Before you read any further, let us just say that if you are new to Dragon Ball … you have chosen to get yourself interested in one of the most influential, emotional, and simply fun series ever to be created. Welcome to the Dragon World!
If you are indeed new to Dragon Ball and happen to live in North America, there is a pretty good chance you were introduced to it via FUNimation’s English dub of Dragon Ball Z, previously aired on the cable TV channel Cartoon Network. We will get to that… don’t you worry. For now, let us start from the beginning, shall we?
The Legend is Born
Dragon Ball began as a gag manga (comic) by a man named Akira Toriyama in late 1984. It was loosely based on the Chinese epic, Journey to the West (Xi You Ji, or in Japanese, Saiyūki) which concerned the Handsome Monkey King, Sun Wukong. Sun Wukong had an extending staff (the Ruyi Jingu Bang, or in Japanese, the Nyoi-Kinko-Bō), a technique allowing him to fly on clouds, and many adventures. Sound familiar?
Enter Toriyama and Dragon Ball. The character of Son Goku, along with his staff (the Nyoi-Bō), is based on the legend of Sun Wukong. You might be interested to know that various other popular series and games are based on this same legend. Characters like Son-Son (last seen in the game Marvel vs. Capcom 2, though originally from a prior game), as well as series like Monkey Magic and Gensōmaden Saiyūki, also have their origins in Journey to the West.
On a side note, if you have played games such as Dragon Quest, Chrono Trigger, and/or Tobal, you have seen Akira Toriyama’s character designs at work.
Toriyama’s manga (published in the popular manga anthology magazine, Weekly Shōnen Jump, at the rate of one chapter per week) became moderately popular, and was collected over the course of the series into volumes of about 12 chapters each, called tankōbon. Of course, an animated television show was created from it.
The TV Series
The first Dragon Ball episode aired in Japan on February 26, 1986. The show would air every Wednesday at 7 pm on the Fuji Television network. As the series began on television, the manga release was up to about Chapter 50 (the middle of the first tournament, the 21st Tenka-ichi Budōkai). Due to the comic still being written as the show was airing, Toei Animation (the company responsible for the DB anime) would occasionally create little side-stories, or sometimes even entire story arcs, that do not appear in the original manga. This was done in order to keep the progress of the television show behind that of the manga (or else they would not have a story to work with!). Fans refer to this anime-only material as “filler,” as it “fills” the space between events that do occur in the manga.
The anime version of Dragon Ball (along with the manga) continued, expanding the story and the world in which it took place (generally called the “Dragon World”). As time went on, Toriyama changed the main focus of Dragon Ball from slapstick comedy to a more fighting-oriented style, and the series simply shot off the scales in terms of popularity.
While the manga’s title remained Dragon Ball, the anime title was changed to Dragon Ball Z after 153 episodes and three movies with yet another huge plot twist in the series: Goku’s past was revealed with the landing of his evil alien brother, Raditz.
Dragon Ball Z ran for 291 episodes (plus two feature-style TV specials and thirteen theatrical movies), while the manga concluded after 42 tankōbon (519 chapters, in all).
The Movies and TV Specials
Over the course of the TV series, many theatrical movies were released. These films were released on a schedule of about two per year, designed to fall during the spring and summer vacations from school in Japan. These films were generally short (usually under an hour), and were paired with other movies of a similar nature (at least one, for example, was played along with a Dr. Slump movie, both series being created by Akira Toriyama). It is important to note that these movies are considered “side stories.” That is to say, they do not necessarily fall within the continuity of the series itself, but are “what-if” stories, with numerous characters and situations that exist outside of the ordinary series continuum.
The TV Specials, on the other hand, were designed to expand upon ideas and situations that were mentioned, but not elaborated upon, in the TV series itself. Like the series, these made-for-TV features were aired on Fuji Television, during the run of the saga to which they pertained; each one was twice the length of a normal episode. Unlike the movies, these productions do fit within the series continuity; one, in fact, was based upon a special chapter of the manga (the 2nd DBZ TV special, known as “Trunks: The Story” in the comics). As an aside, this is why the more knowledgeable fans of DB dislike FUNimation’s lumping both the Movies and TV Specials into a single “Feature” category, with no distinction between the two. For more information about both the Movies and TV Specials, visit our “Movie Guide.”
