Super Saiyan Goku

Dragonball Z, nu metal and the rise of the online mash-up

In just a few days, on April 5, the world will observe the memory of  singer/songwriter Kurt Cobain, who took his life 20 years ago. As the frontman for Nirvana, he brought muddy, sonic riffs and screaming until your voice was hoarse into the forefront of popular music, influencing every rock band to come after him. But, whereas Nirvana was known to intersperse reserve into their songs as part of their quiet verse/loud chorus formula, the bands that followed in his wake took a more aggressive route. When post-grunge bands like Bush and Live fell off just as quickly as they appeared, they were soon followed by the Korns and Limp Bizkits of the world, establishing the genre we’ve come to know as nu metal. For better or worse, this hyper-masculine fusion of metal and rap/rock ruled the world in the late ’90s and early aughts, celebrating excess in noise and adrenaline.

Also making waves in the years before and after the turn of the millennium was Dragon Ball Z, an anime by acclaimed cartoonist Akira Toriyama, which had just been localized for western audiences. The show, adapted from the popular manga, proved popular in the States, as well, featuring, again, hyper-masculine heroes and villains, excessive screaming and plenty of martial arts-meets-sci-fi violence. In conjunction with the advent of Napster, fans of the show were able to download both nu metal songs and Dragon Ball Z episodes and movies and fuse together the sweaty defiance of western MTV hits with the melodramatic choreographed fighting sequences the show was known for (they just cut out the many scenes of comic relief). With Napster now shuttered, the legacy of the Dragon Ball Z mash-up lives on on Youtube. Perhaps it’s only appropriate to start with the most popular nu metal band of all, Linkin Park.

Though many critics and pop music fans now lament the nu metal wave, it wasn’t too long ago audiences couldn’t get enough of it. Linkin Park’s 2000 debut Hybrid Theory is one of only 20 albums in the past 23 years to go diamond (10 million copies sold) and was also the best-selling album of 2001. The hit single “In the End” became an anthem for the millennial generation, and finds its way into many DBZ montages, including this one:

Though many characters in the show sport spiky hair, this particular character highlighted in the video is Vegeta. In Dragon Ball lore, he is a prince of the endangered Saiyan race, obsessed with his own pursuit of power and besting fellow Saiyan and series protagonist Goku. Though Vegeta and Goku were once mortal enemies at the show’s outset, they’ve since sworn a truce in the interest in preserving their race (though that doesn’t mean their rivalry isn’t revisited every now and then). Despite his royal lineage and his dedication to becoming the strongest warrior in the galaxy, he can never best Goku, fueling his rage even further. How fitting, then, that the song’s chorus echoes the internal strife Vegeta faces throughout the series:

I tried so hard

and got so far

but in the end

it doesn’t even matter

We can see, in both the first and second verse, Vegeta’s mouth synched to bits of the lyrics as if he is singing them himself, suffering one crushing defeat after another. Particularly poignant is the lyric “Remembering all the times that you fought with me” as the camera cuts from Goku’s face to his over the monosyllabic rapping, conjuring all the memories of their bad blood. Fans of the show will recognize the lyrics “Things aren’t the way they were before/you wouldn’t even recognize me anymore” play over the shot of Vegeta grinning during his possession by villain Majin Buu. Finally, during the bridge, once the power chords come back in full effect, Vegeta transforms into a Super Saiyan, waves of light energy rising around him as Chester Bennington returns to wailing. Speaking of wailing, let’s move on to a no. 1 billboard hit with plenty of screaming, “Headstrong” by Trapt:

This particular sequence in the anime shows the end of the Majin Buu saga, with Goku and Vegeta teaming up to defeat the titular foe. The song perfectly suits the animation not only because the characters do plenty of grimacing and howling (which you’ll find plenty of in a nu metal music video), but also because this particular battle features plenty of headbutts, perhaps most notably at 3:14 and 3:26. The heavy chugging of the guitars aligns with each blow delivered, and the video ends with the reverb of the final note fading out as Goku launches the tried-and-true spirit bomb and obliterates Buu into tiny pieces. Let’s move on to tribute video to another series mainstay, Gohan:

Gohan is Goku’s son, who viewers watch grow up from child to teen to adult as he continues his father’s legacy across the series. As is a common theme across these videos, Gohan emits a powerful swirl of energy at the bursting first note of the chorus, but unlike other videos, we get a touching look at his relationship with his father. At the bridge, as Gohan is about to be crushed by his foe (whose name I don’t know, I haven’t seen the film in question), Goku frees him and holds his injured son in his arms as the Evanescence leader singer Amy Lee sings “Frozen inside without your touch/without your love darling/only you are the life among the dead” in their hit single “Bring Me to Life.” On more than one occasion, Goku sacrifices himself for his son (and he is revived just as many times with the power of the dragon balls, which can grant their possessor any wish, including resurrecting the dead), so the words lend themselves to the history the two share. With the help and compassion of his father, Gohan then finds the strength to vanquish his foes.

The list goes on and on, as the breadth of both the series and nu metal tracks is larger than you might think. Even though some of these videos have timestamps from six years ago, I can remember watching similar videos before the days of Youtube through downloads or on sites like ebaumsworld back on my family’s first PC in 2001. I could keep going with analyses, but the amount of DBZ mash-ups are so numerous, dare I say they’re … over nine thousaaaaaaand!

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One comment

  1. I love the connect between nu-metal and overly-masculine shows like DBZ. I was a huge fan of the show when I was in elementary school, and now that you point it out, I was listening to this music along with it. Nu-metal was hyperbolically aggressive much like DBZ. And it seems that as it went away, so did shows like DBZ. It seems to me, judging by what I seem to wake up to every morning, the big craze in anime is in shows about spinning tops. I wonder if music today can speak for it in any way.

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