The action heats up as the Tenkaichi Tournament comes to a close, but before anyone can catch a breath, a great evil resurfaces on Earth and plots a deadly takeover!
There are many things going on in the fourth season of Dragonball, beginning with the final stretch of the Tenkaichi Martial Arts Tournament. After having his leg broken by Tien, Yamacha is taken out of the competition, leaving Krillin, Goku and Master Roshi (disguised as kung fu expert Jackie Chun) as the remaining major players for the tournament’s cash prize. Tien is spurred on by his master to compete against Goku, who he believes responsible for his brother’s death. But before the two can do battle, Tien is paired with Master Roshi who recognizes that Tien has great skill, but the evil in his heart prevents him from achieving greatness. Master Roshi throws the fight, denying Tien a victory which sets him down the path of rejecting his evil ways. And yet, that doesn’t stop him from going after Goku with everything he’s got in the final match.
Season four’s major story arc concerns the reappearance of King Piccolo, a creature of pure evil who is seeking out the seven Dragonballs in order to restore his youth. Piccolo is also on the hunt to kill the strongest warriors in the world, lest he be captured again, and sadly Krillin is first on the hit list. This arc proves to be the most extreme set of episodes of the show. Up until now, the series’ tone has been friendly to younger audiences, but Piccolo’s quest for the Dragonballs is filled with darkness and death. Earth’s mightiest heroes are often depicted as being beaten to death or torn apart. The demon’s minions are just as ruthless, killing people just for the fun of it. Despite all the violence, there is little blood and no gore, but seeing Piccolo’s fist punch cleanly through some poor fighter’s chest may be just as bad.
The animation is clearly showing its age and although the packaging notes that the series has been digitally remastered, many frames of animation are still slightly dirty and scratched. In some ways, it is hard to believe this show was originally released in the late 1980s, considering how widely known the series has become. However, the film blemishes are part of the show’s charm, in a way. It is like watching a beloved Looney Tunes short complete with film scratches and sound pops. Frames and particular animation sequences are frequently mirrored and repeated, but considering that the action is often fast and furious, it really doesn’t detract from the experience.
Ultimately, the biggest criticism that can be levied against Dragonball (as well as its sequels) is that there are often a large number of filler episodes that don’t advance the plot. This is especially frustrating when the story really gets going and it slams on the breaks in order to highlight the activities of ancillary characters. And yet, once the story picks up again, it is pretty much forgive and forget. Until it happens again. And it will.