There are several other features that have been released over the years for the Dragon Ball franchise in the form of semi-interactive full-motion-video games, OVA releases, special features, and more. While we will clarify a few of these as we move onwards through the history of the series, you may also want to consult our “Movie Guide” and “Rumor Guide” for additional information.
Also in Japan…
Shortly before the end of the series in 1996, Japan also saw the release of seven (later expanded to ten) major books, called the “Complete Collections,” or Daizenshuu (where this site derives its name!). These books were massive, all-encompassing guides to the series, beginning to end. Several were “TV Animation” volumes showcasing major events (in pictures) from the series, while others had more specific focuses, such as the movies and the TV specials, or color illustrations made by Toriyama for the manga. Much later, starting in December of 2002, the manga began a re-release in a larger kanzenban (“Complete Edition”) format, which completed the series in 34 volumes (as opposed to the original 42). Each volume of this re-release features restored artwork and brand-new cover illustrations by Akira Toriyama himself.
With all the videos and DVDs released of the series in the US, it may come as a surprise that in Japan, only the theatrical movies initially received home releases on VHS (and in some cases, LaserDisc). However, it was announced in the winter of 2002 that Toei Animation would be releasing the entire 291-episode DBZ TV series to DVD, spanning two massive boxed sets. The first of these “Dragon Boxes” (covering episodes 1-147 and the first TV Special) came out in March 2003, while the other set was released in September. The “Dragon Box” for the original Dragon Ball TV series found its release in July 2004, with the Dragon Ball GT set later in June 2005. The final “Dragon Box”, for all of the DB and DBZ movies, saw its release in April 2006.
Japan has also seen numerous releases of other DB-related products over the years, particularly in the area of CD soundtracks. For more information on the vast amount of Dragon Ball-related CDs out there, visit our “Music Database.”
After Dragon Ball Z
Finally, after a stretch of over a decade, Akira Toriyama had finished the series… but Dragon Ball wasn’t dead yet. Toei Animation, the company behind the anime, picked up the rights to do another series. Enter Dragon Ball GT. GT continued the story with Goku being changed back into a child, and originally focused on the comedic factor that was prevalent in the early episodes of the original Dragon Ball. Shortly into the series, however, it became a mix of that comedy and the ultra-hyper battles that Dragon Ball Z was famous for.
Dragon Ball GT ended on November 19, 1997 after 64 episodes and one TV special. It was brought to a rather quick (though final) finish, seemingly due to lower-than-expected ratings. One could justifiably infer that it was “cancelled”, though you will never find such a concrete quote on this from any of the parties involved.
A 10th Anniversary movie was released in 1996. Done in GT-style animation, the movie re-told Goku’s meeting with his original friends (Bulma, Oolong, Yamcha, Kame-Sen’nin, etc.) and his battle against the Red Ribbon Army. This movie, “Saikyō e no Michi” (“The Path to Ultimate Strength“) was the last Dragon Ball theatrical-style animated feature produced up until a ways into the “revival” in Japan (keep on reading), with “Ossu! Kaette Kita Son Gokū to Nakama-tachi!!” (“Yo! Son Goku and His Friends Return!!“) coming out in 2008.
But then there is Dragon Ball in North America.
Dragon Ball Comes to the States
Little do most people know, but the first North American exposure to Dragon Ball was actually in the 1980s by a company called Harmony Gold. At least five episodes were dubbed as a test, and later, DB Movies One and Three were dubbed and spliced together for one large feature presentation (aired as a sort of “Weekend Movie” on television). What is extremely interesting about these dubs is that the original Japanese score was kept in, something that the later American owner of Dragon Ball would not begin doing until 2001. While most character names were changed (Goku = “Zero,” for instance), the dialogue and music were mostly kept intact, and it really was Dragon Ball in America (for more information, please visit Harmony Gold Dub section on “Temple O’ Trunks“). Harmony Gold abruptly discontinued work on the series and eventually lost the rights to the franchise.
