Guess what’s one of the greatest manga and anime hits is in Japan? Well, in case you didn’t read the title, it’s Dragonball, an epic that has spanned a decade of action-packed adventures. It is also one of the greatest marketing successes around, ranging from simple collector cards, to sequels and sequels of Dragonball fighting games, to several OAVs and movies. Being one of, if not the only fan of Dragonball among the directors of JASH1, I happily volunteered (was dragooned) to write an article about the long and exciting saga that is Dragonball.
■ Son Goku
Arguably the greatest fighter in all of the Dragonball universe. He is modeled somewhat after the old Chinese demigod, who was a monkey deity skilled in the martial arts. Goku’s strength, battle prowess, skills, and powers have no equal among his peers. Moreover, he has the soul of an innocent, pure and free from evil (I guess killing isn’t really a sin in the Dragonball realm). He lives to fight, but not for pleasure, glory, or fame. He also doesn’t fight to save the world, though that’s what he usually ends up doing. He fights so that he can perfect himself by pushing himself to the limit and beyond. On the other hand, he’s very much a country bumpkin, who wouldn’t know what a car is even if it ran him over, as it almost does in the beginning of the story. As the saga progresses, we discover why Goku is so inhumanly powerful, why he had a tail, and why his past is such a mystery.
In Japanese, the word Buruma means something like women’s shorts or underwear. She is heir apparent to the Capsule Corporation, a company that creates capsules that will transform into anything, ranging from innocuous items, to cars, and even houses! Bulma also happens to be a mechanical genius, forever designing new things or repairing them. She is, however, sassy and just a bit on the vain side.
Here is a very queer old duck. In the beginning of the Dragonball saga, the Turtle Sage, Mutenroshi is reputed to be the most powerful fighter in the world. Held in awe and respect by all in the martial art world, he is the master of the “Kamehameha” attack, which is a mighty blast of “chi” power (eat your heart out, Ryu). Forever sporting sunglasses and a turtle shell on his back, he is also one of the greatest perverts I’ve ever seen, second only to Urusei Yatsura‘s Ataru Moroboshi.
A midget monk who is Goku’s training partner in the beginning. Consequently, he is Goku’s best buddy, even though they sometimes don’t see each other for years. Eventually, as the saga continues, he grows to be one of the most powerful human fighters, though he’s never a match for any of the main bad guys.
A somewhat short warrior (though a little bigger than Kuririn), his size belies his strength and skills. We first see him in the middle of the series, coming to Earth(?) to investigate the death of one of his henchmen. He is at first a very powerful enemy, and later becomes Goku’s greatest rival. Vegita is aloof, cold, and very proud, and refuses to admit that he is weaker than anyone, which more often than not, results in getting his butt kicked by a very powerful bad guy whom Vegita has severely underestimated.
■ Son Gohan
The first son of Goku, Gohan also rises to become a very powerful warrior, even surpassing his old man in some episodes. Unlike his father, he doesn’t like to fight very much and is more of a scholar than warrior, which is probably due to his mother’s influence. But when push comes to shove, he can fight like the rest of them. Incidentally, Gohan is named after Goku’s “grandfather”, who died when Goku was young.
■ Piccolo Daimaoh/Ma Jr.
Also a powerful warrior (are we seeing a theme here?), this green skinned fighter is also a former enemy of Goku who later becomes one of his closest friends (another theme?). Much later in the series, Piccolo acts as some kind of advisor or something to God in Heaven.
Trunks is the son of Vegita and Bulma. Introduced in the middle of the series, he serves as a catalyst in setting about motions that could change the timeline of the Dragonball universe.
NOTE: This synopsis will be a VERY brief summary of the entire story line, and will highlight only the major points in the series.
In the beginning of the Dragonball story, Son Goku meets Bulma who happens to be looking for the famous Dragonballs, which when all seven are collected, will grant the person any one wish. Along their misadventures, they meet characters like Yamcha (another fighter/thief), Oolong (a shape-shifting pig), and the Kame-sennin (Turtle Sage). It’s here where Goku receives the Kintoun Cloud, a magical cloud that only the pure of heart can ride. It’s also discovered that Goku is a bit of a lycanthrope. When he sees a full moon, he transforms into a very huge and very violent gorilla (we’re talking King Kong proportions here) and can only change back when his tail is removed.
After their first adventure, they separate for a while, and Goku is invited to learn more martial art skills from Mutenroshi, the Turtle Sage, who also taught Goku’s deceased grandfather, Gohan. Here enters Kuririn, a little monk boy who searched the world for the Turtle Saga. They both train together under very unorthodox training methods. They then enter the Tenka-ichi-budokai, where all the world’s greatest warriors compete for a grand prize and title of strongest warrior in the world. In the final round, Mutenroshi, disguised, barely beats Goku, thus winning the grand cash prize which unfortunately disappears at a banquet as Goku’s enormous appetite eats that much worth of food.
