In my experience, there is little more frightening than starting a new school, especially at the beginning of junior high. By this time, students have carved their niches into the environment, solidifying previous relationships and blocking themselves from new ones. Cliques form, if they have not already, and suddenly everyone falls into a defining group. If, upon entering, one does not immediately find a place, the hope of that ever changing is minimal. It was this environment into which, at 12, I found myself miserably tossed.
Two weeks in, everything changed. One day in P.E., sitting on my spot on the white tape line that divided the gym, I heard a voice I did not recognize. Turning around, I saw a new girl being introduced to the teacher. Her name was Joanna, and she would become my reason to enjoy school.
Joanna and I bonded immediately, clinging to the new kid status with all our anxiety. Together we discovered many important aspects of life: all night karaoke parties, the joys of Pilipino egg rolls, how to deal with first crushes, and, the factor that started it all- “Dragon Ball Z.”
My love of television exists in stages, and in junior high I only gave Saturday mornings any attention. The three hour cartoon block was worth waking up early for, but no other shows caught my attention. So naturally, I had no idea what Joanna always seemed so intense about when she and my crush at the time would discuss what they only referred to as “DBZ.”
Soon I became interested in “DBZ” myself, and around the same time my brother Tony started watching it. Every afternoon, after school, he would plop down in the living room and immerse himself in the vibrant world of Goku, Vegeta, and company. I, excited to understand some of the premise, would discuss with him aspects I had heard Joanna discuss, and soon had to face the inevitable truth. I was hooked.
I became obsessed. Tony and I made sure that we never missed an episode, and if we had somewhere to be, we taped it. Sometimes, we had to just tape ten minutes or so of an episode, if the show ran into dinner. My father did not find “DBZ” a decent reason to postpone the meal, though we offered many a “rational” argument. Nevertheless, soon I knew the ins and outs of the show as if I had watched it from the beginning… at least of this storyline.
“Dragon Ball Z” is the second in the Dragon Ball trilogy. The first storyline, “Dragon Ball” ran from 1989 to 1995, but I never watched it. In fact, I came in rather late to the “Dragon Ball Z” story line. As it started in 1996, and I began watching in 2000, it had finished almost five sagas (sagas broke the show up into different villains) when Tony and Joanna introduced me to its world. The show features a man named Goku (the star of the trilogy) and his adventures to save Earth. Though fighting enemies is a big part of the show dynamic, the relationships between characters drew me into the story. I was fascinated by the rocky relationship between Goku’s sworn enemy, Vegeta, and Bulma, and I fell completely in love with the boy from the future, Trunks, who ended up being their son. Joanna and I would call each other every night and discuss the show, highlighting every sign of love and exacerbating it beyond reason. We discussed group dynamic and plotline as if we were professional critics. And on particularly interesting days, we would watch the entire show while on the phone together.
“DBZ” was a turning point in my life. I lived vicariously through those characters, dreaming out my every fantasy through over animated expressions and actions. Every dramatized fight or romance inclination kept me glued to the screen, so much so that even the endless episodes of flashbacks could not deter my fascination.
Though I loved the show, much more than the show itself, I remember fondly what it gave me in my own life. That show was about Joanna, and Tony, and my father, and it was about me. Through it Tony and I regained common ground, an aspect that had been slipping from our once super close relationship. Through it I gained a new appreciation for my father, who, though he hated the show tremendously, never kept us from watching it. And most importantly, through it I gained a deeper friendship with Joanna.
When the new episodes of “Dragon Ball Z” died down at the end of eighth grade, we waited hopefully, patiently, then begrudgingly and despairingly for the next installment – “Dragon Ball GT” – to be released. I am not sure whether they ever were; I stopped watching after ninth grade. It just was not the same without Joanna to share it with. After Junior High, we had gone our separate ways- she to Mills, I to Mount St. Mary’s. That might have been the end of our friendship, but I suppose the bonds formed from new kid syndrome, “DBZ”, and a love of egg rolls kept our friendship alive. Twice a year throughout high school we made time to hang out. It was never awkward; we just fell back into old routines, discussing our silly lives in terms of boys and school. We may not have really grown up, but when we were together, it did not seem to matter. Now she is in Oregon, pursuing knowledge, but every once in a while I get to see her.
Now and then, walking through stores, I will catch a glimpse of “DBZ” paraphernalia, and it takes me back. I reminisce about curling up on my bed late at night to discuss the fictional lives of characters based on a Japanese manga, and I reflect nostalgically on how those 2-D beings thoroughly shaped my life and my friendships.