In 1994, a company by the name of FUNimation Productions, headed by Gen Fukunaga, acquired the rights to dub into English and broadcast the original Dragon Ball in syndication (which began in 1995) through a connection with an uncle working for Toei Animation, and in conjunction with Josanne B. Lovick Productions, Inc. Actors typically associated with the Ocean Group located in Vancouver, Canada were used (though it was actually all recorded at Dick and Rogers Sound Studio, also located in Vancouver), and thirteen episodes (as well as the first movie) were dubbed. The original plan was to have a full 26-28 episode season completed (which would have brought it to the end of the 21st Tenka-ichi Budōkai), but alas, it was pretty much a flop… most likely due to poor air times. These first 13 episodes (and the first movie) could be found released (censored, only) on home video and DVD by KidMark / Lion’s Gate Films. Since then, FUNimation has gone back and re-dubbed these episodes with their newer cast and the original Japanese score, but outstanding contractual agreements prevented them from releasing this newer English version for this part of the series in North America until over a decade later in 2009.
Even with this initial disappointment, FUNimation hadn’t given up on Toriyama’s masterpiece quite yet.
Dragon Ball Z Begins in the US
FUNimation saw the potential in Dragon Ball Z, and began to dub the second series. Despite mega-early broadcast times in syndication, “DBZ” found its niche with North American audiences. Fifty-three episodes (plus a three-part version of DBZ movie 3) were dubbed by FUNimation and distributed by Saban Entertainment (equaling two seasons) before Saban parted ways with them. During this time (and mostly because it was syndicated) the dub of Dragon Ball Z was held up to highly strict censoring standards by Saban (with the occasional, and not always accurate, scapegoat of the FCC). A full fifteen episodes worth of material were cut from these two seasons. Much of the show’s original appeal was lost (even the issue of death was sidestepped, changed to being simply “sent to another dimension”), but it was still remotely Dragon Ball. These episodes would continue to run in their syndicated time slot for some time, while the show remained in limbo.
During this time, FUNimation signed a deal with Pioneer Home Entertainment to release the first two seasons of the dub on home video and DVD. While still in a state of episode-limbo, FUNimation (in conjunction with Pioneer) dubbed completely uncut versions of the first three Dragon Ball Z movies, and released them on VHS, LaserDisc, and DVD. Not only were these dubs’ dialogue remotely close to that of the original Japanese scripts, but the original Japanese score was used! This production style was a novelty that would remain unseen by FUNimation again until a new “remastered” style release of the series in 2007. These three movies would also be the last products released by FUNimation to feature the voices of the Ocean Group cast.
During the summer of 1998, FUNimation Productions struck up a deal with Cartoon Network (a cable television channel). Cartoon Network would air one episode of FUNimation’s dub every weekday during its popular Toonami time slot (specifically, 5 pm Eastern Time).
And so, on August 31, 1998… Dragon Ball Z made its way into literally hundreds of thousands of new homes, and a massive hit was once again in the making.
For some time, Cartoon Network became the new scapegoat for complaints. All 53 English episodes (plus the edited dubs of the first three DBZ movies) aired over and over. FUNimation had yet to dub new episodes; this is the reason why Cartoon Network could not show Goku fighting the Ginyu Special Force, Goku becoming a Super Saiyan, etc; it just had not been dubbed yet. In all fairness, the majority of people watching the show just did not understand what was going on behind the scenes, in that these 53 episodes were a test… a test to see if the show would become popular enough to warrant the production of more dubbed episodes.
What was a poor company to do? Although they had their market in Cartoon Network’s audience, FUNimation had no more of the show to provide them with; they needed to dub more episodes. Saban had parted ways with FUNimation, which left them without a distributor for the show. No longer able to use the Ocean cast due to logistical issues (being based in Texas with a voice cast in Canada) and lack of funds, FUNimation hired local voice talent in the Texas area, enlisted Faulconer Music Productions to score the music for the new episodes (since they still were not using the original Japanese score; possible reasons range from not being able to afford the rights, to simply wanting the cheaper route… to this day, no one is completely sure except for FUNimation’s executives, many of which are no longer employed), and began the production of new episodes.
FUNimation’s Texas Cast
Shortly before new DBZ episodes were dubbed, FUNimation did yet another test run in 1998 with the dub of Dragon Ball movie 2, “Sleeping Princess in Devil’s Castle.” This was the very first production from FUNimation with their local Texas voice acting group. While the opening and closing themes were those used in the 1995 DB dub, the score within the movie itself was left untouched.