Next Goku decides to go search for his grandfather’s memento, the fourth dragonball (a dragonball with four stars within it). During his adventures, he confronts the Red Ribbon Army, and defeats them all single-handedly, much to the shock of all his friends. He also meets the great Karin who increases Goku’s skills through more training.
Three years later, Goku and company meet again at the Tenka-ichi-budokai. They meet with Mutenroshi’s old training partner, the Tsuru-sennin (the Crane Sage) and his number one pupil, Ten Shin Han, a triclops (maybe he’s related to Pai from 3×3 Eyes). In the final round, Ten Shin Han and Goku are left, and though Goku knocks Ten Shin Han out, Goku loses by a great accident.
But the day hasn’t even ended when a new danger arises. Piccolo Daimaoh, a demon who has escaped magical confinement, sends some minion who kills Kuririn and steals Goku’s dragonball. Burning with anger and hungry for revenge, Goku gives chase, only to find he is no match for Piccolo. Beaten to the point of death, Goku is carried by Yajirobei, a tough dude who’ll eat just about anything, to Karin’s place to recover. There Goku drinks a potion that permanently increases his powers several times. With it he defeats Piccolo Daimaoh. But in order to raise Kuririn and others from the dead, Goku is told he must petition God (that’s right, the Almighty Himself) to raise Shen Long, the dragon spirit that resides in the seven dragonballs, and who was destroyed by Piccolo. After successfully bringing Kuririn and others back to life, he stays with God to further train in the martial arts.
Again three years have passed, and the gang meet once more at the Tenka-ichi-budokai. Goku is now a grown man. But also in the competition is Piccolo Daimaoh Jr., offspring of the first Piccolo who wants revenge on Goku. Also here Goku is reunited with Chi-Chi, a girl he met on his first adventure with Bulma searching for the dragonballs. It’s here where he remembers a promise he made back then to marry her, though the concept of marriage is rather murky to the bumpkin Goku. To make it short (too late), the final round consists of Goku and Piccolo Jr. The battle is very fierce, but Goku wins and decides to spare Piccolo Jr.’s life rather than kill him.
It is now four or five years later, and the Dragonball universe is about to take a strange twist. A spaceship lands and out pops Radittsu, who turns out to be Goku’s older brother. Furthermore, Goku isn’t human (well, duh!), but is of a warrior race called Saiyans. It’s also revealed that Goku’s real name is Kakarotto. But when Goku refuses to go with Radittsu, the elder Saiyan sibling kidnaps Son Gohan, Goku’s son. Teaming with Piccolo Jr., Goku manages to save Gohan, but in the process, Goku is killed.
However, instead of going to heaven, Goku is sent to Kaiyoh, a rather comical entity who is more powerful than Earth’s God, to train further. Just in time too, as the next opponent is Vegita, who comes to Earth to find out what happened to Radittsu. Resurrected by the dragonballs, Goku rushes as fast as he can to confront Vegita. But he comes a little too late, as most of the other fighters (Piccolo Jr., Ten Shin Han, and Yamcha) are killed. But with the help of Gohan and Kuririn, Goku finally defeats Vegita, and again decides to spare his life and let him escape.
The question now arises of how to resurrect the dead fighters. Piccolo was somehow connected with God, and with his death, God also disappeared, and thus the dragonballs ceased to function. The answer lies on the planet Namekk, the planet where Piccolo owes his origins (did you really think he was from Earth?). Bulma, Gohan and Kuririn travel there as Goku slowly recovers in a hospital. However, Vegita also heads for Namekk after recuperating, but this time a greater threat has arisen. A mighty being named Freezer also seeks the dragonballs. Goku, after healing all his grievous wounds, sets off for Namekk and in the mean time, practices his skills under heavy gravity (up to 100 times normal gravity). Goku arrives in time to save his friends and Vegita from some nasty minions, but is beat up himself. The rest gather up the seven dragonballs of this world (they get three wishes) and wish Piccolo back to life, thus bringing Earth’s God into re-existence. But the resulting fight with Freezer is costly as Vegita and Kuririn is killed. Goku, who has entered into the fight, goes berserk with rage and transforms into the Super Saiyajin (Super Saiyan). With the others wished back to Earth, Goku battles Freezer to the death, but the end results in the destruction of the planet Namekk.
