Time to kick off a run of five chunks of original Dragon Ball that take us through to the end of Goku’s screentime as a child (not including the four Dragon Ball films I’ll tackle later, anyway… or Dragon Ball GT for that matter!) The 22nd Tenkaichi Tournament is where the series really starts focusing on action over comedy and thanks to massive blasts of energy still being rare there is a greater focus on hand-to-hand combat, too… at least in the later fights, sadly this arc is also mired with lots of filler that kills a lot of a pacing, especially in this first half. How badly does that effect things? Let’s find out!
Three years after the Red Ribbon Army incidents and Fortuneteller Baba, Goku must make it halfway across the world to the tournament grounds if he wants to have a shot at winning the 22nd Tenkaichi tournament!
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
Check out that arrogant grin on Tenshinhan… more emotion on his face there then he’ll ever have again…
So along with the tournament arc cliché we get thrown a classic martial arts film cliché as well to kick things off as Master Roshi’s rival the Crane Hermit arrives as his Turtle equivalent is standing outside the grounds. As Krillin and Yamcha, the latter now proudly a Turtle Hermit student, sign up to the tournament they meet the Crane Hermit’s students Tenshinhan and Chiaotzu, complete with Ten acting like a smug git which is always funny given how even in the next arc he quickly switches to stoic and serious martial artist… Anyway, they leave and Goku JUST makes it in time to sign up as well and they all go for a meal. It’s a fun set up for the tournament, and the Qualifying Rounds bear this out as well, with Goku, Krillin, Yamcha and Master Roshi back in his Jackie Chun disguise all easily beat their opponents and get through to the final eight via luck of the draw, as do Tenshinhan and Chiaotzu. Goku beats “King Chappa”, a former tournament winner, with ease while Ten nearly kills super-nice and friendly Nam from the previous tournament arc, just to add an extra wrinkle to the matter.
As for the quarter finals? Everyone is spread out neatly, though this time it’s because Ten tells Chiaotzu to intentionally rig the tournament that way with his psychic powers. So no “weird coincidences” this time! There’s also some funny bits where Goku is the last to pick and gets confused when he’s told he’s No. 8 without drawing, so draws anyway and is amazed they got it right, then Chiaotzu is praised for his fixing of the tournament and celebrates by floating the numbers around himself, leading to Ten freaking out and telling him to stop doing it so blatantly in front of everyone. They both put a smile on my face.
It’s always fun to look back at these earlier arcs, where the Earthling characters are shown to be super-skilled!
The opening contest is Ten and Yamcha and they have a blinder of a fight, with Yamcha looking strong for the first half, at least before his three-eyed opponent deflects his Kamehameha wave simply by tensing his muscles. Not only does Tenshinhan beat Yamcha but he intentionally breaks his leg while he was laid on the floor defeated. He’s just that kind of an arsehole in his debut arc! We then get a bit of comedy as “Jackie Chun” fights Man-Wolf, who is a reverse werewolf in that he turns into a man at the sight of a full moon and is otherwise a… well, Man-Wolf, which means he can’t pick up any girls. This has made him furious with Chun as in the previous tournament Jackie had blown up the moon to stop Goku’s rampage, meaning he’s now stuck as a Wolf forever. Chun plays around with him, showing just how outmatched his opponent is, before defeating him and then as a favour he uses a combination of hypnosis and Krillin’s bald head to simulate the moon and turn him into a sadly rather unattractive man. He’s happy though! It’s top-class Toriyama comedy.
Jackie Chun stops a hidden knife attack before insisting his opponent not be disqualified because it won’t make any difference. That’s how bad-ass he is!
The next round sees Krillin face Chiaotzu, during which two important things happen. Firstly Goku notices Tenshinhan floating in the air to watch the fight and is told that the technique is the speciality of the Crane school (but as I’m sure you know will soon become the norm for everyone in the series!) and secondly Chiaotzu uses the Dodonpa, which leads Goku to confess to killing Tao Pai Pai during the Red Ribbon Army Arc, something that shocks Roshi and Ten, especially as it’s reveal Tao and the Crane Hermit were brothers. Upon hearing the news the Crane Hermit tries to get Chiaotzu to kill Krillin but Ten manages to convince his master to allow him to kill Goku in the ring during the tournament. It all becomes rather moot as Krillin figures out that in order to use the mental power his opponent had been using to keep him in place Chiaotzu had to keep his hands out, so he starts shouting maths problems at him causing him to try to count on his hands and drop the stance. Krillin soon wins. Goku is then paired up with a celebrity fighter who he beats in a few seconds when he thinks his opponent must have been hiding his strength instead of being so much weaker than him, but his display convinces the Crane Hermit that Goku could well have defeated his brother…
I mean, this moment was kind of fun, but doesn’t excuse it needlessly happening…
The biggest bad here is the filler. I’m not talking about Episode 83, where Goku befriends a thief on his way to the tournament, that’s fine for a throwaway thing in the middle of two story arcs, I’m talking about all the filler they added in the MIDDLE of the arc. In the manga the tournament, much like the previous one, was a one-day affair, as these tend to be in martial arts fiction. Here in order to try and stick in some filler they have the tournament start with Ten vs. Yamcha, then break for the day. One match in front of the audience then done? Why on Earth would you schedule that? It gets worse as the next day they have the next two opening round matches… and break for the day! Huh? There was a sort-of entertaining bit where the Crane Hermit breaks into Goku’s room that night and tries to kill him in his sleep, ending in a fight outside that’s broken up by Tenshinhan wanting to do it in the ring, but to have the tournament be one match one day, two matches the next just to add some filler scenes in between kills all momentum and somehow even in a series with so much fantasy just seems unrealistic!
Even Episode 92, where Goku defeats his opponent Pomput is full of filler before the apparent third day of the tournament commences. This may be the arc where things get more fight-heavy, but’s its also the arc where the pacing gets very filler heavy, something Dragon Ball Z continues on in spades, as I’m sure most of you are aware…
Yes, that’s right, Chiaotzu actually fighting hand-to-hand in the main story! It actually happened… Pretty much only the once, but hey…
The opening half of the 22nd Tenkaichi Tournament has a great fight between Tenshinhan and Yamcha and some funny moments in the other three contests but it’s sadly bogged down by far too much filler. Luckily with only three more matches this problem does get dramatically reduced in the next half, but as for these episodes I’m going to have to be a bit harsher than I would’ve thought going in (though the non-filler bits I have no doubt I’ll watch again, for the record…)