The next year, FUNimation dubbed over fifty new episodes of DBZ for a third season, which aired on Cartoon Network during 1999 and 2000. This third season picked right up where the second season ended, and continued through the end of the Freeza saga, including Goku’s Super Saiyan transformation, bringing it to a close with the resurrection of Kuririn, Yamcha, Tenshinhan, and Chiaotzu.
The final part of the third season, the “Garlic Jr.” filler arc, was aired in the spring of 1999 as a part of Cartoon Network’s Toonami: Rising Sun block, their experimental (and short-lived) Saturday morning line-up.
New DVDs, More TV Seasons
As fans complained that the “uncut” dub and TV-edited versions of the show were not up to par with the Japanese original, FUNimation responded in August of 2000 with the release of their first bilingual series DVDs that included both the English dub and an unaltered original Japanese audio track, complete with fully accurate English subtitles provided by Steven J. “Daimao” Simmons (whom older fans of Dragon Ball on the web will remember from the mid-1990s for his episode guide, and later for his stint on the now-defunct toriyama.org). These DVDs of DB, DBZ, and DBGT continue to be released (and re-released) to fill the void of a completely uncut series collected on DVD. Early on, the discs’ video and overall quality left much to be desired, but each one improved upon the last; any FUNimation DVD released from the latter half of 2001 onwards has few, if any, technical problems (actual video alterations non-withstanding, such as the cropped-widescreen releases of the TV series). For a complete account of what discs are available (and what is on them), visit our “Home Video Guide.”
Time progressed and the show became even more popular. In response, FUNimation began production on the fourth season, which aired in 2000 and 2001. The fourth season brought us from the introduction of Future Trunks, to the Jinzōningen (Artificial Humans, or “Androids”), to the death of Cell. As anticipated, popularity only grew (seeming to peak during this season). A fifth season began in the fall of 2001, and ran through 2002. This fifth season covered the Ano-yo’ichi Budōkai (Greatest-in-the-Afterlife Tournament) through the beginning of the final arc of DBZ, the Majin Buu saga (up until shortly after Buu, himself, is resurrected). The sixth and final season of DBZ aired in fall of 2002, with the last 15 episodes appearing in spring 2003. This effectively completed this series, leaving only a few earlier DVDs to be released to the home market.
The TV Specials, and Dragon Ball Z Movies 4 Onwards
While working on the television series, FUNimation had slowly been making their way through the thirteen theatrical Dragon Ball Z movies, as well as the two DBZ TV Specials. As noted, the first three movies were released in conjunction with Pioneer Home Entertainment pre-1998 with the Ocean Group cast. These later productions were released by FUNimation on its own with their own internal cast. Every single available movie (with the exception of DB movie 1) and TV special has been dubbed and released unedited on DVD with a corresponding Japanese audio track, and they are currently seeing a “Double Feature” remastered release; our “Home Video Guide” outlines these releases on the “DB Movies“, “DBZ Movies“, and “TV Specials” pages.
The English dubs of these releases have been somewhat of a mixed bag. Generally, the dialogue has not been very accurate when compared to the original scripts, though this varies from movie to movie and their respective script writers. DBZ movies 4 and 5 (along with the two TV specials) contained “real” music from American bands, and were heavily promoted as such. Movies 6 and 7 had neither this material nor music produced by Faulconer Productions (instead having techno-ish music done by Mark Menza, who would go on to produce the music for the American DBGT dub). The dub of Movie 8 returned to the “real bands” music formula, for better or worse. No dubbed movies since Movie 8 feature this “real” music, and primarily focus on in-house productions. Note that regardless of the English dub treatment on each disc, just like the TV series, the original Japanese audio track (with its corresponding subtitle translation track) remains intact with little in the way of interference, up to and including the current “Double Feature” remastered releases.
The Original Dragon Ball Revisited?!
With DBZ being such a huge hit (and with its end in sight) it made sense for FUNimation to look into other DB products. Choosing not to move into Dragon Ball GT (not quite yet, anyway), FUNimation announced that they would begin production (again) on the original Dragon Ball television series. To the delight of fans, FUNimation also announced that they would be using the original Japanese musical score for these episodes, unlike their dub of Dragon Ball Z. Before starting work on more Dragon Ball episodes, the third Dragon Ball movie was released in 2000 on VHS (and in 2001 on DVD). The dub contained the original Japanese score in-movie, and had the original Japanese themes as well (although the series itself would use English arrangements of the original songs). Please note that since this movie was produced before the TV series dub, some of the voices (particularly that of Goku, who was voiced by Ceyli Delgadillo rather than Stephanie Nadolny) are different than in the episodes that have aired on Cartoon Network and have been released on home video and DVD.
