The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 99 – Dragon Ball / Dragon Ball Z

Dragon Ball

Over almost two years I have been writing about anime for On The Box, there is one very big series I’ve yet to cover. Well, consider that amended. Here we take a look at one of the most influential and most popular anime ever made. It was one of the first anime to make it into the mainstream in the west, and it helped to inspire some of biggest anime series around now.

Dragon Ball (sometimes spelt Dragonball), a mixture of martial arts and science fantasy, first began as a manga which ran for 42 volumes between 1984 and 1995, created by Akira Toriyama. It has been adapted into several TV anime, the original series run for 153 episodes between 1986 and 1989; and the much better known sequel Dragon Ball Z running for 291 episodes between 1989 and 1996. There were also other anime sequels and films adapted from it – including the infamous 2009 live-action American movie Dragonball Evolution, one of most widely panned movies ever made.

Set in a version of Earth where all sorts of races are living together, from humans to animals to dinosaurs, in past and futuristic environments, the original Dragon Ball series tells the story of Son Goku. He is a strange boy with a monkey tail, huge strength, and naïve about the rest of the world and other people. Goku meets a genius female inventor called Bulma, who comes across him by discovering that he has in his possession one of the legendary “Dragon Balls”, which Goku got from his late grandfather. Bulma tells Goku that there are seven Dragon Balls in the world and that if you collect them all then you able to summon the mighty dragon Shen Long, who will grant you one wish. Upon this wish being made the Balls turn into ordinary stones for one year and are scatted across the globe.

Goku decides to help Bulma find all the Dragon Balls, along the way meeting friends, enemies, and accidentally agreeing to getting engaged to a young girl called Chi-Chi. Later, Goku meets the great martial arts master Muten-Roshi, the “Turtle Hermit”, who agrees to train Goku in martial arts and even gives Goku a special cloud called “Kinto-Un” to fly around on – although Muten-Roshi does have some problems, namely being extremely perverted when it comes to women.

Over the course of the anime, Goku trains his body to achieve super-human levels of strength under the eyes of Muten-Roshi and other martial arts exponents. He also ends up having to go on several hunts for the Dragon Balls, trying to prevent them from fall into the hands of various villains. Plus Goku and the friends take part in the Tenkaichi Budōkai – “the Strongest Under the Heavens Martial Arts Tournament”.

The sequel, Dragon Ball Z, takes place five years later, with Goku and Chi-Chi married with a four-year-old son named Son Gohan, named after Goku’s late grandfather. However, Goku’s peaceful life is interrupted when a warrior-like being from an alien race called the Saiyans reveals that Goku comes from their hostile race, and that it was supposedly Goku’s job to conquer the Earth. Goku resists, and this leads to further adventures, this time Goku taking is extraordinary martial arts skills into the reaches of outer space.

This anime, Dragon Ball Z especially, was one of the first anime to make it big in the west, the USA in particular. The adventures of Son Goku helped to make anime popular in English-speaking countries when it was first broadcast in 1996, although be it with some censorship for American audiences. Some scenes were considered too violent and graphic for kids, which is a shame because one of the appeals of the anime is its risqué humour. There are some funny moments, even if they might be considered a bit puerile. For example, in the original Dragon Ball series there is a scene where Goku is being spied on by a recurring villain called Pilaf, who plans to use the Dragon Balls to wish for world domination. Goku fails to realise that he is being watched by a hidden camera, but he manages to stop them by unwittingly weeing on it. There is a quick moment where you see Pilaf and his henchpeople looking away in disgust at the sight of urine splashing on the monitor.

Dragon Ball should perhaps be better known for its influence on anime and manga that have since been made. It was originally published in Weekly Shonen Jump, the most popular manga magazine, and has been acknowledged as an influence on manga that later appeared in this magazine, as well as other manga that fit into a similar mould. Dragon Ball was an inspiration for all of the “Big Three” Shonen Jump manga: One Piece (No. 6), Bleach (No. 15) and Naruto (No. 95), some of the most popular anime and manga series ever; and more recently it was an influence on Fairy Tail (No. 52), which began in a rival manga magazine.

Some people do criticise it, like so many of these series, for the slow moving plot at times: namely battles that last for several episodes. However, people still love this anime. New anime films and video games are still being made. It remains hugely popular to this day.

I should also mention that this anime was also subject to the utterly awful American movie Dragonball Evolution which is hated by just about every decent anime fan around, because it doesn’t remain faithful to the original work. It is one of the reasons why future Hollywood adaptations of anime are always treated with suspicion.

Dragon Ball is one of the classics. If you are new to anime, this is one of the series to make a start on.

Dragon Ball, Dragon Ball Z, and subsequent sequels and films are released on Region 2 by Manga Entertainment.