Tuesday, 2 October 2012

ドラゴンボール/ Dragonball

So then, here is one of the big ones. In any way you can think of – impact, influence, commercial success – Dragonball is one of the biggest manga and anime there have ever been. Animated by Toei between 1986 and 1989, the title has had a direct influence on about every shounen action series that has followed, especially in Jump.

My personal connection to it, however, was minimal. Unlike many of my friends and peers, even those with little interest in anime, I never watched it as a child. I never had satellite TV, and it was not on terrestrial channels, so as with Sailor Moon, I was loosely aware of the phenomenon but not involved in it. Until I decided to start watching from the beginning, my only exposure to Dragonball had been watching one random episode of Z (about Kid Buu), playing some SNES fighting game circa 1995 a friend had imported/pirated and reading the crossover chapter of the One Piece manga. To this day, I have no idea who Vegeta or Trunks are beyond their appearances and basic relationships with the other characters, and know of the likes of Great Saiyaman and Frieza only through seeing pictures, cosplays and the like. Also, having only seen the original Japanese version, I am liable to blink in confusion if I hear Yajirobe sounding like a big barrel-chested guy instead of a brat or Karin called Korin. But I have actually watched all 153 episodes of the original series (plus the two cute animated safety announcements that were made) and consider myself well-versed in Dragonball lore now – if not Z or GT.

The story is well-known – wide-eyed and innocent but immensely strong Son Goku is the guardian of one of the seven dragonballs, which he believes contains his grandfather’s spirit. One day he meets Bulma (‘Bloomer’), a rich, spoiled girl who is nonetheless a genius inventor, and is searching for the seven balls that will grant any wish. And so they set off to find the rest, meeting several friends and adversaries along the way, the first handful of which follow the loose pattern of the companions in Journey to the West until that gets dropped altogether, save for the throwaway final arc of the series inspired by the Princess Iron Fan segment of the story – which gave me an itch to watch the 1940s Chinese animation of it! With help from the wise, perverted and generally awesome Kame-sennin, the group actually manage to complete their quest several times, only for greater and greater threats to face them as Goku and his friends get stronger and stronger, and the need to summon Shen Long with the Dragonballs becomes more and more urgent.

Dragonball’s strength is that like what is arguably its successor, One Piece, it is silly and adorable, but can switch to being serious and moving. Early on, there’s even a meta joke about Dragonball being, after all, a gag manga, and it’s full of jokes about naughty parts, farts, perversion and stupidity. And this suits it very well indeed – to the extent I’m worried about Dragonball Z and its reputation for being over-serious and obsessing over battles with endless charging-up and silly speeches. When I got into anime Dragonball Z was hated for that reason. It will make me sad if the humour and fun is lost, but then again, it makes me sad to know the likes of Yumcha and Tenshinhan – currently on-course to being some of the most powerful warriors ever to have lived – will soon be considered useless weaklings. I like those guys and it’s sad that they will be a joke by the time everyone’s going super-saiyan, especially when in the Dragonball world, a major power-up is as simple as drinking the right magical water. And it would be nice to see Oopa again!

There are numerous arcs in this long series, from initial scuffles with the silly Pilaf to the long, long conflict with the Red Ribbon Army, which I must say outstays its welcome after General Blue’s defeat. There are several tournaments, and the rather pitch-perfect battle with Piccolo Daimaou, which seems like it will drag as it extends into a timeskip, but actually sustains itself though a third iteration of the ‘Tenkaichi’ tournament, especially with the entertainment of seeing Goku grown.

Dragonball is a comedy action series. It doesn’t take itself seriously, and nor should it. It is full of stupid situations and throws in everything it wants to, from invisible men to mecha, from talking turtles to God himself (in unique form, of course). Nowhere else would you find a character like Mr. Popo, who is often cited as a version of a golliwog but is actually one of the best characters in the whole thing, clearly not human, and apparently the second most powerful being in the universe at his introduction – though I’m confused as to why he doesn’t become the next Kami-sama, which was apparently what he was preparing for, but is stuck in a servant role. His dub speaking voice is also not a good decision at all.

There’s not a big leap between Dragonball and Dragonball Z, despite another time-skip – only as much there is between seasons of Ojamajo Doremi, to take another Toei series as an example. Dragonball Z episode 1 aired the week after Dragonball episode 153. But for me, I will take a break from it now, and watch the three Dragonball movies after a while before I start on the mammoth task of getting through Z. I just hope it doesn’t shatter my liking of what is after all a great, silly, uncomplicated and free-wheeling series. I have to say, I’m not optimistic. However, Dragonball surprised me by being great, and actually deserving its immense reputation. So I will have to wait and see.  

Movies: 1 - link
2 - link 
3 - link
4 - link

First impressions, 01.02.08: Watched ep 1 of DragonBall in Japanese. Bulma’s so loathsome. She shoots a little boy in the head wanting to kill him, manipulates him with lies and her sexuality, and the first episode of this monumental landmark series ends with her wetting herself. Nice

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