The first VHS of the new dub of the Dragon Ball TV series was released on 12 June 2001, with episodes 14-16 (picking up where their old 1995 dub left off). However, even the first 13 episodes were re-dubbed, and were aired as a part of a 28 episode test season, beginning on Cartoon Network in August of 2001.
Apparently, the show was enough of a hit to continue production. The second season (episodes 29-53) aired in the spring of 2002, and a third season (episodes 54-101) was shown that fall (and later rerun outside of Toonami on Saturday nights). The fourth and final season (episodes 102-153) was shown during the fall of 2003.
The original Dragon Ball has arguably received the best home treatment thus far from its first release. Although initially the series was only being put out on VHS, FUNimation surprised fans in late 2002 with an announcement that they would be discontinuing their Dragon Ball VHS releases in favor of saga sets on DVD. These two-disc sets were pretty much along the lines of a fan’s “dream DVD” for the time; each set contains around 10 to 15 episodes (and although they are called “boxed sets,” they are actually packaged in a single, standard-size keepcase). Episodes 14-153 have been released in their uncut entirety; the “Pilaf” or “Saga of Goku” episodes, however, remained a mystery until 2009 because of continuing licensing issues with KidMark / Lion’s Gate Films.
In the spring of 2003, FUNimation temporarily skipped past DBZ movies 8-13, and released the 10th Anniversary DB Movie, “Saikyō e no Michi” (re-titled “The Path to Power”) on VHS and DVD. As with the Dragon Ball TV series, the English dub of this feature retained the original Japanese score and vocal closing theme. This was momentous, however, in that the ending theme of this movie was also the opening theme to Dragon Ball GT, and… well, keep reading and you’ll see.
Dragon Ball GT in America
FUNimation began their hype of Dragon Ball GT early in 2003, taking out ads in magazines, and even releasing a special “Behind-the-Scenes” preview for the show on a Fruits Basket sampler DVD.
In a sharp contrast to their treatment of Dragon Ball, FUNimation immediately began taking measures to get special attention with their DBGT release. Months in advance, a new “theme song” was posted on their official site. Much to the dismay of the show’s fans and flipping their treatment of the series right back on its head, it became apparent that FUNimation would be creating their own new themes and musical score for the show, as opposed to using the original Japanese themes and score. Mark Menza, who had handled the musical score for English dubbed DBZ Movies 6 and 7, signed on to do the musical score for the English dub of DBGT. Faulconer Productions was no longer associated with the musical score for the franchise. The new rap-style theme song (affectionately referred to as “Step Into The Grand Tour!“) and new score infuriated many fans, but it was not the last wacky decision out of FUNimation with regards to this series…
The “first” volume of DBGT in America starts with a “Bonus Introduction” to the beginning of the series, and then moves on to episodes 17-19. FUNimation skipped the first 16 episodes of the series, and instead created an additional “flashback” episode (which is English-only) that retells the events of these first 16 episodes. To fans already confused by the music situation for GT, it seemed like a strange move. FUNimation had been stating from the start that we would see Dragon Ball GT as we had never seen it before, but in this case, it seemed like we would not be seeing the first saga of the show at all.
The (apparent) idea behind this decision by FUNimation was that they wanted to get GT going with the action as soon as possible; GT starts out with much more comedy, similar to how the original Dragon Ball began. FUNimation knew for a long time that GT had a bad reputation with fans, and they appeared to be doing everything within their power to overcome these preconceptions about the show.
Fifteen volumes of GT had been released by May 2004, which took us from Japanese-numbered episodes 17 to 64 (the end of the series). Much had been speculated about the fate of the first 16 episodes of GT on both official and non-official sites alike, but FUNimation hesitated for over a month before finally confirming that they would be releasing the first ¼ of the series, but only after the remaining episodes had been released. The beginning of the series would be put out on five DVDs, with the first released in July 2004. They would be referred to as the “Lost Episodes,” despite the fact that they were never “lost” to begin with. It was a strange move from FUNimation, but one that should not have come as much of a shock to those who have followed the company’s relationship with DB through the years.
