Dragon Ball Z kickstarted the multi-arc shonen battle manga and anime craze that has continued to this day. It started as a simple comedy manga before escalating into an international phenomenon. However, when looking at the Dragon Ball Z sagas, collectively, one saga stands out as a definite low-point for the action anime saga: the Buu Saga.
While many fans point to the Buu Saga as the weakest saga in the anime franchise, some might have a hard time explaining just why that is. Is the Buu Saga really all that bad? Sure, it has its clear weaknesses, but it also has a great number of iconic moments, introduces fantastic characters and, most importantly, is never boring. So why do fans dismiss the Buu Saga? And should they?
Power Escalation in The Buu Saga
Dragon Ball Z radically escalates power levels throughout the series. The final fight between Goku and Piccolo, which marks the end of Dragon Ball, features fist-fights, super-growth, and flying. This is seen as the height of power. Come the Saiyan Saga, the combined power of Goku and Piccolo barely overcomes the strength of Raditz, the weakest of the Saiyan forces.
From there, every battle escalated the levels of power. By the time the Frieza Saga ends, the ability to destroy a planet proves insignificant compared to Goku and the gang's strength. Even Tien could probably do it, given how his power is enough to hold down Semi-Perfect Cell.
When the heroes reach the Buu Saga, they are absurdly strong. Goku transforming into Super Saiyan 3 creates shockwaves that send tremors through the planet. The human race is completely eradicated halfway through the saga, with the planet is obliterated shortly after.
The problem is that not every character is given enough time to grow strong enough to match the villain's strength. Characters like Piccolo and Tien are rendered almost moot in the plot. Unless you can go Super Saiyan 2, fuse, or end up vastly stronger than Cell, heroes in the Buu Saga are absolutely useless.
The Buu Saga's Pointless Plot Threads
Another huge problem with the Buu Saga is that a lot of the plot doesn't make a difference in the overall story. In the prior sagas, every character and thread ties into the core plot. Piccolo fusing with Kami destroys the Dragon Balls, but also gives Piccolo enough strength to stand up to 17 and Imperfect Cell at a time when no other characters could, which also keeps Goku safe from being killed by the Androids. Cell becoming more powerful also compels Vegeta, Trunks, Goku and Gohan to transcend the limits of the Super Saiyan.
But Fusion ultimately plays a negligible role in the Buu Saga. The series devotes a great deal of focus on Goten and Trunks fusing, yet at no point does Gotenks play a significant role on the plot. Piccolo, in fact, plays a bigger role in holding Buu back than Gotenks does. After all, Piccolo manages to trap Buu in the Hyperbolic Time Chamber, while Gotenks basically just gets beaten by Buu. A lot. In fact, the moment Gotenks matches Buu's power, Gohan returns with his Hidden Potential unlocked. Gohan proves far stronger than Gotenks.
Later on, Goku and Vegeta fuse permanently with the Potara Earrings, only for that fusion to be dissolved once they get fused by Super Buu. In fact, inside Buu, Goku and Vegeta manage to remove Fat Buu from Super Buu's body, which proves far more effective at pushing the plot forward than anything Vegito accomplishes outside of Buu. Again, the fusion leads to a cool fight, but the battle itself does nothing.
It is very telling that Mr. Satan has a bigger influence on the plot of the Buu Saga than Gotenks ever does.
Buu is an Absurd Villain
Compared to Vegeta, Frieza and Cell, Majin Buu is just absurd. Akira Toriyama wrote a hugely powerful character who could not be stopped, but also lacked a motivation to be evil. For the first half of the Buu Saga, Babidi is the real villain, orchestrating everything that occurs. Oddly enough, it's Goku's wit (yes, Goku's wit) that convinces Buu to turn on Babidi.
But once Babidi is done, the Buu Saga becomes far more aimless. Buu no longer has any motivation to cause destruction. All it takes is Mr. Satan convincing him that murder is bad to turn Buu good. Which is why the narrative needs Buu to become the more malignant Super Buu and pure-chaotic Kid Buu.
However, both of these iterations are equally absurd because they have no goal beyond fighting the heroes. As a villain, Buu lacks motivation. Frieza and Vegeta wanted the Dragon Balls to become immortal. Cell seeks perfection to prove his glory and greatness. Even Piccolo wanted to rule the world and grow young again. These are motivations that exist outside of fighting.
What's Good About the Buu Saga?
So far, this has been a critical view of the Buu Saga, but that isn't to say it's actually bad. While Buu might not be the most compelling villain and a lot of the plot points superfluous to the final resolution, what the Buu Saga does right is bring every characters' arc to a satisfying close.
Gohan, who never really enjoyed fighting, is allowed to pursue and succeed at his academic pursuits. For the first time in the series, Gohan is able to flourish without living in Goku's shadow. Vegeta grows beyond the pride and rage that consumed his character since the Saiyan Saga. Even when given the opportunity to return to his old ways, he sacrifices himself for his loved ones in one of the most epic scenes in Dragon Ball history.
Even smaller characters like Piccolo and 18 are given terrific moments that illustrate how far they've come. Piccolo serving as Goten and Trunks' teacher and Dende's adviser illustrates his growth from Dragon Ball. Of course, Mr. Satan goes from a gag character from the Cell Saga to the literal savior of the planet.
This isn't even touching on the new world-building introduced with the Buu Saga, with the Supreme Kai, thousands of years of lore and fusion serving to flesh out Goku's world. Nor is this focusing on the epic series of fights, including a few of the best in DBZ. Goku vs. Majin Vegeta? Vegeta vs. Majin Buu? Super Saiyan 3 Goku vs. Buu? The final battle with Kid Buu? These are some of the greatest moments Dragon Ball Z has ever had to offer.
So, while the Buu Saga never reaches the heights of Dragon Ball Z's prior sagas, it remains an unforgettable entry in shonen anime history.