On Earth, the dead fighters are wished back to life, except Goku, who didn’t die as everyone else thought. Luckily, Goku found a spaceship just in time and escapes destruction. But before returning immediately, he zooms off to planet Yardratt to learn the skill Shunkanidou, which is basically a teleportation skill. Enter into the scene Trunks, son of Vegita and Bulma, who has arrived from a bleak future. He warns Goku of the coming of a few powerful androids, created by the Red Ribbon Army, in revenge for what Goku did to them so many years before. Moreover, Goku is suffering from a strange heart ailment which could kill him. The time comes and true enough, when fighting the androids, Goku does get very sick but is saved by some medicine. Meanwhile, everyone else is busy fighting the new enemies, No. 16, No. 17, and No. 18. Vegita, now also able to transform into the Super Saiyan, is no match for them. But that’s not all, as an even newer threat has arrived from the same time period as Trunks. A biological creation made up of all the major Dragonball fighters’ DNA, Cell can absorb all the powers of the fighters. At the same time, Vegita, Trunks, Goku, and Gohan train further in a mysterious and magical room where one day on the outside is equal to one year on the inside. Thus Vegita and Trunks train first, and come out in time to fight Cell who has absorbed No. 17. But Vegita is too powerful, until Cell absorbs No. 18, and quickly turns the tables on Vegita. When Goku and Gohan come out, they leave to fight the monstrously powerful Cell. Goku fighters Cell first, and though they are roughly equal, Cell’s ability to regenerate lost limbs (head, torso, etc.) give him the edge. Gohan fights next, but is is apparent he is not the dedicated fighter his father is. But when Cell starts beating up his father and everyone else, he snaps and transforms into Super Super Saiyan (Super Saiyan 2), and whips Cell’s behind, causing him to throw up No. 18 out. Weakened, he tries to self-destruct and take out the world with him. Goku teleports himself and Cell to Kaiyoh’s place, much to Kaiyoh’s shocked dismay. Though Goku and a very upset Kaiyoh are dead and their souls fly to the Oriental equivalent of St. Peter’s pearly gates, they notice Cell is not with them. True enough, because of his regeneration ability, he revives himself, now with Goku’s and Gohan’s DNA, he teleports back to Earth and starts taking care of some unfinished business. But together, the rest of the fighters help Gohan destroy Cell once and for all.
Several years have passed, and Gohan is now a teenager attending a new school. A girl, Beedel, daughter of the world famous Mr. Satan (who took the credit for defeating Cell), invites (challenges) Gohan in the Tenka-ichi-budokai. He reluctantly accepts, and everyone else decides to enter as well (most were enticed by the very enormous grand cash prize). Even Goku enters, as he is allowed to return to Earth for one day. Also entering are Goku’s second son, Son Goten, and a young Trunks, who is from the present timeline, not the future. But as soon as the competition begins, trouble starts. Kaiyohshin, the god worshipped by the Kaiyohs of the universe, has come to Earth and leads the fighters to their newest threat, the evil wizard Babidee and his plans to resurrect Buu, the greatest evil in the universe. Just as they near Babidee, something happens to Vegita and he suddenly becomes Babidee’s minion. But rather than obey Babidee, he wants to fight Goku, as his enormous pride won’t rest until he defeats Goku. Gohan tries to fight the resurrected Buu, his is defeated soundly, as he has neglected to practice over the years (as if it would matter in this case). Buu is far more powerful than Cell was, and can regenerate also; even the smoke from his ashes can combine to regenerate. Realizing what a threat Buu is, Goku and Vegita call a truce, but Vegita knocks out Goku to fight Buu, and dies (again) as he is not powerful enough. Goku regains consciousness and returns to God’s domain to train Trunks and Goten to perfect the Fusion technique, which would combine them both and their powers into one being for about a half hour. Meanwhile, Gohan, who is presumed dead by everyone else, is training as well on Kaiyohshin’s planet. But Babidee and Buu are causing mass destruction back on Earth, and Goku sends Trunks after the dragonball radar (a Bulma invention in her teen years) as he fights a delaying action against Buu in his newest and greatest form, the Super Saiyan 3. But again, they are pretty much even and are only causing more and more damage to Earth than to each other. Goku quickly retreats and renews Goten and Trunks’ training. However, because his Super Saiyan 3 form takes a lot of energy, his time on Earth is cut off prematurely and must return to the world of the dead, where is is reunited with Gohan, who isn’t dead. There on Kaiyohshin’s world they meet the elderly Dai-Kaiyohshin, who begins to enhance Gohan’s strength and ability. On Earth, Goten and Trunks have finally perfected the Fusion technique (after a few hilarious mistrials), forming into Gotenks. But being still a child, he doesn’t take things too seriously, and has a real attitude and ego problem. On a strength note, Buu has killed Babidee, as he is tired of Babidee’s pushiness, and even stranger, has befriended Mr. Satan. But the resulting inner conflict of good and evil in Buu’s nature causes him to split into a good Buu and an evil Buu, who