Dragon Ball’s anime adaption is spotty, to say the least. While the first anime is widely considered the better of the two (and for good reason), Dragon Ball Z is something of a slow-paced mess that struggles with adapting the manga. The series certainly has its highs, but it has massive lows as well.
Which makes fans look back at the original Dragon Ball with a more forgiving eye in spite of its many problems. Several of the issues that plague DBZ actually originated in Dragon Ball, and rather late in the game, at that. According to IMDb, the original Dragon Ball only gets worse as it goes on.
10 Super Kamehameha (7.2)
The episode where Goku charges an attack for half the runtime, “Super Kamehameha” should be one of the 23rd Tenka-Ichi Budōkai’s highlights (and it very much is in the manga,) but its anime adaptation leaves a lot to be desired. Only when it comes to pacing though!
Animation wise, the payoff is fantastic and the moment lands well. The problem is there’s no reason to drag things out so much. Goku’s fight with Piccolo is briskly paced in the manga, where each chapter serves a clear cut purpose, but the anime slows down the fight too much for no discernible reason.
9 The End, The Beginning (7.2)
Dragon Ball’s last episode should be one of the best in the franchise. It should be the moment where audiences ready themselves for the Saiyan arc. Had the anime followed the manga 1:1, Dragon Ball would have ended with Goku defeating Piccolo, a great end for the original series.
As it is, however, Dragon Ball pushes on for five more episodes in a filler arc that adds very little. “The End, The Beginning” is one of the better episodes in the mini-arc, mainly because it has something resembling a strong emotional center, but it’s a lackluster finale that transitions poorly into DBZ.
8 Battle For The Future (7.1)
“Battle For The Future's” biggest problem is dragging the plot out for no reason, which is a common theme among the anime's weaker episodes. Of consequence, this episode sees Goku revealing Piccolo’s identity to the supporting cast, an event that more or less happens in a few pages in the manga. It’s not enough material to sustain an entire episode.
Goku’s fight with Piccolo does technically begin here, which is likely why the episode isn’t rated any lower, but it’s an awkward episode that places emphasis on all the wrong details. It’s a slow opener for the 23rd Tenka-Ichi Budōkai’s best fight, and that in itself is an all-around shame.
7 Goku’s Trap (7.1)
Yet another episode from the 23rd Tenka-Ichi Budōkai, “Goku’s Trap” features Goku entering the now giant Piccolo’s body in order to save Kami. Once again, this is an episode that dedicates too much to an event that’s over and done with rather quickly in the manga.
Worth noting, the 23rd Tenka-Ichi Budōkai is actually when the Z staff began working on Dragon Ball. They were transitioned in shortly before the rebrand, bringing in a much slower pace all around. While there’s nothing wrong with trying to build up certain events, there’s a serious disconnect between the source material and the adaptation.
6 Dress In Flames (7.1)
The first episode of the Wedding Dress mini-arc, “Dress in Flames” is frankly just a boring episode. Not only does it follow the exciting finale of the 23rd Tenka-Ichi Budōkai, but it also does so with noticeably lesser animation quality, weaker direction, and a blander story.
While it’s nice that the anime staff saw fit to try and flesh out the relationship between Goku and Chichi, there is little particularly exciting about watching Goku fly around the world, looking for a way to stop an unrelenting fire. Which sounds ridiculous because that’s actually a solid premise, but the episode doesn’t set it up right.
5 Junior No More (7.0)
The 23rd Tenka-Ichi Budōkai suffers more than any other arc in the original Dragon Ball anime, losing so many climactic moments due to its terrible pace. The episode where Piccolo turns into a giant, this should be a quick, focused episode where Goku fights the larger Piccolo, outsmarts him to save Kami, and then turns the table by the episode’s end.
Instead, the episode really just focuses on Piccolo making himself bigger before some action kicks in, although not nearly enough of it. There’s no logical reason why this episode couldn’t have covered more material, especially since there’s even filler material thrown into the mix.
4 The Fire-Eater (7.0)
The second episode in the Wedding Dress mini-arc may not be the worst, but it’s easily one of the worst. Following up on “Wedding Dress in Flames”’ poor build up, “The Fire-Eater” at least had a chance to remedy what went wrong. Instead, it simply meanders through its runtime, unsure of how to properly proceed.
To its credit, this episode did lend itself well to some last minute world building, but even then it’s nowhere near as good as the Red Ribbon Army arc’s consistently great world building. Not helping matters is just how contrived the plot is, moving along almost purely by coincidence.
3 Outrageous Octagon (7.0)
“Outrageous Octagon” is like a perfect storm of everything that can go wrong in a filler episode. Goku is given a solution that clearly won’t work, Chichi’s only purpose is to learn how to be a good housewife, and Pilaf shows up long after he’s lost his relevance as if to rub salt into the wounds.
If nothing else, the episode at least makes use of a snowy setting, something Dragon Ball entirely ignores after the Red Ribbon Army arc (in the manga, at least.) As an episode of television, “Outrageous Octagon” is frankly boring.
2 Hotter Than Lava (6.7)
“Hotter Than Lava” should by all accounts be one of the better episodes in the series. A filler episode dedicated entirely to Kuririn, Yamcha, Tenshinhan, and Chaozu - There’s fantastic potential here. Not just that, but this episode is meant to parallel Goku’s training with Kami as his friends start to climb to his level (literally).
Unfortunately, “Hotter Than Lava” suffers from horrible placement, taking place right after Goku’s already very long training and right before the start of the 23rd Tenka-Ichi Budōkai. It should be a breather episode, but it’s instead a massive nuisance, blocking audiences from what they really want to see.
1 Terror And Plague (5.7)
Following the Red Ribbon Army arc’s end in the manga, the series immediately transitions into the 22nd Tenka-Ichi Budōkai. Master Roshi tells Goku to go train and that’s that. The series wastes no time in moving its story along. The anime, on the other hand, gives Goku a filler training arc, one that opens with “Terror and Plague.”
An episode that barely resembles Dragon Ball, “Terror and Plague” plays out like a watered down and dumber version of First of the North Star. While that almost sounds cool, the episode is executed so poorly, with lackluster animation and terrible character design for the episode’s villains. Goku’s training lends itself well to filler, but this is a fumble through and through.