So, the Boo Saga, right? Generally considered to be when Dragon Ball Z jumped the shark. Everything got weird, nothing was serious, and at the point the main characters make the highest god in the universe look like a weakling, haven’t things gone a bit too far? However, somewhere between my read-through of the manga and a comment that is now lost to the internet, I can a realize something. Maybe Toriyama didn’t just go crazy. Maybe the whole thing was just one big parody of itself. Maybe it was genius. In that vein, I present to you, this article. Part 1 in my two-part series: Maybe the Majin Buu Saga Doesn’t Suck.
One note before we get starated: for the sake of ease, when I refer to the Buu Saga, I’m including the Saiyaman Saga. Both take place around the same time and Buu is really the major villain for that period. The first bleeds in to the second.
Let’s begin with one of the most loathed aspects of this saga–Saiyaman. Most people weren’t hugely supportive of the savior of Earth dressing up in spandex and making ridiculous poses. This represents a break from Gohan’s earlier, quieter persona.
But it isn’t a complete break from Dragon Ball Z’s tone. Dragon Ball Z has always had its more comic elements Even in the darker sagas, the whimsy never completely leaves. The Cell Saga gave us Hercule. But it’s the whimsy of the Frieza Saga that’s really important.
The Ginyu Force is an elite force of killers. Killers who needed to pose at every opportunity. And show you their dance of joy. On a meta-textual level, they were utterly ridiculous and at least mildly scary. Beyond this precedent for mixing whimsy and terror, their existence has interesting implications within the text. Gohan as Saiyaman wants to fight crime. He needs to strike fear into the hearts of criminals. And how do you scare people? By using these intimidating poses, of course. The Ginyus were terrifying and they posed. Posing is therefore terrifying. I know it sounds like I’m stretching, and to some degree I am, but everything that happened on Namek would be very traumatizing to a small boy.
Taking this back to the meta level, I would argue that having Gohan do silly poses serves to point out how over the top the Ginyu Force was. When the reader sees the Ginyu Force’s routines, it’s somewhat normal, since that’s all they’ve ever done. However, this is new for Gohan. Taking an otherwise serious character and making him behave like the outlandish ones shows how truly odd the behavior of those characters is.
Taking this point a bit further, we have the fight between Gotenks and Buu in the Hypebolic Time Chamber. During this fight, Gotenks spends most of his time calling out the increasingly-complicate and silly names of his attacks. During on of his power-ups, Buu attacks and is promptly scolded by the boy for not following the rules. Piccolo seems embarrassed by the proceedings, but isn’t this exactly what every character has been doing throughout the series? The Galick Gun. The Spirit Bomb. The Kamehameha. We know them all. And how many times did anyone get it in the face as they stood kiai-ing? There were a few exceptions, but calling out a funny name and allowing your enemy to power-up were pretty much staples of Dragon Ball Z. This spirit of parody reaches its pinnacle as Buu drinks a shake waiting for Gotenks to finish his complicated attack sequence.
Given the parody0elements evident in this plot arc, is it possible that this saga was simply an affectionate self-mockery? Gotenks vs. Buu is quite obviously parody. Saiyamann is much less obvious, but it mocks, to a certain degree, the more comic elements of the Frieza Saga. If we look at the entirety of the Buu Saga through this lens, having all of the characters out-do the Supreme Kai, having a villain that likes puppies, and even having our heroes turned into candy and eaten is no longer just a series of bizarre plot points. It becomes more cohesive with the wider plot of the series as it becomes more apparent that Toriyama is showing us that he can take a joke. Maybe we were the ones that just weren’t ready to.