An interview with Dragon Ball GT producer Kōzō Morishita
A making-of interview! Why did the program begin as an original story? Why did Super Saiyan 4 appear? The producer talks about the series’ mysteries and behind-the-scenes stories, accompanied by the illustrations which the original author Akira Toriyama drew for Dragon Ball GT!!
The early planning stages had the next generation taking the lead!
First I’d like to ask about the process by which Dragon Ball GT got started.
The original manga had wrapped up while Dragon Ball Z was still being broadcast, but among myself and others involved there was no sense of “this is the end”. We the staff and of course the TV station and sponsors all wanted the Dragon Ball series to continue in that golden timeslot of 7:00 p.m. every Wednesday. That’s how much momentum and popularity the series had.
But with the original manga concluded, you decided to do an original story?
That’s right. The last chapter of the original manga is set ten years after the battle with Majin Boo, so initially the idea was to have anime-original stories depicting the events of those ten years, and various such stories were planned out. Content-wise it was thought that the plot would revolve around the exploits of characters such as Pan or Trunks; in other words, the next generation of children.
So it was envisioned as “Dragon Ball: The Next Generation”.
Then when word was sent to Toriyama-sensei and the Weekly Shonen Jump editorial department that we wanted to make a new series, after some initial meetings the viewpoint emerged that it would be preferable to do a completely original story, separate from the original manga. Certainly that way, with a “Dragon Ball different than the original manga”, Toriyama-sensei could enjoy it too, and there was also the opinion that it would be terribly disrespectful not to make it a separate work from sensei‘s original manga. With that, it was decided to take it in the direction of depicting events after the original manga’s final chapter. In other words, a style of Dragon Ball that wouldn’t drag out Dragon Ball.
■ Toriyama-sensei christens the series! The origin of “GT”?
Planning for Dragon Ball GT went forward with the next generation of characters, but looking at the series as a whole, it ended up being Son Goku’s story.
When all is said and done, the protagonist of Dragon Ball is Son Goku. Characters such as Piccolo, Vegeta, or Trunks may be popular too, but in the end it’s Goku. As a creator I felt that in my bones, and Dragon Ball GT‘s biggest sticking point, was how to intertwine Goku into the story of Pan and the rest of the next generation of kids. That’s when I thought of turning Goku back into a kid himself. It was also determined that since Dragon Ball Z had taken its hard-edged story developments to their limit, it would be difficult for this original series to do “here comes an even stronger enemy”-type battle stories. There was also a thought that we should return to the initial Dragon Ball TV series. And so it ended up being an adventure story were they travel through outer space.
Why did you make space the setting?
Simply because it would make things easier to create. When it came to the problem of a sense of scale, outer space was better than the Earth, and the worldview of the original manga was vast enough to allow any sort of character to turn up there. If we could continue it out there, then the series could keep on going for another 10 or 20 years (laughs). With all that in mind, we made space the setting.
How involved was the original author Toriyama-sensei?
Simple plots made by Toei Animation such as “they travel to these types of planets” were handed over to sensei, and he drew new character drafts and image illustrations for kid Goku, Pan, Trunks, the spaceship, and other major characters.1
I hear it was Toriyama-sensei himself who titled the series Dragon Ball GT.
That’s right. We only received the title, and so weren’t sure what it meant. We thought maybe it was taken from GT cars, and got out our dictionaries. We interpreted it as “Grand Touring”, to convey the concept of a road movie type of plot.2
One might also think that the title “GT” includes the sense of a “Galaxy Tour”.
Now that you mention it, with Dragon Ball Z we likewise only received a title from sensei, so at first we wracked our brains over what the “Z” meant (laughs). We ended up with various post hoc explanations like “since Z is the last letter of the alphabet, it means ‘the utmost limit'” or “Z goes back to A, so it means that things will begin anew”.3
■ Transformation?! Pan’s Super Saiyan
And so Dragon Ball GT finally began. But during the early phase of the program, there were many episodes where Pan was very active.
Pan’s role was to be strong but still lose to the enemies and then be rescued by Goku, to be a “heroine who makes Goku a hero”. To go off-topic a bit, even the hit movie Titanic moved women because it’s a story where the heroine (now an old woman) remembers the hero; isn’t that basic movie-making? If the hero doesn’t rescue the heroine, maybe adults will understand that life is like that too sometimes, but for children it becomes a very harsh story. Stories where the hero rescues the heroine have a sense of security. Therefore we created a pattern where Pan is imperiled and Goku gets mad at the enemy: “I won’t let you get away with this!”
Though Pan has Saiyan blood, she never becomes a Super Saiyan.
Dragon Ball GT has an episode where Pan is turned into a doll, but that episode established the pattern of “Pan sets the incident in motion while Goku resolves it”. So it would break that pattern to make Pan a Super Saiyan and strong. But perhaps Pan could have become a Super Saiyan if the episode where she was turned into a doll had been a later one.
Pan’s the sort of character who goes even if told not to, so it’s easy to have her cause trouble (laughs).
That’s right. If we were to have Trunks kick things off, then we would first have to explain why level-headed Trunks would act recklessly, which is the most boring thing: an explanation that’s just there to set up another explanation.
■ The switch from adventure drama to battle!
Midway through the story, enemy characters like Doctor Mu, General Rild, and Baby started popping up, giving a stronger battle tint to the story.
Initially we made about 26 episodes worth of rough plot outlines. But around when the final script for episode 3 was finished, we thought “these travel episodes aren’t going to be interesting no matter how long we keep doing them, are they?” and so we stopped (laughs). That’s why Gill and the spaceship stopped appearing midway through, even though we had sensei go through all the trouble of drawing them for us (laughs).
