A complex blend of magic, martial arts and mayhem, Dragonball Z was an anime lover’s dream come true. Created by Akira Toriyama, the series began as a Japanese comic book starring monkey-tailed young Son Goku, his adoptive grandfather Gohan, and a group of powerful warriors including Krillin, Yamcha, Tien and Chiaotzu.
By the start of the animated Dragonball Z, Son Goku had grown to manhood, married a woman named Chi-Chi and sired a now-five-year-old son, Son Gohan. This domestic bliss was interrupted when a warrior named Radditz showed up, revealing himself as Son Goku’s brother. Son Goku’s real origin came to light: he was an alien of Saiyan heritage, sent from his homeworld to conquer earth. Son Goku had lost his memory on arrival, and now had little desire for conquest.
Seeing power in Goku’s son, Radditz kidnapped Son Gohan to train him as his own. A “Z warrior” named Piccolo (a former enemy in the comic book) joined with Goku to save his boy. The battle was tremendous, and Goku lost his life, but Piccolo did save Son Gohan. Unfortunately, Piccolo also revealed to Radditz the existence of seven powerful Dragonballs, which, when joined together, would grant the possessor’s wish. Light years away, aliens Vegeta and Nappa overheard Piccolo and plotted to take the Dragonballs for themselves. Meanwhile, a post-mortal Son Goku was trained by King Kai in special spirit attacks, still determined to help his son and friends.
The ensuing battle between Vegeta and the Z warriors was the wrap-up of Dragonball Z’s first series, titled “Vegeta Saga.” Through the power of the Dragonballs, Son Goku was brought back to life, but alas, Piccolo died in the battle. The Dragonballs themselves were native to the planet Namek, and Son Gohan and crew had to travel there to revive their fallen comrades. When Vegeta learned of the balls’ whereabouts, he made his own trip to Namek, setting off the next series, the “Frieza Saga.”
On Namek lived the most powerful warrior in the universe, a being called Frieza. The Frieza Saga consisted mostly of battles with this superpowered foe, with plenty of deaths and revivals. Son Goku’s Saiyan heritage came into play as well. When Freeza made best earth friend Krillin blow up, Son Goku's anger turned him into a Super Saiyan, which in addition to increased strength and power also gave him spiky blonde hair and green eyes. This souped-up Son Goku bested Frieza, thereby becoming the most powerful warrior in the universe. The title didn’t last long, as Frieza’s father rebuilt his son and sent him to earth. Things looked grim, but a new warrior named Trunks arrived and easily defeated both Frieza and Frieza’s father.
When Son Goku returned to earth, he learned that Trunks was actually the future son of two of his teammates, Bulma and Vegeta (yes, the same Vegeta. He changed loyalties, but he was still kind of a jerk). Trunks came back to Son Goku’s day to deliver medicine to cure Goku's heart disease. The warrior would need all his strength, because Trunks also warned the Z warriors about an impending attack by deadly androids. That set up the next season, known as either the “Cell Saga” or “Cell Game.”
A series of numbered androids (Android #17, Android #18, etc.) were created by deranged scientist Dr. Gero, who himself became one of his creations, Android #20. With the advance warning, the Z warriors were able to train and defeat the androids, but Android #20's most deadly creation was still being assembled by the doctor's computers. Through some cross-time plotting, the creation emerged in the present to wreak havoc on Son Goku and crew. The creation, known as Cell, was made from single cells of the greatest warriors in the universe, and by absorbing the bodies of other androids, he became the Perfect Cell.
To Perfect Cell, battle was a game, and he set up a tournament to amuse himself. After a botched battle by the cowardly Mr. Satan, Son Goku took the android on. Goku wasn't much use either, so Son Gohan gave it a go. The younger warrior didn't really want to go all out, but when Perfect Cell turned lethal, Gohan went into a rage that sent him to the next plateau in Saiyan power, the Super Saiyan Stage 2. Much android butt-kicking followed, but Perfect Cell put himself on self-destruct, threatening to destroy the entire solar system. Son Goku teleported both Perfect Cell and himself to a distant location, sacrificing himself to save billions.
Unfortunately, one cell of Cell survived and regenerated itself. Cell resumed his game, and Trunks became the next fatality. With an assist from Vegeta and one mean double Kamehameha, Son Gohan obliterated Cell, then regenerated his fallen comrade Trunks with the power of the Dragonballs. Unfortunately, each set of Dragonballs could only revive each person once, so Son Goku (who already used his one turn) was out of luck. In addition, Goku realized he was a trouble magnet in life, so he decided it would be safer for his family if he protected them as a guardian spirit.
If it all sounds a bit overwhelming, it was, but that was exactly what fans loved about the series. Like most Japanese imports, the violence in Dragonball Z was toned down for the American version, but the series was still no ordinary kiddie cartoon. Like their Japanese counterparts before them, older audiences went nuts for the show, creating a fan base that has survived long past Dragonball Z’s original run.