Akira Toriyama‘s Dragon Ball franchise is one of the most beloved and recognizable anime properties of all time. Its high-octane fights and excessively crazy hairstyles have likely made a fan out of at least one person you know. The franchise’s latest entry recently released in Japanese theaters under the title Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero and will reach western audiences on August 19.

The latest entry in the decades-long story of Son Goku and the defenders of Earth, Super Hero heralds the return of a longtime foe in the form of the Red Ribbon Army. Being defeated by a young Goku in the original Dragon Ball series was only the beginning, as they returned in various capacities throughout the franchise’s media. But what’s the story of the Red Ribbon Army? Super Hero provides an initial montage that somewhat explains their origins, but there’s only so much to be gleaned from the animated film on its own. For new or returning watchers and fans, now seems like the perfect time to take a look at the army and its history before witnessing their return this month.

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Quest for World Domination (Dragon Ball)

Before Goku ever crash-landed on Earth, the Red Ribbon Army already have a sinister reputation. They are believed to be so powerful that Earth’s own military can’t stand against them. Employing a massive plethora of weapons as well as robotics, the Red Ribbon Army is determined to take over Earth by any means necessary. This inevitably leads to their pursuit of the seven mystical Dragon Balls. Once collected, these mystic orbs summon the Eternal Dragon Shenron, who grants his summoner a single wish before departing and scattering the Dragon Balls into hiding once more.

To track down the elusive treasures, Commander Red commissions his Red Ribbon scientists to manufacture a device to detect the Dragon Balls. This “Dragon Radar” is located in the Red Ribbon HQ. The radar’s design is somewhat flawed, but no better alternatives presented themselves at the time. This would change in a flash due to the genius of a young girl named Bulma. At 15 years old, Bulma constructed a portable Dragon Radar after discovering one of the Dragon Balls in the basement of her home, the massive scientific complex of Capsule Corporation. As the heiress to the ubiquitous technological company, Bulma is well-versed with technology and constructed the Dragon Radar to seek out the mystical objects for herself.

At Mount Paozu, Bulma hits a young boy with her car. The boy survives, and was quite unusual in appearance, donning a martial arts gi and sporting a monkey tail. His name is Son Goku, a 12-year-old kid with a fervent love of fighting. Discovering that Goku is in possession of one of the Dragon Balls, Bulma divulges their legend to Goku, and the two agree to find them together. After many adventures, Goku visits Bulma with a request to fix the Dragon Radar, which had been broken on his travels. The two set off to find the Dragon Balls once again. Goku encounters the Red Ribbon Forces while hunting for the Six-Star Dragon Ball, bringing him into conflict with the boxing savant Colonel Silver. Despite his best efforts, Silver is defeated and returns to Commander Red in shame, leading to his execution.

Goku begins to take the fight to the Red Ribbon forces. As the army continues their ventures for the Dragon Balls, Goku intercepts them at every turn. Even the brilliant Red Ribbon scientist Dr. Gero can’t create technology strong enough to stop the determined boy. Goku’s struggle continues, leading to a confrontation with Tao, the world’s deadliest assassin. The vicious martial artist defeats Goku in battle and kills the father of his friend Upa. Goku would have likely met his end as well if not for the Four-Star Dragon Ball protecting his vital point from Tao’s powerful Dodon Ray attack. Vowing to avenge Upa’s father and resurrect him with the Dragon Balls, Goku quests and trains for his next opportunity. Goku battles Tao once more, finally becoming victorious. As Tao grovels for mercy, he attempts a final attack on Goku by throwing a grenade. However, Goku kicks the grenade back, defeating him in earnest. All that’s left was to head to Red Ribbon HQ.

At the headquarters, Commander Black discovers Commander Red’s true motive for gathering the Dragon Balls: To become taller. Black murders Red out of anger and takes control of the Red Ribbon Army, renaming it the Black Ribbon Army. Goku arrives while this occurs and lays waste to the Red Ribbon defenses, ending in a confrontation with Commander Black and his battle robot. After a massive headbutt attack, Goku kills Commander Black, seemingly wiping out the organization for good.

A Dark Future and the Android Menace (Dragon Ball Z)