It’s a shame (laughs). By the way, what did the scrapped episodes consist of?
We thought up an entire planet of prisoners and various things like that, but we could make countless such episodes, which on the flipside made them boring. So during meetings the direction emerged that “a story where the Earth is in danger would be good” and “it would be interesting to have enemies with strong personalities appear and have the story revolve around battles with them”. In the end, a Dragon Ball series needs to have a sense of exhilaration.
So you changed course from a road movie to battle.
No, it was a natural shift rather than a sudden change in course. When Goku’s not the main character, the story gets out of hand, or perhaps I should say it becomes unstable. After roughly 500 TV episodes and over 15 movies worth of Dragon Ball, I can tell that Goku is no ordinary character. For instance, back with Dragon Ball Z when there were episodes with characters other than Goku fighting, even if the ratings didn’t suffer, younger viewers lost interest. Adults watch for the story, so they can still enjoy watching how things play out even if Goku doesn’t appear, but children watch for the characters. So you have to have Goku appear. That’s why with Dragon Ball Z, when Goku didn’t appear for a while in the original manga, we thought long and hard about how to have him show up in the anime (laughs).
Dragon Ball = Goku. And in Dragon Ball GT, Goku transforms into Super Saiyan 4. Was this thought up from an early stage?
Super Saiyan 4 came up as we were fine-tuning the midpoint of the story. Naturally, Toriyama’s taste flows throughout the Dragon Ball series, and looking at this flow it wouldn’t be strange for Goku to suddenly become Super Saiyan 4 one day. If you tried this sort of “anything goes” approach with an ordinary original anime, people would probably treat it as a series with poor story construction (laughs). But even as a “transformation” to express an increase in strength, it was felt that Super Saiyan 4 was probably the limit.
■ Ever onward! That’s the Goku spirit
What is the most important point about Dragon Ball GT?
Although Dragon Ball GT turned Goku back into a kid, which signified returning him to square one, story-wise I thought that “not going back” was important. In other words, this viewpoint of not doing what was done in the past is characteristic of the Dragon Ball series as a whole. Although it would be easier and quicker to repeat what was done in the past, it is crucial to move forward, even if just by a single step, and to continue doing so. For instance, the original manga revealed Goku to be an alien, which is done with just some brief dialogue, rather than a flashback or longer explanation (laughs). With him now an alien, the story and setting advanced onward and onward from there, right? As this symbolizes, it wouldn’t do to have Dragon Ball repeat the past.
Is that the reason why familiar characters like Piccolo, Tenshinhan, and Yamcha didn’t appear very much?
It’s because Dragon Ball GT was made so as not to drag out Dragon Ball Z. And I suppose it’s also because we were too caught up in creating new enemies. I remember working extremely hard thinking of what the enemies would do and what sort of bad people they would be. Thinking back on the series now, the enemy characters of Dragon Ball GT have certain parts that are based off the enemies from Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z.
Dragon Ball GT has also been broadcast in America and become popular over there.
Super Saiyan 4 has gone over particularly well there. It was broadcast at 10:00 p.m. on Saturdays on the cable station Cartoon Network and was watched by approximately 4% of boys age 6 to 11. Even considering that it had Dragon Ball Z to help establish its popularity, that’s still an impressive figure.
Was the series aired just as it was in Japan?
No, in fact the initial American broadcast cut out the early portion of the story, after they go into space and Pan and Gill play a prominent role. It then went straight into the middle portion, where Goku’s exploits and Super Saiyan 4 are paramount. Immediately pushing the battles with Super 17 and the Evil Dragons to the forefront ignited its popularity. Later, the cut space travel episodes from the first half of the series were inserted back in during subsequent broadcasts.
They didn’t want to cut off the flow from the battle action of Dragon Ball Z.
■ A strange resonance… that last scene
The Dragon Ball series maintains enduring popularity in Japan and throughout the rest of the world, and there are many hoping for a new anime.
If possible I would like to make a movie. I’d like it to be a slightly different style than the movies of the past, of a higher quality. The prior movies have been family-oriented entertainment that the whole family can enjoy, but if I were to make a new one then I would like it to be one that could draw in a young adult audience.
What sort of audience response did Dragon Ball GT get when it was first broadcast?
There were many fans who valued it for the way that it took the “anything goes” plot progression of the original manga and went even further with it. At the same time, there were those who said it took the “anything goes” attitude too far. There were fans who wondered “why are you ruining the original?” and also those who thought that the “ruined” parts were what made it interesting. Perhaps Dragon Ball GT pushed away some of those who had been fans from the very beginning of the manga’s run, but it also created many new fans, and maybe Goku has been very important to them too. Thinking about it now, perhaps Dragon Ball GT appears separate from the sense of security of a “Akira Toriyama work”. However, I am certain that even fans who were naysayers will be convinced if they watch the final episode of Dragon Ball GT.
The last scene in the final episode of Dragon Ball GT certainly leaves an impression. Goku rides on Shenlong off to some distant place… It has a strange resonance, that makes one want to say “thank you, Goku!”
With that last scene, right from when Dragon Ball GT began we had decided “let’s do it like this!” Not knowing whether he’s alive or dead, that sort of image. It was precisely because that scene had already been decided upon that we were able to have Goku make his impressive appearance at the end of the TV special “Goku’s Side Story! The Proof of his Courage is the Four-Star Ball”. Since the TV special was an original story, it required far more manpower, labor, and money than simply airing two regular TV episodes in an hourlong timeslot, but even in that regard Dragon Ball GT gave us a free hand to work with. I’m truly grateful for it; the Dragon Ball series is my precious treasure!