This is going to get long. To start, I like them both. I like GT's just a bit more, but I like each enough to grapple with it. I'll go through my thoughts for each, but keep in mind, you can't just talk about the ending itself (i.e. the 28th Tenkaichi Budokai and the last episode of GT). You have to talk about how they treat the characters, how they fit the tone, and the story lines and series that lead up to them.
Here we go.
Basically, I think Z/the manga provides a better ending for Goku's character. If you're looking at the series as primarily Goku's story, then this is the one for you. It takes him full-circle from naive student to master, and if you subscribe to the idea that he spends the last portion of the series battling some serious ennui, Oob finally provides a healthy outlet and a way for him to move on. Piccolo's line, "He looked happy to me ... happier than in long time," is telling.
The ending actually works pretty well across the board. In fact, it's successful in several ways GT's isn't. Everyone who's had a character arc up to this point has completed their development, by and large in a positive way. Piccolo, Gohan, Goku, Vegeta, Kuririn, cameos from multiple characters in the Genki Dama scene, and even the Dragon Balls themselves receive a last hurrah as the deus-ex-machina that saves the day against Boo. And what some may see as being abrupt, I see as being perfectly in-tone with the rest of the series. We get a little time-skip epilogue, and then send everyone on their way, leaving the world open for more adventures. It's a perfectly fitting ending for Dragon Ball.
The only reason I don't totally love this ending (other than maybe liking GT's treatment better personally) is that it leaves one bizarrely glaring thread hanging. One that GT deals with so, so well.
While Z's may be the better Goku-centric ending, this, I feel, is a better ending for the series as a whole.
First off, the negatives:
I've said it twice already, but it's not a better ending for Goku's character. I mean, I certainly get a kick out of it, but it's a little too complete. It, like Z's, provides an answer for Goku's ennui, but it doesn't let him grow as a character in the same way Z's does, and that missing development means it kind of falls flat. It's Writing 101 that you don't kill your main character as a way of providing resolution. While GT doesn't exactly do that, it comes closer than Z.
For many of the other characters (there are exceptions), it doesn't do a whole lot either. There's little development, which would be fine on its own, but by continuing on from Z's stable ending and stagnating, it actually does a disservice. It's bizarre, from a narrative standpoint. Z's final arc provides closure all around and then ends. GT's means we see the same characters come back as background and the series ends without further development. Gohan, Goten and Trunks do little. Pan, who had a bright and undefined future at the end of Z, gets to pal around in the main cast for all of GT, but her development peters out in the Baby arc. Piccolo in Hell isn't something I particularly have a problem with, but it doesn't feel like a necessary development either. Oob -- while, fantastic, he's probably the second or third strongest living being -- is actively disserviced by being sidelined.
GT's beginning also creates some serious narrative dissonance. You have a relatively complete ending in Z with its own 10-year time skip and what is very clearly an open-ended epilogue, only to quickly jump forward another five years, dismiss the finality of what we've just seen, and begin a new arc. Now, we know what was going on behind the scenes (original author ended the series and the studio began a new plot line), but looking at it as its own, entire story, it's some seriously bizarre pacing.
So why do I like it better?
The series isn't called Goku. It's called Dragon Ball. And while some people are probably reading this going, "Well, the title doesn't matter. It hadn't been about the Dragon Balls for a while, etc., etc.", I'm going to tell you you're wrong. The title does matter. The fact that the Dragon Balls (despite their decent send-off in Z, which I mentioned) were sidelined is a problem. The story becomes increasingly ensemble, and these objects are the focal point. The fact that they become a glaring fix-all by the Boo arc is an obvious issue, and the fact that Old Kaioshin even addresses it before the series ends makes Z's failure to follow up on it really, really stand out.
Basically? The Dragon Balls, specifically the role they take on in later portions of Z, are a Chekhov's gun that Z never fires. GT does.
1) Puts the focus back on the Dragon Balls throughout all its arcs.
2) Addresses the over-reliance the cast comes to have on both the Dragon Balls and Goku by removing them. This is a problem for all the characters before it's addressed. Trunks gives it a beautiful send off by talking about how they'll have to rely on their own strength.
Those are necessary things. They make for a better ending thematically (especially the characters having to rebuild the ruined Earth on their own and rely upon themselves until the Dragon Balls return).
GT's ending does a few other things I feel make it a better send-off. Z's ending is in-tone with the series, but GT's recognizes the by-then sweeping and epic nature of the series, and gives it a final arc and final episode ( and arguably whole series) dripping with nostalgia and homages to the past.
Also, there are those character exceptions I mentioned earlier. Bulma gets a better send-off, if only by being more relevant and coming center-stage to reminisce. Vegeta, while his arc was complete at the end of Z, actually gets further development in GT, and is left as the strongest hero on Earth at the end, so good on him. Kuririn gets the best send-off ever and provides probably the single most poignant moment in the entire Dragon Ball franchise. And more than just being good for Goku, Kuririn and Kame Sennin, their little talk at the end is good for the series as a whole.
And, need I say it? It's just a lot more loving and poignant than Z's. It's more final, but it also leaves us with the promise of future adventures, albeit by handing them off to a new generation.
So both are good. Each does certain things better than the other. But at the end of the day, I like my Dragon Ball to end with the Evil Dragons and Goku disappearing. These are my serious thoughts about a silly children's cartoon.
Last edited by Cipher
on Thu Jul 19, 2012 11:35 am, edited 20 times in total.