DBGT began airing on TV in the US on Cartoon Network, and Dragon Ball had completed its TV run from beginning to end. Unfortunately, DBGT’s Cartoon Network run mimicked the DVD release, starting from FUNimation’s English-only recap episode. Cartoon Network immediately began repeating the series from its “true” beginning upon its first run-through, however.
Current and Future FUNimation Plans
FUNimation announced plans in 2003 and 2004 to go back and re-dub the first two seasons of Dragon Ball Z (the full 67 episodes). The Texas cast would be used (with huge advertising campaigns using phrases like “The voices you love” and “The way it was meant to be seen“). FUNimation announced that these “redubs” would be released after all of DBGT has been released. In April 2005, the so-called “Ultimate Uncut Edition” DVDs saw their initial release. Amazingly, the Spanish (Mexican) dub was included (in addition to FUNimation’s re-dub and the original Japanese track) on these discs as an added bonus, which many international fans point to as one of the best dubs the series has received throughout the entire world.
This series of releases was cancelled before the release of the 10th volume in 2006 (leaving off around Piccolo’s death, DBZ episodes 25-27). FUNimation remained tight-lipped for months concerning the fate of a home release of these re-dubbed, uncut episodes. It was not until several months later that a new “Complete Vegeta Saga” (pegged at five discs, though bumped to six for the final retail product) was leaked to online retailer sites. Despite this leak, FUNimation continued to be silent on the issue until overwhelming attention forced them to acknowledge that a new product was coming, and more information would be available soon.
February 2007 saw the release of the first “remastered” boxset of Dragon Ball Z. This release was created by FUNimation from new film stock obtained from Toei Animation, and is ultimately their own, new creation. The film was scanned in at high definition and “remastered” through a series of filters and digital noise reduction, with the most notable “feature” being that while a small amount of “new footage” was gained in the horizontal resolution, approximately 20% of the vertical resolution was cropped and removed to create a faux-”widescreen” (16:9) presentation for the otherwise 4:3 standard resolution of the series. Of note with these sets was the inclusion of an additional, third audio track which consisted of FUNimation’s English voice cast (with occasional re-dubbing on some characters and lines) over the original Japanese musical score. After ten years from the time FUNimation first attempted this type of audio presentation, they once again revisited it, though now with severely divided audiences of varying age and content-preferences. With the “ninth season” complete, FUNimation completed the entire run of the Dragon Ball Z TV series in this format, and while it had divided the involved and attentive fandom, these cheap releases helped FUNimation grow to be the industry leader that it has become, profiting and expanding at a time when long-time licensors and publishers such as ADV and Geneon are being forced out of business.
Midway through releasing the TV series in this new presentation style, FUNimation also began re-releasing the DBZ movies (and TV specials) in the same “remastered” format, but now packaged as “Double Features” (two movies on the same disc). In addition to this, Blu-ray releases complemented the DVD releases, actually taking advantage of the high-definition masters they had created for themselves.
Dragon Ball GT received its own “remastered” release by FUNimation in late 2008 and early 2009 in two box sets, though this release was created from their existing digi-beta masters, rather than any new film stock from Japan. The original Dragon Ball series received the same style of release in 2009, finally including the first 13 episodes in both an uncut original Japanese version, as well as their re-dub from so many years earlier. These are presented in the correct 4:3 aspect ratio, and while minor visual issues are present from the typical FUNimation video treatment, they were considered to be the “best” DVD release FUNimation had done…
… at least until July 2009, when FUNimation announced at their industry panel at the anime convention Otakon, their licensing and forthcoming release of “Dragon Box” sets based on the genuinely-remastered release of the same name from Japan several years prior. The release would begin in November 2009 and span across seven sets. Clearly aimed at “hardcore” fans (and specifically those of the original Japanese version of the show), the packaging would closely mirror the Japanese packaging, would include an 80-page hardcover book with each box, and even default to the original Japanese language track. This set would be the fourth official release of some earlier episodes of the DBZ TV series in North America, would be the second “consistent” release of the entire series, and for many fans, is set to be the definitive release, finally coming to them a full fifteen years after FUNimation first acquired the license to the franchise.
