Eh, who am I to get all uppity about anime? For years I watched anything and everything, and that included a few episodes of Dragon Ball Z. Looking back, there was a lot of crap. And by a lot, I mean metric buttloads. And by metric buttloads, I mean somewhere in the neighborhood of hundreds. I'd pick up a title and watch the first few minutes, or maybe even the entire episode, and decide to toss it or give it a shot. Naruto was one of the ones that lasted about 2 minutes. In that time, it was quite clear that it was typical of a well-defined genre, replete with stereotypes and cliches. Dragon Ball Z is the same genre. Actually, Dragonball Z might've defined the genre. Another example would be Yuyu Hakusho.
In Japan, these shows and comics target a demographic of a boy somewhere around the age of 14. In my view, it's probably younger. While it may be argued that Japan's school system is heads and shoulders above the American public school system, there's no denying that these shows are for children.
As an aside, I think animation, anime, comics (sequential art), and manga have great examples that show what the mediums are capable of. There are plenty of adults, myself included, who watch/read regularly and, the field is populated with adults of great and varied talent that regularly tell great and varied stories. They are works of consequence and significance. From other things I've written, at least that much should be evident.
Back to Dragon Ball Z and Naruto, anyone can see the animation quality is very poor. Even if it weren't, the writing is poor. It's ultra-simplistic and has no bearing on reality, literally or metaphorically. With Dragon Ball Z, I know all the characters are flat and uninteresting. From what I read about Naruto, the characters are just a bunch of stereotypes.
A friend of mine argued that it promotes training and struggle. True. But does that require thousands of pages and hundreds of episodes? Not hardly. A single one-on-one battle might take 3-5 episodes, and that's just for a minor villain. Dragon Ball Z has no plot. Well, no complicated plot. It all revolves around some villain of the episode/week/arc. Some new flashy attack is learned, and then Earth is saved.
I haven't watched enough Naruto to know what their "training" entails, but I'm sure "flashy attack" training is replaced by "ninja attack" training. I recall reading about a ninja training school in Japan. A real ninja came out to demonstrate some of his skills for a school promotion. That seems like it'd be an important time not to mess up. He ended up embarassing himself and giving up. In short, I'm guessing whatever "ninja attacks" they're learning, there is no real world equivalent, and it may as well be a "flashy attack".
Another show I gave up on was Slam Dunk. It's a show about high school basketball. A single game might take about 4 episodes. One thing that separates Slam Dunk from Dragon Ball Z, though, is that I actually think I learned a good bit about basketball from watching it.
I find it absolutely appalling that a grown person could watch this dreck. It's even more amazing that they try to defend it as having any worth. Knowing it's fluff and admitting as much at least has some acceptance of reality. These shows just tend to spawn apologists. My friend is 23. Another friend is 27 (I think) who also loves the show.
A friend I had when interning loved Dragon Ball Z. He'd tape it every day and wouldn't miss an episode. I pointed out how crappy the animation was, how poorly the fights were choreographed, and how thoughtless the storylines were. The next day he came in and said he couldn't watch anymore. That seems like a rational response.
I guess what this is really about is that it's okay to like Dragon Ball Z and Naruto (and its ilk) when you're a child because you're expected to like childish things. I guess I won't go so far as to say that when you grow up you should cast it aside, but what really bugs me is people who defend it when it's quite obviously crap and they should know better. They are, with a straight face, saying that shows like Dragon Ball Z are great works of art that carry tremendous meaning. It blows my mind.