Hardcore wuxia fans, what are the biggest similarities and differences between the genre and Dragon Ball?

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Hardcore wuxia fans, what are the biggest similarities and differences between the genre and Dragon Ball?

Post by LoganForkHands73 » Fri Oct 02, 2020 1:43 pm

Wuxia undeniably has a huge influence on Dragon Ball. A vast swathe of tropes that define DB and the various offshoot manga and pop cultural properties that spawned out of its global popularity owe themselves to the classical Chinese historical-martial arts-fantasy genre. A number of influential personalities of the Dragon Ball fanbase have made it a mission to spread the gospel of Dragon Ball's origins in Wuxia to the unwashed masses and I can do nothing but applaud them for it.

Me, I've dabbled in a bit of popular Wuxia cinema and literature but not to any major extent, which is something I wish to improve as time goes on. I have a few queries and discussion points about the intricacies of Dragon Ball's relationship with Wuxia.

First off, historicity seems to be a crucial tenet of Wuxia, naturally. Dragon Ball's setting has altered significantly over the years to present a recognisably modern planet Earth, but even in the earliest chapters, one of the main protagonists is a Western-coded white girl (this is even more blatant in the early prototypes and concept arts where Bulma is drawn as a full-on cowgirl) who drives a car and wields highly advanced sci-fi technology in contrast to the barren, feudalistic geography. The Westernised sci-fi elements only get played up more and more as time goes by. By the time the characters are fighting aliens, travelling to space, having silly superhero antics in West City, is it really still Wuxia? Surely there must be a limit to how far Wuxia tropes can be stretched before they're unrecognisable?

Second, I'm aware of and very interested in learning more about the genre archetypes that originated in Wuxia and persist in Dragon Ball. Dongfang Bubai as the queer-coded eunuch antagonist is reflected in Freeza, Gohan conforming to the derided "Scholar" archetype, etc. Are there any more specific characters from specific Wuxia stories that are noticeably similar to the Dragon Ball roster?

Third and perhaps most important of all, how would you wish for more Western fans (or indeed fans anywhere, Asia included) to be exposed to Wuxia? For as much as I believe it's important that more fans should know about Dragon Ball's inspirations, at the same time I can't blame Western fans for being ignorant to a culture-specific genre that isn't readily accessible in the same way Dragon Ball is. The vast majority of foreign media will always remain niche, and I suppose to many fans it's hard to even discern the most influential ones since they have little frame of reference. More broadly, most fans of a certain thing aren't likely to delve too deep into the inspirations behind it if it doesn't interest them in the same way. Even on a smaller scale, say most Bond film fans probably never touch Ian Fleming's original books, even though they should since they're excellent and will solely watch Bond movies through the lens of the movie series' ongoing tropes. Most Star Wars fans will never go near a Kurosawa film. How many people here have actually read Journey to the West?

I suppose what I'm asking for is a good "must-watch" list, but I guess that's something to look into on my own time, lol.

From my undereducated perspective, Dragon Ball is very much a genre-mash similar to Star Wars, which is incidentally another of Toriyama's main inspirations by his own admission. Are there any arguments to be made that other genres have more influence on Dragon Ball than Wuxia? What of the martial arts genres from other cultures, like Hong Kong action-comedy/kung fu movies which also heavily inspired Dragon Ball? Some argue that A New Hope is a Western movie (as in, the genre) because it uses a handful of familiar tropes, but most people would sensibly scoff at the idea of it being a Western. Even my lecturer did once. :lol: I agreed with him. I'd be inclined to say the same about Dragon Ball in that I'd hesitate to pigeonhole it solely into the Wuxia genre, but I'd like to see opposing arguments to that. Hence this thread. :)
Last edited by LoganForkHands73 on Fri Oct 02, 2020 5:27 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Hardcore wuxia fans, what are the biggest similarities and differences between the genre and Dragon Ball?

Post by Kendamu » Fri Oct 02, 2020 5:11 pm

There is a very awesome thread where all the details you're looking for are broken down.

Personally, I'm more of a Golden Harvest fan so I'm more familiar with the likes of Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee, but I would suggest that you watch the 36th Chamber of Shaolin trilogy and then maybe follow it up with some entries from this list.

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Re: Hardcore wuxia fans, what are the biggest similarities and differences between the genre and Dragon Ball?

Post by LoganForkHands73 » Fri Oct 02, 2020 5:20 pm

Kendamu wrote:
Fri Oct 02, 2020 5:11 pm
There is a very awesome thread where all the details you're looking for are broken down.

