Intended Endings Guide

Possible Ending #1: The Dragon Balls

Laughable as it may seem, Akira Toriyama originally did not plan for the series to run beyond its very first story arc, the original search for the Dragon Balls. He notes this in his Daizenshuu 2 interview, while discussing Dragon Ball‘s roots as a Journey to the West adaptation:

Bulma was Tripitaka, Oolong was Zhu Bajie, and Yamcha was Sha Wujing. I initially thought that I’d end it after they finished collecting the Dragon Balls.

Toriyama also mentioned his initial plans about Dragon Ball not running very long in his Shenlong Times #2 roundtable talk with the three editors he had over the course of Dragon Ball‘s serialization:

Fuyuto Takeda: And then serialization began, but from the beginning, how much of the story had you already planned?

Toriyama: I hadn’t thought it up at all. I figured it would probably end in about a year, and I had only really prepared storyboards for three chapters.

In his chapter comments for Chapter 249, which appeared in Weekly Shōnen Jump 1989 #49 (and was later recorded in Daizenshuu 7), Toriyama likewise noted:

Dragon Ball, which I planned on lasting one year when I started, has now been in serialization so long that it’s surpassed Dr. Slump! I feel both happy and scared…

“About a year” would actually mean about 50 or so chapters, which would be up to about the end of the 21st Tenka’ichi Budōkai. It would however be inaccurate to actually describe Toriyama as having definitively and originally planned on ending the series after the end of the 21st Tenka’ichi Budōkai, because he himself says that he had not planned the story out anywhere near that far when he began. He almost certainly would have been aware that Dragon Ball was going to continue beyond the initial year he had first figured on long before the 21st Tenka’ichi Budōkai story arc had wrapped up.

Back in the olden days of the English-speaking Dragon Ball Internet fan community, Greg Werner (now a columnist who writes about One Piece for Shueisha’s V-Jump magazine) posted a translation of Toriyama’s Shenlong Times #2 roundtable talk on his influential “Ultimate DBZ Info Site”. However, his Japanese was not quite as good then as it is now, so he mistranslated Toriyama’s remark about only having three chapters planned out when the series began as Toriyama actually saying he already had three “sagas” (i.e. story arcs) planned out from the beginning. Werner even included a footnote saying that these first three sagas Toriyama referred to where the first Dragon Ball hunt, the 21st Tenka’ichi Budōkai, and the Red Ribbon Army. The Red Ribbon Army storyline lasted up to chapter 96, so this mistranslation credits Toriyama with having planned out over 30 times the number of chapters he actually had! Fortunately, the mistake does not seem to have spread too far in the fandom, unlike some of the other mistakes on Werner’s site (which, it should be noted, was on the whole a fairly accurate, and quite comprehensive, collection of information that was not otherwise available in English).

Needless to say, this plan to end the series after just a year or so did not pan out. What was it that made Toriyama continue the series on past this point? Was it Dragon Ball‘s massive popularity? As it turns out, no! Hard as this may be to believe now, in the very beginning, Dragon Ball was not all that popular. As Toriyama further explains in his Daizenshuu 2 interview, the series did not really pick up in popularity until the 21st Tenka’ichi Budōkai storyline:

Up until the Tenka’ichi Budōkai began, the series hadn’t been all that popular. At the time, Torishima-san told me “your protagonist is rather plain. That’s why it’s not popular”. Personally, since I was doing a fighting story for this series, I had intentionally made the protagonist’s clothing excessively plain. So this annoyed me, but then I figured it out. “Well, let’s increase its popularity” I thought. When I had designed Goku’s character, the words that best represented him were “I want to become strong”. So I thought I’d bring that to the front. Even during “Dr. Slump“, mini-events and tournament-like things such as the Penguin Village Grand Prix had been amazingly popular. So I’d simply make the story into a tournament format. From there the Tenka’ichi Budōkai was born. I temporarily withdrew the other characters besides Goku, brought back Kame-Sen’nin, and added Kuririn as a new character. From there it got popular before I knew it.

There is also a rumor that Toriyama continued the series past the first Dragon Ball search merely because a friend bet him to do so. As we have seen, it is a fact that Toriyama at first thought the series would end after this first quest, but as far as we know the idea that he continued the series past this point on a dare is unsubstantiated. (While it does plausibly sound like something Toriyama would have done to spite his friend and fellow cartoonist Masakazu Katsura, there is no evidence of either party ever making such a bet.) It is somewhat of a mystery why he would have continued it beyond his initial plans if the series was not very popular at the time, but as we have also seen, his initial thoughts were not merely that the series would last only as long as the first Dragon Ball search, but that it would also last a year or so. The first Dragon Ball search ended up concluding in only about half a year, so perhaps Toriyama just figured he would keep on going for a year like he had planned. By the time that year ended, the 21st Tenka’ichi Budōkai storyline had finally garnered the series enough popularity to warrant continuing past his initial plans.

Perhaps as a reference to his original plans to end the series once the hunt for the Dragon Balls concluded, at the end of that story arc Toriyama (via the narrator) jokes that this is the end. He starts to thank everyone for reading, but then cuts himself off and says that the series will actually continue. When Viz translated the manga into English, they obviously knew just how long the series would continue (having started its translation and North American release after its full run in Japan), so they inserted a joke of their own and had the narrator note that the series would “keep going and going and going”. Poor Toriyama at the time had no idea it would go on for quite so long!

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