Well, the 2017 football season hasn’t been kind to my Illinois Fighting Illini, as advance metrics show them to be potentially the worst Illini squad since 1997’s winless crew. So I suppose everything old is new again.
You know what else is hitting us again from 1997? The Dragon Ball franchise. For those of you not familiar, it is a Japanese manga/anime series that started off centering around an unusually strong boy named Goku and his quest to collect the seven Dragon Balls, which summon a wish-granting dragon. This premise quickly fades into the background of a lot of martial arts-type fighting, often involving at least one party having spiky hair.
Dragon Ball Z (the sequel to the original Dragon Ball) hit US cable in 1998 and captivated an enormous audience and was, along with Pokemon and Sailor Moon, one of the first anime shows to become widely popular stateside. It was arguably the most influential of those within the medium, however, as it would establish many of the archetypes followed by shounen series for decades to come. What does this mean to you, the non-anime viewer? It means Dragon Ball Z was the show that made the particular anime genre of “cool looking dudes fight each other, take turns powering up and/or revealing abilities, talk about their fighting, resume fighting, rinse and repeat” popular in the US. (Yes, I know about Hokuto No Ken. You are already dead).
For the first time in eighteen years (original Japanese release was in 2015), series creator Akira Toriyama has returned to the world of Dragon Ball to create new original storylines. The English dub of Dragon Ball Super started airing all the way back in January and there’s still a lot left to go.
At the end of the day, our teams are just a bunch of cool-looking dudes that fight each other, power up, yell their attacks, fight more, and then fight again, then talk about how much they enjoy fighting even when the stakes are at their highest and it’s obvious they should be concerned about things other than fighting.
Penn State Nittany Lions - Future Trunks (1st; 9FPV)
So let’s get this out of the way. Penn State doesn’t reeeeeeeally fit in with this conference, yet they’re an undisputed blue blood. Much in the way that Trunks is definitely a character that belongs with Goku and friends in the storyline...even though he’s from the future. Everyone else is thinking about this reality/timeline, while Trunks is more concerned with the timeline from whence he came. Penn State is somewhat concerned with the events of the conference schedule, as they should be, but it’s only in the context of getting to the college football playoff and national title contention. The CFP is to Penn State what destroying the future Androids are to Trunks.
Ohio State Buckeyes - Goku (2nd; 6 FPV)
It had to be Goku. The one character from this show people have heard of that don’t watch it, Goku is the face of this franchise to such a degree that it’s pretty refreshing when it’s not him that lands the decisive blow to an enemy. You know it’s coming. Sooner or later, it’ll all fall to Goku to take up the mantle for the Earth because nobody else is capable of it. Look beneath the surface and there’s plenty to dislike about this guy, but he’s the hero and, like Ohio State come playoff time, he’s got the track record of winning to such an extent that he seems like the only one who ever can.
Wisconsin Badgers - Gohan (3rd)
Ignoring the obvious (that Ohio State is your daddy), Gohan’s a pretty good parallel because he’s like diet Goku, but doesn’t quite have what it takes to come through in the biggest moments. Back in the early 90’s he was but a helpless infant, but he’s grown into a fine young fighter whose latent potential has long since been lauded and who’s been put into so many important spots with an opportunity to prevail. Unlike Wisconsin, however, he actually DID manage to convert one of those opportunities into an honest win to defeat Cell.
Michigan State Spartans - Piccolo (4th)
Piccolo is a fairly calculating character with a bit of a grudge against Goku, and possibly everyone else. With his dubious origin as Goku’s rival and the spawn of the evil King Piccolo, it’s understandable that he’d have a chip on his shoulder. Like Mark Dantonio, his demeanor is usually somewhat stern and serious, and there’s definite resentment towards the inherent power of the Saiyan race whose genetics create strength no amount of training can bestow upon Piccolo. Nevertheless, he’ll routinely punch above his weight class and is one of the few non-Saiyans to regularly hold their own against the strongest DBZ has to offer.
Also, he’s green.
Michigan Wolverines - Vegeta (5)
The somewhat diminutive Prince of All Saiyans is motivated by two things: pride in what he is and a desire to be stronger than Goku. His entire life revolves around these two things, and it’s very apparent by the way he acts when he clearly has the upper hand in a fight. The preening, gloating Vegeta will force those he is defeating to bask in the magnificent power of a true
Michigan Man Saiyan Warrior! Willing to go to incredible lengths to get ahead, whether it be suicidal training or the time that, many years after settling on Earth and fathering a child with one of Goku’s best friends, he essentially sold part of his soul for a chance to gain the power to defeat Goku...while the whole group was in the middle of trying to stop an existential threat to the universe. He proceeded to demonstrate the extent to which he MUST fight Goku NOW by murdering several innocent civilians.
I think what I’m getting at here is watch out for Majin Harbaugh.
