The Dragon Ball franchise, in particular the 1989 fantasy martial arts anime Dragon Ball Z, was instrumental in making anime itself a global phenomenon. The popularity of Akira Toriyama’s magnum opus is such that it damn near precipitated an international incident in 2018 when the Japanese embassy in Mexico reportedly issued a letter to the governor of Coahuila, Mexico, to discourage the latter from allowing a public screening of the Dragon Ball Super finale in violation of Toei Animation’s rights (though many public screenings were still held in stadiums, plazas, and parks across the country). Series protagonist Goku has a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon, and in America you’ll be hard-pressed to get any bigger than that — both literally and figuratively. My point is: Dragon Ball is big, and the only characters arguably as prolific in their attachment to the series as Goku, Vegeta, and Piccolo are its villains (which the latter two were when they were initially introduced to the franchise).
In space, no one can hear you scream — but that doesn’t stop an evil-doer from trying. This week, Polygon celebrates all forms of sci-fi villainy because someone has to (or else).
There are obvious fan-favorite Dragon Ball villains: the galactic tyrant Frieza; the bio- android Cell; the amorphous pink incarnation of evil, Majin Buu; maybe even Dr. Gero or Mercenary Tao Pai Pai if you’re talking to an older Dragon Ball fan trying hard to stunt by demonstrating their deep knowledge of the series. That’s not even counting all the new villains and antagonists appearing in Dragon Ball Super, like Beerus, the God of Destruction; Zamasu (aka Goku Black); and the legendary Pride Trooper Jiren. Then there are the innumerable variant reappearances of villains like Frieza and Cell and the reintroduction of Super Saiyan Broly into the series’ canon.
The belabored point: There are a lot of iconic anime villains throughout the course of the original run of Dragon Ball, Dragon Ball Z, the non-canonical anime sequel series Dragon Ball GT, and Dragon Ball Super. And yet, there is one villain in particular who is conspicuously absent from nearly any and all discussions of Dragon Ball’s greatest villains, a villain who — despite being attached to one the most maligned story arcs of Dragon Ball Z — nonetheless stands the test of time as one of the only Dragon Ball villains to date to actually get just shy of everything he wanted.
I am, of course, talking about Garlic Jr., the villain of the 1989 anime film Dragon Ball Z: Dead Zone and eponymous antagonist of the 10-episode Garlic Jr. Saga arc of Dragon Ball Z.
Even if you’re a die-hard Dragon Ball fan, it’s entirely possible that you have no idea who this weird little blue dude is, so here’s some background for the sake of those unaware: Garlic Jr. first appeared in 1989’s Dragon Ball Z: Dead Zone, the first Dragon Ball movie ostensibly set within the continuity of the Dragon Ball Z anime. Directed by Daisuke Nishio, who served as series director for the first 199 episodes of the Dragon Ball Z anime series, and written by Takao Koyama, known for having written for the Dragon Ball series along with other notable anime like Saint Seiya, the film chronologically takes place between the events of Dragon Ball and the beginning of Dragon Ball Z. Garlic Jr. is introduced as the son of Garlic, a malevolent entity who 300 years prior vied for the role of becoming the Guardian of Earth. After being rejected for the role by the previous Guardian, who sensed Garlic’s desire to subjugate the planet, Garlic amassed an army of demons and stormed the lookout in order to take the position by force. Garlic and his followers were defeated and subsequently banished to the “Dead Zone,” a void-like prison dimension (think the Phantom Zone from DC Comics) housed inside a dodecahedron-shaped crystal. The crystal eventually comes into the possession of Garlic Jr., Garlic’s demon spawn and apparent reincarnation, who then swears an oath to release his father and exact revenge on Earth.
Over the course of the film, Garlic Jr. and his followers manage to gather all seven of the Dragon Balls, releasing the eternal dragon Shenron, who then grants Garlic Jr. his wish for immortality. Nearly killing Kami, the then-current Guardian of the Earth, Garlic Jr. is subsequently attacked by Goku and Piccolo, who put aside their grievances with one another to defeat him. In retaliation, Garlic Jr. opens a portal to the Dead Zone, hoping to imprison both his enemies and himself in a desperate bid for a pyrrhic victory. That is, until Gohan, upon witnessing his friends and family in trouble, becomes enraged, unleashing his latent Saiyan abilities and promptly yeeting Garlic Jr. into the Dead Zone himself.
Garlic Jr. is not seen again until the events of the Garlic Jr. Saga, the 10-episode arc that takes place between the aftermath of the Frieza arc and the Trunks Saga. Garlic Jr. is the first of only a few original characters from a Dragon Ball spinoff film to later appear in the anime series, preceding the formal introduction of Super Saiyan Broly into the canon of Dragon Ball Super by 27 years. The arc opens with Gohan, Krillin, Piccolo, and the rest of the so-called “Z Fighters” acclimating back to their life on Earth following their battle against Frieza. Goku, having narrowly escaped from Namek following Frieza’s defeat, is training on a faraway planet in order to learn the instant transmission technique; meanwhile, Vegeta is off searching the universe for Goku so he too can learn how to become a Super Saiyan. The central premise of the Garlic Jr. Saga can be summed up as: “How would the Z Fighters fare if the Earth was under attack and Goku and Vegeta were nowhere to be found?” The answer is: Not well!
Using the power of a malevolent celestial object known as the Makyo Star, Garlic Jr. is able to escape from the Dead Zone and gathers a new group of followers known as the “Spice Boys” to mount an attack on Kami’s Lookout. After beating Kami in combat and imprisoning him in a sphere, Garlic Jr. uses an artifact containing the Black Water Mist, a magical element capable of summoning the evil in people’s hearts and turning them into mindless soldiers, unleashing it upon the surface of the Earth. The majority of the Z Fighters, with the exception of Gohan and Krillin, are transformed into mindless warriors for Garlic Jr. After, the pair proceed to face off against Garlic Jr.’s Spice Boy warriors at Kami’s Lookout, wherein they are joined by Piccolo, who reveals that he is actually immune to the effects of the mist. The battle is a difficult one, as Garlic Jr. is still technically immortal and the power of the nearby Makyo Star only continues to amplify his power. Within striking distance of victory, Garlic Jr. proceeds to use the power of the star to once again open a portal to the Dead Zone to destroy Earth and release his father. All hope seems lost — that is, until Gohan devises a way of destroying the Makyo Star and once again yeeting Garlic Jr. back into the Dead Zone, this time seemingly for good.
Given its status as an anime-exclusive, non-canonical “filler” arc of Dragon Ball Z, its overwrought story padded out across 10 episodes, its egregious reliance on deus ex machina plot contrivances (which are excessive even by Dragon Ball standards), and the aforementioned absence of series protagonists Goku and Vegeta, the Garlic Jr. Saga has an infamous reputation among fans of the franchise. That said, Garlic Jr. still remains one of the only Dragon Ball villains to date (with the exception of Cell) to really come close to killing the Z Fighters, and even then, he still remains the only one to come close to conquering and subsequently destroying Earth, and achieving his ultimate goal of freeing his father while becoming immortal in the process. And it turns out all he needed in order to accomplish these feats was for Goku and Vegeta to coincidentally go on a vacation somewhere far away. While that doesn’t speak very highly of the competency of the superheroic martial artists ostensibly known as “Earth’s Special Forces,” it certainly speaks highly of Garlic Jr.’s impeccable sense of timing.