. So even with Goku’s absence, the fact that there are so many colourful personalities good and bad in play gives this season the edge on the previous one. As usual, the fights are something to behold. No one else in anime goes through agonies quite like the characters in Dragon Ball, and once seen they stick with you forever. Last season, it was Krillen being impaled on Frezia’s horns. This season, it’s Vegeta getting both his arms broken – and he doesn’t suffer in silence either. The violence is truly shocking, but it doesn’t feel gratuitous because it’s so emotionally resonant and because the animation style is so madly intense and expressive. Speaking of violence, can’t wait for Cell to get his in Season 4. 8/10
A lovely transfer which brings out all the hand-crafted charm of the vintage animation – the fierce, lurid hues, the trembling, twitching outlines. The colours are just as richly saturated as you would wish. Cell looks particularly splendid, with his mottled green carapace and orange codpiece, and there are some lovely tomato reds when a whole bunch of islands get blown up on the last disc. Elsewhere, you can see individual brush-strokes on some of the space backdrops. The audio is clear and resonant, with plenty of body. 8/10