Dragon Ball GT was far from perfect, but the Shadow Dragons brought consequences to frequent Dragon Ball wishes
Dragon Ball GT... It’s hard to mention the series without a wave of dislike following swiftly after. Regardless of its reputation, there are definitely a few things from GT that were actually pretty cool — chief among them, the rad Super Saiyan 4 design. However, there’s something else that always stood out from the series, the final arc known as the Shadow Dragon Saga. Though their execution was far from perfect, the Shadow Dragons of GT were a brilliant idea that gave real consequences to the Dragon Balls — the plot device that frequently erased lasting consequences.
Cracked Dragon Balls & the Shadow Dragons
The basic premise of the Shadow Dragon Saga is that, after so frequent usage of the Shenron wishes, negative energy corrupted and cracked the Dragon Balls. Normally, the Dragon Balls were supposed to be used every hundred years or so, allowing the negative wish energy to naturally dissipate, but since the invention of the Dragon Radar, they’d been used far more than they were built for. Thus, when Goku and friends try to summon Shenron to fix the damage from the Super 17 saga, Black Smoke Shenron came out instead.
Rather than granting a wish, Black Smoke Shenron unleashed seven Shadow Dragons — dragon manifestations of each of the big wishes of the Dragon Ball franchise up until that point. Goku and friends had to fight the Shadow Dragons to retrieve the Dragon Balls embedded in each of their forms in order to return Shenron and the orbs to their standard forms. The saga itself was… okay, it didn’t quite stick the landing for a number of reasons, but the concept is brilliant, maybe the greatest idea Dragon Ball GT had to offer.
Consequences from the Consequence Eraser
The idea of villains being born from the overuse of the Dragon Balls is one of the most galaxy-brained ideas I can think of to introduce to the Dragon Ball franchise. Think about it, by the time of the Saiyan and Frieza Sagas, the Dragon Balls were fix-all ways of erasing consequences and collateral damage from the series. This is an oversimplification, of course, the series made this work by putting the Dragon Balls themselves at risk and making the search for them a race against the clock, but it still rings true. The Dragon Balls undid the damage of each saga’s big bad. So to make consequences out of the things that would be used to clean up consequences is absolutely brilliant.
First of all, it’s a strong way to bring the Dragon Balls back as a central part of the plot, coming full circle from the beginning of the series — they journeyed for the wishing orbs and thus began the cycle of using them more frequently than they naturally would be. Second, the consequence-erasers becoming consequences themselves also made the stakes of the saga that much higher — can the Dragon Balls even be used after the battle? And the more important question: should they?
Furthermore, the idea that each Shadow Dragon was a representation of a different selfless wish (save for King Piccolo’s youth wish Shadow Dragon) is such a rich story idea — a villain manifestation of good intentions is some real good ironic tragedy. How do you live with the destruction created by your wish to revive innocents who died in a previous incident? How do you even begin to approach that kind of morality mobius strip?
Dragon Ball Super: Shadow Dragons
The Shadow Dragons as a concept are rife with thematic depth and potential, and like how Broly was brought into the main canon of the series via Dragon Ball Super: Broly, the Shadow Dragons deserve the same treatment. Specifically, a movie would be the best bet to give this concept another chance. The condensed story of a film’s runtime would better serve the Shadow Dragons idea, as you could trim it down to what matters: villains (or even just one villain) created out of the overuse of the Dragon Balls to clean up after other villains.
There are probably too many wishes in the timeline now to make a Shadow Dragon for every single wish in the series, but perhaps an evil, negative-energy-corrupted Shenron motivated by both said corruption and some form of “I will grant your mortal wishes no longer!” logic could rightfully serve the thematic and philosophical potential Shadow Dragon concept. In the context of the history of Dragon Ball (and the history of the Dragon Balls in Dragon Ball), and maybe in the hands of Toriyama as the next Super film following Super Hero, the Shadow Dragons could be something really cool.
Sean Aitchison is a writer and researcher from LA who watches too much anime and knows too much about Sonic the Hedgehog. Follow him on twitter @Sean8UrSon for his work and listen to his podcast, Sonic Podcast Adventure (@SonicPod).