quickly absorbs the good Buu, thus becoming even more powerful than before. In order to spare the world more devastation, Buu is lured into the mystic room where time is stretched out. Here Buu meets with Gotenks, who was training here to further their powers through more training. Buu escapes but is being beaten by Gotenks until the time limit is up. Right at that moment, an incredibly enhanced Gohan shows up to trash Buu some more, but Buu absorbs the rejoined Gotenks and begins to turn on Gohan. Goku, who has his life restored by Dai-Kaiyohshin to return to Earth, is given the Potara, a powerful pair of magical earrings, which would act like the Fusion technique, only permanent. He tries to unite with Gohan, but Buu beats him to it by absorbing Gohan. Vegita shows up in time (for one day, like Goku did) and fuses with Goku to kick some Buu @$$. They manage to form an energy barrier before Buu absorbs Vegitt2 (as the united pair calls themselves), but oddly, they separate inside of Buu’s body, despite the Potaras. Vegita quickly smashes his piece, as he was severely unhappy with joining with Goku in the first place. They free all the others inside of Buu, rip the good Buu out of its confinement, and escape. Unable to feed on the good Buu’s energy, the evil Buu goes insane and starts to destroy the world. Goku is only able to save Vegita, Mr. Satan, and God before the world is destroyed. On Kaiyohshin’s world, Vegita furiously berates Goku for saving the idiot Mr. Satan instead of their sons and friends. No sooner than he is done when Buu shows up and Goku does battle with him in his Super Saiyan 3 form. He then tries to go to the next level, Super Saiyan 4,3 as Veigta tries desperately to fight a delaying action, but mysteriously, Goku runs out of power and can’t even maintain a regular Super Saiyan form. The evil Buu has managed to split out the good Buu when it sees Mr. Satan and the conflict within it drives it even crazier. In the meantime, with the help of the dragonballs, God resurrects the world and Goku begins to form the Genkidama, a ball of energy created by the goodness in people. With the help of Mr. Satan, Goku is able to persuade the people of Earth to literally lend him their strengths and utterly and completely obliterates the evil Buu.
Several years later, peace has finally settled on Earth. Gohan is married and has a daughter, Pan. Goku and Vegita continue to practice on their own, though their disgruntled wives would prefer that they go out and get jobs. Goku however, has a strange premonition and enters the Tenka-ichi-budokai to find what he was looking for, the good reincarnation of Buu. The young boy, Uub is taken under Goku’s wings and thus ends the manga saga of Dragonball.
Anime and Other Stuff
Some of you may have noticed that there is a Dragonball series and a Dragonball Z series. Basically, Dragonball covers the story up until Goku is grown up. From the time when Goku meets Radittsu and the Dragonball world took on a more science fiction tone is when the title Dragonball Z takes effect.
When you get down to it, the television animated series more or less follow the story of the manga. I have heard, however, that the television series will still continue beyond the manga storyline, though that is still an unconfirmed rumor (confirmation, anyone?).4 The OAVs are a bunch of side stories, separate but related. I believe that there are some out already that are beyond the finished manga storyline.
On a marketing note, Dragonball paraphernalia occupy one of the greatest niches in anime related goods. Trading cards, toys, model figurines, posters, and much more items are sold nearly everywhere in Japan. The Dragonball fighting video games span several sequels. Though not as intense as some fighting games like Street Fighter II or Alpha, it has its own innovative ideas and stands out as some of the better games available. It’s too bad no one here will release it as an American game. Right now, you can only get it through special orders or at a video game shop that specialized in this type of merchandise, but beware, as it will be very expensive.
How can you explain such a phenomenon like Dragonball? Storywise, it isn’t exactly high drama or great comedy, and can be fairly predictable. In fact, it’s rather childish at times (yes, I admit it). Violence-wise, it sports some graphically violent scenes (a few dismemberments of limbs, but mostly on characters who can regenerate it back), but quite frankly, I’ve seen more violent fighting on some Bugs Bunny cartoons. Art-wise, there are some better quality anime out there. So why is Dragonball such a strange success? I for one cannot explain it to those who have never followed the Dragonball epic. It is something that must be experienced. Perhaps for some, Goku represents all that is good in human nature, always striving to be the best that he can be, prepared to selflessly give his life for the sake of others, and always conquer evil where ever he meets it, and at the same time be merciful towards his enemies. For others, it’s just fun to watch all the hard kicking fighting action that goes on in every single episode, week after week after week. Whatever the reason, one must delve him or herself into this universe in order to fully appreciated what it means to belong to the cult of Dragonball.
The following historical notes are included for the benefit of the reader as supplemental information and were not originally published in the book.