When it comes to cartoon classics that abuse tropes, Dragon Ball Z is one of the worst offenders. The show checks them off one at a time, including classics like escalation, face turns, selfless sacrifice, and, of course, resurrection. Characters spend entire episodes posing as they fall into another trope trap: the build-up. You may remember DBZ fondly from your childhood, but it is not a show that has held up well.
The prevalence of often-embarrassing tropes is definitely part of that. The show looked a bit repetitive when it was brand new, but the analytically-minded modern fan now notices that it’s made up almost entirely of recurring, familiar themes and structures. In many ways, DBZ viewed from a contemporary perspective almost seems like a shrine to all of the least favorite parts of your childhood shows.
Resurrection is a big part of most science fiction, and is a particularly notable trope in the world of superheroes. Some feel resurrection cheapens the effect of a character's death, while others welcome the chance for more time with their favorite protagonists. Dragon Ball Z turns death into a revolving door with the titular Dragon Balls, which grant anyone who finds them a wish.
The heroes of DBZ frequently bring their friends back to life with this convenient plot device, and although there are some limitations to the wish-making, they later find loopholes around them to keep characters dying and coming back indefinitely.
Any show based around superpowers runs into the problem of escalation. Basically, once the power levels start rising, it’s hard for them to stop as the story progresses. Dragon Ball Z absolutely drowns in this problem. Its characters' abilities skyrocket out of proportion, making their early encounters with villains laughable by comparison. It takes both Goku and Piccolo to defeat Goku’s brother Raditz, but by the next story arc, the bad guys can literally plant and grow henchmen that are each as powerful as Raditz.
Goku going Super Saiyan was the most epic moment of the serious, but it was quickly cheapened by the advent of Super Saiyans 2 and 3. Everything in DBZ got progressively bigger and bigger, and it didn’t always mean better.
“I Was Just Holding Back!”
Nothing says badass like revealing to your opponent that you were holding back the entire time you fought them. Nothing says poor writing like pulling that move every single time you have your characters battle. Every Dragon Ball Z fight is sure to feature at least one character smugly revealing that they had yet to power up, or remove their weighted clothing, or attained their final form, and that they were merely toying with their foe up until then.
Sometimes, this trope gets played for a double when the foe then reveals that they, too, had been holding back, and thus the last hour of combat had been a big waste of everyone’s time.
Excessive build-up is the trope that Dragon Ball Z is most famous for, and it’s not hard to see why. Things truly get ridiculous when DBZ devotes entire episodes to a character charging up an attack. In fact, when it comes to Spirit Bombs, DBZ has been known to devote multiple episodes to one attack.
It’s hard to feel like your time is being well spent when a single fight takes up four hours of television - especially when half of that time is just characters glowing and yelling at one another. Worst of all, most of the attacks that require all of this build up fail completely, leading to the next character having a go.