Personally, I'm more of a Golden Harvest fan so I'm more familiar with the likes of Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee, but I would suggest that you watch the 36th Chamber of Shaolin trilogy and then maybe follow it up with some entries from this list.
It's a kunzait thread so I guess I'll see y'all in a year's time? :lol: In all seriousness, thanks for linking. I've seen a few threads from him and Yuli I think, very insightful stuff.
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Re: Hardcore wuxia fans, what are the biggest similarities and differences between the genre and Dragon Ball?

Post by kei17 » Fri Oct 02, 2020 5:46 pm

As a DB fan from Japan, I'm against the idea of Wuxia directly influencing Toriyama. 99% of the users here seem to be from the Western world and have very limited knowledge about the cultures in East Asia, so they tend to connect whatever from China or Hong Kong they find similar with Dragon Ball solely because they're both from East Asia, without knowing any actual contexts or history.

A big problem here, however, that makes this topic really complex and tricky is that even a lot of the people from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and South Korea have been accepting and enjoying Japanese martial arts manga/anime as part of Wuxia. They have no clue about the low recognizability of Wuxia in Japan and they automatically regard martial arts fictions from Japan as Wuxia creations without question because their features superficially do fall under the genre. Son Ji-Sang, a comic critic from South Korea, in one of his books, explained that Japanese martial arts manga do not belong to Wuxia and they are more rooted in Japanese Jidaigeki as opposed to how the South Korean people regard them as. This is such a complicated topic that requires deep knowledge about multiple cultures in East Asia to correctly understand it.

I recommend you to read Derek Padula's article on his blog. It sums up the complex background of this topic very well.

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Re: Hardcore wuxia fans, what are the biggest similarities and differences between the genre and Dragon Ball?

Post by LoganForkHands73 » Fri Oct 02, 2020 6:19 pm

kei17 wrote:
Fri Oct 02, 2020 5:46 pm
As a DB fan from Japan, I'm against the idea of Wuxia directly influencing Toriyama. 99% of the users here seem to be from the Western world and have very limited knowledge about the cultures in East Asia, so they tend to connect whatever from China or Hong Kong they find similar with Dragon Ball solely because they're both from East Asia, without knowing any actual contexts or history.

A big problem here, however, that makes this topic really complex and tricky is that even a lot of the people from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and South Korea have been accepting and enjoying Japanese martial arts manga/anime as part of Wuxia. They have no clue about the low recognizability of Wuxia in Japan and they automatically regard martial arts fictions from Japan as Wuxia creations without question because their features superficially do fall under the genre. Son Ji-Sang, a comic critic from South Korea, in one of his books, explained that Japanese martial arts manga do not belong to Wuxia and they are more rooted in Japanese Jidaigeki as opposed to how the South Korean people regard them as. This is such a complicated topic that requires deep knowledge about multiple cultures in East Asia.

I recommend you to read Derek Padula's article on his blog. It sums up the complex background of this topic very well.
Thanks for the response and the links. I suppose it's standard cultural arrogance for folks to assume that one thing from one culture can be transposed 1:1 to your own based on superficial similarities, just as how so many American fans take Dragon Ball as a standard '90s action cartoon.

Going through kunzait's thread now, I can only give a standing ovation to the sheer amount of effort put into it and I'm frankly throbbing at the litany of obscure cultural references, I'll be reading more about this shit for months. Amazing work and very informative. Jesus Christ that's a lot of images though, was that really necessary?

Anyway, as much as I'm enjoying reading it, I can already see one rather glaring point of contention, and the later comments confirm my suspicions -- the word "wuxia" is a fairly modern invention, no? I mean, none of the Four Great Classics of Chinese literature are even considered wuxia, right? It feels a little presumptuous to say that basically everything from everywhere, including the aforementioned Hong Kong action-comedies, that involves supernaturally exaggerated martial arts owes itself somehow to wuxia. The definition becomes so broad that it's almost lost all meaning by that point.
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Re: Hardcore wuxia fans, what are the biggest similarities and differences between the genre and Dragon Ball?

Post by WittyUsername » Fri Oct 02, 2020 10:41 pm

I’m not super well versed in the wuxia genre, but going by the basic definition of it, I don’t know if Dragon Ball should really qualify. Sure, it’s a series about fighting that has some Chinese inspired elements, but I see it as more of a silly action/adventure series. I don’t think it should qualify as wuxia anymore than it qualifies as a superhero story.

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Re: Hardcore wuxia fans, what are the biggest similarities and differences between the genre and Dragon Ball?

