Since the cost of Frieza’s defeat was Namek being reduced to so many lava puddles, team Goku’s top priority is bringing their Saiyan leader back from the afterlife, as it seemed he was trapped on the collapsing planet. But when they gather the Dragon Balls and make their wishes, they find this is not within the Namekian dragon Porunga’s power. There’s no reincarnating anyone who isn’t dead, after all. Instead, Goku’s snuck off under the cover of his presumed demise to get some more training in, and he refuses to return until he’s good and ready.
It turns out a year is more than enough time for a super Saiyan to teach themselves to flash-step. But before Goku can get himself back to Earth, a cyborgified Frieza interrupts his family and friends’ long and well-deserved spell of R and R, with world domination by total destruction still on his mind. And this time, King Cold is coming after the lesser life-forms who beat up his little prince. Even with his dad’s backup though, Frieza’s patched exterior matches the mentality in which he plots his vengeance. Appearing intact and all the more brutal, he’s traumatised, still broken by his near-death experience. So when yet another super Saiyan pops up out of nowhere, as well as knocking Vegeta’s ever-enormous ego, he shocks Frieza just enough to throw him off balance and finish the fight.
The newly-emerged Saiyan in question, a riff on the classic conquering hero with his sword sheathed over one shoulder, could be none other than Trunks. Keeping some more dramatic details hushed, the short story is that he’s come from the future to prevent the rise of a race of androids, which would otherwise leave our protagonists in the dust of their desecrated world, if not holed up underground for survival. This development proved the key to picking up the slack storytelling that tarnished previous Dragon Ball sagas. With the arrival of androids 16, 17 and 18, their steady characterisation far more compelling than the fixated sadists that came before, comes the threaded-in family drama that gives both new and familiar characters a fresh depth of empathy. The flash-forwards to Trunks’ life in the post-apocalypse build on our first impressions of his strength and determination with an expertly judged sense of timing, shading in his tragic valiance and warmth. And this soon rubs off on his allies in Earth’s past.
This story flourishing around its characters, seen through a sci-fi lens that makes exhilarating use of western inspiration by the likes of Alien and Terminator, is injected with the horror elements of both in the tension of their search for an unexpected new enemy. Cell, emptying cities of people with only their clothes left to prove their existence, is an anti-climactic foe when revealed, as flat in his motivations as Frieza ever was (much as we love him). But the camaraderie in the surrounding characters’ wills to defeat him enhances the run-up to Cell’s acquisition of his perfect form, ending this collection on a thrilling enough cliff-hanger to leave us keyed up for the next.
For our review of Series 2, click here.