Also in the US…
The anime is not the only aspect of the Dragon World being handled in North America. Viz, a popular comic book company that specializes in Japanese manga, has been releasing versions of the original manga (of both Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z, splitting the series into its TV-series monikers at the break between volumes 16 and 17). Both series were initially released in monthly-comic form, starting in March of 1998, with two chapters per month (this was later upped to three). The monthly releases of the Dragon Ball Z comic ceased with the October 2002 issue, due to Viz’s new release of an American incarnation of Shonen Jump (the magazine in which the Japanese version of DB was originally printed). This magazine is put out on a monthly basis, and at launch contained chapters of DBZ and other popular manga, such as One Piece, Yu-Gi-Oh, and Yuu Yuu Hakusho. The Dragon Ball monthlies continued until early 2003, at which point Viz decided to discontinue all of its monthly comics, in favor of the anthology and graphic novel formats. Both Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z were released in this graphic novel form (which is equivalent to the Japanese tankōbon), and the combined number of both series’ volumes equaled the 42 volumes of the original Japanese version.
Similar to FUNimation, Viz sought to exploit the franchise for its full worth with a series of re-releases and new packagings. Varying levels of censoring appears in their graphic novel versions, carrying over to the omnibus-style “Viz Big” releases in late 2008 (which pack three volumes of the graphic novel style into one, large collection). Hardcover “Collector’s Editions” of the first volumes of both Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z were also released in late 2008, and full box set collections of both series (in the previously-released graphic novel form) were released in February 2009.
For action figures, Irwin Toys initially released their versions of the European Dragon Ball figures, and then moved on to their molds of the highly popular Super Battle Collection DBZ figures from Japan. In 2001, they began their series of original molds for more six-inch characters, including those who had never previously been an action figure (such as Kaiō-sama, Chiaotzu, and Nappa, to name a few). FUNimation also collaborated with Irwin to form “IF Labs,” releasing extremely highly-detailed figures corresponding to each American DBZ movie release. IF Labs also had their hands in the production of Dragon Ball (non-Z) TV series figures. Although Irwin eventually went bankrupt, the production of new and current figures went uninterrupted as the company Jakks Pacific had already picked up Irwin’s lost rights. Production of IF Labs figures continued as well, under the new Jakks/FUNimation partnership named “Giant Ape” (the name being a literal translation of “Ōzaru,” the term for the Saiyan were-monkey form).
In October 2007, Bandai announced it would be returning as the sole licensor and producer of toys for the North American market in conjunction with FUNimation. Bandai continues to release new styles of figures never before released in Japan, including figures based on the Dragon Ball Evolution live-action movie.
Speaking of which…
The Live-Action Movie Becomes A Reality
After years of rumors, semi-confirmations, staff fall-throughs, and incomprehensible nonsense, 20th Century Fox announced in September 2007 that the fabled American-made live-action movie based on Dragon Ball was truly going into production.
Starring Justin Chatwin, James Marsters, Chow Yun-Fat, Emmy Rossum, and others, Dragon Ball Evolution saw a theatrical release in Japan on 13 March 2009, and not in North America until a month later on 10 April 2009. American anticipation ranged all ends of the spectrum, while Japanese anticipation seemed to land more heavily on the negative (or at least simply ambivalent) end. The movie came and went with a whimper, making back around the same amount of money spent to create it in the first place; no solid plans for a sequel have been raised.
Back In Japan, A True Revival Begins…
2003 was not just a big year for Dragon Ball in the USA, it marked the beginning of a resurgence of interest in the series in Japan, as well. This newfound appreciation for Toriyama’s chef d’œvres has resulted in several new releases for the long-completed series, creating something of a revival.
As mentioned much earlier, December of 2002 marked the beginning of the releases for the Kanzenban (“Complete Edition”) format of the manga, condensing the original 42 volumes into 34 (each volume has approximately 15 chapters). Every volume of this re-release features restored artwork (including the color pages as they were printed in Weekly Shōnen Jump), and brand-new cover illustrations by Akira Toriyama himself.