Post by Yuli Ban » Sat Oct 03, 2020 9:54 am

My issue with Kunzait's thread is that it wrapped up wuxia with other very similar genres, one of which absolutely WOULD be a perfect fit for Dragon Ball as a story: that is, xuanhuan. Xuanhuan's description is Dragon Ball: a genre of Eastern Fantasy which remixes Chinese folklore/mythology with foreign elements & settings. Similar to Immortality novels and comics, but without a clear Daoist progression towards immortality, instead using xianxia staples like superhuman/godlike martial artistry more for lowbrow ultra-kung fu action. They'll feature elements of science fiction, time travel, and superhero fiction right alongside kung fu while using the same archetypes found in wuxia/xianxia novels (e.g. the martial hero, monk, warlord, xian, and so on). It's essentially high fantasy kung fu (whereas xianxia would be more like high fantasy wuxia). Just writing that out feels redundant on a Dragon Ball forum.

Most of all, xuanhuan isn't a uniquely Chinese/Taiwanese thing either. Some nationalists have misgivings about the idea of a non-Chinese being able to properly write a wuxia story, even if they're from, say, South Korea or Japan. Not so here. Basically any East Asian-themed kung fu story with what we in the West would describe as qi-based superpowers but lacks a protagonist actively seeking immortality via Daoist means (that also isn't just using said East Asian elements as window dressing) is a xuanhuan story. As this label's even more recent than xianxia is, it'll take a while before people recognize that Dragon Ball, Hokuto no Ken, Yu Yu Hakusho, etc. are xuanhuan manga.

From what I've since been able to ascertain, wuxia stories are indeed fairly strict about being relatively low-fantasy, Chinese history-oriented affairs. There is yixia as a subgenre for "modern" wuxia, but even those stories are restrained compare to even early DB. Works that were once labeled "wuxia" due to there being little nuance are now being sorted out of that one and into others like xianxia/xiuzhen, xuanhuan, qihuan, etc.

His explanation for it is that these labels did not exist until recently, but my retort is that these labels were created for that purpose of explaining those nuances in the first place. Sort of like how heavy metal was once just "heavy metal" before people realized Motörhead sounds quite different from Black Sabbath, or how electronic music was once just electronic music until people recognized Jamaican dub artists probably had little to do with Kraftwerk, who is much different from Aphex Twin.

Toriyama himself didn't need to know what "wuxia" (or "bukyo" in Japan) was, and "xuanhuan" as a term didn't need to exist before DB's publication. A lot of these things were recognized after the fact, building off common concepts. Dragon Ball clearly isn't a jidaigeki story, to reply to kei17, even if through osmosis similar to how Westerns affected American storytelling, it has some slight fundamental roots to them— it is and has always been a Japanese man deliberately trying to write a very Chinese-feeling story, like a Briton trying to write an American Western, except he's trying to write Blazing Saddles. And Toriyama was very much influenced heavily by the likes of Hong Kong movies— that's an indisputable fact, courtesy of the man himself, with Dragon Ball taking up clear stylistic influence from the likes of Drunken Master, Snake in the Eagle's Shadow, and Enter the Dragon.

Wuxia works were indeed a part of that influence, but it's always been kung fu over all. Just an extremely, EXTREMELY over the top kind of kung fu that only recently got a name to describe it.
Last edited by Yuli Ban on Sat Oct 03, 2020 10:28 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Hardcore wuxia fans, what are the biggest similarities and differences between the genre and Dragon Ball?

Post by ABED » Sat Oct 03, 2020 10:26 am

Genres and what qualifies as being included are fairly elastic.
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Re: Hardcore wuxia fans, what are the biggest similarities and differences between the genre and Dragon Ball?

Post by Yuli Ban » Sat Oct 03, 2020 10:40 am

ABED wrote:
Sat Oct 03, 2020 10:26 am
Genres and what qualifies as being included are fairly elastic.
This. A lot of it is nitpicking.

Though it's always nice too know the stylistic origins, similar stories, and history of it all. Especially when it enriches the overall experience.

Like, say, how Shula from that one filler episode isn't even a VEILED copy of the Blood Devil from Zu: Warriors from Magic Mountain. Or just how much of Dongfang Bubai you can see in Freeza.

These stories are just kinda cultural touchstones in East Asia, not unlike John Wayne or, say, Sam Spade in America. Even if you've never seen the Maltese Falcon, you know what a film noir protagonist is like.
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Re: Hardcore wuxia fans, what are the biggest similarities and differences between the genre and Dragon Ball?

Post by Kendamu » Sat Oct 03, 2020 3:46 pm

Because I hav way more knowledge of Hong Kong cinema than I do Wuxia, I always start off folks who like Dragon Ball ad want something more with a list that looks like this:

• Return of the Dragon (aka Way of the Dragon)
• 36th Chamber of Shaolin (watch the sequels, too!)
• Drunken Master (the original, not the sequel)

They don't hit the supernatural stuff quite as hard but you can see where Toriyama picked up a lot of what he does in these three films. From there, I encourage people who liked those three films to explore on their own based on what they've gained from watching these three films. I would recommend more supernatural stuff as a starter, but I don't have the knowledge to feel like I can be an authority on the matter.

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