Several years in the future, Goku learns that he is part of an alien race known as the Saiyans, powerful warriors that destroy all life on planets before selling them. After an attack by his brother Raditz, Goku is killed and spends time in the afterlife, attempting to return to the world of the living before the arrival of two more Saiyans: Nappa and Vegeta, the Prince of All Saiyans.The aftermath of the battle with the Saiyans leaves many of Goku’s friends dead, including the warrior Piccolo. As one half of the creator of Earth’s Dragon Balls, Piccolo’s death caused them to turn to stone. Goku travels to Piccolo’s home planet of Namek, where he hoped to use the planet’s Dragon Balls to wish his friends back to life. On Namek, Goku encounters Vegeta once again, as well as the bloodthirsty galactic tyrant Frieza, who seeks to use the Dragon Balls to gain immortality. Chaos ensues, and Frieza’s immeasurable cruelty devastates the kind-hearted hero. After Frieza murders Goku’s close friend Killin, Goku transforms into a Super Saiyan, the golden-haired Saiyan warrior of legend. The battle between Goku and Frieza rages on, with Goku ultimately killing Frieza and escaping Namek right before its destruction.As Goku began the return trip home, a cybernetically rebuilt Frieza arrives on Earth hell-bent on exacting revenge. However, a mysterious youth arrives, transforming into a Super Saiyan and obliterating Frieza. This warrior’s name is Trunks, and he informed Goku upon his arrival as to why he was there. Trunks is the son of Bulma and Vegeta, hailing from a timeline where the Red Ribbon Army had returned. Dr. Gero survived the downfall of the organization and built two androids to destroy the Earth. Even worse, Goku had died from a heart virus before the androids’ rampage. The defenders of Earth fell one by one until the only fighter left was Trunks, who used a time machine built by his mother to escape to the past.To change the future, Trunks provides Goku with medicine for the heart virus. As he returns to his timeline, the Saiyan youth also provides the date of the androids’ arrival, giving the Z Warriors time to prepare. Two androids did appear, but not quite as expected. The two resemble an old man and a mime. These villains, Android 19 and 20, are not the pair who destroyed Trunks’ timeline. Even stranger, Android 19 is in fact a cybernetic Dr. Gero, who had converted his body into a machine to prolong his life.As the battle begins, Goku falls to his knees in agony, forgetting to take the heart medicine provided to him. He is whisked away to safety in the hope the medicine can still save his life. The remaining fighters may have all perished if not for Vegeta, who arrives as a newly-formed Super Saiyan, crushing Android 20. Dr. Gero flees to his lab, where he seeks to activate Androids 17 and 18, the murderous machines who devastated Trunks’ future. A third unit, Android 16, is also put into action, programmed specifically to kill Goku at any cost. Scoffing at the notion of following orders, Androids 17 and 18 murder Dr. Gero and set out to cause mayhem on their own terms.As the androids wrought havoc and Goku recovered, another threat emerges: Dr. Gero created and released one final android. This creature is named Cell, and he possesses the cells of the opponents Goku had encountered on Earth, assuming their powers. Cell seeks to consume Android 17 and 18 in order to reach his perfect form, and despite the best efforts of the androids, Cell succeeds. Without direction, Android 16 joins the struggle to defend Earth. Cell, ever the dramatist, decides to challenge Earth’s warriors to a tournament he dubs “The Cell Games”. The first bout of the tournament takes place between Goku and Cell, with Goku ultimately bowing out during the fight. The hero states to Cell he can’t defeat the hyper-powered android. In his place, Goku looks to his son Gohan, assuring him that the power hidden within him can defeat Cell. Taking no joy in fighting, Gohan hesitates to use his full strength. However, Cell wishes to goad the boy’s potential out.Attempting to destroy Cell, Android 16 grapples him and planned to self-destruct, killing them both. Unfortunately, Cell breaks free of his grip and blasts 16 into pieces. Cell then creates miniature versions of himself to set loose on the rest of the Z Warriors. Gohan’s rage builds at the sight of the violence, and the disembodied head of 16 speaks to him. The android begs Gohan to unleash his full power and protect the planet he had come to love.[EMBED_YT] crushes 16’s head underfoot, which becomes the breaking point. In an explosion of energy, a tearful Gohan emerges as a Super Saiyan 2. Cell proves to be no match for this new transformation, being hit so hard that he regurgitates the body of Android 18. In desperation, Cell threatens to blow himself up and take the entire planet with him. When all seems lost, Goku uses his Instant Transmission technique and teleports himself and Cell to the planet of King Kai, a deity residing in the afterlife. Cell explodes, killing everyone on the small planet.From a single cell, the monstrous android regenerates himself and returns to Earth with Instant Transmission. The empowered villain cripples one of Gohan’s arms, severely reducing his strength. Gohan loses hope until his father reaches out to him telepathically. Goku believes that Gohan still has enough power to win, and Cell begins charging a solar system-shattering Kamehameha Wave. In response, Gohan fires one of his own. The two energy waves clash, but Cell begins to gain ground. Gohan doubts himself but is assured by Goku to not give up. As the struggle continues, a weakened Vegeta surprises Cell with an energy blast, allowing Gohan to gain the upper hand. Expelling the rest of his energy, Gohan’s Kamehameha annihilates Cell.Using the Dragon Balls, Gohan and the remaining Z Warriors resurrect those who had been killed by Cell. Furthermore, Androids 17 and 18’s detonation devices are removed, allowing them to live as they wish as long as they did so peacefully. Though the Z Warriors wish to resurrect Goku, he elects to remain in the Other World for a time. The kind-hearted Saiyan believes by staying in the afterlife, Earth will finally know peace.Though Androids 17 and 18 return as characters in the sequel
Dragon Ball Super
, the Red Ribbon Army seemingly fades into memory. However, it seems these villains never say die. At the start of
Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero
, the group is resurrected by Magenta, the son of Commander Red. Enlisting the aid of Dr. Gero’s grandson Dr. Hedo, the Red Ribbon Army emerges once more with two new androids named Gamma 1 and 2, unleashing them on Earth. Once more, Goku and his family and friends must stand tall against the resurgent threat that began so many years ago.

 

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