In addition to Budokai being released for the PlayStation 2 (both in the US and Japan, as well as many other countries across the world), Japan saw the release of a brand new, four-volume CD set. Each volume consisted of three CDs (three discs times four volumes = twelve discs), and compiled the entire “Hit Song Collection” series of CDs from the late 1980s and early 1990s, with a few extras (such as later movie ending themes and a few video game tracks). Later in 2003, Columbia also reissued its “Complete Song Collection” for the original Dragon Ball, and brought a BGM collection from 1986 to CD for the first time ever. Japan also saw expensive collections such as the so-called Chōzenshū 13-disc set in 2008, which compiled the “Hit Song Collection” discs, live performances, remixes, karaoke versions, and more.
2003 also marked the first time in Japanese history that the Dragon Ball Z TV series would be released on a home video format. The two massive (and expensive) “Dragon Boxes” each consist of half the series (eps. 1-147 and Special #1, and 148-291 and Special #2, respectively) on a number of DVDs. Each box also contains a special color booklet and a special new action figure, made by Kaiyodo Productions. Despite the hype, it was soon discovered that Toei didn’t exactly “remaster” the video for the series; instead, they used the original TV masters (unlike FUNimation, which does, in fact, work on the video a bit for the American release). Despite the complaints about the “masters,” (which, despite the term, are indeed lovingly restored with a high attention to detail) the DVDs are encoded in progressive-scan, and the audio is much cleaner and clearer than that included on the American DVDs. Additionally, the use of the original TV masters assured that the episodes would be presented exactly as they had aired on Fuji TV, so there would be none of the mix-ups with regards to opening and closing animations, previews, and such that have occurred in overseas releases of Toei productions. As the Japanese have no need for English subtitles in a Japanese-language production, none are included (nor is there an English-language audio track). These DVDs are also strictly NTSC Region 2 (the US and Canada use Region 1), so international buyers should be aware of what they are purchasing ahead of time.
So far, this newfound momentum in Japan has continued into 2009. The Kanzenban manga re-release completed its production and release (including an all-new, full-color, four-page ending to the series!), new video game series (such as the Budokai and Sparking! games) have paved the way on previous- and next-generation systems; “Dragon Box” sets for the original Dragon Ball, Dragon Ball GT, as well as the DB and DBZ movies were all announced and released up through 2009; two new CD sets (a vocal collection and a BGM collection) were released, in addition to the 13-disc set later on…
Perhaps the two biggest pieces of news and revival to come out of Japan were the first new bit of substantial story-based animation in nearly a decade, and the “refreshed” HD airing of the series in Japan.
In 2008, Toei announced that a new DBZ special would air as a part of their Jump Anime Tour. The special, “Ossu! Kaette Kita Son Gokū to Nakama-tachi!!” (“Yo! Son Goku and His Friends Return!!“), is a little longer than a standard TV episode, and takes place two years after the defeat of Majin Buu. While it brings the entire cast together once again with the original score by Shunsuke Kikuchi, an updated digital animation style was used to bring Dragon Ball into the 21st century. Truly showcasing how many decades the series has passed through, the new special was streamed online for free the day after the final stop of the Jump Anime Tour… not only in raw Japanese, but subtitled in several languages (including English). A DVD release of the special was planned for 2009, with Japanese fans needing to send away for a copy of the disc via Jump magazine.
In early 2009, Toei announced that a new “refreshed” version of the DBZ TV series would air on Fuji TV beginning 05 April 2009 (incidentally, that being Akira Toriyama’s birthday). As a part of this 20th anniversary celebration, Dragon Ball Kai would reunite the majority of the original voice cast was being reunited (led by Goku seiyū Masako Nozawa), along with updated sound effects, a new musical score by franchise veteran Kenji Yamamoto, and new digital effects to present the show in high-definition.
Also in early 2009, the entire tankōbon run of the manga received a re-release with stylized cover reversions that at least still keep the original art, itself. It seemed like an odd release considering that the kanzenban was, by all observations, the new “standard” release for the manga, also being referred to in all recent guide books. Speaking of guide books, 2009 also saw the two Super Exciting Guide books; these thin, smaller-sized releases consolidated information from previous guide books with a few new tidbits for good measure.
By all appearances, DB has found itself once again to be an unstoppable force in Japan, with no sign of letting up any time soon.
Although the series is essentially “over” (and has been for over a decade), hints of new productions make fans salivate, with new video games, re-releases of the animation and manga, and varying types of merchandise to hold us over.
Dragon Ball may be over, but it will continue to live on in the hearts of its fans… in our hearts… forever.