Top Review: The Cell Saga Reconsidered by top Blogger

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Top Review: The Cell Saga Reconsidered by top Blogger

In March 2013, I watched and reviewed the Cell Saga as part of my ongoing reviews of each storyline after I finish them. Here's an excerpt of that review:

"I don't get the hype behind the Cell Saga. Perhaps I just don't have the right nostalgia for it, but to me, it seems like a poorly written mess coming from an author who wasn't having fun anymore. Boring and irritating heroes, with boring and irritating villains, having predictable fights with uninteresting outcomes."

I stand by that, for the most part. But what I couldn't have guessed is that just a few months later, during a brief vacation from DBlog, I'd see something that would almost make me stop writing about Dragon Ball forever.

"I quit." Me, circa 2013.

The Cell Saga Reconsidered
or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bug

Look, the Cell Saga is a goddamn mess. If you include the lead-in Artificial Human storyline with Cell into the massive story arc that it truly is, you can find all kinds of structural flaws in it. Even with a solid middle section (when Piccolo and Kuririn take over as the main characters while the Saiyans are off makin' gainz), it quickly falls in quality once the Saiyans take center stage again.

Or does it?

I certainly used to think it did. And maybe it does, at least a little. After all, the infamous Power Creep the second chunk of Dragon Ball suffers from begins when Trunks slices Freeza in half, and then kicks into full speed ahead when Imperfect Cell, having just dined on muggles, mercs Kamiccolo like he's Yamcha in Round 1 of a Tenka-ichi Budokai. It's cheap storytelling, for sure. But it's still storytelling.

Imagine, if you could, a Dragon Ball Z where any shred of dramatic tension is replaced with jokes that even the Pilaf Saga would side eye. Except you don't have to imagine it. Because it exists.

And it's ugly.

In 2013, Akira Toriyama and Toei morphed into a strange beast known only as Toeiyama. And their horrible offspring is 21st Century Dragon Ball Z... or as they've decided to call it (but only after making two whole movies with it), Dragon Ball Super. And it's just not good. Every little flaw in it is systemic: Toeiyama doesn't want to tell a tense Wuxia tale about overcoming an impossible struggle. They want to make lighthearted gags and sell toys.

"But Joshua, you don't understand Super. It's supposed to be funny, like Dragon Ball!"

Except Dragon Ball was more than just gags.
It had heart. 
Complex choices.
 Bittersweet feelings.
And victory against all odds.

21st Century DBZ has...
 Food jokes.
And action figures banging into each other.

I hear you, though. "So you don't like Dragon Ball Super, what's that got to do with Cell?"

The Monster

Freeza is without a doubt Dragon Ball's most iconic villain. He is everything a Wuxia villain should be, and has been copypasted into every Shonen manga and will continue to be ad infinitum. But Cell isn't Freeza. He isn't a calm, cool, fascistic narcissist moving chess pieces around on a board. He's a slasher villain, more akin to the likes of Freddy or Jason than his Dragon Ball forebears. What works about his arc is that he's committed to a single task. His obsessive focus on literally consuming living creatures to become the Perfect monster drives him to take any sneaky, manipulative, and sometimes straight up crybaby tactic at his disposal. He's gross. He's pathetic. He's vile. And he is super fun to watch.

Contrasted with more recent entries into the Dragon Ball franchise, and Cell's disgusting enthusiasm for his own ascension looks like remarkable storytelling pathos. Of course, there's still a litany of nitpicks to have with this story. Plotholes and frustrating protagonists make up the vast bulk of those complaints. But it still feels like Dragon Ball.

It has heart 
Complex choices.
Bittersweet feelings. 
And victory through struggle.
And even plenty of gags.


Yeah, I still gotta give the Cell Saga a 1 out of 3, as per my rating scale. But it's a much softer '1' than it was when I watched it in 2013. Sure, it has plenty of problems: The Artificial Humans lead-in Saga is mostly dogshit, the Power Creep is out of control, the time travel makes no sense, Trunks' timeline makes even less sense, and Gohan is completely out of character during his big moment and the dramatic final battle of this storyline, causing it to end on a wet fart. But whatever. It has laughs, cries, heart pounding action, nail biting tension, some really beautiful looking episodes, a cool villain, and a goddamn killer soundtrack. And what else can you really ask for in your Dragon Ball?

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