Northwestern Wildcats - King Kai (6)
An underappreciated component of Dragon Ball Z, King Kai is very relevant to the plot. Unfortunately, he’s only ever relevant as far as what he can do for the main characters. This is just like Northwestern football in that you only ever view Northwestern by how close they make their losses against the best teams in the conference. Also, he lives on a very small planet, though I haven’t seen many tarps around. His signature technique, the Spirit Bomb, was passed on to Goku, and like Northwestern, it has come close to beating major villains only to fail in the most dramatic ways.
Iowa Hawkeyes - Kami (7)
“Hey, that’s just Piccolo, but grizzled-looking and ostensibly in charge of something!” True, he’s cut from the same cloth, but when Dragon Ball Z starts, he is charged with the task of being Earth’s supreme guardian. He is somewhat of a “wise old sage” type that can still fight a little, and given this setup, he seems like he’ll be important in Dragon Ball Z.
Nope. Fades away well before the end of the
Indiana Hoosiers - Krillin (8)
The extremely short Shaolin monk is one of the most admirable characters on the show in that he is merely a full-blooded human, and yet even as the strength of the enemies escalates to absurd levels, he’s not afraid to go in hopelessly outgunned and do the best he can. Like the Indiana Hoosiers football team, he wasn’t born with greatness imprinted in his genes, but he’ll come out and give it everything he has, usually throwing (Kienzan/Destructo Disk) many times per contest.
I think he’d died three times by the end of Dragon Ball Z.
Maryland Terrapins - Tien Shinhan (9)
Tien is another odd fit in this group. With three eyes, I was tempted to assign him to Illinois, but you’ll see why I didn’t. He starts off as yet another rival, just as Maryland came to us from a rival conference, but moreover he just looks like a fairly yoked turtle. Despite being outclassed by the top of this group, there is one point in Dragon Ball Z where he gathers up his strength and goes to fight a long-horned monster named Cell who he manages to keep at bay for what I can only assume is 60 minutes. This proved as useful as Maryland’s win over Texas was to the Big Ten’s rep.
Hey, this was a stretch, but there’s a character called “Turtle” who is just a big ol’ turtle. At least I didn’t do that.
Nebraska Cornhuskers - Master Roshi (10)
There’s Turtle by the way. Anyway, Master Roshi was a huge part of Dragon Ball, teaching Goku the legendary Kamehameha Wave technique that would become his signature and even fighting against him in the World Martial Arts tournament. When Goku was a boy, Master Roshi was one of the most important fighters in the world.
However, Goku is a man in Dragon Ball Z, and Master Roshi was last particularly important many years ago. Oh, he could definitely still bulk up and give you a fight, 2015 Michigan State, but he’s never going to be the national powerhouse he once was, and he’s fine with that.
Minnesota Golden Gophers - Mr. Satan (11)
No, I’m not calling Minnesota Satan. I’m arguably doing something worse. You see, Mr. Satan’s whole thing is that as far as the public’s concerned, he’s the greatest martial artist to ever live and has saved the world countless times. The reality is that at his current station in life he has yet to accomplish anything or beat anyone of note. However, his swaggering mannerisms and catchy sayings and whole persona have insulated him from criticism. I wonder how much PJ Fleck would pay Ohio State to have the local press convinced it was Minnesota under Fleck’s guidance that defeated Alabama in the 2014 playoffs instead of the Buckeyes.
Purdue Boilermakers - Bulma (12)
Bulma gets a bit of a raw deal in that she’s not recognized for all the things she does that aren’t fighting. She doesn’t fight, actually. She’s an engineer, responsible for much of the important technology in the show, particularly the Dragon Radar device that locates Dragon Balls. Unfortunately, her physical limitations sometimes leave her in less than desirable situations, like being stranded on an alien planet called
New Jersey Namek.
Also definitely got knocked up by Michigan.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights - Chiaotzu (13)
This is an interesting little guy that’s inseparable from Tien and who’s also a bit of an outlier. There’s a lot of backstory to him in Dragon Ball, where he had an arc and everything, just as there’s history with Rutgers in the Big East. However, in Dragon Ball Z, we mostly know him as that guy that blew himself up that one time and it had no effect on anyone else. Sound familiar? Fortunately, someone wished Rutgers back with the Dragon Balls.
Illinois Fighting Illini - Yamcha (14; all the last place votes)
Wearing Orange and Blue, and also laying around being dead. Yep. Yamcha is a punchline in this series. He trains for the arrival of the Saiyans only to be killed by a little green man thing they planted in the ground. He is wished back to life and his girlfriend is no longer interested in him. He later learns that one of the Saiyans responsible for his death marries and has a son with that girlfriend. Then, he goes to help the crew track down the Androids for some reason, only to immediately have this happen:
Come on man