Hello and welcome back to yet another jaunt though memory lane, and this time we will visit a show that would be difficult for you not to recognise. Throughout the colourful storm of magical girls and giant robots piloted by unhinged teenagers, one particular franchise had managed during the 90’s to plant its flag firmly upon Mount ‘Default-Anime’, long before a certain Pocket-Monster based series had rooted itself into western pop culture. Speaking its name to anyone back then and even now will instantly bring forward mental images of certain spiky-haired individuals and extremely long & dramatic battles. I am of course talking about Dragon Ball Z.
I approach this series with a bit of trepidation, since I know that Aisha loves to Cos-play as Goku, and therefore she must be a Dragon Ball fan. Add this to fact that she’s an Anime girl, and as well all know Anime girls have access to “Mallet-Space”. Thus I must do a good job here, or she’ll probably hit me with a magically produced gigantic mallet or an oversized paper fan while calling me a ‘Baka’. This is an occupational hazard that my insurance simply doesn’t cover.
With that in mind, let’s grab a cloud and fly into this.
Tonight in the first part of this 3-part retrospective we will go back in time again to 1986 to have a look at the show that preceded Dragon Ball Z, and established a lot of its characters. This was, the original Dragon ball.
But before that, let’s go back even further, to 1979. If you are of a certain age (like me), you might remember way back into the early 80’s of another Japanese show that preceded the airing of Dragonball and most other anime. This was a live action comedy adventure named “Monkey”. If you remember this show at all, it is thanks to a rather ‘interesting’ English dub that the BBC had created of it back in 1979. ‘Monkey’ was actually a re-title of a 1978 Japanese TV production of ‘Journey to the West’ (or ‘Saiyuki’ which was its actual title). For those who do not know, Journey to the West was a classic Chinese saga of an enlightened monkey named in the Japanese translation as Son Goku (familiar name, isn’t it?). In the story this Son Goku journeyed west across China with his friends to find sacred texts, and ‘Monkey’ had followed this tale as well.
‘Monkey’ became a cult classic almost instantly In the UK, Japan, and indeed anywhere else it was shown at the time. No doubt this was noticed, and thanks to this newly created demand as well as the creative gears running around in Akira Toriyama’s head, a new manga & anime franchise was about to be born. Little did anyone realize that it would become the most popular series of its type ever made.
Toriyama took Journey to the West, adapted & renamed several of its characters and created a new story concept for a manga. The then renamed ‘Goku’ and his friends were no longer searching for scrolls across China, but were instead hunted out magical ‘Dragon balls’ on a semi-futuristic abstract Earth. Also his main companion was no longer a monk, but instead a blue-haired teenage girl named Bulma.
This was Dragon Ball, which began its life serialised in Weekly Shonen Jump at the end of 1984 and was very successful. So much so, that Toei Animation began production of a Dragon Ball anime a mere two years later in 1986.
I imagine that most people reading this are aware of Dragon Ball Z, and what that anime handled. Many would also be aware of the characters too, and the original ‘Dragon Ball’ was where a lot of them originated. However for the uninitiated, you should know that both shows depicted Goku and his friends questing to find the aforementioned dragonballs in order to have a wish fulfilled, all while facing a selection of foes and battling them with a combination super-powers & martial arts.
The Orignal Dragon Ball had however a charm to it that was unique to it, thanks in no small part to its two main leads:
First we had Goku who was introduced to the franchise as a small child, blissfully unaware of the world at large. He was very much the Goku that viewers would get to know so well years later in the Dragon Ball Z years, but not as burdened by the weight of the world as his older self would become. Blessed with mysterious super-strength and kind regard for others made him an idea hero of the show, while his youthful optimism became the perfect foil for the cynical teenage sidekick that he had soon encountered.
This teenager and our second lead, was Bulma, who some Dragon Ball Z fans might recognize as a supporting character in that show. In the original, Bulma was main cast and was somewhat responsible for the beginning of Goku’s adventure. She had originally set out to collect the dragon balls in order to wish herself a new boyfriend. Her attempts to extort Goku of a dragon ball he had inherited had made up much of the early story of the show, which ultimately led to the pair joining forces. Bulma often acted as the comic relief character, with situations usually involving her in suggestive situations, such as using her underwear as bait and occasional situations involving comic nudity. A lot of this was ultimately edited out of the western version of the show for various reasons. One rather infamous scene had Goku shooting the girl down when she offered to flash certain unmentionables of hers in exchange for his dragonball. Out of politeness, I won’t repeat what he said. Needless to say you won’t see that scene uncut on most networks. It was classic though….
Bulma also served as our guide to the world of Dragon Ball, which was a contrast between the Classical World and a bizarre Future-land where vehicles & whole buildings could be produced from pocket-sized capsules. Bulma’s exasperation at Goku’s lack of this knowledge just added further to the comedy of the show.
Beyond Goku & Bulma, most of the characters that would become well known in the later show were also introduced here, but if I went into all of them we might be here all night. Needless to say, Dragon Ball had an extensive ensemble cast which served it well throughout the run of the whole franchise.
But what could we say about about the show on the whole? Dragon Ball was fairly faithful to the spirit of Journey to the West in that it was very much about travelling out into the unknown to fulfill a quest. Each season of the show presented a new villain or threat in their way, which Goku would ultimately defeat (not really a spoiler…you already know that there’s a sequel.) All of the story arcs was spread out well and paced nicely, making Dragon Ball a very pleasant and enjoyable experience all round.
Needless to say both the Dragon Ball manga and anime went from strength to strength throughout the 80’s and in a rather novel move Goku had actually begun to slowly grow up over time, maturing as a character as time went by. By 1988, with Goku entering adulthood, a new chapter of the story was in the cards as well as a new title.
Dragon Ball came to a graceful end in early 1989, to make way for a new show a few weeks later by the name of “Dragon Ball Z”.
That is where I’ll leave you for now, and kindly ask you check back in a few weeks for the second part of this 3 part retrospective. Next time, please return for the legendary Dragon Ball Z.
Until then….where is your tail?